Marking the Balfour Centennial

The 1917 Balfour Declaration created a major narrative clash between Israelis and Palestinians.


When it comes to evaluating the role of 1917 Balfour Declaration written by Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur Balfour in creating Israel, the Palestinians tend to over emphasize its impact while the Jews tend to downgrade and de-emphasize its role in creating the State of Israel in May 1948. Both are right.

In no other event in the Palestinian Israeli conflict is the clash of narratives more evident than in the letter issued on November 2, 1917 by the British Foreign Office and dubbed as the “Balfour Declaration.”

The Palestinian narrative sees in that declaration as the epitome of evil policies the British Empire adopted in the Middle East in promising to create a Jewish State in their homeland and at their own expense without any regards to their own national rights. They frame their anger in the saying, “Those who do not own gave the land of those who are unaware to those who do not deserve.” من لا يملك اعطى ارض من لا يدري لمن لا يستحق”.

According to their narrative, without the Balfour Declaration Israel would never have been established. In their view, the League of Nations in 1922 in giving prominence to the Balfour Declaration stated in its preamble: ‘The Mandatory should be responsible,’ the preamble stated, ‘for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2nd, 1917, by the Government of His Britannic Majesty…in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.’ Later, the British Mandate gave the Jews exclusive political, military, and economic rights in Palestine denied to the Palestinian inhabitants of the country.

On the other side, the Jewish narrative downgrade the role of the Balfour Declaration in the creation of Israel in May 1948 asserting that the British once having made that commitment did try to renegade on it and worked hard not to see it implemented citing many policies the British took during the last decade of the Mandate such as limiting the number of Jews immigrating to Palestine but ignoring other policies that were very instrumental in paving the way for the advent of the Jewish State. Zionists maintain that Britain actually did very little to fulfill Balfour’s commitment to use its “best endeavours” to establishing “a national home for the Jewish people,” and tried very hard to undermine it in the decade before Israel’s establishment.

They view that letter as just one historic landmark on the road leading to the establishment of the Jewish Home in Palestine which they achieved deservedly with planning, financing, and organization and that it was Jewish ingenuity, dedication, will, persistence, and determination which made the dream become a reality. Jews within the governmental administration of the British Mandate and Jewish lobbying influence in various corners with the great powers at the time such as Britain, the United States, France, Russia, etc. steered the British policymakers to work on implementing the promise. It was at a time when Britain used to make so many promises to so many partners it never intended to implement such as its promise to Sherif Hussein of Mecca in the Hussein-MacMahon correspondence promising him independence of Arab lands under his leadership should he declare the Arab revolution against the Ottoman Empire, which he actually did but received nothing for it and his reward was to be exiled to Cyprus till his death  for demanding that Britain keep its promises.

READ  Pakistan's Resilent People

Though issued by Britain, the Balfour Declaration for a Jewish National Home in Palestine was supported and guaranteed by its allies. Churchill who wrote in 1920 that creating a Jewish State in Palestine will be ‘in harmony with the truest interests of the British Empire.’hoped the Jewish State would be ‘a symbol of Jewish unity and the temple of Jewish glory.’ Ignored here is the Palestinian indigenous population who were referred to in the letter as “non-Jewish communities” whose civil and religious rights would be preserved.

The Balfour Declaration as well as the Weizmann-Feisal Agreement assured that ‘established rights’ of non-Jewish population will be ‘safe-guarded’: “…it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” On the ground, however, nothing was done not to prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine – the Palestinians.

British Prime Minister Theresa May declared in Parliament, “We are proud of the role that we played in the creation of the State of Israel, and we will certainly mark the centenary with pride.” Ignored again are the victims – no apology, no redress. Palestinians demand Britain apologizes if not for issuing the declaration since it is too late to revoke or disown the declaration in any form but for not honoring its other commitment to protect their national and human rights.

That is why annual anniversaries of the Balfour Declaration are remembered by the Palestinians as a painful, unfair, and unjust sad episode in their modern history marking it with protests, demonstrations, and mourning; while on the other side, it is celebrated by Jews and Israelis as the embodiment of the recognition of their historic national rights at nationhood and statehood.

Professor Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi is Founding Director of Wasatia –Palestine www.wasatia.infoRead other articles by Mohammed.

  • litlover

    The Arabs are not indigenous to the region of Palestine. The Jews are.
    The Arabs never had sovereignty over this region – they had no national rights there.
    Everyone living in the region was called Palestinian including Jews, Christians, Druze, etc. There was no separate ethnic group called Palestinians.
    The Arabs who remained in Israel had full civil and religious rights, as they do today.