BALFOUR DECLARATION .. what is that?

In brief …

The Balfour Declaration was a letter, dated November 2, 1917, from British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour, to Lord Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community and supporter of the British Zionist Foundation. Effectively, it gave British imperial consent and support to the establishment of a Jewish state – the goal of the Zionist movement – in historic Palestine. As the novelist and philosopher Arthur Koestler would later write, with the Balfour Declaration, “one nation solemnly promised to a second nation the country of a third.”

This promise, and the events that followed, exposed the hollowness of Britain’s promise to support the Arab struggle for an independent Middle East, free from Ottoman Turkish rule and colonial domination – made in exchange for Arab military support in the First World War. And it laid the foundations for the colonisation of Palestine by Jewish settlers in the 1920’s and 1930’s, and the full scale dispossession of Palestinians from their land that occurred in 1948 – the ‘Nakba’, or ‘Catastrophe’.

Balfour maintained that while the British government “will use (its) best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of..the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.

Yet, such concerns for the indigenous people of Palestine were always secondary to Balfour. As he later wrote: “Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-old traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder important then the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit the ancient land.”

And In private communication to Zionist leaders the British government was even less circumspect: “With regard to the Arab question – the British told us that there are several hundred thousand Negroes there but this is a matter of no consequence. (Chaim Weizmann, President of the World Zionist Organisation, and first President of Israel)”.

(Quotes, from Benny Morris, Righteous Victims, 1999)



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