As a third-generation Palestinian living in exile, watching the outpouring of support and mourning for Queen Elizabeth II, and the attempts to paint her as a servant to the people, has been unsettling. I’m not alone in my disgust: For many Palestinians, Elizabeth’s death serves as a reminder of the atrocities committed by the British Empire in Palestine. Here’s a short summary of that history.
In the late 19th century, the Zionist bourgeoisie in Europe began planning to establish a Jewish ethnostate. The British saw in the Zionist movement a solution to the so-called “Jewish question” in Europe — which consisted of antisemitic conspiracy theories and moral panic about a supposed Jewish “takeover” of banking and politics — that wouldn’t disturb their empire. In fact, Winston Churchill, then a Liberal MP, wrote around that time that the establishment of a Jewish nation-state “would be especially in harmony with the truest interests of the British Empire.” The ensuing alliance between these two forces was instrumental in the Zionist colonization of Palestine.
In 1916, Britain and France signed the Sykes-Picot treaty, which drew up borders in the Levant. The secret wartime agreement allowed the British and French to inherit the region as the Ottoman Empire gradually lost control over it, by arbitrarily creating artificial entities to be colonized. Vladimir Lenin accurately called Sykes-Picot “the agreement of colonial thieves.” For Palestine and the region as a whole, the agreement foreshadowed a future of imperialist invasions and interventionism, colonialism, and lack of sovereignty.
In 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour sent a letter that would eventually be published in the press to Walter Rothschild, a staunch Zionist, banker and former member of parliament, promising Palestinian land that didn’t belong to the British to European Jews. Mark Sykes also participated in negotiations leading up to the declaration.
Even after the Balfour Declaration and the end of the imperialist First World War, Zionism remained an unpopular idea among European Jews, and Jewish people made up less than 8 per cent of the total population in Palestine. Over the course of the next three decades, however, the British finetuned conditions in Palestine for Zionist colonization.
In 1929, the World Zionist Organization, of which Rothschild was a member, founded the Jewish Agency (JA). The next year, the British recognized the JA as the agency described in the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine responsible for facilitating Jewish settlements. The JA enabled mass Jewish migration into Palestine, and provided settlers with housing, education, and employment. By 1931, Jewish settlers made up about 17 per cent of the population, and between 1932 and 1939, about 247,000 additional settlers arrived, more than doubling the population. The British also facilitated the early days of segregation under their mandate, eventually forming what the British Royal commission called “a state within a state,” including Zionist settlers acquiring their own armed “self-defence” establishment.
Between 1936 and 1939, Palestinians, led by the peasantry, waged the Great Arab Revolt against the British and Zionist settlers, and were met with violent counterinsurgency efforts, which included destroying the houses of Palestinians who resisted military aggression. Ultimately, the British effectively handed Palestinian land over to Zionists when maintaining the mandate was no longer feasible. In 1948, with the beginning of the Nakba, the British Mandate for Palestine was dissolved, and the establishment of a colonial Jewish ethnostate in Palestine was declared.
Yet Britain was still heavily invested in maintaining the Anglo-Zionist alliance and its presence in the region, especially after surrounding states — such as Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon — gained independence from British and French colonizers, and the two forces often worked together. In 1956, for example, the British were allowed by the occupation to fly through “Israeli” airspace in order to participate in the invasion of Egypt. In 1975, the United Kingdom voted against UN Resolution 3379, which stipulated that Zionism is racism. Since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, the U.K. has also been in favour of so-called peace talks and the two-state solution, which would effectively restrict Palestinians to living in ghettos surrounded by “Israeli” territory, and diminish any remaining sovereignty over our homeland.
In recent years, the Anglo-Zionist alliance has manifested in the British establishment conflating antisemitism and anti-Zionism, a false equivalency pushed by the Zionist lobby to prevent any and all criticism of the establishment of so-called Israel on Palestinian land. For example, the Church of England, whose head is the current British monarch, declared in 2019 that “Zionism is important and legitimate,” and that “the approaches and language used by pro-Palestinian advocates are indeed reminiscent of what could be called traditional antisemitism.” The same tactic was used to smear Jeremy Corbyn, the former head of the Labour Party, which is now led by a staunch Zionist.
Meanwhile, the Israeli occupation has used British military hardware manufactured by Lockheed Martin to violently enforce the current state of affairs with bombing campaigns on Gaza in 2021, which killed at least 260 Palestinians, including 67 children. When activist groups in the U.K. such as Palestine Action have attempted to shut down these weapons manufacturers, they’ve been unlawfully and violently arrested by British police. Moreover, the U.K. and the Israeli occupation are also planning on boosting bilateral trade in the digital sector, which includes security services used in prisons and policing.
The British monarchs are grifters whose wealth is stolen from the countries they arbitrarily divided and colonized and working-class citizens, and their so-called service is only to imperialism and the ruling class. Whether Elizabeth herself was personally responsible for these crimes, in Palestine or elsewhere, is a non-issue, because it was her prerogative to prolong the imperialist legacy of her ancestors. Monarchs don’t deserve mourning or grief from the people whose land they colonized and gave away, and whose sovereignty they robbed.