What was the Balfour Declaration?
There are only a few documents in Middle Eastern history which have as much influence as the Balfour Declaration. The Balfour Declaration was sent as a 67-word statement contained within the short letter addressed to the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Arthur Balfour on November 2, 1917. The declaration acknowledged the establishment of a Jewish home in Palestine. The statement of the Declaration read as:
“His Majesty’s Government view with favor 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.”
The letter was addressed to Lionel Walter Rothschild, a British banker and a Zionist activist, who drafted the declaration with the help of fellow Zionists Chaim Weizmann and Nahum Sokolow. The declaration proved to be in line with the wishes of Zionist leaders who hoped for a homeland in Palestine and designed the intense immigration of Jews from all over the world to Palestine.
As Balfour was a part of the liberal government under Prime Minister David Lloyd George, they formed a public opinion that Jews have undergone injustices for a long time for which the West is to be blamed. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the West to find and establish a Jewish homeland.
The motivation for achieving a separate homeland for Jews was aided by fundamentalist Christians who encouraged the idea for two reasons; to depopulate their own lands of Jews and to fulfill the Biblical prophecy, according to which the return of the Christ will occur after the establishment of a Jewish kingdom in the Holy Land.
The Balfour Declaration met with criticism and controversies from the start, mainly because of its ambiguous text. The interpreters claimed that it did not state the idea of establishing a unique Jewish state rather a homeland where they would live alongside Palestinians and other Arabs. It was also pointed out that the second part of the declaration about the protection of the rights of Palestinian Arabs could be taken by them as the British endorsing Arab autonomy. Britain indeed protected Arab rights at some points during the mandate but its role remained contradictory nonetheless.
In 1917, at the time of the declaration, Palestinian community was 90% of the total population while Jews amounting to around 50,000 only. By the time of Israel’s declaration of independence in 1947, this Jewish population increased to 600,000. By this time, Jews had been actively establishing quasi-governmental institutions, provoking resistance from Palestinians which occurred in the form of minor uprisings in 1933, 1929, 1921 and 1920 and a major one which lasted from 1936 to 1939 which is also known as Palestine Arab Revolt.
The Balfour Declaration is said to have laid the foundation for the formation of the state of Israel which finally happened thirty-one years later in 1948.