This year is a big year in Israeli history. It is Israel’s 70th Independence Day, the 70- year anniversary of the UN Partition Plan vote. It is the 100 year anniversary to the ANZAC victory over Be’er Sheva. And it is 100 years since the publication of the Balfour Declaration. These two events took place very close to one another.
But what was the Balfour Declaration?
The Balfour Declaration was a letter stating that the British Government ‘favors the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.’ It was published on November 2, 1917. It was the end of World War I, and the world was changing. While it favors that Jewish national home, it stresses the importance of respecting ALL people living in Palestine.
The tensions between the Jews and the Arabs in Palestine are rising. Jews around the world had been joining their Jewish brothers and sisters in Palestine since 1882. They were building towns, schools, and stores. These Jews were changing the landscape. However, that landscape was the way that the Arabs had been living since 638 CE. And when WWI was coming to a close, both wanted an independent state of their own. Their ideas of how, what, where, and who a state should be were VERY different.
As the British prepare to take over the land with a Mandate, they have to decide how they are going to manage those tensions. And one of those preparations was the publication of the Balfour Declaration.
What did really mean? For the Jews? For the Arabs?
So the British published a letter with some vague language about supporting a Jewish State. What did it mean? How did the people in the land interpret the Balfour Declaration?
Jews around the world took the Balfour Declaration as a statement of British support of a Jewish State in the Land of Israel. If the British look “favorably [on] the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” than that must mean they support a Jewish State.
The Arabs of Palestine saw it as a sign that the British could not be trusted. They thought that the British would support the Arabs. After all, the British were getting their oil from Palestine, and Haifa specifically. They would eventually publish the White Papers, limiting Jewish immigration to the land. The Arabs were VERY much against the plan.
Why do I care about some letter that was published 100 years ago?!
The Balfour Declaration is still relevant, 100 years later. Until today, leaders of the Palestinian Authority (PA) speak out against the Balfour Declaration, and ask the UN to revoke its importance. Israelis point to it as a 100- year recognition of the need of a Jewish state.
Until today, the United Nations holds meetings and discussions on the topic of the Balfour Declaration. While the discussions will never lead to a change in the Balfour Declaration’s importance, it is still a significant discussion within the United Nations.
What the Balfour Declaration did was make a major international, political statement in favor of a Jewish State. This paved the way for the British investment and building in the land. Without that, the State of Israel would not look like it does today. The Balfour Declaration showed that the world understood:
- There are Jews in this world, and they are human being who deserve rights.
- The Jews deserve a state of their own.
- That state should exist in their national homeland.
The Declaration, however, also showed that while all of that is true, we respect all who live with us.
We need to care about the Balfour Declaration because what it paved the road for. We need to care because of what it stood for. And we need to care because what it created.