T.E. Lawrence—better known in Britain and throughout the Middle East as Lawrence of Arabia—was a lifelong friend of Arab national aspirations. In 1917 and 1918 he participated as a British officer in the Arab revolt against the Turks, a revolt led by Sharif Hussein, later King of the Hedjaz. He was also an adviser to Hussein’s son Feisal, whom he hoped to see on the throne of Syria. For generations of British Arabists, Lawrence was and remains a symbol of British understanding of and support for the Arab cause. Virtually unknown, however, is his understanding of and support for Jewish national aspirations in the same era....Which is exactly how the Zionists at the time felt.
[I]ndeed, Lawrence’s view of the potential evolution of the Jewish National Home in British Mandate Palestine was far from hostile to Jewish hopes. In an article entitled “The Changing East,” published in the influential Round Table magazine in 1920, Lawrence wrote of “the Jewish experiment” in Palestine that it was “a conscious effort, on the part of the least European people in Europe, to make head against the drift of the ages, and return once more to the Orient from which they came.”
Lawrence noted of the new Jewish immigrants: “The colonists will take back with them to the land which they occupied for some centuries before the Christian era samples of all the knowledge and technique of Europe. They propose to settle down amongst the existing Arabic-speaking population of the country, a people of kindred origin, but far different social condition. They hope to adjust their mode of life to the climate of Palestine, and by the exercise of their skill and capital to make it as highly organized as a European state.”
As Lawrence envisaged it in his Round Table article, this settlement would be done in a way that would be beneficial to the Arabs. “The success of their scheme,” he wrote of the Zionists, “will involve inevitably the raising of the present Arab population to their own material level, only a little after themselves in point of time, and the consequences might be of the highest importance for the future of the Arab world. It might well prove a source of technical supply rendering them independent of industrial Europe, and in that case the new confederation might become a formidable element of world power.”