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The Declaration of Balfour

by on November 2, 2022

Foreign Office
November 2nd, 1917

Dear Lord Rothschild,

I have much pleasure in conveying to you. on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet

His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors 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.

I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.


Arthur James Balfour

This Declaration, since it was issued a hundred five years ago, has been one of the most influential, and in some ways, the most destructive statement and issue since these few words were written.

The British government facilitated the “Jewish Zionist aspirations” of establishing “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. It doesn’t matter that at the time of the Declaration that the land of Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire, and neither Britain nor the Zionists had any control over the land of Palestine. It doesn’t matter that Britain – at the time in the middle of the Great War (WWI) – had already negotiated the Sykes-Picot Agreement to bifurcate the Middle East between itself and France, or that Britain had already agreed through the McMahon Correspondents to help establish a pan-Arab national movement that would have encompassed the land of Palestine. At the time of the Declaration more than 90% of the inhabitants of Palestine were Arab Muslims who had good relations would the Jewish community that lived in Palestine (this community did not consider itself Zionist).

The Declaration helped create a mass movement of European Jews to the land of Palestine. As more European Zionist Jews took land from the Arabs and violated long-standing customs between Muslims and Jews in the land signs of conflict emerged. Despite Britain’s effort, during the Mandate period, to please both the Jews and the Muslim Arabs by issuing the Balfour Declaration and “endvouring to facilitate the achievement of this object” guaranteed that there would be an unending conflict.

Between 1947 and 1949 the Zionist Jews of Israel by force, or by fear or force, forced about 750,000 Palestinians to permanently flee from their homes. They were forced into refugee camps into which they, and their decedents, still live as refugees under international law. During this time Britain ended its Mandate over Palestine, and a day later, in May 1948 Israel declared itself a state. Israel’s Declaration of Independence of 1948, like the Balfour Declaration, promised equality for all of Israel’s citizens and assurance that everyone could participate in democracy.

Britain issued the Balfour Declaration at a time when the sun never set on the British Empire. By the time Britain ended the Mandate in 1948 the United States was the English-speaking superpower. The United States took on the role of protectorate of the Zionist cause – to have a state in Palestine. The political and financial support the U.S. provides Israel is rarely questioned. Under Obama, the U.S. has committed $3.8 billion each year to Israel, no questions asked through 2026. (about $1million per day). Israel is sometimes, especially in times of increased violence, provided millions of dollars more.

It’s an irony that today happens to be election day in Israel. Approximately 80% of the Palestinians live in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and can’t vote in Israeli elections, and of the 20% that are Israeli citizens and can vote many are inclined not to vote, because the choice is oppression. The indications from the polls suggest that Netanyahu – under investigation for fraud – might be back in office as Prime Minister, and that the extreme religious right (yelling “death to Arabs”) did fairly well. Regardless of who’s in office, the oppression and military occupation of the Palestinians will continue and the judicial system will praise members of the military, or settlers, who harm or kill Palestinians.

If Britain wanted to live up to the full commitment of the Balfour it’s time that “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” remain part of the what we remember about the Declaration. The United States has taken the lead in providing the political and financial support for Israel and any facilitation for the achievement of this object by the United States would be useful. Israel once said that everyone in Israel would be equal, and that everyone could participate in democracy. As Israel continues to expand and annex the land Palestinians hope would comprise a Palestinian state Israel should commit itself to creating a true democracy. The Balfour Declaration, without which Israel would exist, calls for protecting “the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. Israel should be what it claims to be, not what it is.

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