Balfour Declaration: A Centenary

Balfour Declaration: A Centenary
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By Sheeraz Ahmad Sofi and Inamul Haq

Second November, 2017, is an important day in the history of Palestine. On this date, the Balfour declaration came into existence (02 November 1917) and this week Palestinians around the world are marking its 100 years. This declaration is still considered as one of the most contested as well as controversial document in the history of the Middle-East that has puzzled scholars and historians for decades.
First of all, it is necessary to know what Balfour Declaration was and why it came into existence.
The Arab Israeli conflict occurred because it consist(ed) of two competing nationalism for the control over the same territory. This nationalism emanated from Central and Eastern Europe, where anti-Semitism was endemic and where Zionism was born among the Ashkenazim Jews. In 1882, a wave of immigration spread among Jews and they started immigrating towards Palestine. This is known as first Aliyah (Ascent). Later , it was Theodor Herzl who began to formalize the solution of Jewish discrimination and created the principles of Zionism, which is also known as “Basel declaration”. This is considered as second achievement of Zionist to create a separate home in Palestine for Jews.
It is remarkable that World War First (1914-18) also came a blessing for Zionists, because during this period, Britain had to make three contradictory agreements over the same piece of land (Palestine). There were three secret agreements done by the British in three consecutive years as Hussein-MacMohan accord (1915), Sykes-Picot agreement (1916) and Balfour declaration (1917). Under the Hussein-MacMohan accord, the British promised the Sharief of Mecca that Palestine would be an independent state after the First World War if it revolted against the Ottoman Empire during the war. The Sykes-Picot agreement was between British and France in which they divided the Arab states between their rules. The last one was the Balfour declaration took place in November 1917. It was 2nd November 1917 A.G. Balfour; a Jew became the secretary general of the British government during which he wrote a letter to the British Crown. He laid stress over Jewish settlement in the land of Palestine and played for the separate national home for Jews in Palestine. This letter was known as Balfour declaration.
Soon after the WWI ended, the British were granted the mandate for Palestine and made sure that there would be Jewish immigration to the region. However, there was immigration of Jews since 1880’s with lesser number immigrated till WWI to Palestine.
The Balfour Declaration acts as one of the foundations for the Jewish national home in Palestine as British mandate of Palestine laid the immigration of Jews to Palestine with a larger number of immigrants. It was seen at the time of the establishment of a new state in the form of Israel; there were near about six lakh Jews present in Palestine who came from different parts of the world. The result of the Belfour Declaration was finally achieved in May, 1948, when a separate national home for Jews was established. The Jews were successful in achieving their goal of national home in Palestine gives birth to a conflict between Arabs and Jews.
There were other reasons too. According to Zena Tahhan, an Al Jazeera journalist , “ the main aim of Britain was to control Palestine in order to keep Suez Canal and Egypt within its Sphere of Influence”. Besides this, Europe was not also safe for Jews and British Government showed sympathy towards their sufferings. Victor Kattan (2009) in his book “From Co-existence to the Conquest” states that “one must trace the roots of the conflict to the colonial era, when the British Empire ruled a quarter of globe. Balfour declaration is the result of colonialism that expelled 750000 Palestinians from their homeland”. He adds that “without colonialism, there would be no Balfour declaration, no British Mandate of Palestine, no mass immigration of Jews into Palestine and no Jewish national home. In fact without colonialism, the state of Israel would not exist today”
Generally, Britain is held responsible for the Balfour declaration. However, France and U.S.A also announced their support for the Balfour Declaration. The U.S president Woodrow Wilson , in a war cabinet meeting that was held in September 1917, nodded to favour the movement. Similarly, Jules Cambon, a French diplomat forwarded a letter to Nahum Sokolow, a Polish Zionist in May 1917 in which he expressed sympathetic views of the French Government towards the Jewish Colonization in Palestine (Al Jazeera, 2017). This was the declaration that made Jewish nationalism strong and they became successful in creating a separate state for Jews. More importantly with the help of Britain, the Jews established different institutions of self-governance and Palestinians were excluded from these, which paved the way for ethnic cleansing of Palestine. In the final analysis, this conflict traces its roots to the colonial confrontation.

—The authors are Ph.D. Students at the Central University of Gujarat. They can be reached at: [email protected]


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