The White Princess – Drama Channel

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Oh dear. I don’t know why I watched this: Philippa Gregory’s interpretation of the events of the 1480s puts my back right up, and this TV adaptation of it is even more annoying than the book!  Having said which, the great thing about 1485 and all that is that it does get everyone worked up, and hotly debating what went on.  In terms of conspiracy theories and news which may or may not be fake, the likes of Messrs Trump and Putin have got nothing on the Yorkists and the Tudors.  It should really be the Civil War and the Glorious Revolution which people get worked up about, but most people don’t get half as aereated over any of that as they do over Henry VII and Richard III.

I like Henry VII. I like Lady Margaret Beaufort.  Nothing short of hard scientific evidence will ever convince me that Richard III wasn’t responsible for the murders of the Princes in the Tower.  And, as far as “the White Princess”, Elizabeth of York, is concerned, I’m inclined to believe … well, The Song of Lady Bessy is possibly a bit OTT, but I would still go for the version of events in which Elizabeth of York and her mother were sure that Richard had murdered the princes, and were working with Henry Tudor well before Bosworth Field.

But, OK, we really don’t know what happened, and, with all the different versions of events, it is entirely possible that the version which Philippa Gregory’s gone for, in which Elizabeth of York wanted to marry her uncle Richard III (there was the infamous incident, before this book starts, with Elizabeth turning up at court in the same dress as Anne Neville, and there were certainly plenty of rumours that Richard was after Elizabeth), and hated the fact that she had to marry Henry, is true instead.

But The White Princess really does over-egg the pudding.  It’s got Elizabeth having actually had a physical affair with Richard.  And it’s also got the young Duke of York having been sneaked out of the Tower and sent off to Tournai, to the Warbecks … to return, several years later, as Perkin Warbeck, claiming to be the Duke of York.  In the book, that was only hinted at.  He was sent off to Tournai, but the names “Perkin” and “Warbeck” weren’t used.  Anyone familiar with the reign of Henry VII would have sussed out the idea, but it wasn’t spelt out.  It has been in the TV series – which is interesting, because Philippa Gregory seemed to lose interest in the idea and has never written a book covering the Warbeck years, so it’s going to have to be left as a very big loose end.  Mind you, the book didn’t go that far anyway, so it won’t really matter. Everyone in my history A-level group was obsessed with Perkin Warbeck. Whilst he clearly wasn’t Richard, Duke of York, he was very handsome and dashing … which Henry VII assuredly was not.  However, in this adaptation, he is.  That’s rather nice from an eye candy point of view, but rather annoying from a historical accuracy point of view.

Also, why is she referred to as “Princess Elizabeth” when surely she’d have been referred to as “Lady Elizabeth”, under the rather awkward circumstances? And no-one would have called her “Lizzie”: the usual “shorts” for Elizabeth at the time were “Bess” and “Bessie” And why does Henry address Jasper Tudor by his first name, rather than as uncle.  I really like Jasper, BTW.  And he’s about the only person who’s been represented reasonably accurately!

What else can I whinge about? Oh yes, the old chestnut that, because Arthur was born about eight months after the wedding, Henry must have decided to make sure that Elizabeth was fertile before marrying her.  How advanced do people think 15th century obstetrics were?!  No way could anyone have been sure that early on.  Boringly, the far more likely explanation is that Arthur was premature.  And this obsession Philippa Gregory has with the idea that the Woodvilles practised witchcraft.  I hate that. Throughout history, men have attacked women who gained power by throwing allegations of witchcraft at them – most famously at Anne Boleyn.  It’s a horrible, horrible, misogynistic idea, and I’m not very impressed with Philippa Gregory for using it.

Meanwhile, Henry VII, one of the best kings England has ever had in terms of administrative ability, has so far been shown as a bit of a playboy who was more interested in practising his archery and admiring ladies dancing than in running the country, whilst Lady Margaret Beaufort/Stanley and Archbishop Morton tell him what to do. What utter rubbish!  Incidentally, the first time we “did” Henry VII at school was around the time that A-ha were the number one boyband, so, every time Morton was mentioned, people started giggling and muttering about Morten Harket … so, even now, whenever Archbishop/Cardinal Morton’s name comes up, I want to start singing “Take on me” or “You are the one”.  But never mind.   But I do mind poor Henry being misrepresented so badly!

The actual political events are being shown more accurately, though – we’ve had the Lovell/Stafford rebellion, and the poor little Earl of Warwick has been locked up in the Tower – with the Lambert Simnel affair presumably coming up in the next episode. But why make out that Henry was so unpopular, and the Yorkists so popular?  By 1485, it seems that most people were so fed up of all the chopping and changing that they were past caring who was king, and just wanted peace and stability.  Obviously Henry was an unknown quantity, but, whilst Edward IV may have been popular, Richard III had managed to upset an awful lot of people, and Elizabeth Woodville wasn’t exactly top of the popularity charts either.

I do quite like the way Elizabeth Woodville comes across, though. There is a view that she decided of her own accord to go off and enter a convent.  Nah.  The alternative view, that she plotted and meddled until Henry packed her off out of the way, which is the one that Philippa Gregory’s gone for, works much better as far as I’m concerned!   But what about “The White Princess” herself?  She’s very feisty in this – and we’re given the impression that she, having been born and brought up a princess, knew how to do things properly and showed Henry what was expected of a king, in terms of sending assistance when there was plague etc.  It’s a nice idea, and not an illogical one, but it’s just not the impression you get from reading the actual history of the time.  Henry was a very able and talented man.  Philippa Gregory really does seem to have it in for him, and for his mother, and doesn’t give either of them the credit they deserve.

And the marriage? Well, it worked out very well in the end.  Henry was devoted to Elizabeth, as time went on, and she seems to have grown fond of him as well.  There were hints at the end of the second episode that some sort of affection was growing.  But … well, I know what the book says, and I know what all Philippa Gregory’s books are like when it comes to the events of the 1480s, so I don’t know why I’m moaning because it was only what I expected!   But isn’t it great how, over 500 years later, everyone does get so worked up over this particular period in history?   There’s just something about it!

Oh, and, from an entertainment point of view, this is actually quite good.  But how it does annoy me when people mess about with history!

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Eight Days That Made Rome – Channel 5

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Ah, this is proper old-fashioned history!   Real “1066 and all that” stuff – big characters and big events.  Eight days which Bettany Hughes deems to have been crucial in the development of the Roman Republic and Empire.  So far, we’ve had Hannibal’s last stand, the Spartacus Revolt and Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon, and we’ve still got, amongst other things, Boudicca’s uprising and Constantine’s conversion to Christianity to come.  Hannibal, Spartacus, Caesar … names that everyone’s familiar with.  The terms “Spartacist” (although I’m never entirely sure why so many Russian football teams have got “Spartak” in their names, even if Moscow is the Third Rome!), “crossing the Rubicon” and (to some extent) “delenda est Carthago” are still in use.  You can’t really say that about the three field system or the daily lives of medieval monks or some of the other stuff that comes up in school history lessons.  Not that fields and monks aren’t important, but start with the big names and the big events: they’re what get people interested.

And the way in which it’s been presented has been very impressive. Channel 5’s idea of historical drama-documentaries often leaves a lot to be desired, but this has been really good.  The dramatisations have been convincing and not OTT, and Bettany Hughes has done a lot of dramatic striding around across hills and visiting archaeological sites, interviewing present day historians and reading from the works of Roman historians.  It’s all been put together very well … except that the Romans are being made out to be the baddies in everything, and we haven’t even got to Boudicca yet

OK, the Romans did some rather nasty stuff. (Certain elements of Roma and Lazio’s support still do, but that’s beside the point.)  “Nasty” is putting it mildly.  Burying a vestal virgin alive to appease the gods after defeat by Carthage.  Wrecking Carthage and selling the entire population into slavery.  Crucifying thousands of rebel slaves.  They don’t tell you any of this in the Cambridge Latin Course: I bet kids would pay a lot more attention in Latin lessons if they did :-). (Or do teachers think that it would it all be too much for snowflake types?!)  But, come on, we do owe the Romans rather a lot!  Give them some credit for the good things they did, as well as the bad.  Is this just Bettany’s take on things, or is it some sort of PC anti-imperial thing?  Either way, give the Romans a break!

But still, this is turning out to be a very enjoyable series. Roman history gets rather overlooked these days.  May we have a series on the Greeks as well, please?  And preferably one on the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians as well?  Well done, Channel 5 – you don’t always get it right, but this time you definitely have done!

Elizabeth I’s Secret Agents – BBC 2

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I’m rather confused as to why the BBC seems to think that Elizabethan England was an isolated Protestant nation at a time when most of Europe was Catholic. Er, what??  Many parts of Germany and Switzerland were largely Protestant, as were large parts of the Netherlands (trying to free themselves from Spanish rule), as were the Scandinavian countries and Swedish-ruled Finland, and Latvia and Estonia.  Even areas which are now mainly Catholic again had large Protestant populations at the time, notably France and Hungary.  Oh, and not to mention Scotland!   Maybe the BBC’ve been spending too much time thinking about the year-end ATP world rankings and the situation in Catalunya, and got a bit too focused on Spain 🙂 .

I’m not sure whether or not this was deliberately timed to coincide with Gunpowder, but there’s been a fair bit of overlap … much of it involving Father John Gerrard, the guy whom our temp history teacher in the second year was obsessed with!   However, this three-part series is a “docu-drama”, not a drama series – and it’s one of the good ones, which doesn’t patronise viewers by assuming that they’re totally ignorant and need everything explaining, or doing too much dressing up and prancing around!

It’s all familiar stuff – the first episode was largely about Mary Queen of Scots – but it’s an unusual take on things, and it’s fascinating to sit back and think about just what an extensive spy network Elizabeth and Cecil had. It’s a unique period in terms of both intelligence and plotting because of the overlap between the fear of the monarch being overthrown by a rival candidate for the throne – the fear which all the Tudors had, and which the Yorkists and the Lancastrians to some extent had before them – and the new age of religious division, religious terrorism and the fear of attack by Catholic enemies.  When you think about it, that dual threat really faded away through much of the 17th century, with Spain in decline and everyone tied up with the Thirty Years War and then Louis XIV’s wars, but then came back with the Jacobites … although never to the same extent as it did in Elizabeth’s time

So there was a personal threat, to the person of the monarch, and also the threat to the nation. I’m a great admirer of Elizabeth I, but I also feel great sympathy for her when I think how much she had to cope with.  Henry VII lived in constant fear of being overthrown, but in his time it was hardly likely that the country was going to be invaded.  And Henry VIII had all his issues over the succession, but, with Spain and France and the Holy Roman Empire focused on Italy, it was hardly likely that he was going to face invasion either.  I don’t think either of them could ever have had the fear of assassination that Elizabeth did.  James I probably did, obviously especially with the Gunpowder Plot, but the fear of external intervention was fading by then, with Philip II dead and then the start of the Thirty Years War.  But it was all going on in Elizabeth’s time.  No wonder she felt the need to maintain such an extensive spy network.

And it was all so personal, as well! She was so close to Walsingham and even more so to the Cecils – and the BBC also went into the interesting sub-plot of the rivalry between Robert Cecil (the younger Cecil, son of William) and the Earl of Essex.  Essex always gets on my nerves.  He evidently got on Cecil’s as well

And all this was going on behind the scenes of the Elizabethan Golden Age. The likes of Vladimir Vladimorovich Putin and The Real Donald Trump have got absolutely nothing on Elizabeth I when it comes to spying, secret agents, propaganda and image!   It’s increasingly feeling as if we’re right back in Elizabethan or Jacobean times, with religious terrorism the scourge of the present times and now words like “treason” and “sedition” coming out of Madrid.  The programme’s meant to be about the development of one of the world’s secret services (although Venice and various other places had been well into spy networks long before Elizabethan times), but it’s just making me admire my heroine Elizabeth I even more 🙂 . Take that, Europe!!  Take that, division at home!!  She survived it all, and will always be remembered as Gloriana, the Queen of the Golden Age.  When you think about everything that was going on behind the scenes, that didn’t half take some doing 🙂 .

The Balfour Declaration: Britain’s promise to the Holy Land – BBC 2

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I knew that the BBC would manage to ignore the salient point about the Balfour Declaration – the fact that it was all about Manchester. It was!!  I’m telling you!  But, the way the BBC put it, you’d have thought that it was all the idea of a few posh blokes at the Foreign Office, mainly Leo Amery, presenter Jane Corbin’s relative.  Does anyone seriously imagine that the Foreign Office would just have spontaneously come up with the idea of a “Jewish homeland”?  The programme barely even mentioned the Zionist organisations whose idea it actually was.  Not impressed!

So let’s talk about the Manchester connection. Balfour himself, then the Foreign Secretary, was the MP for a Manchester constituency.  And that’s how he knew Chaim Weizmann, the leader of the Zionist movement and future first president of the state of Israel, who was a lecturer and leading biochemist at the University of Manchester.  And many of the other leading British Zionists of the time (I just need to get this bit in!) were Old Girls of my school or Old Boys of our “brother” school.

The senior library at my old school is never referred to in practice as anything other than “the senior library”, but it’s officially (there’s a plaque over the door, assuming it’s still there) named after one of the founders of the Women’s International Zionist Organisation, an Old Girl who’d made a lot of generous donations to the school. I didn’t go hanging round the boys’ school (honestly, folks, I didn’t!), but I understand that there’s a drama room/theatre there which is named after her husband, an Old Boy, who was another leading Zionist and another generous donor.

Yes, all right, all right, none of this is directly relevant to the Balfour Declaration and the course of Middle Eastern politics, but I’m making a point about the sort of people who were involved with it all. We’re not talking about ultra-Orthodox Jews who say that they should be allowed to build settlements on the West Bank because of something in the Old Testament.  A lot of Orthodox Jews at the time vehemently opposed the idea: there’s some religious text which specifically says not to try to set up a Jewish state.  We’re not talking about Ukrainian terrorists.  We’re talking about the sort of people who supported the education of children, girls and boys equally, in a secular environment where pupils from all different religious backgrounds were welcomed as equals.  And, OK, I’m biased because I love talking up the Manchester connection to anything 🙂 , but I do think that that’s worth bearing in mind.  Things in the Middle East haven’t turned out the way it was hoped they would.  And there’ve been a lot of articles in the press which seem to be making out that the Palestinians of 2017 are getting a raw deal because of the Balfour Declaration.  That isn’t very fair.  Things weren’t meant to be like this.

I like talking about the Russian Empire as well – although, in this case, I’m afraid it’s all negative. I’m deliberately saying “the Russian Empire” rather than “Russia”, because the large-scale pogroms weren’t in Russia: they were in areas which are now part of Moldova, Poland, Belarus and Ukraine.  But the May Laws, the anti-Jewish laws passed soon after Alexander III became tsar, came from St Petersburg, and the pogroms were pretty much sanctioned by the government.   And it was what went on in the Russian Empire that really kicked off the Zionist Movement.

But this sort of thing had happened before. No-one came up with the idea of establishing a Jewish state after, say, the Khmelnytsky massacres, or the expulsion of Jews from Castile.  OK, there’d always been plenty of Jews in “the Holy Land”, and there’d been a minor movement towards emigration of Jews from Eastern Europe to the Holy Land in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but it was mainly a religious thing involving disciples of the Gaon of Vilna.  Lithuania plays an important role in all this, because the revival of Hebrew as a spoken language was led by a bloke from … well, it’s now Belarus, but in those days it was part of the Governorate of Vilnius.  That was new as well.  No-one’d really tried to revive Hebrew as an everyday spoken language before.  All this was pretty new.

So, why? Well, it was the age of secularism – and, as I’ve already said, this was a secular movement, not a religious one.  No mystical Sabbatai Zvi figures this time.  Get practical.   There were a lot of new ideas about Judaism.  The “Manchester School of Zionism” was part of that – very much with the emphasis on secular rather than religious matters.  And “muscular Christianity” is a well-known Victorian term, but “muscular Judaism” was a term first used at a Zionist Congress, and it’s the same idea.  United played Benfica in the Champions League earlier this week, and someone was telling me about how Bela Guttmann, the great Benfica manager who led them to two European Cups in the 1960s, playing in Vienna in the 1920s.  Hakoah Vienna, the all-Jewish team for which Guttmann once played, won the Austrian League in 1925.  Apparently (thank you, Wikipedia!) they once gave West Ham a good thrashing, as well, LOL.  Sorry, I’ve now got off the point and gone on to football talk, but the point is that this was a very long way removed from traditional religion-based ideas about Judaism.

And it was the age of state-building. Italy had been unified.  Germany had been unified.  The different groups within the Austro-Hungarian Empire were agitating for independence.  Ireland was agitating for independence.  And the areas of the Balkans which had been under Ottoman rule had … well, Balkanised.  As the Ottoman Empire fell apart.  And that, of course, was another thing.  With the Ottoman Empire falling apart, there were inevitably going to be big changes in the Middle East – with its oil, and its strategic importance in terms of the Suez Canal.

And, according to the BBC, this is what the Balfour Declaration was all about – Britain’s view of what the Middle East was going to be like after the Ottoman Empire had finished collapsing. In fact, they didn’t really even manage to bring the Ottoman Empire into it – it was apparently just what Britain’s view of the Middle East from a particular point in time onwards was going to be like.  Because obviously the whole thing was just the idea of a few posh blokes at the Foreign Office.  Oh dear, BBC!  Context!!  Why didn’t you try to set it all into some sort of context?!

Having said which, obviously the Foreign Office was looking out for Britain’s interests.  That’s its job.  So, what was going on?  Well, the general idea was that Britain wanted to bring about the establishment of a friendly state in the area, because of the strategic issues.  There’s been a lot of criticism of this, but the BBC programme was fair enough to stress that Britain wasn’t just riding roughshod over the interests of the Palestinian Arabs.  The Foreign Office crew genuinely believed that there could be a “land of milk and honey” in which European Jewish immigrants and Palestinian Arab Muslims and Christians could all live in peace.  And be Britain’s ally.  There are letters saying as much.

But how much of a big deal was this idea of a future State of Israel being a crucial British ally in the area. For a start, it’s Egypt that controls access to the Suez Canal, not Israel.  And, as the joke goes, Israel hasn’t got any oil: it got the orange juice instead.  Furthermore, the Zionist idea wasn’t exactly a British Establishment thing.  It was a left-wing thing.  Kibbutzes are the most successful example in world history of communism in practice!   Hardly the sort of thing that yer old Harrovians would be into.  And, if the Foreign Office was just after a friendly state, then why not a friendly Arab state?  Britain and the Arabs had worked together against the Ottomans.  Lawrence of Arabia and all that.

So what else could it have been about? There’s a theory that Weizmann, having invented a process that was of great importance to the military during the Great War, wanted the Balfour Declaration as payment – but, come on, it’s a bit of a drastic way of rewarding someone!  I don’t think that idea really works.  Could it be that there genuinely was a bit of idealism going on here as well?  Well, yes, I think there was.  Part of it was the “Christian Zionist” idea, linked up with the Bible – but I don’t think the Foreign Office really makes decisions based on the Bible. But I do think that there was some genuine idealism coming back to Balfour and his links to the Manchester Zionists.

But, whichever way you look at it – and, OK, I think it has to be accepted that the belief that it was best for Britain’s strategic interests must have been paramount in the decision to issue the Balfour Declaration – you were talking about sending emigrants to a land that was already populated, and that’s what most of the controversy of the Balfour Declaration is about.

Just to wander a bit off the point again, it’s interesting that people argue that anyone fleeing persecution in the Russian Empire could (let’s not go into immigration quotas et al here) have gone to America instead. All these arguments about the rights of the existing population never get used when talking about emigration to the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South America or even South Africa.  I think that’s partly a basic cultural thing, though.  Lack of respect for cultures outside Europe and the Middle East.  And it’s also about numbers.  There’s rather a lot more room in America than there is in the Holy Land.  Although there are arguments about that as well.  Pro-Zionist historians point out that a lot of the land in what became Israel, especially in some of the desert areas, wasn’t populated and was going begging.  A taxi driver in the programme made this point as well!  It’s true.  Tel Aviv was a brand new city.  We’re not talking about the Turks taking over Constantinople and turning a cathedral into a mosque, or the Castilians taking over Cordoba and turning a mosque into a cathedral.

But there was, nevertheless, a sizeable population, mainly Arab and Muslim there already, and the rights of that population were supposed to be safeguarded, and the Balfour Declaration said that they would be.  And they haven’t been.  That’s where it’s gone wrong.  And the BBC programme, rather negatively, asked if that was inevitable.

Of course, the Balfour Declaration only talked about supporting the idea of setting up a Jewish state. It wasn’t binding on anyone.  The area was still part of the Ottoman Empire.  But it’s usually, and reasonably, credited both with popularising the idea of Zionism and with lending it gravitas.  Britain was still, at the time, the world’s leading power.  Support from Britain meant a hell of a lot.  The Balfour Declaration meant a hell of a lot.  And I do think that the people involved in it genuinely thought that the two groups of people could live in peace.  It does happen.  Until things go wrong.  India.  Bosnia-Herzegovina. Until things go wrong. And they usually do.

So what went wrong? Well, it has to be admitted that the Foreign Office screwed up from the start, by not even bothering to ask the Palestinian Arabs what they thought about it.  Even after pretty much promising to support the establishment of an Arab state encompassing what became Mandatory Palestine in return for Arab support against the Ottomans.  I think we have to hold our hands up here and admit to a lot of colonial arrogance.  Not our finest moment.  And the Arab leadership wouldn’t get involved in any organisations which involved Zionist participation.  Well, fair enough, from its viewpoint.  What had happened in the Russian Empire – which by this time had collapsed – was hardly the fault of the Palestinian Arabs.  What did it have to do with them?   And why was it up to Britain and France, who (it was supposed to be the Russian Empire as well, but that was pre-Revolution) took over control of the area after the end of the Great War, to decide what happened to the Middle East?   Did Britain and France get involved in the new states of Czechoslovakia and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes?  No.  Just the Middle East.   We didn’t

play very fair by the Arabs, and there’s not really any disputing that.

But was trouble inevitable? Well, it wasn’t really until the late 1920s that things started going badly wrong, first with extremist Arab groups launching terrorist attacks and then with extremist Zionist groups launching terrorist attacks.  And, really, a lot of that was due to external factors which no-one could have seen coming in 1917.  It was initially extremists from Syria who were stirring up trouble amongst the Palestinian Arabs.  And then it all completely kicked off with both sides because of the rise of Hitler and, as a result of that, a huge increase in the number of Jews wanting to emigrate to Palestine.  That hadn’t been part of the plan.  The Arabs weren’t happy.  Immigration quotas were imposed.  Refugees were treated very poorly.   The combination of that and attacks on Zionist immigrants by Arab terrorists resulted in an upsurge in Zionist terrorist attacks on Arab and British targets.  Everything just went horrendously wrong.

Was it all to do with external factors? Well, no.  Rural Palestinians were having a very bad time of it – but a lot of that was due to the devastation left by the Great War, and also to poor harvests, so it would have happened anyway.  But British attempts to deal with it, by restricting land purchases by Zionist groups, inevitably then wound up the Zionist groups.  As with the immigration issue, trying to placate one side just upset the other.  So much for the land of milk and honey. It ended up as a land of violence, with Britain stuck in the middle and eventually deciding to pull out.  What a mess.

It was eventually decided, as in India, and as in Ireland, that the best option was partition. Civil war broke out and, almost as soon as Israeli independence was declared, Egypt, Jordan and Syria invaded.  Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled during the fighting.  And there hasn’t really been any peace in the area ever since.

It wasn’t meant to be like this.

So much external interference. From neighbouring states, with the growth of Arab nationalism and pan-Arabism.  From the USA and the USSR, trying to score points during the Cold War.  Later, from Iran.  Everything escalated.  Israel took control of additional territory, in 1948 and, far more so, in 1967.   It’s also worth remembering that Jordan was never supposed to have had the West Bank in the first place: there was supposed to have been a Palestinian state there, but it never got chance to come into existence.  Tension grew.  Terrorism grew.  Everything spiralled.  It wasn’t until the Oslo Accords of the early 1990s that there seemed to be a genuine opportunity for peace, and that didn’t last very long: the Israeli Prime Minister of the day was assassinated by another Israeli, and Hamas weren’t having any of it.

So much of the programme was about what’s happened since 1948, rather than about the Balfour Declaration. A lot of it was about what’s going on now, 100 years after the Balfour Declaration.  Jane Corbin interviewed a man from New York, who’s living in one of the illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank.  Why, oh why, do people have to put their settlements there?  But then you read Little House on the Prairie and wonder why people had to settle in areas designated as “Indian Territory”.  This guy went on about the Bible and how it’s nothing to do with secular Israeli law or international law or the Balfour Declaration.  What are you supposed to say to that?  And she also interviewed a Palestinian activist who insisted that he would never accept any sort of partition and that he wanted the whole of what’s now Israel and the Occupied Territories as a Palestinian state.  What do you say to that?  As the programme said, there’s been an upsurge in extremist views on both sides.

It did try to end on an optimistic note, though. It was made clear that most people, as in every conflict zone in the world, just want to live in peace.  But there was some rather depressing talk about Jerusalem, and the failure to reach any compromise over its status.  It’s such a tragedy.  It should be the most visited city in the world.  Instead, it’s argued over and fought over and it’s a symbol of intractable conflict.

The question which the programme was supposedly asking was whether the aims of the Balfour Declaration, peace and unity, were doomed. Well, maybe unity was, but peace?  Jane Corbin concluded that it wasn’t, and that the problems have been a result of poor political decisions and that there’s still a chance for peace.

I don’t know that you can talk about the poor decisions and the Balfour Declaration in the same breath. No-one could possibly have known, in 1917, what was going to happen in Germany.  I don’t think anyone could really have foreseen that there’d be so much interference from other states.  And I don’t think anyone could really have foreseen the growth of religious and political extremism in the area – and that, as we’re all too well aware, is hardly just an issue in “the Holy Land”.

There’s been a hell of a lot of criticism of the Balfour Declaration in the media in recent weeks. Most of it involves people screeching that it was entirely an imperialist, colonialist decision made to try to secure Britain’s interests.  No.  It wasn’t.  It went back to when Arthur Balfour first met Chaim Weizmann in 1906, at a hotel in Manchester.  And Balfour’s connections with the British Palestine Committee – which was a Manchester organisation.  That wasn’t imperialism.  There really was some genuine idealism there.

It’s all gone horribly wrong. No-one’s disputing that.  But it really wasn’t meant to be like this.  And is there still a chance for peace?  Well, as the BBC programme said, yes, there probably is.  Let us all hope so.