Centenary of the Balfour Declaration 1917-2017

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 the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

This is the text of a letter sent by Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, to Lord Rothschild, as the representative head of the Jewish community in Britain, on 2nd November 1917.   

That declaration of intent was a historic milestone, for not since the days of Cyrus the Great (around 550 BCE) had any ruler or government undertaken to restore Jews to their ancient homeland. This was a right enshrined in the Hebrew Bible and mirrored in the yearning for national redemption which daily prayers, religious customs, the “Next year in Jerusalem” greeting, the words of Hatikvah and many other traditions expressed. Now, for the first time, the Zionists’ campaign to settle Palestine had received political recognition by a major world power.

Although British political and strategic considerations were undoubtedly involved, the creation of a Jewish commonwealth in the Holy Land was, for Balfour and Prime Minister David Lloyd George, an act of historic justice. Ironically, those opposing the Zionist enterprise were members of the assimilated Anglo-Jewish establishment headed by Edwin Montagu, the Secretary of State for India, who was responsible for having the original text of the Balfour Declaration watered down. Lloyd George, however, made sure that his view (not that of the “naysayers”) prevailed. He  appointed Herbert Samuel, Montagu’s Zionist cousin, as first High Commissioner for Palestine; who fought against the White Papers of 1930 and 1939; and who fiercely denounced British measures to limit or halt aliyah.           

On 25th April 1920, at the San Remo Conference of Allied powers (Great Britain, France, Italy and Japan), it was resolved to incorporate the Balfour Declaration in Britain’s League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, thus recognizing and safeguarding the Declaration’s legal status. These were the initial steps that led to the United Nations Resolution of 29th November 1947 partitioning Palestine and to the establishment of the State of Israel on 14th May 1948.

Israel’s Declaration of Independence, 14th May 1948

From a mere 57,000 under Turkish rule in 1917 and 650,000 when the Jewish state came into being in May 1948, Israel’s Jewish population had increased more than tenfold ‒ numbering well over six million ‒ by 2015. During that time, Jewish pioneers drained swamps, cleared rocks and transformed a largely neglected stretch of wilderness into a fertile land of opportunity, cultural, scientific and other achievements, admired by some but envied and coveted by others.

A wide range of celebrations (many in English) will take place in Israel this year to mark the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. Further information is available on our website (www……).

Welcome to Israel on this very special occasion! We hope you will enjoy and appreciate some of the events.