The Balfour Declaration and the British Conquest of Palestine

The 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration on 21st November has once again been quoted in The Times and elsewhere as evidence of the British Government’s being “converted to Zionism in 1917” (James Sorene 23rd October).

The full 67-word statement needs to be quoted in full because so much has depended on it at the time and ever since:

“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 for 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 is nonsense to suggest that the Balfour Declaration was prompted by ideas of “gaining favour with Jewish communities across the world” to influence decision-making in America and Russia about the War.  American troops were established in France from 5th July 1917 and by the autumn Russia was effectively out of the War.

December 9th (tomorrow) is the 100th anniversary of the surrender of Jerusalem to the British Army following its great victory over the Turks. This alone put the British government in a position to offer a “national home” (not a State) to the Jewish people.

Jewish organisations in the USA were opposed to Zionism at that time. The leader of British Jews, Chaim Weizmann, assured the British government that he was opposed to Zionism – the idea of a Jewish State in Palestine. Weizmann later became the first President of the independent state of Israel.

When the rest of Palestine and modern-day Syria were conquered from the Turks in the following months, it became clear to the British authorities on the ground that far from Palestine being mainly Jewish as had been assumed in London, Arabs in fact accounted for 93% of the population.  It is the impossibility of reconciling this fact with the wording of the Declaration that has lain at the root of all the subsequent struggles between Jew and Arab, as predicted by the former Foreign Secretary, Lord Grey, in the House of Lords on 27th March 1923:

Grey in fact proposed that all the letters of reassurance from the British to the Arabs, the terms of the British Mandate in Palestine, as well as the Balfour Declaration itself, be published side by side in a White Paper, so that the contradictions, all incurred from the best of intentions could be inspected, and the least worst course of action be adopted. Sadly for the world, for the Arabs, the Jews and the British in particular, this never happened.

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