“Indian Ulsters” and “Palestinian Pakistans”: Britain's Withdrawal from South Asia and the Palestine Mandate

Thursday, January 6, 2011: 3:00 PM
Grand Ballroom Salon C (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Lucy Chester , University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, CO
This paper will examine imperial and anti-colonial links between South Asia and Palestine during 1947-1948.  British, Zionist, Palestinian Arab, Muslim League, and Indian National Congress leaders were all keenly aware of connections between these two territories.  Depending on their interests, some of these parties sought to downplay any resemblance, while others highlighted potential analogies in order to achieve specific political ends.

The archives are rich with examples of meetings between various groups in Palestine and India.  For example, Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann invited Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last viceroy of India, to craft a partition for plan for Palestine as he had done in India.  Conversely, the pro-Arab Muslim League staunchly opposed the suggestion that the formation of Pakistan could provide any precedent for the creation of Israel.

The British, too, were keenly aware that the problems of India and Palestine were linked, not only politically but also strategically.  Perhaps most notable is Prime Minister Clement Attlee’s astonishing suggestion in September 1947, at the height of the post-partition ethnic cleansing in Punjab, that India could actually provide a model for Britain’s withdrawal from Palestine.  Over all hung the specter of Ireland, most commonly deployed as an example of the failure of British policy and a model for terrorism’s success.

In short, British decolonization in India and Palestine took place against a rich backdrop of communication and adaptation between Britain’s varied opponents.  British officials were less successful in adapting lessons learned in India to the context of the Palestine Mandate, but it is worth noting their efforts to do so and the results of those efforts, some of which have had lasting effects in areas such as policing and counter-terrorism in both India and Israel.

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