Celebrating Balfour; or commemorating Palestinian suffering

Special Edition of Palestine Updates – Focus on Balfour
Palestine Update  84

Celebrating Balfour; or commemorating Palestinian suffering
The Balfour declaration is, perhaps, one of the most immoral of Britain’s colonial decisions. The Balfour Declaration was a public pledge by Britain in 1917 to establish “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. It was an almost casual sale deed in the form of a letter from Britain’s then-foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour, addressed to Lionel Walter Rothschild, a figurehead of the British Jewish community. Written during World War I (1914-1918), it was part of the terms of the British Mandate for Palestine after the Ottoman Empire was dissolved. The centenary of the Balfour Declaration reminds us of Britain’s historic complicity in establishing a process that has led to the dispossession of the Palestinian people.

Zionists have long viewed the Balfour   document as a “promissory note” giving a Great Power “seal of approval” to their quest to establish a state in Palestine. This is why the Jewish State will celebrate while the Palestinians will mourn on November 2, 2017. It was the day that Palestinians were plainly de-peopled by an arbitrary political decision by an irresponsible politician whose understanding of the region, now referred to as the Middle East, bordered on nil. This has been the story of the way in which Britain divided and destroyed so many countries. Till date, there have been few noteworthy apologies or reparations paid out to the countries that Britain left devastated. Britain lives through the post colonial era as a neo-colonial power.

In this selection of articles on the Balfour declaration, we focus attention on the consequences of the Balfour declaration- its consequences on the people most affected – the Palestinians.

Ranjan Solomon

100 years on: The Balfour Declaration explained
Arthur James Balfour is pictured visiting Jewish colonies in Palestine in 1925 [Getty Images]

It is 100 years since the Balfour Declaration was issued on November 2, 1917. The declaration turned the Zionist aim of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine into a reality when Britain publicly pledged to establish “a national home for the Jewish people”. The pledge is generally viewed as one of the main catalysts of the Nakba – the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 – and the conflict that ensued with the Zionist state of Israel. It is one of the most contested documents in the modern history of the Arab world and has puzzled historians for decades.The Balfour Declaration is the so-called mandate system, set up by the victors of WWI – mainly Britain, France and Russia. It was a thinly veiled form of colonialism and occupation. The system transferred rule from the territories that were previously controlled by the powers defeated in the war – Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria – to the victors. The declared aim of the mandate system was to allow the winners of the war to administer the newly emerging states until they could become independent.

The case of Palestine, however, was unique. Unlike the rest of the post-war mandates, the main goal of the British Mandate there was to create the conditions for the establishment of a Jewish “national home” – where Jews constituted less than 10 percent of the population at the time. At the start of the mandate, the British facilitated the immigration of European Jews to Palestine. Between 1922 and 1935, Jews grew from 9 percent to nearly 27 percent of the total population.

Though the Balfour Declaration included the caveat that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”, the British mandate was set up in a way to equip Jews with the tools to establish self-rule, at the expense of the Palestinian Arabs.

Why was it controversial? Why was it issued? How was it received by Palestinians and Arabs?
Who else was behind it? What impact did it have on the Palestinians?
For more, read a detailed article

Balfour planted terror and disaster in The Middle East
There is no political declaration throughout history that has had devastating effects such as the Balfour Declaration. The Balfour Declaration has ignited wars lasting 100 years in addition that it has posed a serious to the entire globe. The evidence is that during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, the USA and the Soviet Union put their Nuclear weapons on alert. Also it   was recently revealed that Israel in the June war with Arabs in 1967   planned to blow up a nuclear bomb in the Sinai desert as a first warning, if the Egyptian forces were superior. Israeli officials were heard to say that that “they are able to return the area to the Stone Age”. Two issues demand clarification:

  1. First, when Balfour gave his deadly promise, there was no persecution of the Jews in Europe because the promise came in 1917.
  2. The second is that if there is persecution of an ethnic or religious group, it is natural to seek refugee to escape from injustice. But the Zionist movement decided that the Jews should come to Palestine as invaders and not refugees. The problem with Balfour’s promise is that he promised to give Palestine to the Jews of Europe. In reality it implied the expulsion of the natives of Palestine. If the Jewish example is followed in all cases, it begs the question: Do all oppressed groups have the right to expel others from their home!

Bloody Balfour’s century of oppression in Palestine
The British administration cooperated with Zionist authorities to oversee Jewish migration into Palestine and the transfer of land to the colonies. Palestinians were given no such say in how their country should be run. Acts of Palestinian resistance were brutally crushed. Members of the underground Zionist paramilitary the Haganah were co-opted into the British army and police. “Night squads” of combined British and Zionist forces carried out bloody dawn raids on Arab villages as collective punishment for Palestinian acts of resistance. Under the command of British soldier, Orde Wingate, the squads, “invaded nearby villages at dawn, rounding up all the male inhabitants. “Wingate would humiliate the villages; at other times he shot them dead.”

Britain’s polices and plans for partition paved the way for the ethnic cleansing of the Arabs when it left Palestine in 1948. It’s obscene to argue that such horror was necessary to save Jewish people from anti-Semitism and the Holocaust – undoubtedly one of the greatest crimes in history. Britain turned away thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis.

And there’s still no reason why Jews and Arabs can’t live together in a single, secular state with equal democratic rights for all its citizens. But the Balfour declaration—and the imperialist legacy it left -prevents that. The two things that Israel owes its existence to and Palestinians owe their suffering to – racism and imperialism. These were intrinsic to Balfour.

A subaltern view of the Balfour Declaration
The Balfour Declaration led the League of Nations to entrust the United Kingdom with the Palestine Mandate in 1922. After centuries of living in a diaspora, the 1894 Dreyfus Affair in France shocked Jews into realizing they would not be safe from arbitrary anti-Semitism unless they had their own country. In response, Jews created the new concept of political Zionism in which it was believed that through active political maneuvering, a Jewish homeland could be created.

Although Balfour, himself, was in favor of a Jewish state, Great Britain particularly favored the declaration as an act of policy. Britain wanted the United States to join World War I and the British hoped that by supporting a Jewish homeland in Palestine, world Jewry would be able to sway the U.S. to join the war. Though the Balfour Declaration went through several drafts, the final version was issued on November 2, 1917, in a letter from Balfour to Lord Rothschild, president of the British Zionist Federation. The main body of the letter quoted the decision of the October 31, 1917 British Cabinet meeting. This declaration was accepted by the League of Nations on July 24, 1922 and embodied in the mandate that gave Great Britain temporary administrative control of Palestine.

In 1939, Great Britain reneged on the Balfour Declaration by issuing the White Paper, which stated that creating a Jewish state was no longer a British policy. It was this change in policy toward Palestine, especially the White Paper that prevented millions of European Jews to escape from Nazi-occupied Europe to Palestine before and during the Holocaust.

Zionism- the arrogant self-interest of the colonial mindset
Zionists have long viewed the Balfour Declaration as a “seal of approval” to their quest to establish a state in Palestine. The declaration had a history and a political and cultural setting that was grounded in a meeting of minds of both the Zionist movement and the British colonial enterprise. For their part, Zionists sought a homeland where they could construct their national community away from the pogroms of Europe. After failed attempts to plant their roots in other locales, they set their sights on Palestine, which one of their leaders, Israel Zangwill, described as “a land without a people … for a people without a land.”

“If you wish to colonize a land in which another people are already living, you must provide a garrison or find a benefactor to maintain the garrison on your behalf … Zionism is a colonizing adventure … it stands or falls on the question of armed force.” The benefactor they turned to was Great Britain – the ideal colonial agent.  IsraeThe British needed little convincing because, at stake, was their interest in protecting their position in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Suez Canal, and access to trade and the resources of the Gulf and the East. This was the gist of British colonialism.

The fit between the British and Zionist designs was so perfect… if political Zionism hadn’t existed, “Britain would’ve invented it.” With the issuance of the Balfour Declaration, Britain was making clear its intent to foster a colonial outpost that would project and protect its interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. As the history of that region played out, it is clear that neither Britain nor the Zionists intended to allow the Arabs to stand in the way of their colonial enterprise.