To My Understanding: The Balfour Declaration

Politics

In my attempt to understand the Israeli-Palestinian situation, I decided to dig deep and go way back. I’m pretty terrible at finding good, credible sources, so I approached my Facebook friends and asked if they could share some of their unbiased sources that they use to argue the Palestinian side of the land ownership debate. I needed a good foundation before I could make an informed decision. The reason I asked for the Palestinian side is because at this point I had already seen many arguments for the Israeli side.

One of the first (and easiest) sources someone shared was the Balfour Declaration[1]. Now, in my ignorance, I was a little reluctant to look this up, because I had assumed this was some sort of document the size of the Affordable Care Act. (And this is the point in which you finally realize the extent of my ignorance in this particular matter.)

The Balfour Declaration is a letter. A brief letter from Arthur James Balfour to Lord Rothschild.

Who is Arthur James Balfour?

At the time of the Declaration, Balfour was the British Foreign Secretary[3]. He had been the British prime minister from July 1902 to December 1905[2].

Who is Lord Rothschild?

His name is Walter Rothschild, and he’s the 2nd Baron Rothschild[3] (yep, there’s more of ’em). He was the president of the British Zionist Federation[1].

What did the Balfour Declaration say?

Foreign Office
November 2nd, 1917

Dear Lord Rothschild,

I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet.

“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.”

I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.

Yours sincerely,
Arthur James Balfour [1]

Want to know what I think about this? (Hint: not all that much)

My first impression is that the word “Palestine” written in 1917 is supposed to be some sort of revelation to me. The reason it had no effect on me is because a) I don’t deny the existence of Palestine or of the Palestinian people, and b) we’re going to need to go a lot farther back than 1917 to prove anything. Both sides claim thousand-year-old ties. Going back a century isn’t going to cut it.

I realize that some people claim Palestine didn’t exist before 1947. I’ve actually seen quotes in which people claim they were Jordanian one day, and the next they were Palestinian. I don’t know if those statements are founded, or if they’re even real. But here I do admit that the idea that Palestine popped up overnight in 1947 is nonsense.

When I look at the Balfour Declaration, I wonder why Balfour (and the British Cabinet) gets to decide if the Jews can make a permanent home in Palestine. I actually couldn’t find an answer to that until December 9th, 1917. The British capture Jerusalem from the Ottoman Empire (the Turks) at the Battle of Megiddo and occupy the entire area known as the Levant[5].

In June 1922, the British obtained a mandate from the League of Nations which legitimized their continued control of the region[5], which was the same year the League of Nations accepted the Declaration[1]. There you have it. By 1922, Palestine belonged to Britain. Legitimately.That is, as long as you consider a Mandate given by the League of Nations to be legitimate.

Also, notice what the Balfour Declaration states. It states that the Jews can establish a Jewish State (or a National Home for the Jewish People), with the condition that they not discriminate against any of the non-Jewish people already there[1]. There is no statement in the Declaration that says all the people in Palestine are or aren’t Arabs or Muslims. Nothing that says there are or aren’t already Israelites or Jews living there.

This just tells me that the British called that area Palestine. It doesn’t tell me anything about who the People of Palestine are. A hundred years from now when people talk about Americans, are they going to mention that this American is a Yemeni, Somalian, Indian, Polish, German, English mix of people? I’d like to know if Palestinian are truly an ancient culture that has always been there, or if they (like Americans) hail from other places.

Supposedly there are census records from that area that date back to 1859. I will try to research those and share my findings. But that may take some time. If you happen to have links or sources that would make my search easier, I’d love to know.

I’m thinking of researching the Canaanites and Ancient Egyptians next if I don’t get distracted. If there’s something in particular you’d like me to take a look at, or if I said something that isn’t accurate (I tried my best to stay as close to the facts as possible), please let me know.

Sources:

1. http://history1900s.about.com/cs/holocaust/p/balfourdeclare.htm

2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Balfour

3. http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Balfour_Declaration_of_1917.html

4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Palestine

5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandatory_Palestine