The British Relationship With Zionism, Israel and Its Consequences for Palestinians

Photograph Source: Prime Minister’s Office – OGL 3

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the British government, the leadership of the main opposition party and the media and corporate apparatus are standing in absolute lockstep with Israel’s genocide in Gaza, even as 100s of thousands of Brits take to the streets across the United Kingdom (UK) calling for an immediate ceasefire and justice and peace for the Palestinians. This lockstep support for Israel was highlighted on the world stage once again on Friday 27th October as the UK abstained in the vote on a resolution at the UN General Assembly Special Session. The resolution, put forward by Jordan, called for the bare minimum of an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce”.  An abstention from the UK to this resolution at this point, as the killing, maiming, forced transfer and arrest of Palestinian civilians, in Gaza and the Occupied West Bank, reaches a scale previously not seen since the Nakba, was not a neutral act. It was an act of continued diplomatic and political cover for Israel’s government and armed forces to commit abhorrent mass war crimes. Alongside this political support, our navy remains stationed in the Mediterranean Sea to “reinforce regional stability and prevent escalation”.

This British alliance with Zionism and the Israel it created, has held firm from the Balfour Declaration in 1917 to Israel’s violent formation in 1948 to today. Even as Britain fled Palestine and its responsibilities in 1948, allowing war to break out in the process and the Nakba (Catastrophe) to befall the Palestinians, and as its empire faded, Britain has continued to play a cynical and deadly role in the region.

The Balfour Declaration of 1917 was issued as follows by the British government;

“His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”.

What is often lacking in the debate over what the true meaning of this declaration was, is the understanding that Britain had no moral or legal right to make the declaration in the first place. By 1917, Britain had reached the zenith of its empire in terms of land and people that it illegitimately ruled over in a brutal and exploitative manner. At the end of World War One, Britain took over control of Palestine from the Ottoman Empire, and neighboring areas including modern-day Iraq and Saudi Arabia. This empire, and British rule in Palestine, was illegitimate not only because it was opposed by the local people subject to British rule, but in addition, the newly created and rather shaky, League of Nations, a pre-cursor to the United Nations, mandated Britain to grant self-government and independence to Palestine as soon as possible. Within the mandate, The Balfour Declaration was included, but the mandate and The League of Nations did not authorize Britain to give Palestine over to another invading force, which is what Zionist leaders clearly portrayed it as, to the indigenous population.  It is important to note that Zionism was the most widespread of a number of responses from the Jewish community to the obscene and deadly institutional anti-Semitism they had faced in Britain and Europe for hundreds of years. Anti-Semitism which culminated in the German Nazi-led, and Europe-wide, Holocaust of the Jewish people in Europe.

The Palestinians rose up against this taking of their homeland by the UK and Zionists throughout the 1920s and through a sustained revolt during the 1930s, including the mass use of non-violent tactics including but not limited to demonstrations and General strikes and violent resistance through attacks on Zionist population centers and against British forces.  Many of the ‘emergency’ laws the British authorities introduced and used to violently break the revolt were kept by Israel after its formation and are used to punish the Palestinians for any kind of resistance, most of which continues to be in the form of non-violent resistance, to the internationally recognized illegal occupation and resulting apartheid of the Palestinian people and their land.

The reasoning within the apparatus of the British Empire during this time to support Zionism was varied. The British Prime minister at the end of World War One, David Lloyd George, was one of many Christian Zionists who supported the Balfour Declaration and the concept of Zionism. This view was often mixed in with the virulent anti-Semitism which was widespread within the British establishment. Other establishment figures wanted to punish and split the Arabs for their daring to stand–up to Britain, in trying to assert their independence post WW1 again alongside the racist treatment of non-white peoples under the British Empire. Others supported Zionism for geopolitical reasoning in protecting Britain’s increasingly huge but fragile empire, in particular, to protect Britain’s rule over India, ensuring a land and sea corridor to India from Egypt through the Suez Canal, through which a huge amount of international and British trade and military flowed through. Keeping Palestine under British rule and/or under an allied Zionist rule would serve to protect these sea and land routes.

Following the creation of Israel and the resultant planned ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians in 1948, Britain continued to ally with Israel from the Suez crisis to the acquiescence on the continued and constantly morphing repression of the Palestinians within Historic Palestine/Israel. In the present day, Britain is one of the biggest arms exporters in the world, and despite lofty talk and British law regulating human rights in relation to arms controls, 100s of millions of arms sales continue to flow to Israel. Alongside this, regular naval and air combined exercises continue to take place and a strengthened framework between the two countries over security, defense, technology and trade, was signed only this year.  There can be no doubt about the strength of the alliance between modern Britain and Israel. This alliance of weapons, equipment, military know-how and the political and diplomatic cover of the relationship are used to enforce the occupation and apartheid of the Palestinians and the horrors we are now witnessing.

In response to this current and now clear attempt at genocide, our current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, told Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu “We want you to win”. This was said and backed up, even after it was clear the violent action being taken by Israel was directly targeting the civilian population with the collective punishment of cutting off fuel, electricity, food, water and medical supplies in Gaza, whilst killing and maiming thousands of civilians using advanced UK-supplied weaponry and equipment. Win what exactly Mr Prime Minister? What is going to be won?  Certainly no long-term security or peace for Israelis, they are destroying the people and the place they call home and turning them and world against them, and for the Palestinians if Israel must win, what must they lose, absolutely everything? Their lives, their houses, their remaining land, their very existence as a people and culture?

Any person committed genuinely to peace should know there is only one route to peace, justice and security, which is equal rights for all the peoples currently living from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea, a right of return to the Palestinians expelled from their homeland and an agreed upon justice and compensation process for the mass war crimes committed by Israel. Any war crimes committed by Hamas towards civilians, should also be included in this process.

A Palestinian friend watching with horror and fear for what is happening to their people recently told me, “I am so angry at your government saying that they will not ask Israel to stop bombing and that they are defending themselves. I hate the UK government, I hate it so much. They were the reason behind the occupation of my land and now they are supporting the murderers of my people”.

Knowing their history, watching what is unfolding and the suffering being endured under this mass and incomprehensible violence, tell me why Palestinians, a people filled with courage, hope, and a longing for peace, why shouldn’t they hate the UK government?

I urge fellow people in the UK to think about, ask questions, demand answers to this unquestioning alliance with Israel and what it means for our country and most importantly for the Palestinians.  We owe it to Palestinians to stand up for their rights as full human beings in our world, especially now. We must continue to demand on the streets and online, that our government and Members of Parliament from all parties, the whole establishment, change position and call for an immediate ceasefire and an end to the occupation and apartheid.

Jonathan Woodrow Martin is a graduate of HCRI institute at The University of Manchester and can be reached at