“The single most destructive political document of the twentieth century on the Middle East.” With these words, Walid Khalidi, member of the Institute for Palestine Studies, described the document that came to be known later is The Balfour Declaration.
By Gabriel Huland.
This document guaranteed British support for the creation of a national home for the Jewish people read as follows:
His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.
It was part of a letter dated 2 November sent by the UK’s Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Rothschild, banker and leader of the British Jewish community. (Wikipedia)
An important number of events took place in Britain and Israel in the last few weeks to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of one of the most controversial documents in recent history. Its importance goes far beyond its short extension and the multiple consequences it brought to the Arab World are still very much to be felt in the present. Surely, history could have taken a very different path without British support for the colonial aspirations of the Zionist leaders to establish a state in Palestine at the expense of the people who had been inhabiting that ancient land for centuries.
Theresa May declared recently that she would be “celebrating with pride” the Declaration, the creation of the state of Israel and the good relations with the Jewish State. Representatives of the Labour party also took part in the special event held in London to commemorate the date, in which Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also participated.
The Palestinian Solidarity Campaign organized a protest on 4th November –in which more than 10,000 people participated- to denounce the role of Britain in supporting the Zionist movement and to demand justice and equal rights for Palestinians. According to them, the Balfour Declaration built the path to the dispossession of Palestinians from their homeland.
The Balfour Declaration and the WWI
1917 was a very tumultuous year. Exactly on 7 November, when the Declaration was made public by the press, the second Russian Revolution with the leadership of the Soviets and the Bolshevik Party took place in Russia and changed the whole dynamics of the ongoing World War I.
One of the reasons for the Bolshevik conquer of the majority of the Soviets (the popular councils re-born after the February Revolution) was their promise to take the country out of that bloody war that had taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers sent to die in the fronts fighting Germany. The Bolsheviks would, as they have done, sign a peace treatment with Germany. The previous Russian government, headed by the Menshevik Alexander Kerensky, had failed to fulfill this very extended demand of broad segments of the population and was facing for that reason a growing unpopularity among the masses.
The prospect of Russia leaving the war was very frightening for the British Empire, that was already having to deal with some very complicated battles against the Ottomans in the Middle East, among others. Lord Balfour thought that maybe showing support for the Zionist project could make the Jewish community in Russia pressure the government to stay in the war.
Nevertheless, the British had a contradiction to solve. As mentioned before, the Entente was having some problems to defeat the Ottomans in the Middle East and they could only succeed with the help of the Arabs, who were fighting to a greater extent against their will in the Ottomans ranks. To change that and get their support, the British started an operation of establishing agreements and making promises to Arab leaders that, in exchange for their support against the Ottomans, would be allowed to form national states after the war.
The anti-Semitic aspect of the Balfour Declaration
The declaration signed by Lord Balfour and endorsed later by other members of the government, such as Winston Churchill and Lloyd George, had as well a very anti-Semitic face. It contained implicit the idea that the Jews should be all “convinced” to leave their countries and establish themselves very far away from where they were beginning to be a problem.
In some countries like Russia, Germany, and France, the Jews were part of the working class and were facing very difficult conditions of life. The discrimination and prejudices against them were being used as mechanisms to over-exploit and marginalize them as a social sector. A very good way to “get rid” of this problem was sending them away and avoiding their attraction by socialist and revolutionary ideas. This was part of the intentions of the Zionist leaders, among them Lord Rothschild
The creation of the State of Israel and the occupation of Palestine
When the Zionist movement finally created the state of Israel in 1948, based on the expulsion of nearly 800,000 thousand Palestinian women, men, and children, approximately one-third of the population of Palestine were Jews. The immigration of Jews and their acquisition of land and other properties came about with the total acceptance of the British mandate.
In fact, when the British finally left Palestine, the Zionist movement, under the unquestionable leadership of Ben Gurion, was already informed of the operation and was ready to put in action the so-called Plan Dalet, the plan developed by the Zionist movement to create the Jewish state by force and that engendered the expulsion of entire populations, the mass murder of Palestinians and the destruction of whole villages.
The complicity of the British mandate with the occupation of Palestine cannot be ignored and should be seen as one of the most shameful acts in recent history. It still has a very deep impact on the current situation in Palestine. Israel and all the practices that are part of its modus operandi could not exist today without the short letter written by Lord Balfour one hundred years ago. Instead of commemorating the date, the Britain government should be talking about recognizing Palestine as a legitimate state and should be condemning Israel for the various crimes it commits every day against the Palestinian people.