BBC R4 presents jaundiced account of San Remo conference

BBC Radio Four is currently running a series called “Terror Through Time” presented by Fergal Keane. The instalment broadcast on Friday, October 11th 2013 was titled “Stirring the Middle East” and it can be heard here.

Stirring the Middle East

The programme’s synopsis reads:

“Fergal Keane on the British promises in WW1 that provoked conflict in the Middle East.
The collapse of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War created a tangle of real and potential conflicts for world leaders to unpick.

The toughest nut to crack would be the future of Palestine. In the course of the war Britain, in its desperate quest for allies, made three apparently contradictory promises. A secret deal with France divided future control of the Middle East between the two allies, the Sharif of Mecca was offered a new Arab kingdom and support for a Jewish homeland had been given to the Zionists.

Fergal Keane explores how Britain tried and failed to untangle the knots, setting the scene for so much of the violence to come in the Middle East.”

As may be expected of an item lasting less than fourteen minutes which relies mainly upon input from anti-Zionist campaigning academic Avi Shlaim and partisan activist academic Rashid Khalidi, the programme presents a very one-sided, partial view of the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate for Palestine. Interestingly – in light of a recent ECU decision – the two contributors are introduced solely by their academic titles, with no “summarizing the standpoint” of Shlaim and Khalidi whatsoever. 

Listeners to the programme will not hear a full explanation of the legal status of the Mandate for Palestine issued by the League of Nations or of the fact that 77% of its intended area was later assigned to the creation of Transjordan. They will hear of the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence, but not that none of the letters referred to Palestine or that – as was reported in The Times in 1937 – Sir Henry McMahon later clarified:

“I feel my duty to state, and I do so definitely and emphatically, that it was not intended by me in giving this pledge to King Hussein to include Palestine in the area in which Arab independence was promised. I also had every reason to believe at the time that the fact that Palestine was not included in my pledge was well understood by King Hussein.”

Listeners will hear Keane say at 11:22:

“There were no Palestinian Arabs present at all when the final deal was reached at San Remo in 1920.”

They do not get any explanation of the fact that at the time no such separate identity as “Palestinian Arabs” was recognized – certainly not by Arab powers with their own territorial designs. Neither are they made aware that at the same San Remo conference, the foundations for Syria, Lebanon and Iraq were laid down.  

They will hear Khalidi’s politically motivated description of the Balfour Declaration as a vehicle for British imperialism and hear him claim that “the Palestinians were basically written out of the Mandate” whilst he himself completely ignores the fact that the “non-Jewish population of Palestine” referred to in the Balfour Declaration actually includes other groups besides the “Arabs and Palestinians” to whom he exclusively refers.

In light of the presentation of this politicized version of events, readers may be interested to know that the episode of this series scheduled for Monday, October 14th at 13:45 BST is titled “The Murderous Mandate”. According to the synopsis:

“In April 1947 a young French woman talked her way past the guard of Dover House in Whitehall. She told him she was desperate to use the toilet. In fact Betty Knut was there to plant a bomb at the very heart of the Empire. It proved just how far some militants were willing to go in their campaign to remove the British from Palestine.

In part six of Fergal Keane’s exploration of the changing nature of terrorism, he’s joined by historian David Cesarani and former member of the Jewish underground, Hanna Armoni, to tell the story of the dedicated groups that turned their bombs and bullets against the British occupation.”

The Murderous Mandate

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