Winston Churchill’s racist legacy in Palestine

The statue of Winston Churchill in London has been targeted by anti-racism protesters over the past few weeks. 

Dylan Martinez Reuters

“We cannot now try to edit or censor our past,” the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted earlier this month, defending the statue of Winston Churchill in London’s Parliament Square.

The plinth of the statue has recently been daubed with graffiti drawing attention to Churchill’s racism. Johnson is nonetheless adamant that the wartime leader “fully deserves his tribute.”

“Those statues teach us about our past, with all its faults,” Johnson has argued, claiming that “we cannot pretend to have a different history.”

But “pretending to have a different history” is precisely the purpose of such statues.

The statue shows us the Churchill who helped defeat the Nazis.

It hides the Churchill who supported and enabled other crimes against humanity. These include crimes committed against Palestinians.

For Palestinians, keeping us ignorant of the past “with all its faults” serves to keep us ignorant of the present. It helps perpetuate an injustice that Churchill was instrumental in creating and that continues unabated today with official British support.

Approving dispossession

Since the early days of British involvement with Zionism, Churchill sanctioned the dispossession of non-Jewish Palestinians by assuring that they have no voice in the affairs of their own land. “In the interests of the Zionist policy,” he stated in August 1921 as the government minister in charge of Britain’s colonies, “all elective institutions have so far been refused to the Arabs.”

A snapshot of Churchill’s stances on Palestine and race is found in the records of the 1937 Peel Commission hearings, convened to address a major revolt in Palestine.

The revolt was a response to how Britain – working in tandem with the Zionists – had introduced a system of discrimination whereby Palestinians were denied jobs, land and resources in favor of Jewish settlers. Britain, then administering Palestine under a League of Nations mandate, violently suppressed the revolt.

The 1937 hearings began with a review of the reasons the British signed on to the Zionist settler project, leading to the Balfour Declaration of 1917. One might assume that old-fashioned imperialism — the belief that the Zionists would serve as surrogate empire builders — may have been part of the thinking, but this was never voiced at the hearings.

The stated reason was the First World War. Britain wanted the US to step up its involvement in the war and Zionist propagandists claimed that they could rally American Jews to the task – if Britain “gave” them Palestine.

As David Lloyd George, Britain’s prime minister when the Balfour Declaration was signed, testified, “The Zionist leaders gave us a definite promise” that “they would do their best to rally Jewish sentiment and support throughout the world to the Allied cause … if the British government were to declare their sympathy for a Jewish administration of Palestine.”

It was important to “rally Jewish sentiment,” Lloyd George said because in 1917 “there were no American divisions at the front … in the trenches … and we had every reason at the time to believe that in both countries the friendliness or hostility of the Jewish race might make a considerable difference.”

“Right to strike hard”

Churchill testified the same. Zionism was embraced because “it was a potent factor on public opinion in America” from which “we gained great advantages in the war.”

But Horace Rumbold, who had been Britain’s ambassador in Berlin for the five years ending with Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, and who is remembered for his unvarnished warnings of Hitler’s ambitions, asked whether Zionist policy is worth “the lives of our men, and so on.” And did it follow, he asked Churchill, that having “conquered Palestine we can dispose of it as we like?”

Churchill replied to that and similar questions by invoking commitments given when Britain captured Palestine toward the end of 1917. “We decided in the process of conquest of [Palestine] to make certain pledges to the Jews,” Churchill said.

Apparently skeptical, the head of the commission, William Peel, asked Churchill if it is not “a very odd self-government” when “it is only when the Jews are a majority that we can have it.”

Churchill responded with a blunt argument of might: “We have every right to strike hard in support of our authority.”

The historian Reginald Coupland nonetheless told the hearings that the “average Englishman” would wonder why the Arabs were being denied self-government, and why we had “to go on shooting the Arabs down because of keeping his promise to the Jews.”

Peel, similarly, asked Churchill if the British public “might get rather tired and rather inquisitive if every two or three years there was a sort of campaign against the Arabs and we sent out troops and shot them down? They would begin to enquire, ‘Why is it done? What is the fault of these people?… Why are you doing it? In order to get a home for the Jews?’”

“And it would mean rather brutal methods,” added Laurie Hammond, who had worked with the British colonial administration in India. “I do not say the methods of the Italians at Addis Ababa,” referring to Benito Mussolini’s Ethiopian massacre of February 1937, “but it would mean the blowing up of villages and that sort of thing?” The British, he recalled, had blown up part of the Palestinian port city of Jaffa.

Peel agreed, and added that “they blew up a lot of [Palestinian] houses all over the place in order to awe the population. I have seen photographs of these things going up in the air.”

But when Peel questioned whether “it is not only a question of being strong enough,” but of “downing” the Arabs who simply wanted to remain in their own country, Churchill lost patience.

“I do not admit that the dog in the manger has the final right to the manger,” he countered, “even though he may have lain there for a very long time.” He denied that “a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America, or the Black people of Australia,” by their replacement with “a higher grade race.”

One tumultuous decade later, at the turn of 1948, the wholesale ethnic cleansing, expropriation and subjugation of Palestine jumped to full-throttle. Yet Churchill, the great warrior against the horrors of facism and racialism when it concerned Europeans, had not changed his views on the “dogs in the manger.”

In January 1949, speaking to the British parliament, Churchill dismissed the victims of Zionist ethnic cleansing as “Arabs [who] came in [to Palestine] during the period of the 25 years of British administration,” and who were “getting employment under the conditions we created.”

Lest this be dismissed as judging Churchill by the mores of today, it is worth noting comments made by the British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin during the same parliamentary debate. Bevin argued that “the driving of poor innocent people from their homes, whether it is in Germany by Hitler, or by anybody else … is a crime, and we really ought to join together to stop it if we can.”

Challenging the iconography of past leaders is not just to expose their hypocrisy, but to expose ours. Today Britain, and by extension all of Europe, the US and Canada, actively empower the ongoing crimes against Palestinians.

So long as these crimes continue, Churchill’s statue has taught us nothing.

Thomas Suárez is the author of State of Terror: How Terrorism Created Modern Israel (Interlink, 2016). A violinist who has performed around the world, he is a former faculty member of Palestine’s National Conservatory of Music.




The Balfour declaration also helped cover up Britain's alliance with the decidedly antisemitic Tsarist regime in Russia. Indeed it was the alliance of the British (and French) government with Tsarism that made many American Jews opposed to the first world war. The Balfour declaration helped get them onside for the entry of US troops into the war, under the command of the notorious racists (and antiSemites) General Pershing and President Wilson. Churchill had been lobbying for war with Germany since 1912.


An undoubted racist, Churchill was enthusiastic about using poison gas against "recalcitrant Arabs". His comment about the ethnically cleansed Arabs having come to Palestine during the Mandate, adumbrates the fraudulent book by Joan Peters, From Time Immemorial, brilliantly exposed and discredited by Norman Finkelstein in Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict. Like Churchill, Peters tried to establish that the Arabs were newcomers, that they had arrived because of the opportunities provided by Zionist settlers. Like him, she engaged in this wilful distortion out of prejudice. It should not be forgotten either that Balfour was a racist who refused entry to Jews fleeing the Russian pogrom of the early 20th century on the grounds they had done enough damage to the country. What evidence is there that Churchill was opposed to the racist motivation which lurked beneath the Balfour Declaration? Churchill was a fully subscribed believer in the perverse vrsion of "progress" which conceives it as the ascent of the superior races, classes and individuals at the expense of the inferior. The doctrine at the core of the colonialism which has created the modern world. He subscribed to the view that the poorer countries were lagging because of the inferiority of their populations, while in fact many thriving, fertile and prosperous regions were aid waste by British imperialism. The plight of the developing world is a function of its exploitation by the rich; and what made that possible was simple: violence. As Brecht said, "God help the country that needs heroes." Iconoclasm towards racists, imperialists, colonialists is long overdue. We don't need statues which celebrate violent expropriation and exploitation, we need a new reality of peace, equal rights and democracy.


Alas it is a simple fact that 80% of Conservative MP's support present-day Israel. However if ever Palestine becomes a Free and Independent country it will because of the efforts of ALL PALESTINIANS AND ARABS. United you will stand, divided you must fall.


Apparently there's a specific Churchill quote on the Palestinians here :

<blockquote> "He (Churchill -ed) referred to Palestinians as "barbaric hordes who ate little but camel dung." When quashing insurgents in Sudan in the earlier days of his imperial career, Churchill boasted of killing three "savages." Contemplating restive populations in northwest Asia, he infamously lamented the "squeamishness" of his colleagues, who were not in "favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes."</blockquote>

Source :

Chyaaarr-ming huh?

Yeah, he was still better than Hitler who he - thanks mainly to Stalin & so many known and unknown soldiers of a huge number of various nationalities - defeated.



Mr Churchill a war criminal for sure. Now he is on the back of the £5 note. Seems he was fond of the drink too. He had no qualms about sh**ting on the Palestinians but he had no time for Jewish folk either. Everything to suit perfidious Albion was his mantra. To hell with the rest of us.


So the quid pro quo for Zionists rallying the US to enter WWI was Britain paving the way for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine - or so the story goes. I would be sceptical of both claims.

In the 1930s colonization was losing its respectability but British empire building might just pass muster done under the guise of Jewish 'self-determination'. Did Zionists really hold sufficient sway within the USA to effectively nudge an unwilling USA into entering WWI? Maybe but probably not; far more likely that this is a bit of vain glory self-aggrandizement by Zionists of the time and their role was marginal rather than determinate. Maybe the Brits believed in the Zionist claim and were desperate enough to gamble away what was not theirs in a grand throw of the dice? Who knows and what did they have to lose?

However, we do know that there was no decisive military victory that clearly ended the war. Germany was defeated primarily because Germany ran out of resources before Britain did. The military and economic resources of America that were made available to Britain ensured the defeat of Germany.

We also know that these claims, regardless of their veracity, were sloshing about and certainly entered the mindset of a certain highly patriotic German corporal in the trenches who grew to have a hatred of Jews and blamed them for Germany's defeat.

Britain appeared to have a bit of buyers remorse after the end of WWI but was either unable or unwilling to contain European Jewish migration into Palestine or to protect the security of Palestinians. This is all in the past but in the present day it appears that are seeing the beginnings of the realization that unconditional support for Israel and the occupation is liability for the USA.

There is little to like or respect about Churchill; a bigot even by the standards of his time.