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Bursting the bubble of another PA lie: The Campbell-Bannerman conspiracy

Maurice Hirsch, Adv.  |

As Palestinian Media Watch has repeatedly exposed, an integral part of the Palestinian Authority’s “narrative” to undermine Israel’s legitimacy is to claim that Jews lack any historical connection to the land of Israel and that the creation of Israel was nothing more than an act of western colonization. To support their historical revision, PA leaders and officials often claim there was a secret plan formulated by British Prime Minister Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, to plant “a foreign body in the middle of the people of the Arab nation in order to fragment its solidarity, steal its resources, and prevent its revival.” This according to the PA historical revision is the sole reason for the establishment of the state of Israel. Similar to many other parts of the PA narrative, the claim regarding the Campbell-Bannerman conspiracy is a complete lie lacking any factual or evidentiary basis. In fact, honest Muslim-Arab scholars who have tried to prove this document’s authenticity eventually admitted that no such document exists.

An article written by Prof Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh, who heads the Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, a Lebanese research institute that “focuses on the Palestinian issue and the conflict with Israel as well as related Palestinian, Arab, Islamic and international developments,” wanted to determine the origins of the so-called “Campbell-Bannerman document”.

Although his goal was to attempt to authenticate the document, Salah was disappointed:

“In short, I became curious about the issue. In one visit to Britain, I therefore set out to investigate, it but found no trace or source of it!!”

[Website of Al-Zaytouna, Political Analysis: Is the “Campbell-Bannerman Document”: Real or Fake?,  Sept. 29, 2017]

In the article, Salah exposes how Dr. Anis Sayegh (who Salah refers to as “one of the leading researchers in modern Palestinian history, and head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Research Center between 1966 and 1976”) discovered the origin of the alleged document. According to the account, the document was first referenced after an incidental discussion between an Egyptian named Antoun Canaan (“the first Arab to reference the Campbell-Bannerman document in a published work”) and an unidentified Indian man, sitting next to him on a plane:

In his account, he mentions when he served as chairman of the PLO think tank, that he was keen to reach the “important document,” but could not find a single established source for it in dozens of references and books citing it, including works by reliable writers such as Buhran al-Dajani, Munthir Antabawi, Khairi Hamad, and Shafiq Irshidat. Each of them referenced another in a sort of a circular way.

For this reason, Dr. Anis Sayegh decided to dedicate time to research the document in Britain, spending a whole month in the British National Archives, the British Museum library, and Cambridge University where Campbell-Bannerman had studied and deposited his entire private documents collection. Dr. Sayegh also examined the archives of The Times newspaper covering the period 1904–1907, and found thousands of references to the imperialist colonial conference, but found nothing about the document itself.

After returning empty handed to Beirut, he had the chance to learn that the first Arab to reference the Campbell-Bannerman document in a published work was Antoun Canaan. He went to Egypt where Antoun was living, and met him after some time searching and seeking him out. He was surprised to hear from him that when he travelled from Palestine to London to study law in the mid-1940s, he met in the plane an Indian man sitting next him. The man told him he remembers reading about a colonial conference held in London attended by delegates from several colonial powers to discuss the partition of the Arab nations, prevent their reunification, and the establishment of a Jewish state, but the Indian man did not give Canaan any documented academic material regarding the document.”

[Website of Al-Zaytouna, Political Analysis: Is the “Campbell-Bannerman Document”: Real or Fake?,  Sept. 29, 2017]

While Salah notes “Our failure to secure the document does not prove its non-existence in the same or different form,” he adds, “at the same time we cannot claim something exists, when this is far from being conclusively established.”

Salah concludes the article by equating the alleged Campbell-Bannerman document to the thoroughly discredited “Protocols of the Elders of Zions” and the so-called “promise of Napoléon” in 1798… cited in some Arab and Islamic literature without evidence”:

Thus, the Campbell-Bannerman document is added to the so-called “The Protocols of the Elders of Zions” and the so-called “promise of Napoléon” in 1798, which were also never authenticated, yet are still being cited in some Arab and Islamic literature without evidence.  

[Website of Al-Zaytouna, Political Analysis: Is the “Campbell-Bannerman Document”: Real or Fake?,  Sept. 29, 2017]

The full version of Salah’s article appears below.

While there is clearly no factual or evidential basis to support the existence of the alleged Campbell-Bannerman document, this, in true PA fashion, does not prevent the conspiracy from being repeatedly referenced by the PA and its officials.

In a sermon explaining how the Quran teaches Palestinians to discern their enemies, PA Supreme Shari’ah Judge and Mahmoud Abbas’ Advisor on Religious Affairs and Islamic Relations Mahmoud Al-Habbash, who recently referred to Jews as “grazing herds of humanoids… apes and pigs”, answered the question “How will you know your enemy?” by saying:

“The enemy is the one who trespasses, transgresses, attacks, oppresses, harms, damages… Anyone who does one of these things to us… is an enemy, and we must view him only from this viewpoint… They will spare no effort to attack you in every way and form, and they will ‘extend against you their hands and their tongues with evil.’”

[Official PA TV, Sept. 9, 2022]

Al-Habbash continued:

Who are the ones who ‘extend against you their hands and their tongues with evil,’ and they wish we would abandon our religion, our values, and our principles… who are they?...

Not only those who are imposing the occupation on us directly are enemies. They are enemies, the occupation is an enemy, it has no other name, the occupation is an enemy; but not just the occupation, rather the forefathers of the occupation as well, the founders of the occupation who established it and helped in its establishment more than 100 years ago.

[Official PA TV, Sept. 9, 2022]

Preparing his reference to the Campbell-Bannerman document, Al-Habbash then embellished the incidental story of the unidentified Indian man, into an entire conspiracy about the western counties foreseeing their demise, their replacement by “the civilization to the east and south of the Mediterranean Sea” and their plot to counter that possibility:

“More than 100 years ago, at the start of the 20th century, the colonialist forefathers of the Zionist project convened, the forefathers of the project of ‘Israel,’ which occupies our land and steals our rights. They met and convened and said that their culture – the aggressive imperialist culture of colonialism that is based on materialism, oppression, profit, and cruelty – this civilization, if it can be called that, is about to collapse. And who is the candidate to take its place, to lead the world, and to raise the flag of justice and goodness?

Those who convened, who were prime ministers and ministers of the European colonialist states, and also thinkers, historians, and advisors, they met in London at the start of the 20th century in 1902 or 1903, and said that their culture is about to collapse, and the one who will take its place is the civilization to the east and south of the Mediterranean Sea…

But the oppressive attacking colonialists do not want this. They said: In order to prevent this, we must prevent the progress of this region. We must leave it divided, disintegrated, split, conflicted among itself. We must spread hatred, grudges, and conflicts among them. [We must leave the region] backward, We must prevent the region from progress, the capability of initiative, and the foundations of identity. And more than all of this, we must plant in the heart of this region an isolated entity, a people that is foreign to them and their lands, that will be a friend to us – and they will be the Jews (sic., an abundance of evidence proves Jewish history in Israel). This is what they wanted, they only used the Jews. They used them to realize colonialist desires of expansion, aggression. They and the occupation are two faces, two ugly faces of one coin, two ugly faces of an even uglier coin…

[Official PA TV, Sept. 9, 2022]

Al-Habbas then concluded:

“They are the ones who convened together against us, and then they issued what was known in history as ‘the Balfour Promise’ (i.e., Declaration). They are an enemy. They attacked us, oppressed, stole our rights, gave our well-rooted and permanent rights to those who are not worthy of them, and they deserve none of them… The Quran did not mention Balfour by name, and it did not mention the report- the plot that preceded him, which we noted earlier, and which was known in history as the British Prime Minister [Henry] Campbell-Bannerman plot, or document, or plan. The Quran did not mention the names of these criminals, but it noted their character traits and their descriptions…”

[Official PA TV, Sept. 9, 2022]

This was not the first time Al-Habbash told the invented story, arguing that the goal of implanting the Jews in the Middle East was to leave the residents of the area “divided, backward, and fighting among themselves”:

“More than 100 years ago, a few leaders of the west met in London, in 1905, and discussed the status of Europe, colonialism, and the world. Their conclusion was: Their civilization is about to fall. The culture of the West, the culture of wild capitalism, and the culture of aggression, imperialism, and colonialism, are about to fall. And the [inhabitants of the] area that would inherit its place was the [inhabitants of the] area south and east of the Mediterranean Sea thanks to its advantages of geographic unity, large natural resources, and a unified language and religion, 'and in order to prevent this area from leading the nations, we must leave this area and its residents divided, backward, and fighting among themselves.’”

[Official PA TV, March 15, 2019]

Fatah Revolutionary Council member and regular columnist for the official PA daily, Muwaffaq Matar similarly referred to the alleged conspiracy claiming that the plan was to plant “a pawn on the land of our homeland Palestine as a site of concentration and taking action to prevent the awakening of the Arab nation and its unity”:   

“We in the Palestinian liberation movement are going according to the will and culture of the Palestinian people. We have understood the nature of the fateful ties with our Arab nation and consider its economic, political, and social achievements, power, consolidation, unity, development, and growth and its cultural enlightenment as the strongest component, after our will power, faith, and struggle, in our fight to extract our historical and natural right from the claws of the colonialist states, which decided in the 1905 Campbell[-Bannerman] document to establish a pawn on the land of our homeland Palestine as a site of concentration and taking action to prevent the awakening of the Arab nation and its unity.”

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Nov. 24, 2022]  

Omar Hilmi Al-Ghoul, regular columnist for the official PA daily and former advisor to former PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on national affairs has also made repeated references to the alleged conspiracy:

“Zionist fascism is deep-rooted and has existed since the implementation of the Zionist project began in historical Palestine, in other words, more than 100 years ago – dozens of years before the Nazi Holocaust, which has no connection to the results of the Campbell-Bannerman Conference in the years 1905-1907…”

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, June 20, 2022]

“It must be emphasized again that the Balfour Promise (i.e., Declaration)… was given for colonialist imperialist reasons that were defined at the 1905-1907 Campbell-Bannerman Conference. This conference consolidated the ideological, colonialist, political, and economic background for establishing a foreign body in the middle of the people of the Arab nation in order to fragment its solidarity, steal its resources, and prevent its revival…

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Nov. 3, 2019]

"The goal of the establishment of the Zionist project and its physical base, the colonialist State of Israel, was to eliminate and erase the Palestinian people from the Arab, regional, and global geopolitics and to leave the Israeli colonialist state that has no historical roots and is foreign to the Arab surroundings and to the Middle East in general. This is an unnatural state with no political and anthropological suitability, which the capitalist West established in order to realize its colonialist goals in the Arab homeland according to the decision of the Campbell-Bannerman Conference, which was strengthened by the ominous Balfour Promise and its historical progress and development.”

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, July 13, 2019]

PA TV also interviewed an Egyptologist who also explained how, as part of the Campbell-Bannerman conspiracy theory, Britain planted Jews in Middle East to divide Arabs:

Egyptologist Dr. Wasim Al-Sisi: In 1907, the prime minister of England was a man named Sir Henry Campbell-Banner… He gathered delegations of European states, and said: “There is a very wealthy, fertile, and uneducated region and it is the Middle East region. The most important state is Egypt because of the richness of its civilization. This region, if it develops, they will strangle us [Europe]... We want an entity… that we will plant in this region. Its role is to break them up [the Arab states]. It will not give them the opportunity to align. For if they align and unite, we will be lost. In return for this, we will help this entity and strengthen it, as it is a part of us.”

 

[Official PA TV, From Cairo, Oct. 8, 2018]

It should be noted, that British Prime Minister Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman did lead an Imperial Conference, the minutes of which disprove claims of a conspiracy theory to undermine the Middle East.

The following is the full text of the article written by Salah:


The Campbell-Bannerman document has been used as reference by dozens of researchers in the Arab world, since the mid-twentieth century. They consider it a starting point for understanding the background of the emergence of the Jewish Zionist project in Palestine as pursued by the Western imperialist powers. However, the document has “mysterious” origins, and its authenticity has not been verified academically and reliably.

In the past months, I followed, on many levels, the debate surrounding the document. A video spread widely, in Arabic, on social media warning about the content of the document and its dangerous implications.

The “alleged” document states - according to the first part of the Malaf Watha’iq Felastin (Palestine Documents Dossier) published by the Ministry of Culture and National Guidance in Egypt in 1969 (under Gamal Abdel Nasser), p.121 - that a secret “colonial conference” was held in London in 1905-1907, at the initiative of the British Conservative Party. It was attended by prominent historians, sociologists, geographers, agricultural scientists, petroleum experts, and economists. The supposed conference allegedly made a series of recommendations in 1907 to then British Prime Minister Henry Campbell-Bannerman, emphasizing the following:

“Establishing a strong alien human barrier in the land bridge linking Europe to the old world, and both to the Mediterranean, to form - in the region near the Suez Canal - a force hostile to the peoples of the region and friendly to European countries and their interests, is the practical and immediate implementation of the proposed methods and approaches.”

According to the alleged document, this means that “Western experts” see the establishment of an alien entity, namely the subsequent Israel, in the Eastern Mediterranean (especially in Palestine) a way to create a forward base to protect Western interests, weaken the region, and prevent its reunification. Several researchers argued that whether or not the document is fake, this is what has happened in reality.

The author, like other researchers, have encountered this document in otherwise respectable Arab sources and references, used by renowned writers known for their accuracy, and in the Palestine Documents Dossier published by an official Egyptian body supposed to pursue a high level of academic scrutiny. As a result, the author has used this document in his writings and lectures, before becoming aware of the problems it raises.

Around 14 years ago, I met with Munir Shafiq, who urged me to verify the document from original British sources, especially after he learned of my specialization focusing on such documents, with my PhD dissertation relying primarily on unpublished British documents kept in the British National Archives, previously the Public Record Office, which I continued to consult from time to time for my academic work.

Dr. Anis Sayegh, one of the leading researchers in modern Palestinian history, and head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Research Center between 1966 and 1976, also drew my attention to the document. He told me of his own experience researching the document and his doubts about its authenticity.

In short, I became curious about the issue. In one visit to Britain, I therefore set out to investigate it, but found no trace or source of it!!

What raised doubts further is that the Palestine Documents Dossier—and other sources - did not provide citations for the document, which has no entry in the British archives, with a date, serial number, and classification under the Foreign Office, Colonial Office, War Office, or the Prime Minister’s Office files (PREM), etc.

Dr. Anis Sayegh’s story with this document is both interesting and bitter. He summarized it in his Arabic memoirs Anis Sayegh on Anis Sayegh, pages 279-281. In his account, he mentions when he served as chairman of the PLO think tank, that he was keen to reach the “important document,” but could not find a single established source for it in dozens of references and books citing it, including works by reliable writers such as Buhran al-Dajani, Munthir Antabawi, Khairi Hamad, and Shafiq Irshidat. Each of them referenced another in a sort of a circular way.

For this reason, Dr. Anis Sayegh decided to dedicate time to research the document in Britain, spending a whole month in the British National Archives, the British Museum library, and Cambridge University where Campbell-Bannerman had studied and deposited his entire private documents collection. Dr. Sayegh also examined the archives of The Times newspaper covering the period 1904–1907, and found thousands of references to the imperialist colonial conference, but found nothing about the document itself.

After returning empty handed to Beirut, he had the chance to learn that the first Arab to reference the Campbell-Bannerman document in a published work was Antoun Canaan. He went to Egypt where Antoun was living, and met him after some time searching and seeking him out. He was surprised to hear from him that when he travelled from Palestine to London to study law in the mid-1940s, he met in the plane an Indian man sitting next him. The man told him he remembers reading about a colonial conference held in London attended by delegates from several colonial powers to discuss the partition of the Arab nations, prevent their reunification, and the establishment of a Jewish state, but the Indian man did not give Canaan any documented academic material regarding the document.

Thus, Dr. Sayegh returned frustrated. Neither the Indian man nor Canaan had examined the original document, and had any academic citation for it. Dr. Sayegh thus decided to bar anymore referencing or quoting of it in studies published by the Palestinian Research Center. As for me, I also decided to do the same, after not having found any evidence authenticating it.

After this overview, we may highlight some remarks and points as follows:

1. The convening of imperialist colonial conferences in that period was a fact. British documents include hundreds of dossiers and entries about them. However, the text of the so-called Campbell-Bannerman document does not exist in those documents.

2. Our failure to secure the document does not prove its non-existence in the same or different form. However, at the same time we cannot claim something exists, when this is far from being conclusively established.

3. The fact that we don’t have the document in our hands denies us the ability - academically speaking - to use it as a reference, especially given its sensitivity and serious implications. Furthermore, the results Dr. Sayegh reached after his extensive research cast serious doubt on its authenticity.

4. According to the research of the author of this article in the British archives for many years, and based on his inquiries to the archivists there, British documents are usually divided into categories:

• Archives to be published: Most of these documents are published after thirty years, with some may be delayed to fifty, seventy five, or even one hundred years.

• Archives preserved without being published.

• Archives that are destroyed.

This means that there is a careful process of prior scrutiny of documents in the archives in which the higher interests of the state and its sensitive secrets are taken into account, as well as the implications of publishing such documents on states, institutions, and individuals, and on enemies and allies. This could allow us to reach the conclusion that some documents may be destroyed if they are seen as prejudicing state high interests or providing damning evidence against it.

5. The British colonialism and colonial powers are generally intelligent, experienced, and careful enough to keep such documents, should they exist, away from researchers because of the damning evidence they contain against their “plotting” as colonial powers. In some cases, instructions regarding this issue may remain verbal and not written in documented texts, or are barred from publication and circulation, a procedure many governments in the present day observe.

6. The course of events on the ground may corroborate the substance of the Campbell-Bannerman document, though it is insufficient to establish its authenticity from an academic point of view. The Balfour Declaration was issued in 1917 after all, and Britain insisted to directly sponsor the growth of the Zionist project in Palestine and the establishment of a Jewish state there. Thus repressing the will of the Palestinian people and their uprisings for 30 years (1917–1948) until the military, political, economic, social and administrative infrastructure of a “Jewish state” was complete.

In 1948, Israel was established in the heart of the Arab and Muslim world. The survival and prosperity of this state, at least from a practical point of view, is linked to the weakness, division, and backwardness of its surroundings. Indeed, projects for genuine unification and revival expressing the will of the peoples of the region and the entire nation are inherently hostile and an existential threat to Israel, which—in the point of view of the people of the area—usurped the “heart” of the Arab and Muslim nation (Palestine) and dispossessed its people.

7. There are documents and writings whose substance corroborate that of the alleged Campbell-Bannerman document. When the founder of the Zionist movement Theodore Herzl met with then British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain in 1902, Herzl told him the Zionist base in Palestine would be a buffer state, securing British interests. In other words, the Zionist movement understood well that its project could never be successful without the sponsorship and protection of a major power, and had to act in the context of the interests of such a major power.

In the First World War, writings emerged by non-Jewish British figures such as Charles Prestwich Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian, and Herbert Sidebotham, a prolific writer, calling for the creation of a buffer state in Palestine and claiming the only group suitable for the purpose were the Jewish people.

Generally speaking, the strategic factor was a major cause in the minds of those behind the Balfour Declaration (the Jewish state as a buffer state, forward base, and a communication and transit point…). We may find such strategic references in remarks by Prime Minister David Lloyd George and Lord Curzon, who succeeded Balfour in his post, and others.

Furthermore, Herbert Samuel, the Zionist Jewish minister in the British government headed by Herbert Asquith submitted a secret memo to the cabinet in January 1915, calling for the occupation of Palestine and opening the door to Jewish migration and settlement so that Jews may become a majority there, highlighting the strategic advantages of seizing Palestine.

8. Finally, the Campbell-Bannerman document cannot be cited academically nor journalistically until firm evidence is found of its authenticity, given the implications for credibility and objectivity for using it. Indeed, this would allow those who are against the Palestinian cause to discredit, undermine, mock, and damage the other strong evidence and arguments of pro-Palestine researchers, in a way that far outweighs any benefits from citing the document with good intentions. Particularly so, when there is a large corpus of genuine documents and actual colonial practices on the ground, that expose the extent of colonial support for the Zionist project, and colonial attempts to head off unification and revival projects in the region.

Thus, the Campbell-Bannerman document is added to the so-called “The Protocols of the Elders of Zions” and the so-called “promise of Napoléon” in 1798, which were also never authenticated, yet are still being cited in some Arab and Islamic literature without evidence. The criteria for credibility and objectivity, verification, authentication, and the balances of skepticism and adjustment, for which the Muslims were famous in their history, remain the best “capital” in dealing with such information or documents.

[Website of Al-Zaytouna, Political Analysis: Is the “Campbell-Bannerman Document”: Real or Fake?,  Sept. 29, 2017]