Are there any opinion polls regarding Britain's legacy/responsibility for the colonial policies in Mandatory Palestine?

The question is prompted by the mistreatment of two October 7 survivors by Manchester Airport security, and also by the notorious anti-Israeli rhetoric by Jeremy Corbyn and his followers over the years. While such attitudes towards Israel and Israelis are by no means unique to Britain, the UK—of all the western nations—is probably the least entitled to a holier-than-thou position towards Israelis and Palestinians, as it oversaw the development of the conflict over the period of the British Mandate for Palestine.

Indeed, both sides in the conflict routinely blame the British. Palestinians simply claim that Zionism was a part of the British colonial enterprise. The Palestinian position, e.g., is expressed at length in "The Iron Cage" by Rashid Khalidi, an American-Palestinian professor at Columbia University:

[...] the British government of the day always intended to subvert even this highly conditional projected extension of independence to the Palestinians. This is clear from the minutes of a British cabinet meeting of February 23, 1939, detailing the British approach that resulted in the White Paper of 1939, in which this promise was embodied. There it appears that the British colonial secretary, Malcolm MacDonald, and his cabinet colleagues meant to prevent Palestinian representative government and self- determination, even while appearing to grant the “independence” of Palestine.

Similarly, the United States, the first country to recognize the independence of the Jewish state in May 1948, has yet to support in deed (as opposed to word) the independence of Arab Palestine.
On the contrary, in practice the United States is, and for over sixty years has been, one of the most determined opponents of Palestinian self-determination and independence. It has aligned itself closely with the Israeli position: thus, only when the position of Israel on this matter changed in 1992–95, under the government of Yizhaq Rabin, did U.S. policy change.

Traditional pro-Israeli historians largely adopt the opposite view, although equally unfavorable to the British (see, e.g., Walter Laqueur's A History of Zionism) - claiming that Britain reneged on the promises in the Balfour declaration immediately after taking control of Palestine: Notably, the already mentioned White Paper of 1939 restricted the Jewish immigration to Palestine at the moment when German Jews were still able to flee Germany, but were denied asylum by most European states. It was in response to the White paper that the Palestinian Jews began actively organizing clandestine immigration and military insurgency against the British, which eventually led to the establishment of Israel in 1948.

Clarification: I am not asking about general British attitudes towards the current events in Palestine, but about the attitudes towards the UK's historical role, its historical guilt/responsibility, the humility that the British past role might provoke.

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    – BCLC
    Commented Mar 28 at 11:47
  • I'm not aware of any; I would expect the majority of responses to be "Don't know / no opinion." The history is not something that is widely taught. See e.g. theguardian.com/education/2017/mar/28/….
    – Lag
    Commented Mar 28 at 13:08
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    Very few countries make a point of teaching embarrassing chapters of their history in schools. I can only think of Germany, actually, as an example of a country whose official curriculum very much does not try to hide at least one particularly egregious period of its history. All nations have dark chapters, but they tend to avoid mentioning them in polite company.
    – terdon
    Commented Mar 28 at 15:42
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    @terdon: yeah, how many in the US even remember/know that the US turned back ships with Jews when the war was breaking out. history.com/news/wwii-jewish-refugee-ship-st-louis-1939 Commented Mar 28 at 16:35
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    @terdon "Very few countries make a point of teaching embarrassing chapters of their history in schools" - there's also a lot of history and not a lot of lesson time.
    – Lag
    Commented Mar 28 at 20:42

1 Answer 1


I'm not convinced you can get more than narrative answers [from a few people] to your very specific question, but the broader issue of attitudes towards the [former] colonies of the British empire does get polled a bit.

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Possibly as part of an attempt to win 'hearts and minds' in the Arab/Muslim world, one does occasionally hear speaches like (paraphrased):

In a speech to the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies on 21 May 2009, David Miliband, the British foreign secretary, argued that the future of the west’s relations with Muslim-dominated countries lay in the building of broad coalitions based upon consent among citizens—not just ruling elites. Prior to making his case, he acknowledged the elephant in the room of Anglo-Muslim relations: Britain’s colonial record in the middle east and south Asia, and its legacies. As part of this rare confession of culpability, he noted ‘the failure – it has to be said not just ours - to establish two states in Palestine’.

From the full speech transcript here, it was attempting to be somewhat more balanced:

Ruined Crusader castles remain as poignant monuments to the religious violence of the Middle Ages. Lines drawn on maps by Colonial powers were succeeded, amongst other things, by the failure - it has to be said not just ours - to establish two states in Palestine. More recently, the invasion of Iraq, and its aftermath, aroused a sense of bitterness, distrust and resentment. When people hear about Britain, too often they think of these things.

These events are associated with a history of relations between Europe and the Islamic world that have been characterised by conquest, conflict and colonialism. But there is a different tale to be told. It does not erase the conflict, but it does establish a different narrative.

It is a history not of conflict or confrontation, not even of coexistence or tolerance, but of interchange and mutual contribution. It is the history of 17th century Iran - as told so impressively in the current British Museum exhibition. Of 13th century Andalucia, Norman Sicily or the European enlightenment, of St John of Damascus, Christian advisor to Umayyad Ruler, of dialogue between Byzantine Emperor and Arab Caliph and the discovery of Greek thought by early Islamic scholars.

Speaking of advisers to Muslim rulers etc., this doesn't seem to get acknowledged as much by politicians these days, but the British policy in the early days of Israel had somewhat contradictory goals, e.g. the Foreign Office wanted/preferred for much of the Arab inhabited lands to end up under a British allied/aligned ruler like the king of Jordan, and the UK e.g. voted tactically at the UN [in '48] on ceasefire demands in order to achieve that. However that was counterbalanced by arms embargoes that the British imposed (on all sides) giving Arab armies enough arms “to enter the war, but not enough to win”, in the words of one Egyptian. Aside from history geeks and those circles with a keen interest in the Middle East, you probably don't hear such details discussed in the UK, in general. As one commenter under the Q noted "there's also a lot of history and not a lot of lesson time".

  • Interesting. I hope for some polling data. As for there's also a lot of history and not a lot of lesson time - the question received four anonymous downvotes and two closure votes, so I suppose that it is more than just ignorance.
    – Morisco
    Commented Mar 29 at 15:54
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    @RogerV. there’s only likely to be polling if someone pays for it, and there aren’t currently any likely parties to do so (on any of the three sides) who’d then release the data.
    – origimbo
    Commented Mar 29 at 20:34
  • hong kong definitely was better off for having been colonised by UK? many filipinx & indians find better lives in nearby hong kong.
    – BCLC
    Commented Mar 30 at 15:01
  • Somewhat aside, the Irish don't have trouble explaining their position from that perspective, i.e. making analogies with their history from ranging from famine to displacement/emigration and partition edition.cnn.com/2024/03/29/middleeast/… Commented Apr 1 at 0:29
  • @thegodsfromengineering and terrorism. Though Palestinians prefer citing the US as the prime example of settler colonialism.
    – Morisco
    Commented Apr 4 at 4:45

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