The text of the Balfour Declaration (Image: Wikipedia/Public Domain)

100 Years Ago: The Balfour Declaration

Posted on on 02 November 2017
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Britain pledged its support for the establishment of a 'national home for the Jewish people' in Palestine, in a letter written by Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour on 2 November 1917.

The full statement amounts to only 67 words. But viewed against the subsequent Middle East conflict, it remains one of the most controversial documents to emerge from the First World War.  

Balfour's text, which also included a safeguard for 'existing non-Jewish communities', reads:

"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 declaration - the first of its kind by a major power - came in the form of a letter to Lord Rothschild, a prominent member of the Jewish community in Britain and head of the famous banking family.

It followed contacts over a number of years between senior British political figures, including Arthur Balfour and David Lloyd George, and Chaim Weizmann, pioneering scientist, Zionist leader and later the first President of Israel.


Much of the Middle East, including Palestine, was under Ottoman rule during the Great War, its future of considerable interest to the Allied powers, who still nursed their own rivalries.

Britain had already backed the Arab revolt against the Ottomans in 1916, and secretly reached the Sykes-Picot agreement with France to divide the region into areas of influence and control. Palestine, whose population was mostly Muslim or Christian, was designated an international territory.

And then in late 1917, the Balfour Declaration was agreed, adding to a mix of apparently amibiguous or contradictory pledges and undertakings, just as British-led forces were on the threshold of their advance into Palestine, and the capture of Jerusalem.

It's suggested that both Balfour and Lloyd George were personally sympathetic to Zionism, as well as believing that the declaration would offer propaganda and strategic advantages.

Following the First World War, Palestine came under British control as a League of Nations mandate. The state of Israel was created in 1948, after the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis during the Second World War. But an estimated 700,000 Palestinians either fled or were forced out in a war between Israel and its Arab neighbours. A century on from 1917, the Balfour Declaration is celebrated by Israelis, and condemned by Palestinians.

Sources: Wikipedia/various

Images: Wikipedia/Public Domain

Posted by: CN Editorial Team