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Balfour Declaration (1917)

BALFOUR DECLARATION (1917)

A British declaration supporting the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine.

Few documents had such far-reaching consequences in the modern history of Middle East as did the Balfour Declaration of 2 November 1917. It was drafted by Zionist leaders, revised and approved by the British war cabinet, and forwarded by Lord Arthur Balfour, the British foreign secretary, to Lord Rothschild, a Zionist philanthropist and one of its drafters. It consisted of a single sixty-seven-word paragraph:

"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 understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country." (Hurewitz, 1979)

This was one of a number of contradictory promises Britain made during World War I. Needing Arab support against the Ottoman Empire, Britain promised in the HusaynMcMahon Correspondence (19151916) to support the establishment of an independent Arab nation, which Arabs understood to include Palestine (which Britain later denied); and needing French and Russian support, it promised in the SykesPicot Agreement (1916) to rule the region, including Palestine, with its allies. The cabinet issued the declaration for a number of reasons, both immediate and long term. It hoped to enlist American and Russian Jews help to bring America into the World War I and to keep Russia from abandoning it. In addition, the cabinet sought to preempt a similar German pro-Zionist declaration and needed Jewish money for Britain's own war effort.

The climate of opinion in England favored Zionist goals for Palestine. Fundamentalist Christians, some of whom were antisemites, considered it their duty to assist Jews to go to Palestine so that biblical prophesy could be fulfilled. Liberals such as Balfour and Prime Minister David Lloyd George believed that the West had committed a historical injustice against the Jewish people, one that must be atoned for. To this intellectual climate can be added the sociopolitical factor: Jewish contributions to British society were disproportionate to their numbers and were recognized and admired. Sir Herbert Louis Samuel, who later became the first high commissioner of Palestine, was a philosopher and a statesman who served in several cabinets; and Chaim Weizmann was a chemistry professor who assisted the British munitions industry. Both were persuasive advocates of a Jewish state. By 1917, the war cabinet accepted the view that postwar strategic advantages could be derived from a Jewish state or commonwealth allied to Great Britain.

The phraseology of the declaration was carefully chosen; even its ambiguity was deliberate. The phrase "national home" was new, with no precedence in international law; it was used in the declaration to pacify anti-Zionist Jews, who feared that creation of a state would jeopardize the rights of Jews in the diaspora. In private, however, British officials were clear about the objective. Lord Balfour and David Lloyd George explained to Weizmann in 1921 "that by Declaration they always meant an eventual Jewish State" (Ingrams, 1973).

Little thought was given to the indigenous Palestinian population, in large part because Europeans considered them inferior. The declaration referred to these Palestinians, who in 1917 constituted 90 percent of the population, as the "non-Jewish communities in Palestine," a phrase that conceals the identity of the majority. Yet the declaration contained a promise to guarantee the civil and religious rights of the "non-Jews," a promise that the British attempted to enforce even at the expense of Jewish religious rights. At the Wailing, or Western, Wall (in Hebrew, ha-Kotel ha-Maʿravi), the British, in order to protect Muslim property and religious rights to the wall, allowed the Palestinians to restrict Jewish visitation and prayer, even though the wall was the holiest shrine of Judaism.

But British political support for a Jewish national home worked against Palestinian national interests. The Balfour policy, which was incorporated in the League of Nations mandate for Palestine, was backed by the European powers and by the British military. It gave the Yishuv (Jewish community) time to grow through immigration, from about 50,000 in 1917 to more than 600,000 by 1947, and time to develop quasigovernmental and military institutions. Palestinians, fearing domination or expulsion, protested and resisted through political violencein 1920, 1921, 1929, and 1933that was put down by the British military. The Palestine Arab revolt of 1936 through 1939 was suppressed by both British and Zionist forces. The Palestinians were a weak, underdeveloped society, no match for the British and, after 1939, for the Zionists. Ultimately, the 1917 Balfour policy paved the way for the establishment in 1948 of the state of Israel and the exodus of some 726,000 Palestinians who left out of fear and panic or were expelled by the Israel Defense Force. The refugees were not allowed to return to their homes and their properties were confiscated.

see also diaspora; husaynmcmahon correspondence (19151916); israel; lloyd george, david; samuel, herbert louis; sykespicot agreement (1916); weizmann, chaim; western wall; yishuv.






Bibliography

Hurewitz, J. C. The Middle East and North Africa in World Politics: A Documentary Record, 2d edition, revised and enlarged, Vol. 2: British-French Supremacy, 19141945. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1979.

Hurewitz, J. C. The Struggle for Palestine. New York: Green-wood Press, 1968.

Ingrams, Doreen. Palestine Papers, 19171922: Seeds of Conflict. New York: George Braziller, 1973.

Jeffries, Joseph Mary Nagle. Palestine: The Reality. New York: Longmans, Green, 1939.

Khalidi, Walid, ed. From Haven to Conquest: Readings in Zionism and the Palestine Problem until 1948. Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1971.

Monroe, Elizabeth. Britain's Moment in the Middle East, 19141971. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press, 1981.

Stein, Leonard. The Balfour Declaration. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1961.

Weizmann, Chaim. Trial and Error. New York: Harper, 1949.

Philip Mattar

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Balfour declaration

Balfour declaration. Partly with a view to securing the support of world Jewry for the allied war effort, Lloyd George's government authorized Foreign Secretary A. J. Balfour to send a letter (2 November 1917) to Lord Rothschild (lay leader of Anglo-Jewry) pledging the support of the British government for the establishment, in Palestine, of a ‘National Home’ for the Jewish people, but safeguarding the rights of Palestine's non-Jewish inhabitants. The terms of this declaration were incorporated into the mandate for Palestine granted to Britain by the League of Nations, on the basis of which considerable Jewish settlement there was permitted between the two world wars. Growing Arab resentment and violence led to the abrogation of the declaration by Neville Chamberlain's government in 1939.

Geoffrey Alderman

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"Balfour declaration." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Balfour Declaration

Balfour Declaration. British declaration of sympathy with Zionism. It was made in a letter of 2 Nov. 1917, from the British Foreign Secretary (i.e. Balfour) to Lord Rothschild. The declaration was endorsed in 1920 by the allies at the San Remo Conference. It was, however, in apparent conflict with the McMahon correspondence, which made commitments to the Arabs.

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"Balfour Declaration." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Balfour Declaration

Balfour Declaration (1917) Letter written by British foreign minister Arthur Balfour to the British Zionist Federation pledging support for the settlement of Jews in Palestine. Jews were admitted to the area when it became a British mandated territory after World War I. See also Zionism

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