The Balfour Declaration was commemorated in Israel and abroad on the 100th anniversary of its penning, celebrated by supporters and contested by its detractors with parties and protests in abundance.
Leading up to last week’s anniversary and since, there have been ongoing demonstrations and threats to reverse the impact the one-paragraph document had in November 1917 eventually leading to the rebirth of a homeland for the Jewish people.
Marches in Samaria, Judea and Gaza had thousands of participants demanding that Britain’s current prime minister acknowledge that the Empire had caused extreme suffering and injustice by endorsing the sentiments expressed in the 67-word letter written by Lord Arthur Balfour, Britain’s then Foreign Minister. The protestors want Britain to rectify its “historical sin” and say that it is this declaration which is at the root of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“The creation of a homeland for one people resulted in the dispossession and continuing persecution of another now a deep imbalance between occupier and occupied,” Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas wrote in the Guardian newspaper. “The balance must be redressed, and Britain bears a great deal of responsibility in leading the way.”
Ahmed Helles in Gaza said that Britain should feel ashamed and stigmatized because of this promise and should not hold celebrations.
Nevertheless, a celebratory banquet was held in London’s Lancaster House and attended by British Prime Minister Theresa May, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and many other dignitaries. The dinner was hosted by descendants of Lord Arthur Balfour and Jewish community leader Walter Rothschild who was the original recipient of the letter.
Boris Johnson, the British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, also attended and was outspoken in his support of the letter.
“I believe that the Balfour declaration paved the way for the birth of a great nation. The State of Israel has prevailed over every obstacle, from the harshness of nature to the visceral hostility of its enemies, to become a free society with a thriving and innovative economy and the same essential values that we in Britain hold dear,” he said. “Most of all, there is the incontestable, moral purpose of Israel to provide a persecuted people with a safe and secure homeland.”
This past Saturday was called Balfour Shabbat in the United Kingdom and acknowledged in synagogues all over Great Britain. Highlighted were the reasons and circumstances that led to the Foreign Minister Balfour, the Prime Minister Lloyd George, and the League of Nations commission giving their support to the Declaration and what it stood for: A sanctuary for the Jewish nation from hatred, a return to their ancient, biblical homeland, a support for fulfillment of biblical prophecy, and justice for all the inhabitants of those living in the pre-Mandate Ottoman-rule Israel.
Balfour Shabbat was an opportunity to remember that the Balfour Declaration was written and inspired by a belief in God and his promises. It was important on every level, including spiritual and the following chain of event were extremely significant.
After receiving the Mandate in 1922, the British had to comply with the rulings of the League of Nations. This world governing body had previously approved the Balfour Declaration and wrote its words into the Council of San Remo in 1920. The Mandate was conditional on the British committing to create a state for the Jewish people. The League of Nations insisted that the British government honor this commitment.
In 1922, Winston Churchill who was secretary of the British colonies, took the Mandate land and divided it into three. He created Transjordan with two thirds and declared it to be an Arab State. The smaller third, he allocated to the Jewish people and all those already living in that territory and declared it to be under Jewish rule with full and equal citizenship rights for everyone. History shows that the Arab leadership of the day rejected that offer and Arab leaders have continued to reject every offer since that gives credence to the Balfour Declaration and recognizes the land of Israel as a home for Jews.
Despite pressure on Prime Minister May from the Arab leadership to renounce the Balfour Declaration she refused and said that Great Britain is “proud of our pioneering role in the creation of the state of Israel.”
“I will keep My covenant between Me and you, and your future offspring throughout their generations, as an everlasting covenant to be your God and the God of your offspring after you. And to you and your future offspring I will give the land where you are residing–all the land of Canaan–as an eternal possession, and I will be their God.”
“For I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries, and will bring you into your own land.”