Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Barr Bares Mandate History

A new book, A Line in the Sand, retells the story of French and English involvement in the bringing too an end of the Ottoman Empire.

Curtesy of the author's site, here are some extracts from the first chapter on the issue of "Palestine to who?", to be followed by a comment on "Zionist terror" and the Jewish war for liberation from the oppressive Mandatory regime.

On the early history:

Late in the morning of 16 December 1915, a promising young politician named Sir Mark Sykes hurried into Downing Street for a meeting. The prime minister had summoned the thirty-six-year-old baronet to advise him and his war cabinet on how they might resolve a row about the future of the Ottoman Empire

- - -

‘I feel we ought to settle with France as soon as possible, and get a definite understanding about Syria,’ Sykes proposed.

‘What sort of an arrangement would you like to have with the French?’ asked Balfour.

‘I should like to retain for ourselves such country south of Haifa,’ replied Sykes, gesturing to his map.

...‘What do you mean to give exactly?’ pressed Balfour, referring to the French.

Sykes sliced his finger across the map that lay before them on the table. ‘I should like to draw a line from the “e” in Acre to the last “k” in Kirkuk,’ he said.

- - -

It was 25 April 1915. Constantinople, and victory, were just one hundred and fifty miles away.

The French and British both anticipated the division of the spoils. In France a small but thick-skinned group of imperialists, the Comité de l’Asie Française, began to put pressure on Delcassé to lay claim to Syria and Palestine...the Comité’s secretary-general, an aristocratic diplomat named Robert de Caix, reached for the history books to make his case. He argued that France had a ‘hereditary’ right to Syria and Palestine because it was ‘the land of the Crusades...where Western activity has been so French-dominated since the beginning of the Middle Ages that all the Europeans who live there are still called “Franks”’.

- - -

My understanding, it was obvious too all that Palestine was not going to be an independent Arab state. As here

The Sykes-Picot agreement drew a line east-west from north of Acre across to the Iranian border, ‘giving’ some of modern Turkey, all of Syria and Lebanon and some of Iraq to the French, while what became Jordan, the bulk of Iraq and Israel ‘went’ to Britain.

And now, as for Barr's treatment of the period of 1946-1948, we learn that


Barr suggests that the climax of the struggle between the two, which lasted right up to the establishment of Israel in 1948, was French support (at what level is not clear) for acts of Jewish terrorism against the British.

His most striking piece of evidence came from a report written in 1945 by an MI5 officer and never before published (and not sourced here). It was at the time when the Yishuv was struggling to get the first pitiful remnants of the concentration camps into Palestine, and Britain was resisting both Jewish and Arab unrest with tough, even brutal, measures.

Barr quotes the MI5 man as reporting, from top-secret sources, that it was known that "French officials in the Levant have been clandestinely selling arms to the Hagana and we have received recent reports of their intention to stir up strife in Palestine."

Barr, a newspaperman by profession, adds his own gloss to this suggestion: "In other words, while the British were fighting and dying to liberate France, their supposed allies the French were secretly backing Jewish efforts to kill British soldiers and officials in Palestine."


Barr even argues, not very convincingly, that the reason Zionist terrorists such as the Stern Gang and the Irgun were able to get some weapons and financing from France, to enable them to carry out the devastating attacks which eventually forced Britain out of Palestine, was because the French wanted to get even for the way Britain had helped Syria and Lebanon secure their independence. This might be stretching the story of Anglo-French rivalry in the Levant a shade too far. But it makes for enjoyable reading.


Violence carried on and it seems that the French were rather encouraging it ; they might even have backed it up. James Barr argues that Zionist groups like the Stern Gang received weapons and finances from France who wanted to destabilise Palestine as much as possible to force the British into a difficult position. The reason behind all this ? Revenge. "It was the French who played a vital part in the creation of the state of Israel, by helping the Jews organise the large-scale immigration and devastating terrorism that finally engulfed the bankrupt British mandate in 1948".


one of his original contributions, based on declassified documents, is the extraordinary discovery that the French secretly provided arms and financial support to the Zionist terrorist groups the Stern gang and the Irgun, as well as the Hagana. This was their revenge for British encouragement of Lebanese and Syrian independence. The Zionist gangs made havoc of London's plans for Palestine. It was two members of the Stern gang who, in 1944, ambushed and murdered Lord Moyne, resident minister of state in Cairo, member of the British cabinet and leading advocate for a Greater Syria.

And he doesn't mention the Altalena?

Consider this:-

The ship Altalena...brought arms and ammunition provided to the Irgun Tzvai Leumi underground militia by the French army. Documents revealed here for the first time attest that France's Foreign Ministry believed that helping the Irgun (the National Military Organization, known also by its acronym Etzel), would prevent Jerusalem from falling into Jordanian hands, which would strengthen the position of France's rival in the region: Britain...

...One of the most important documents is testimony the French deputy chief of staff, General Henri Coudraux, gave to France's Defense Ministry during an internal inquiry into the affair. Coudraux, who had played a key role in transfering the arms to the Irgun in June 1948, said in his testimony on November 15, 1949, that France "reached a secret agreement with the Irgun, which promised it advantages if it were to come into power (in Israel)."...Ariel testified, confirming that the Irgun signed a secret agreement with the French government whereby the latter would "provide arms to the Irgun to fight the Arabs."
...The writer of these lines recently discovered in a French archive the report written about 60 years ago by France's Ministry of Defense and the testimonies used in it. The documents cast light on the French motives in the affair, and indicate that a secret agreement concerning the arms supply included stipulations which, Coudraux said, were aimed at the provisional government in Israel. The Irgun representative said the targets of these political provisos were the Arabs.

The written agreement has not been found, but from the documents one concludes that foreign minister Georges Bidault deeply feared occupation of Jerusalem by the Jordanian Arab Legion, with British support; in the second half of May 1948, the Legion had damaged French Catholic institutions and France's consulate in Jerusalem. Years later Ben-Gurion hinted that the French gave the Irgun the arms in return for a commitment to protect the Catholic institutions in the city. On May 24 the French Foreign Ministry sent communiques to Jordan's King Abdullah, Israel's government and British and Arab legations in Paris, demanding that they avoid attacking religious and diplomatic institutions in Jerusalem. Irgun representatives in Paris received a similar notice...

Bidault decided to provide arms to the Irgun, an organization that opposed the interim government, and which was receiving clandestine aid from France, not only to protect French institutions in Jerusalem from the Arab Legion. He also knew this move would anger the British Foreign Office, which was closely following the Altalena's course...he may have had another to thwart a British-Jordanian move to control Jerusalem.

In the summer of 1944, French intelligence succeeded to recruit an agent in the Syrian government, who subsequently provided information about clandestine British activity in Syria and other Arab countries. As foreign minister in Charles de Gaulle's provisional government, Bidault witnessed the efficiency of the British secret services, which played a major role in expelling the French from Syria in 1945. Bidault, a devout Catholic, attributed great importance to maintaining Jerusalem's status as an international city, and saw a vital French interest in the creation of the state.

According to the French documents, Paris suspected that Britain had adopted a "double policy," which it used effectively in Syria: Alongside the declared policy about ending the Mandate and evacuating British forces from Palestine on May 15, 1948, the French believed that Britain's secret services sought to prevent establishment of a Jewish state, or at least to limit its size.

History is such an intersting subject.

Is the Altalena in Barr's book?


1 comment: said...

This cannot succeed in reality, that is exactly what I suppose.