“There’s no need for Britain to apologize for the Balfour Declaration”

November 02, 2017

Palestinians prepare to throw shoes at an effigy depicting Arthur Balfour during a staged protest in the Palestinian Authority-controlled city of Bethlehem



[Note by Tom Gross]

Today marks the one hundredth anniversary of the Balfour Declaration that helped pave the way to Israeli independence.

In recent days, there have been a large number of articles on the anniversary in the Israeli and British media but also some in the American and Arab media too.

I attach four pieces below, including one by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in The Guardian demanding Britain apologize. (The article, which I’m told was largely drafted on Abbas’ behalf by journalists at The Guardian, has many inaccuracies.)

First here is a short TV interview on the subject with me from today:

“There’s no need for Britain to apologize for the Balfour Declaration”

On the 100th anniversary of the 1917 Balfour Declaration that helped pave the way to Israeli independence, Tom Gross explores the reasons behind it and discusses demands by some that Britain apologize for it. Is it Britain’s fault that the Palestinians don’t have an independent state? Should Britain also apologize for Jordan, Iraq and other states? The Palestinians could have had a state on many occasions, and could and should still have one. If anyone needs to apologize to the Palestinians it is their own leadership.



It is worth watching British PM Theresa May’s speech followed by Israeli PM Netanyahu’s speech at tonight’s Balfour dinner in London.

Netanyahu: “The real tragedy of the Balfour Declaration is that it took three decades to fulfill its promise. Too late for one third of the Jewish people who perished in the Holocaust. Had Israel been established in 1928 or 1938 and not in 1948, millions could have been saved. Some people mistakenly believe that there is an Israel because of the Holocaust. In fact, it is only because there was no Israel that the Holocaust could occur. Because there was no sovereign Jewish power to protect the Jewish people or to provide refuge for the six millions murdered by the Nazis...

“And the other true tragedy of the Balfour Declaration is that the Palestinians rejected it. They still do. They said so this morning. Incredibly the Palestinians speak of suing the British government for the Balfour Declaration… It's time for the Palestinians to end their quest to eliminate Israel. It's time for them not just to accept a Jewish national home, it's time for them to accept a Jewish state, a nation state for the Jewish people, because it they do the conflict will be over in a minute.”



Some British media have been very supportive of Israel.

For example, in a lead article today, The Times of London writes:

“The Middle East is a region dominated by the rule of autocrats, jealous of their powers. One country stands out as an exception: Israel, which has become a vibrant liberal democracy, an innovative economy and an ally of the West. Britain should share some of the pride in the evolution of the Israeli state since the foundations for it were laid out a century ago in the Balfour Declaration.”

The Times goes on to criticize British Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn for refusing to attend the Balfour Declaration commemorative dinner this evening in London which will be attended by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and British Prime Minister Theresa May among others.

“Mr. Corbyn had an opportunity to transcend claims of hard-left anti-Semitism in the Labour party and publicly acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. He failed to do so,” says The Times.

By contrast there have been many critical pieces in The Guardian. Ironically, it was C.P. Scott, the editor of The Guardian for 57 years, who fought tirelessly alongside Chaim Weizmann for the creation of the state of Israel. Indeed it was Scott who introduced Weizmann to Arthur Balfour, as I noted here.



1. “How the Balfour Declaration laid the roots of Israel” (By Simon Sebag Montefiore, The Sunday Times)
2. “100 Years Later, How Has The Balfour Declaration Shaped Israel’s Conflicts?” (Jerusalem Post magazine)
3. “Banksy holds Balfour ‘apology party’ for Palestinians” (Agence France-Presse)
4. “Britain must atone for the Balfour declaration – and 100 years of suffering” (By Mahmoud Abbas, The Guardian)




How the Balfour Declaration laid the roots of Israel

The Jews battled through centuries of oppression to create a homeland. A key moment occurred 100 years ago with Britain’s Balfour Declaration – and the family of the historian Simon Sebag Montefiore was at the heart of the story

By Simon Sebag Montefiore
The Sunday Times (London)
October 15 2017

On October 31, 1917, Sir Mark Sykes MP, the playful Middle Eastern expert for the British government, bounded out of the Cabinet Office and spotted the elegant Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann sitting in the anteroom. “Dr Weizmann,” he cried out. “It’s a boy!”

Sykes had been ordered by David Lloyd George, the prime minister, and Arthur Balfour, the foreign secretary, to negotiate a British declaration in favour of a Jewish homeland in Palestine and the wording of the document had just been agreed by the prime minister.

Timing is everything: Britain was exhausted by the world war – America had just joined the allies; Russia, governed by Alexander Kerensky, was scarcely holding on. America and Russia had the two largest Jewish populations in the world and the cabinet was convinced that the Jews there possessed almost mystical influence.

In Palestine the British Army under General Edmund Allenby had taken Beersheba and was advancing towards Jerusalem. Allenby was accompanied by the forces of Hussein, King of Hejaz, who with Lawrence of Arabia hoped to take possession of a vast Arab empire that would include Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Arabia. Yet these territories had also been divided between the allies – Britain, France and Russia. And there was a further complication that none of them yet knew about. In the Russian capital Petrograd, Vladimir Lenin, the Bolshevik leader, was secretly ordering his men to storm the Winter Palace.

Of course, Zionism was not invented in the modern era but started with the millennia of Jewish life in the Holy Land from King David to AD70 when Titus crushed the Jewish revolt, destroying Jerusalem and its temple, and AD135 when Hadrian annihilated the Jews after the rebellion led by Simon Bar-Kochba, and renamed Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina and Judaea as Palestina – after the Jews’ biblical enemies, the Philistines.

Few defeated, dispersed peoples ever manage to return to lost homelands but the poor Jews of Jerusalem continued to pray around the walls while powerless European Jews prayed and dreamt of Return to Zion.

During the 17th century Protestant Christians known as “Hebraists” (who included Puritans such as Oliver Cromwell who invited the Jews back to Britain) returned to biblical prophecies that cited Return to Zion as a precondition for the second coming of Christ.

In the 19th century new freedoms for Jews across the West meant that European Jews could worship freely and assimilate, thriving in the professions, arts and business.

For centuries Jews had craved the Return. At times their longing was religious, spiritual, messianic, nationalistic, but the fire never flickered. Yet since 1517 Palestine and most of the Arab world had been ruled by Ottoman sultans.

In the mid-19th century the idea was backed by Victorian evangelicals such as Lord Shaftesbury and their secular supporters such as Lord Palmerston, the prime minister, and the Anglo-Jewish millionaire Sir Moses Montefiore (my great-great-great-uncle), who first visited a desolate Jerusalem in 1827. He became an influential believer, visiting Jerusalem six times and trying to buy swathes of Palestine. In the 1860s he founded the first Jewish suburb outside the Old City – his Montefiore Windmill still stands – just as the wealthy Palestinian families started to build their own suburbs around the walls.

Yet as nationalism thrived, the bacillus of religious anti-semitism mutated into a racial strain. The Jews were blamed for all the ills of capitalist modernity even in sophisticated France and Germany. In Tsarist Russia the repression of 6m impoverished Jews became a fetish for the Romanov emperors. In 1862 Moses Hess, a German Marxist fearing this racial anti-semitism, proposed the creation of a socialist Jewish society in Palestine. Immigration started slowly.

In the spring of 1881 the assassination of Tsar Alexander II was blamed on Jews; brutal pogroms ravaged them while new laws by the rabid Jew-hater Alexander III blamed them for their own persecution.

Russian pogroms inspired modern Zionism: Leo Pinsker of Odessa wrote the pamphlet Auto-Emancipation and founded The Lovers of Zion, who created new Jewish villages in Palestine.

By 1896, of the 45,300 inhabitants of Jerusalem 28,000 were Jews, but in the rest of Palestine they were a tiny minority. The new anti-semitism thrived in Vienna, whipped up by demagogue such as the mayor Karl Lueger (who inspired the young Hitler), and in France’s Dreyfus Affair where an innocent Jewish officer was framed as a Prussian spy.

A Jewish Viennese journalist, Theodor Herzl, described as “faultlessly handsome”, bearded like an Assyrian, his “almond-shaped eyes with heavy black melancholy lashes”, was convinced that Jews could only be safe in their own country. In February 1896 Herzl published The Jewish State: “Palestine is our ever-memorable historic home . . . The Maccabeans will rise again. We shall live at last as free men on our own soil and die peacefully in our own homes.”

The idea was not new but the word Zionism was coined in 1890 and Herzl became its first modern organiser with energy and ingenuity. In August 1897 he presided over the first Zionist Congress in Basel, writing in his diary: “L’état, c’est moi . . . At Basel, I founded the Jewish state. If I said this out loud today, I would be greeted by universal laughter. Perhaps in five years and certainly in 50, everyone will know it . . .”

Herzl decided that his Jewish state should be German-speaking. The unbalanced German Kaiser Wilhelm II (the Donald Trump of his era) was planning an Oriental tour to meet Sultan Abdul Hamid II, then proceed to Jerusalem. Herzl saw an opportunity to create a Jewish state in this Ottoman province but under the kaiser’s protection.

When Wilhelm heard about Zionism, he wrote: “I’m very much in favour of the Mauschels going to Palestine, the sooner they clear off the better!”

While he often met Jewish industrialists, Wilhelm was an anti-semite who ranted against the poisonous hydra of Jewish capital “twisting and corrupting” Germany – but he hoped that a Jewish state might become a German satellite (just as Stalin later hoped Israel would be a Soviet one).

In Istanbul in October 1898 Herzl met Wilhelm. The kaiser proposed the Zionist project to Abdul Hamid, who rejected it firmly – the Islamic caliph could not promote Jewish immigration in Al-Quds, Islamic Jerusalem. When Herzl met Wilhelm again in Jerusalem, the kaiser had lost interest while Herzl, the modernist, was appalled by reeking, impoverished Jerusalem.

But the dream gained support. The intermarried Jewish banking families of London, known as the Cousinhood, who included Rothschilds, Sassoons, Samuels and Montefiores, were important because most of the Jews involved in Zionism were so poor.

At first these potentates were sceptical of Herzl’s movement. The first of them to embrace it was Sir Francis Montefiore, Moses’s nephew, who was mocked at Zionist congresses for wearing white gloves and a frock coat. But in 1903 Lord Rothschild backed the idea and introduced Herzl to Joseph Chamberlain, the colonial secretary.

Herzl proposed a homeland in Cyprus or El Arish in Egypt. Chamberlain ruled out Cyprus but promised to consider El Arish in British-dominated but independent Egypt. Herzl hired a Welsh lawyer to draft a Charter for the Jewish Settlement: David Lloyd George, the very man whose decisions would later influence Israel more than anyone since Emperor Constantine. However, the Egyptian government rejected the idea just as pogroms again started to kill Jews across Russia.

The prime minister, Arthur Balfour, had just pushed through his Aliens Bill to diminish the immigration of Russian Jews but now he decided to offer Herzl a Jewish homeland . . . in Uganda.

Effete, cynical, clever, Balfour was the personification of the Edwardian statesman with his Old Etonian mix of Scottish mercantile wealth and English aristocracy. His mother was the sister of Robert Cecil, Lord Salisbury, whom he succeeded as prime minister – which is believed to be the source of the expression “Bob’s your uncle”.

Balfour, like many of the British ruling class, was sympathetic to the justice of the cause, the secular heir to Victorian evangelists and 17th-century Puritans. His philo-semitism combined sympathy for the Jewish plight and admiration for Jewish culture with a conviction that the Jews possessed mystical power.

Herzl, desperate and ailing, accepted Uganda. Most Zionists rejected “Ugandaism” and Herzl died heartbroken. But Russian pogroms in 1903-5 encouraged more Jewish immigration. Herzl was succeeded by Chaim Weizmann, who had been born in Pinsk in Belarus, escaping Russia to study science in Germany and Switzerland, settling in England in 1904.

During the 1906 election Weizmann met the former prime minister Balfour. Weizmann joked that if Moses had been offered Uganda, he would have smashed the tablets. Would Balfour exchange London for Paris?

“But Dr Weizmann, we have London,” replied Balfour.

“We had Jerusalem when London was a marsh.”

“Are there many Jews who think like you?” asked Balfour.

“I speak the mind of millions of Jews.”

“Curious, the Jews I meet are quite different,” Balfour mused.

Until 1914 the British and the Germans kept contact with their own pet Zionists – the official Zionist HQ was in Germany. But when the war started Winston Churchill, the first lord of the Admiralty, called in Weizmann to advise on the manufacture of explosives.

Weizmann’s best contact was CP Scott, editor of The Manchester Guardian, who introduced him to another minister – Lloyd George, raffish orator and Welsh Wizard, a blue-eyed Baptist schoolmaster’s son who said: “I was taught more in school about the history of the Jews than about my own land.”

Now Lloyd George listened. “When Dr Weizmann was talking of Palestine he kept bringing up place names more familiar to me than those on the western front,” he recalled. Lloyd George, by now munitions secretary, was advised on explosives by Weizmann, whom he reintroduced to Balfour.

The prime minister Herbert Asquith asked his cold, analytical postmaster-general Herbert Samuel (a Jewish banking scion related to Rothschilds and Montefiores) to report on Zionism.

Samuel was sympathetic, at which Asquith sneered snootily: “What an attractive community that would make.” But Lloyd George supported it.

Jews were blamed for all the ills of modernity, even in sophisticated France and Germany.

Meanwhile the British, who were attracted to idealised images of both Jews and Arabs, were seeking any way to break the stalemate on the western front. It is now fashionable to laugh at Britain’s plans for the Middle East, to mock old-fashioned statesmen in top hats and to exaggerate the tolerant wonders of the Ottoman empire. But the shambolic, spasmodically vicious Ottomans had reduced Jerusalem to a half-empty shell, and looted and impoverished both Palestine and Arab provinces, a state from which they have still not recovered.

Faced with Ottoman decline, no one then knew how to reorganise the provinces of this colossal empire; and neither modern Arab leaders nor western statesmen, nor the diplomats of the United Nations, have proved much better.

In 1915 Hussein, the Sherif of Mecca, a Hashemite descended from Muhammad, and Sir Henry McMahon, the dim British high commissioner in Egypt, negotiated the price of an Arab revolt against the Ottomans, who were planning to crush Arab resistance. Hussein, who commanded scarcely more than a few thousand Arabian warriors, demanded that Britain promise him today’s Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Palestine. In return he would deliver the Arab world, aided by the secret Arab nationalist societies al-Fatat and al-Ahd. None of this was true: much of Arabia was controlled by rival chieftains while the societies had just 80 members between them.

Simultaneously Hussein, through his son Faisal, was negotiating with the Ottomans against the British, asking for hereditary possession of Arabia.

In October 1915 McMahon vaguely agreed to Hussein’s demands, provided they excluded a fuzzy area west of the major Syrian cities, possibly meaning most of Syria and Palestine.

On June 5, 1916, after he realised the Ottomans had ordered his arrest, Hussein launched his Arab revolt as “King of all the Arabs”, a title that had to be downgraded to “King of Hejaz”.

He was advised by TE Lawrence, a brilliant Arabist and intelligence officer. Part fantasist, part swashbuckler, part self-promoter, Lawrence thought Hussein a corrupt old crook but almost fell in love with the slim, soulful Prince Faisal, gushing homoerotically that he was “tall, graceful, vigorous, clear skinned . . . a popular idol, an absolute ripper!”

Meanwhile, Sir Mark Sykes MP was negotiating with Russia and France to carve up the Ottoman empire. His Sykes-Picot-Sazonov treaty, signed in late 1916, promised Russia Istanbul plus swathes of modern Turkey. France got Lebanon and Syria; Britain, Palestine and Iraq; Jerusalem would be shared by Russia, Britain and France. Despite the outrage provoked by the treaty today, it was never actually implemented.

In December 1916 Lloyd George became prime minister with Balfour as foreign secretary in a new government dedicated to the pursuit of victory.

Lloyd George and Balfour had both been raised on the Bible. Apart from America, “Bible reading and Bible thinking England,” noted one of Lloyd George’s aides, “was the only country where the desire of the Jews to return to their ancient homeland” was regarded “as a natural aspiration not to be denied”.

Weizmann to his amazement realised that “Britain was a biblical nation”.

Weizmann and Balfour dined together and walked around Westminster, discussing the overlapping interests of Britain and Zion. “When the guns fall silent, you may get your Jerusalem,” Balfour said.

In the spring of 1917 America had entered the war and Russia was still fighting (if only just). Surely American and Russian Jews would keep these allies in the war?

The British also learnt that Germans and even Ottomans were toying with their own pro-Zionist declaration. “With Great Jewry against us,” Sykes said, “there’s no possibility of getting the thing [victory] through.”

It is fashionable now to laugh at Britain’s plans for the Middle East, to mock statesmen in top hats

It is often stated by anti-Zionists today that the claims of Sherif Hussein and the Arabs were agreed justly, then betrayed by Britain. But the grandiose demands of one family were hardly representative of the Arab peoples and lacked any depth of support. Both promises to Arabs and Jews would never have happened at any other time.

As Allenby marched north from Egypt, Balfour declared: “I am a Zionist.” Lloyd George and Churchill agreed with him.

There was much opposition: George Curzon, the lord president of the council, and Edwin Montagu, the India secretary (who was Jewish; a cousin of Rothschilds and Samuels), warned against the dangers of Jewish immigration threatening the rights of Arabs.

The row raged in drawing rooms and cabinet rooms. Many Rothschilds were against Zionism, as was Claude Goldsmith Montefiore and the cabinet minister Montagu. In cabinet Lloyd George and Balfour won the argument, providing any declaration contained language to protect the Arab majority (10 times the Jewish population).

“I have asked Ld Rothschild and Professor Weizmann to submit a formula,” minuted Balfour. France and America approved.

The night before publication of the Balfour Declaration, Lenin seized power. Had he done so a few days earlier, it is often claimed that the declaration would have been withdrawn. Actually, British grandees were convinced that the Bolshevik leaders were all Jewish, so that winning over the powerful Russian Jews would have been even more urgent.

On November 9, 1917 (backdated to November 2, its official date), Balfour issued this declaration addressed to Rothschild: “HM government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people . . . it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities . . .”

It should really be called the Lloyd George not the Balfour Declaration. Lloyd George was determined to seize the Holy Land, “Oh we must grab that”, ordering Allenby to capture “the most famous city in the world” as a Christmas present for the British people.

Britain received a mandate over Palestine. The Hashemites became kings of Hejaz, Syria, Iraq and Jordan, but these unrepresentative British allies ultimately lost all – except Jordan, which is to this day ruled by the Hashemite King Abdullah II.

As the number of migrants soared after the rise of the Nazis, Britain became alarmed by Arab discontent, withdrew support for Jewish immigration to Palestine in the late 1930s and did its best to foil Zionism – one reason why it is wrong to see it as the fruit of imperialism.

It took illegal Jewish immigration, the tragedy of the Second World War, an Arab then a Jewish revolt to force the British out and win a UN resolution in favour of the partition of Palestine between Jews and Arabs, and then a brutal full-scale war against all neighbouring Arab states to create the state of Israel – 30 years after the Balfour Declaration.

The declaration recognised the historical rights of Jews to return and the rights of Palestinians who lived there already and also possessed an ancient history in the same land.

There was always a danger of conflict between the two but it was not inevitable; there was always the risk that a state, even a democratic one, would become as disappointing as other states; and there was a likelihood that two peoples coarsened by 70 years of war would careen towards brutal extremes of nationalism and fundamentalism.

The tragedy is that the land could have been shared or partitioned with a degree of tolerance on both sides – and it still can be.



100 Years Later, How Has The Balfour Declaration Shaped Israel’s Conflicts?
By Gol Kalev
Jerusalem Post magazine
October 27, 2017

“Palestine for the Jews!” That was the London Times headline (November 9, 1917) that informed the world of the British government’s decision to issue a letter that became known as the Balfour Declaration.

The letter, sent by the British foreign secretary Arthur James Balfour to Lord Rothschild a week earlier (November 2) stated that the British government viewed 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 objective.

British prime minister David Lloyd George and Balfour were part of a British generation that was inspired by romantic notions of the Jews’ return to their ancestral homeland.

Lord Roderick Balfour, the great-grandson of Arthur’s brother Gerald William Balfour, recently spoke with The Jerusalem Post Magazine about how these statesmen wholeheartedly adopted such notions.

“They were brought up singing the songs of David, and reading the Old Testament. It was completely natural that Christians should support the return of the Jews to the Holy Land.”

Indeed, Lloyd George said he was taught far more about the history of the Jews than about that of his own people. In 1917, as British forces were advancing through Palestine, he stated that he wished to give Jerusalem as “a Christmas present for the British people.”

But Lloyd George’s great-granddaughter, the renowned historian Prof. Margaret MacMillan of Oxford University, warns not to overestimate the religious motivations.

“No doubt they were lovers of Zion, but the declaration was about geopolitical considerations.”

MacMillan, a leading expert on World War I, shared with the Magazine her insight on war dynamics. “Both sides in the war were using every weapon they could find, such as appealing to populations in enemy countries.

The Balfour Declaration was driven by British interests, not by altruism.”

Jehuda Reinharz, who has written more than 30 books on Jewish history and served as president of Brandies University, claims that the Balfour Declaration was not unique. “It was one of many declarations and promises the British made during World War I. What is important is what was done with the Declaration.”

Issuing the declaration was not only consistent with wartime promises given to various groups, it was also in line with previous attempts of world powers to facilitate the return of the Jews.

Over a century prior to the Balfour Declaration, back in 1799, a similar declaration was reportedly issued by the French. This happened as Napoleon was conquering Palestine; he referred to the Jews as the “rightful heirs of Palestine.”

Two decades prior to the declaration, in 1898, the German Kaiser became an advocate of the same idea.

After meeting Zionist leader Theodor Herzl, he agreed to ask the Turkish Sultan to grant the Jews a chartered company in Palestine under German protection.

The Sultan declined and Herzl had to resort to other avenues. He discussed with the British government the possibility of giving Jews territory right outside of Palestine, in the Sinai desert. When that was deemed unfeasible, the British offered territory in East Africa.

Herzl then hired a local British lawyer in 1903 to draft a proposal that became known as the Uganda Scheme. That lawyer was a rising politician named David Lloyd George.

MacMillan believes that her great-grandfather’s awareness of other nations’ efforts played a role in issuing the Declaration. “The British were worried that if they did not support a Jewish homeland, the Germans would.”

Reinharz takes it a step further: “There were a number of declarations in support of Zionism at the time, amongst them from Japan. But all those declarations were meaningless.” He explains that unlike previous and contemporary declarations of support, this time there was both a feasible path to its fulfillment, and motivated Jewish activists who knew how to leverage it. “[Zionist leader] Chaim Weizmann took the Balfour letter and made it into the Balfour Declaration,” Reinharz says.

“Messianic times have really come,” Weizmann wrote to his wife as events were unfolding. Four and half years after the Declaration was issued, in 1922, the League of Nations gave a mandate to Great Britain to put the Balfour Declaration into effect. In building support for the implementation of the declaration, Weizmann partnered with the Arab emir Faisal, who proclaimed in an agreement that “all necessary measures shall be taken to encourage and stimulate immigration of Jews into Palestine on a large scale.”

Arab support was corroborated by T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), who upon meeting with the Hashemite emir, wrote to the British Army’s director of intelligence that “the Arab attitude should be sympathetic.”

MacMillan elaborates: “There was no such thing as Arab public opinion. There were some middle class movements in Baghdad, but for the most part, this area was viewed as a small, backward part of the Ottoman Empire. The Hashemites claimed to represent the Arabs, but in my view, that claim was grossly inflated.”

In fact, the Arabs on the ground in Palestine were not represented, or taken into account.

Professor Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, specifies where Palestinian grievances lie.

“Part of the historic resentment by Palestinians is that in their view, the second clause of the Balfour Declaration – that nothing shall be done to prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities – was not implemented.”

But Telhami warns not to look only at the Declaration’s words. “It was not just what the declaration said. Issuing it legitimized the principle of Zionism.”

Telhami, who was born into a Palestinian family in Israel, says that the focus should be on the consequences of the declaration. “Obviously, Zionism preceded the Balfour Declaration, both politically and with actual settlements on the ground, but having such British support at that time made it easier for the Zionists to establish a state. Balfour set British policy on a path which is inevitably supportive of Zionism.”

Such a path of British support was soon to be interrupted.

In the early years of British rule, even before the Mandate took effect, the British military seemed to contradict the aims of the declaration. It tended to appoint Arabs, not Jews, to government positions. It produced official documents and bulletins in Arabic and English, ignoring Hebrew, and was perceived to have applied the well-tested tactic of “divide and rule.”

Pro-British Jewish leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky stated at the time: “The British administration behaves as if the Balfour Declaration was an unfortunate slip of the tongue of the British foreign minister.”

Later on, the British limited Jewish immigration to Palestine and by the beginning of World War II, put a complete halt to it. They acted in direct contradiction to the deceleration and the mandate, seeming to use their best endeavors to block the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Reinharz underscores the consequences of British reversal.

“There is still strong anger at the British to this day for closing the gates of Palestine in 1939 to Jews who were seeking to escape from the Nazi horrors.”

But he also emphasizes the immense role the British played. “We should also keep in mind that without Britain, the groundwork for the establishment of the State of Israel would not have flourished.”

Symbolic of that recognition, the Israeli prime minister’s official residence is on Balfour Street and its former prime minister had a house facing Lloyd George Street.

On the 50th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, the Israeli government invited Lloyd George’s daughter, Megan, to participate in the official celebrations.

She asked her great-niece Margaret to join. “That was the first time I heard of the Balfour Declaration” recalls MacMillan, who did not make it to Israel at that time due to the sudden death of Megan Lloyd George.

In the half-century that elapsed, MacMillan has extensively researched the British Empire. Applying her experience, she concludes that it should not be surprising that the British failed to implement the Balfour Declaration.

“The British thought that they would be there for generations to come. They were operating under a mandate, but did not think this would really lead to full independence so quickly. They thought it would just stay part of their empire. Some 30 years after the declaration was issued, the British terminated their mandate and withdrew, essentially letting the parties “fight it out.”

The Balfour Declaration had exhausted its course and was destined for the dusty shelves of history.

But 70 years later, on its centennial anniversary, the declaration has come back to life in a surprising manner.

The Palestinian Authority awakened its memory by demanding an official apology from Great Britain, announcing plans to sue the British government for issuing it and even threatening to seek criminal prosecution.

These actions were met with a strong response from British Prime Minister Theresa May. “It is one of the most important letters in history,” said May, referring to the declaration. “It demonstrates Britain’s vital role in creating a homeland for the Jewish people and it is an anniversary we will be marking with pride.”

Lord Balfour also voiced a strong response to the PA’s charges. “It is completely irrational to ask for an apology after the San Remo conference, which confirmed the Balfour Declaration, and after having the State of Israel approved by world nations. This is just crazy.”

Indeed, the foundation of the State of Israel is deeply rooted in international law, but Reinharz reminds us of a broader basis of legitimacy. “When people accuse Israel of colonialism, they forget that much of the land in Palestine was purchased by various Zionist organizations and individuals. Also, suing Britain for enabling the creation of Israel, would open the door to asking how Jordan and Iraq were created and how other Arab countries were carved by European powers.”

The PA’s awakening of the memory of Balfour raises another question – to what extent should history drive current political decisions? No doubt, there is much to be debated, such as the magnitude of the mass Arab migration to Palestine in the 19th and early 20th century and the actual size of the Jewish communities in Jerusalem during the Middle Ages. Similarly, one can discuss Italy’s historic rights to South Tyrol, France’s claims to Alsace-Lorraine, Muslim ties to Spain and much more.

But is there a risk of getting bogged down in the historical mud and focusing less on the present? Should the Palestinians remain stuck in the what-ifs of the past and sidestep the tremendous opportunities of the present?

According to some observers, the Balfour Declaration did not just influence regional political developments, it also had a tremendous impact on world progress.

Lord Balfour sees it this way: “The Balfour Declaration gave a homeland to all these brilliant people who arrived and produced an amazing contribution to the scientific and medical world of today.”

Supporters of Israel often cite such accomplishments; more particularly, that the Jewish state combats famine by turning air into water, and achieves medical breakthroughs that save millions of lives around the world. In short, the Jewish state is improving humanity.

Logically, the Palestinians could be primary beneficiaries of Israel’s wealth. There is economic cooperation, Telhami explains, “but the problem is such activities are seen as legitimatizing the ‘occupation.’ It is perceived as normalizing something that is not normal.”

This leads us to a debate over whether the Palestinians should participate in Israel’s economy, and benefit from its prosperity or boycott it. Are they missing out on access to Israeli wealth, technology and growth opportunities? Lord Roderick Balfour is clear: “I am very much on the side of the Palestinians. They can only get self-respect and avoid victimhood if the world allows them to build themselves economically.”

He points to a structural problem, but one that is solvable. “You cannot have contrasting economies right next to each other. One of the sad things in all this is that Palestinians are not stimulated in promoting their own industries.”

Lady Kinvara Balfour, Lord Roderick Balfour’s daughter, is a creative director, producer and public speaker. She has helped launch several technology start-ups. She stays away from politics, but not from self-empowerment. “I am deeply proud of my ancestors,” she says. “I am proud that they dared to question the status quo. I admire people through history that had the courage to change something.”

Should the Palestinians change course? Are they embracing a narrative of victimhood and distress that runs against their interests? Telhami is cautious about such views, but points to a somber reality.

“Palestinians are not a priority for the international community, including for Arab nations. Countries pursue their own interests. The Palestinians should devise strategies that, while not ignoring the international community, find a path that more heavily depends on themselves.”

Two hundred years ago, the Palestinian Arabs were not a significant factor in France’s plans for Palestine.

A hundred years ago, they were not a significant factor in the British plans either.

Today, is there an opportunity for Palestinians to become a factor – to use the success of Israel to foster their own creative and entrepreneurial energies and in doing so, become more dependent on themselves? “We are not going to change the past,” says Reinharz.

“We have to learn to live with history. If we were to unravel history to its origins, there would be no country in the world that could not be accused of injustices.

History as a weapon does not work. No side will be able to win all the arguments. You can not play history backwards.”

The Balfour Declaration will always have separate meanings for Palestinians and Israelis. But perhaps its centennial anniversary also serves as an optimistic reminder to both sides that if you will it, it is no dream.



Banksy holds Balfour ‘apology party’ for Palestinians
By Shatha Yaish
Agence France-Presse
November 1, 2017

BETHLEHEM - Secretive British street artist Banksy held a special event Wednesday to apologise for the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration outside his hotel in the occupied West Bank.

The typically surreal event involved 50 children hosted by an actor dressed as Queen Elizabeth II for a British-style tea party.

Their party hats were bullet-riddled helmets with British flags on them, while tattered Union Jacks were flown.

The queen revealed a plaque carved in concrete saying “Er, Sorry,” playing on the common initials for Elizabeth Regina.

The apology was etched into Israel’s controversial separation wall, which in many areas cuts through Palestinian territory.

The children were descendants of Palestinians forced to flee their land in the 1948 war surrounding the creation of Israel.

Thursday marks the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, when the British government said it viewed “with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”.

Palestinians see the document as giving away their homeland, while Israelis see it as helping pave the way to the founding of their country at a time when Jews were facing persecution elsewhere.

“This conflict has brought so much suffering to people on all sides. It didn’t feel appropriate to ‘celebrate’ the British role in it,” Banksy said in a statement.

“The British didn’t handle things well here -- when you organise a wedding, it’s best to make sure the bride isn’t already married.”

Gemma Bell, a British woman among a group who walked part of the way from London to Jerusalem to apologise for their government’s role in Balfour, hailed the work.

“It’s what we should expect from Banksy -- brilliant, unpredictable, dramatic and really getting that message home.”

The British government has said it will mark Thursday’s anniversary “with pride”, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to attend a dinner in London with his British counterpart Theresa May.

Banksy opened the Walled-Off Hotel near Bethlehem in March, with all the rooms facing directly onto Israel’s separation wall.

At the time, he said it had the worst view of any hotel in the world.
Dozens of his works are found inside the hotel.

Wissam Salsaa, the hotel’s manager, told AFP they wanted to protest against the British government’s attitude to Balfour.

“This event is a protest or a commemoration of the disastrous Balfour Declaration that caused a catastrophe for the Palestinian people and a catastrophe for the Middle East,” he said.

“The British people and government, represented (here) by the Queen, should apologise to the Palestinian people.”

The wall is one of the most striking symbols of Israel’s 50-year occupation, and has become a major focus for demonstrations and art work.

Banksy closely protects his identity and was not said to be in attendance Wednesday.



Britain must atone for the Balfour declaration – and 100 years of suffering
By Mahmoud Abbas
A century ago, Arthur Balfour signed away Palestinians’ homeland and initiated decades of persecution. It is cause for humility, not celebration
The Guardian
November 1, 2017

Many British people will not know of Sir Arthur James Balfour, an early 20th century foreign secretary. For 12 million Palestinians, his name is all too familiar. On the 100th anniversary of the Balfour declaration, the British government should take the opportunity to make things right.

At his desk in London, on 2 November 1917, Balfour signed a letter promising the land of Palestine to the Zionist Federation, a recently established political movement whose goal was the creation of a Jewish state. He promised a land that was not his to promise, disregarding the political rights of those who already lived there. For the Palestinian people – my people – the events this letter triggered have been as devastating as they have been far-reaching.

This British policy, to support Jewish immigration into Palestine while negating the Arab-Palestinian right to self-determination, created severe tensions between European Jewish immigrants and the native Palestinian population. Palestine (the last item on the decolonisation agenda) and we, its people, who sought our inalienable right to self-determination, instead suffered our greatest catastrophe – in Arabic the Nakba.

In 1948 Zionist militias forcibly expelled more than 800,000 men, women and children from their homeland, perpetrating horrific massacres and destroying hundreds of villages in the process. I was 13 years old at the time of our expulsion from Safad. The occasion on which Israel celebrates its creation as a state, we Palestinians mark as the darkest day in our history.

The Balfour declaration is not something that can be forgotten. Today, Palestinians number more than 12 million, and are scattered throughout the world. Some were forced out of their homeland in 1948, with more than 6 million still living in exile to this day. Those who managed to remain in their homes number roughly 1.75 million, and live within a system of institutionalised discrimination in what is now the state of Israel.

Approximately 2.9 million live in the West Bank under a draconian military occupation-turned-colonisation, with 300,000 of that number being the native inhabitants of Jerusalem, who have so far resisted policies to force them out of their city. Two million live in the Gaza Strip, an open prison subjected to regular destruction through the full force of Israel’s military apparatus.

The Balfour declaration is not something to be celebrated – certainly not while one of the peoples affected continues to suffer such injustice. The creation of a homeland for one people resulted in the dispossession and continuing persecution of another – now a deep imbalance between occupier and occupied. The balance must be redressed, and Britain bears a great deal of responsibility in leading the way. Celebrations must wait for the day when everyone in this land has freedom, dignity and equality.

The physical act of the signing of the Balfour declaration is in the past – it is not something that can be changed. But it is something that can be made right. This will require humility and courage. It will require coming to terms with the past, recognising mistakes, and taking concrete steps to correct those mistakes.

I salute the integrity of those British people calling on their government to take such steps: the 274 MPs who voted in favour of recognising the state of Palestine; the thousands who have petitioned their government to apologise for the Balfour declaration; the NGOs and solidarity groups turning out on the streets, advocating tirelessly for our rights as Palestinians.

Despite the horrors we have endured in the past century, the Palestinian people have remained steadfast. We are a proud nation with a rich heritage of ancient civilisations, and the cradle of the Abrahamic faiths. Over the years we have adapted to the realities around us – the chain of events triggered in 1917 – and made deeply painful compromises for the sake of peace, beginning with the decision to accept a state on only 22% of our historical homeland while recognising the state of Israel, without any reciprocation thus far.

We have endorsed the two-state solution for the past 30 years, a solution that becomes increasingly impossible with every passing day. As long as the state of Israel continues to be celebrated and rewarded, rather than held accountable to universal standards for its continued violations of international law, it will have no incentive to end the occupation. This is short-sighted.

Israel, and friends of Israel, must realise that the two-state solution may well disappear, but the Palestinian people will still be here. We will continue to strive for our freedom, whether that freedom comes through the two-state solution or ultimately through equal rights for all those inhabiting historic Palestine.It is time for the British government to do its part. Concrete steps towards ending the occupation on the basis of international law and resolutions, including the most recent UN security council resolution 2334, and recognising the state of Palestine on the 1967 border, with East Jerusalem as its capital, can go some way towards fulfilling the political rights of the Palestinian people.

Only once this injustice is set right will we have the conditions for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East – for the sake of Palestinians, Israelis and the rest of the region.

• Mahmoud Abbas is the Palestinian president and chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation


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