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Events Leading to the Balfour Declaration
In the period before the first World War, it was apparent to many Englishmen in decision-making positions both in the the British Foreign Office and in the field in Egypt that the Ottoman Empire was moribund. Nominally in control of much of the Middle East, it was still living in medieval times with a medieval mode of government. Should it become embroiled in the conflict that was clearly coming, Turkey might not be able to maintain control of the territories remaining (greater Syria, Iraq and the Arabian peninsula). Concern for the future integrity of England’s “Life-Line to India,” made the division of the remaining Ottoman territories of vital interest. Plans for future disposition of strategic territory needed to be made before the end of the coming war.
Since the middle of the 19th century, prominent non-Jewish English politicians – Palmerston and Shaftesbury, for example – and writers such as George Eliot and Benjamin Disraeli promoted the idea of a return of Jews to Eretz Israel. This idealism was furthered by seeing what the the Hovovei Zion and later the Herzlian Zionists had accomplished. Jewish immigrants were regenerating millennia-old neglected land despite Turkish corruption and resistence. They had on their own revived a dead land that had little to sustain even the tiny population that lived there. Cabinet officers such as Lloyd George and Arthur Balfour were openly supportive of ideas and measures supporting a political and economic role for Jews in greater Syria as allies in the Empire.
The unabashed British intent was to take over as much of Ottoman territory in the strategic vicinity of Suez as possible. This, together with the growing desire of these Englishmen to see the Jews return to their ancestoral home – to a region they called Palestine – culminated on November 2, 1917 in the Balfour Declaration, issued in the form of a letter from Balfour (as head of the Foreign Office) to Lord Rothschild.
The Declaration stated:
“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours 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 term National Home was first used by Max Nordau at the First Zionist Congress in Basle in 1897. He believed the term ‘homeland’ would be an inoffensive substitute for ‘state.’ He said, “I did my best to persuade the claimants of the Jewish State in Palestine that we might find a circumlocution that would express all we meant, but would say it in a way so as to avoid provoking the Turkish rulers of the coveted land.”
The extent was not precisely defined. But the Arabs had gained considerable sovereignty and vast areas when the Ottoman holdings were reallocated. Given that the Jewish claims to Biblical Israel were commonly accepted, clearly the Jews were intended to receive a significant segment of what, under the Ottomans, had been the southern province of Syria. It included the land both east and west of the Jordan River. The area of the Turkish “Palestine province” was approximately 42,000 sq miles, of which nearly 8,000 lay to the west of the Jordan. Eretz Israel east of the Jordan, except for a few towns such as Amman, was largely uninhabited.
How the Return of the Jews to Palestine was Viewed
The London Times, authentic expression of British government policy in 1919, called for the inclusion of eastern Palestine as essential to the Jewish State. Specifically on September 19th of that year, the Times declared, “The Jordan will not do as Palestine’s eastern boundary. Our duty as Mandatory is to make Jewish Palestine not a struggling State but one that is capable of a vigorous and independent national life.”
On December 2, 1917, Lord Robert Cecil said at a public meeting in London; “the keynote of our meeting this afternoon is liberation. Our wish is that the Arabian countries shall be for the Arabs, Armenia for the Armenians and Judea for the Jews.”
Hussein ibn-Ali, Sherif of Mecca, wrote in Mecca’s Al Qibla, in 1918, “The resources of the country are still virgin soil and will be developed by the Jewish immigrants. One of the most amazing things until recent times was that the Palestinian used to leave his country, wandering over the high seas in every direction. His native soil could not retain a hold on him… At the same time, we have seen the Jews from foreign countries streaming to Palestine from Russia, Germany, Austria, Spain, and America. The cause could not escape those who had a gift of deeper insight. They knew that the country was for its original sons – abna’ihi-l-asliyin – for all their differences, a sacred and beloved homeland. The return of these exiles – jaliya – to their homeland will prove materially and spiritually an experimental school for their brethren who are with them in the fields, factories, trades and all things connected to the land.”
In reading the British Mandate carefully, one will note that there is no reference to political rights for the Arabs in Palestine. What today we would call civil rights and human rights, yes. But political rights in the projected State were reserved for the Jews.
Perhaps the most significant statement on what was intended by the leading nations of the time emanates from the mouth of no less an authority than Winston Churchill. On March 30, 1921, while on a visit to Palestine after the Cairo Conference, he told an Arab delegation; “[I]t is manifestly right that the scattered Jews should have a national center and a national home to be reunited and where else but in Palestine with which for 3000 years they have been intimately and profoundly associated.”
Despite continuous pressure from the Arabs, Churchill was steadfast in supporting Jewish claims over those of the Arabs wherever possible. As an example, to Churchill, Pinchas Rutenberg’s plans for hydro-power proved that Jews more so than Arabs were the answer to Palestine’s economic development problems because, “left to themselves, the Arabs of Palestine would not in a thousand years have taken effective steps toward the irrigation and electrification of Palestine. They would have been quite content to dwell – a handful of philosophic people – in the wasted sun-scorched plains, letting the waters of the Jordan continue to flow unbridled and unharnessed into the Dead Sea.”
So-called practical concerns changed these intentions. After the end of World War I, Britain didn’t have the funds to police the desolate East bank of the Jordan against the marauding Beduins. A solution would have been to use local or native troops. But the British persistently refused to arm and use Jewish troops in Palestine. They ended up by presenting the League of Nations with a fait accompli: in 1922 they split off three quarters of Mandated Palestine, the region east of the Jordan, and gave it to the Hashemite Family to administer. This soon became the kingdom of Transjordan. It permitted no Jewish immigration and it was ruled by the British surrogate, Abdullah.
The Arab Case Against Israel’s Legitimacy
One wonders then, how it is that Arab propaganda has brought us to the nullification of all previous statutes and agreements on Jewish rights to the Land of Israel.
The legal case pursued by the Arabs and their supporters against Israel’s legitimacy is built on two major arguments. They are: [a] that “natural rights” rooted in the Arab majority status in the land in recent centuries supersede any Jewish historical rights, thus precluding the lawful establishment of a Jewish state or “national home” on Arab land by any nation or international body; and [b] the Mandate violated the League of Nations Covenant because the Jewish national home policy was inconsistent with Article 22 of the Covenant, especially the principle of self-determination as enunciated in the article.
In answer to the Arab position, it is a fact that the international community has, in a series of UN Security resolutions over decades, consistently reaffirmed Israel’s rights as a sovereign state and the general obligation to respect those rights in peace without threats. If, as the Arabs claim, the Allies legislated unwisely, it does not mean that they had no legal right to legislate as they did. The conjecture in the case of self-determination was responded to by UNSCOP in 1947, highlighting that this concept as an instrument of international law is not necessarily a right. It noted that at the time of the creation of Middle Eastern Mandates, it was not applied because of the intention to make possible the creation of the Jewish National Home in Palestine.
The issues of majority status, sovereignty and longevity are myths that are easily countered. Between the time of the expulsion of the Jews by the Romans in the year 70 to 132 AD and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, Israel (“Palestine”) was occupied by fourteen conquerors over thirteen centuries, until in 1948 the Jews once again declared their independence. This table shows the historical periods of the various rulers of “Palestine”:
Rulers Of Palestine Through History
1. Israel Rules (Biblical period) 1350 BC-586 BC
2. Babylonian Conquest 587 BC-538 BC
3. Israel Autonomy (under Persian and Greco-Assyrian sovereignty) 538 BC-168 BC
4. Revolt of the Maccabees 168 BC-143 BC
5. Rule of the Hashmoneans and their successors 143 BC- 70 AD
6. Jewish Autonomy (under Roman and Byzantine sovereignty) 70 AD-637 AD
7. Rule of Moslem Caliphs
Mecca: 637 AD-661 AD
Umayyides: 661 AD-750 AD
Abbaaside: 750 AD-870 AD
Fatimides: 969 AD-1071 AD
637 AD-1072 AD
8. Seljukes Rule 1072 AD-1096 AD
9. Crusaders Ayyubids (in parts only:)
1175 AD-1291 AD
1099 AD-1291 AD
10. Mamelukes Rule 1291 AD-1516 AD
11. Ottomans (Turks) 1516 AD-1918 AD
12. British Mandate 1918 AD-1948 AD
13. Israel rule under democracy 1948 AD —
During the entire period of recorded history “Palestine” was never ruled by the so-called “Palestinians,” the name adopted in the early 1960s by the Moslem residents of the Holy Land, when the PLO was created by the Arab League. The rule of the various Moslem Caliphates, which was a foreign rule, extended for a period of 432 years. Jewish rule of “Palestine” extended over a period of over 2000 years.
The inhabitants of the land consisted of the conquering soldiers and their slaves. During the Moslem conquest of the area these diverse ethnic inhabitants – the 11th Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica identified 51 different groups lumped together as ‘arab’ – were compelled to accept Islam and the Arabic tongue, or be put to the sword. The Jews, on the other hand, are in fact the sole survivors of the ancient inhabitants of “Palestine,” who have maintained an uninterrupted link with the land since the dawn of recorded history.
It is one of the failures of our media today that, while an almost complete acceptance is granted to an absurd, fabricated lie, no attention at all is paid to the compelling story of the Jewish families and communities who have resided in the Holy Land without interruption since Biblical times. These people have, through thousands of years, kept their national claim to their God-given ownership of their homeland.
History did not begin with the Arab conquest in the seventh century. The people whose nation was destroyed by the Romans were the Jews. There were no Arab Palestinians then – not until seven hundred years later would an Arab rule prevail, and then briefly. And not by people known as “Palestinians.” The short Arab rule would be reigning over Christians and Jews, who had been there under various other foreign conquerors – Roman, Byzantine, Persian, to name just three – in the centuries between the Roman and Arab conquests. The peoples who conquered under the banner of the invading Arabians from the desert were often hired mercenaries who remained on the land as soldiers – not Arabians, but others who were enticed by the promise of the booty of conquest.
From the time the Arabians, along with their non-Arabian recruits, entered Palestine and Syria, they found and themselves added to what was “ethnologically a chaos of all the possible human combinations to which, when Palestine became a land of pilgrimage, a new admixture was added.” (Richard Hartman, Palestina unter den Araben, 632-1516, Leipzig, 1915. Cited by El Haas, History, p 147.) Among the peoples who have been counted as “indigenous Palestinian Arabs” are Balkans, Greeks, Syrians, Latins, Egyptians, Turks, Armenians, Italians, Persians, Kurds, Germans, Afghans, Circassians, Bosnians, Sudanese, Samaritans, Algerians and Tartars.
In the late eighteenth century, 3,000 Albanians recruited by Russians were settled in Acre. The Encyclopaedia Britannica (11th Edition, Vol XX, p 604.) finds “most interesting of all the non-Arab communities in the country… the Samaritan sect in Nablus (Shechem); a gradually disappearing body” once “settled by the Assyrians to occupy the land left waste by the captivity of the Kingdom of Israel.”
The disparate peoples recently assumed and purported to be “settled Arab indigenes, for a thousand years” were in fact a “heterogeneous” community (Handbook, prepared under the direction of the Historical Section of the Foreign Office, #60, entitled Syria and Palestine, London, 1920, p 56.) With no “Palestinian” identity, and according to an official British historical analysis in 1920, no Arab identity either: “The people west of the Jordan are not Arabs, but only Arabic-speaking. The bulk of the population are fellahin… In the Gaza district they are mostly of Egyptian origin; elsewhere they are of the most mixed race.”
Birthplaces of Inhabitants (Jews, Moslems, Christians, Others) of Jerusalem District, circa 1931
Palestine, Syria, Transiordan, Cyprus, Egypt, Hejaz-Nejd, Iraq, Yemen, Other Arabian Territories, Persia, Turkey, Central Asiatic Territories, Indian Continent, Far Eastern Asia, Algeria, Morocco, Tripoli, Tunis, Other African Territories, Albania, France, Greece , Spain, United Kingdom, U.S.S.R., U.S.A., Central & South America, Australia, Palestine, Syria, Transiordan, Cyprus, Malta, Other Mediterranean Islands, Abyssinia, Egypt, Hejaz-Neid, Iraq, Other Arabian Territories, Persia, Turkey, Central Asiatic, Territories, Indian Continent, Far Eastern Asia, Algeria, Morocco, Tripoli, Tunis, Other African Territories, Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Holland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Rumania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, U.S.S.R., Yugoslavia, Canada, U.S.A., Central & South America, Australia, Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Persia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Rumania, Switzeriand, United Kingdom and U.S.S.R. (Source: Census of Palestine 1931, volume 1, Palestine; Part 1, Report by E. Mills, B.A., O.B.E., Assistant Chief Secretary Superintendent of Census (Alexandria, 1933), p. 147.)
Languages In Habitual Use In Palestine, circa 1931.
Moslems, Chnstians, Others, Afghan, Albanian, Arabic, Bosnian, Chinese, Circassian, English, French, German, Greek, Gypsy, Hebrew, Hindustani, Indian dialects, Javanese, Kurdish, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Sudanese, Takrurian, Turkish, Abyssinian, Arabic, Armenian, Basque, Brazilian [sic], Bulgarian, Catalan, Chaldean, Chinese, Circassian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, Flemish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindustani, Indian dialects, Irish, Italian, Kurdish, Latin, Magyar, Malayalam, Maltese, Norwegian, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Rumanian, Russian, Serbian, Slavic, Spanish, Sudanese, Swedish, Swiss, Syrian, Turkish, Welsh, Arabic, Czech, English, French, German, Hebrew, Persian, Polish, Russian, Spanish and Yiddish. (Source: Census of Palestine 1931, volume 1, Palestine; Part 1, Report by E. Mills, B.A., O.B.E., Assistant Chief Secretary Superintendent of Census (Alexandria, 1933), p. 147.)
The Biblical and Historical Claims of the Jews
Not since Ben Gurion faced the Peel Commission in 1937 with a bible in his hand has a Jewish leader annunciated Israeli claims in this way. It is truly remarkable that the Arabs have fabricated a history based on falsehood so successfully that it pervades encyclopedias, textbooks, journals and the media. This must be contrasted with the superior Jewish claim, which is poorly propagated.
At the turn of the past century, Churchill and other world leaders who drew their inspiration from the bible and history understood all this. It was on March 31, 1921 when on a visit to Palestine, that Churchill proclaimed to an Arab delegation, “[I]t is manifestly right that the scattered Jews should have a national center and a national home to be reunited and where else but in Palestine with which for 3,000 years they have been intimately and profoundly associated?” This did not mean that he did not recognize Arab claims. However, Churchill was not prepared to permit their claims to annul the even stronger Jewish claims.
Fellow British leaders, Lloyd George and Arthur Balfour, shared Churchill’s sentiments. Indeed, Lloyd George writing in his memoirs on the Peace Conference expressed the view that no race had done better out of the fidelity with which the Allies redeemed their promises to the oppressed races than the Arabs. In this assertion, he noted that the Arab gains were due to tremendous sacrifices by the Allied Nations, particularly Britain and her Empire. At that time, these gains meant independence for Iraq, Arabia, Syria and Trans-Jordan despite the fact that most of the Arab nations, including “Palestinian Arabs,” fought on the side of Turkey.
Nothing has changed. There is today no attempt to evaluate Jewish claims against Arab claims. Rather, the fixation on Israel trading ‘land for peace’ remains. It is the obsession of the US State Department, the European Union and, of course, it enjoys the support of the Arabs. That it continuously fails to produce any semblance of peace apparently is lost on all the parties concerned. In fact, the exact opposite has ensued. Terrorism has grown exponentially with each renewed attempt at a resolution. Whether named the Rogers Plan, Camp David, the Madrid Conference, the Wye Accords, Oslo Peace Initiative, Sharm El Sheik Conference, or The Road Map, what has been presented, as said by Shmuel Katz, is the “same Yente in different clothing.”
Arab claims are the claims of greedy appetite versus the claims of starvation.
Arab opposition to Jewish sovereignty in the Middle East has been consistent, significantly dating from the Balfour Declaration, the Palestine Mandate and the proclamation of the State of Israel. Britain’s original land for peace plan was for the Arabs to receive Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Arabia while the Jews were to be awarded Palestine. Then, in an effort to placate the intense ideological opposition and resistance exhibited by the Arabs – and with the Jews exhibiting no strong assertiveness – the British severed 80% of Palestine, leaving only 20% for the establishment of a Jewish national home.
Attorney Douglas J. Feith, at one time Reagen Administration Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense and a Middle East specialist on the White House National Security Council staff, has analyzed the basis of Arab opposition to Jewish claims concerning Palestine. Jewish claims, validated by International law, of which the Mandate is an integral part, specifically refer to “the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine” and “close settlement by Jews on the land.”
Writing in 1993, Feith, disputed the long held notion that the essence of the Arab-Israeli conflict is one of the amount of territory controlled by the Jewish state. Rather, he says, as asserted by various Arab spokesmen since World War 1, it is the issue of legitimacy. He notes further that Western statesmen have failed to do justice to the intensity and ideological steadfastness of the anti-Zionist cause when they thought they could buy the Arabs off with territorial concessions by the Jews.
A most revealing and enlightening article on the subject was penned by Professor William Nicholls of the University of British Columbia; it appeared in the December 1997 issue of Midstream.
Nicholls posits the question, “Who has the most right to the land?” He then unhesitatingly answers that undoubtedly, those whose identity is bound up with the land own this entitlement because their historical ties to it are the strongest – i.e., history is identity. Who we are is what we have been, and is as much applicable to a nation as it is to an individual. On this basis, one can and indeed should pursue the answer to who has the most right to the biblical Land of Israel.
The ongoing Middle East conflict has largely been approached from the standpoint of peace and security by Israel. Not so for the Arabs, who correctly voice their claims in the recognition that it is largely about identity and therefore about history. It is ironic that the “Palestinian” Arabs, who lack a distinct identity, have fabricated a history, one that is so successful that it is widely accepted even though it is false, while the Jews make little mention of their Biblical and historical binding to Eretz Israel.
Prior to Britain’s decision to shrink the Jewish national home, Balfour, speaking of the entire Mandate territory on both sides of the Jordan, expressed the hope that the Arabs “will not grudge that small notch – in what are now Arab territories being given to the Jewish people who for all these hundreds of years have been separated from it.” Significantly, though approximately 80% of that “small notch” was soon made off limits to the Jews, the Arab powers continued to “grudge” a Jewish state in Palestine.
Any argument that the Jews have no legal right to settle in Samaria and Judea tends, inevitably, even if unintentionally, to undermine the Jewish people’s right to sovereignty in pre-1967 Israel, for all such rights flow from the same source – the Palestine Mandate recognizing the Jewish people’s historical connection with Palestine.
Yaacov Herzog, a former Israeli ambassador, was able to explain the Jewish position to the world at large. He succeeded in this complicated and sensitive task, distinguishing himself as one of his people’s most articulate spokesmen. Yaacov Herzog took center stage at McGill University when he debated the renowned historian, Professor Arthur Toynbee, on January 31, 1961, making the case for the Jewish return to the Land of Israel. He responded to Toynbee’s outrageous assertion that the Jews have no right to Israel, making extensive use of history and identity, dating from biblical times through the modern era.
On other occasions, Herzog was not slow to draw attention to the foresight of the great Jewish commentator Rashi’s commentary on the first verse of Genesis. Rashi, the Biblical interpreter par excellence answers the charge “Ye are robbers, because Ye have conquered the Land of Cannan” this way: “In the beginning G-D created the Heavens and the Earth” And the same G-D who created the heavens and the earth gave the Land of Israel to the Jewish people.”
Because of their biblical beliefs, Balfour, Churchill and the other framers of the Declaration understood this. It is too bad that present day Jewish leaders lack this comprehension.
In conclusion, what must be recalled precisely, while versions of the “Road Map” are being given such serious consideration, is that the original Mandate secured rights to a homeland and to close settlement in Palestine. It did not distinguish between Eastern and Western Palestine. The modified Mandate foisted on the League of Nations by the British made the distinction, but there is no documentary support for separating Judea and Samaria from the rest of Western Palestine.
No event and no armistice or other international agreement has terminated the Mandate-recognized rights of the Jewish people, including settlement rights, in those portions of the Mandate territory that have not yet come under sovereignty of any state.
Consequently, it is imperative that, at this time, the case for Israel be argued on the basis of identity and historical claims rather than the pragmatism of security. Only in this way can Arab falsehood be defeated.