November 2, 2015 was the 98th anniversary of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, the letter that committed the British government of the time to the idea of establishing a Jewish home in Palestine / Eretz Yisrael.
That Palestinians in Gaza marked the anniversary by burning British, Israeli and U.S. flags is not surprising but was covered by the Daily Mail.
The history of the Middle East can be baffling to the uninformed reader, particularly if the subject matter dates back to the early 1900’s and still resonates even today. That’s why the Daily Mail has a responsibility to ensure that the historical background is presented in context.
Instead, we read this:
In a letter dated November 2, 1917, the UK’s Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour wrote to Walter Rothschild, the second Baron Rothschild and a leader of the British Jewish community.
Balfour promised Rothschild ‘a national home for the Jewish people’ in the heart of Palestine.
He further promised that ‘His Majesty’s government…will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object’.
He made the agreement on the condition 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’.
But Balfour gave no further instructions as to how the contradictory instructions – to establish a Jewish state in Palestine without prejudicing the Palestinian communities already there – were to be carried out, in the surprisingly brief document.
The Palestinians are furious that their land has technically been promised to the Jewish people, causing increased tension in the religious city of Jerusalem – revered in both religions.
It’s hardly surprising that the myth of an existing historical Palestinian state that was ‘colonized’ by European Jews continues to circulate if this is the sort of lazy historical background being fed to media consumers.
- Nowhere in the article does it mention that Palestine, as it was known as then, was a part of the Ottoman Empire and there had never existed an independent Palestinian state.
- Nowhere in the article does it mention that indigenous Jewish communities had lived in the Land of Israel going back over 3,000 years and there existed a continuous and uninterrupted Jewish religious and national connection to that land.
- The article mistakenly writes that the Balfour Declaration gave instructions “to establish a Jewish state in Palestine.” In fact, the Declaration supported a Jewish homeland, and not necessarily a state. The Balfour Declaration was but one step on the way to the fulfillment of the Zionist program of restoring Jewish sovereignty in the Jewish people’s ancient homeland.
- Indeed, to talk of Palestinians in those days referred to both Jewish and Arab residents of the land. When the Daily Mail refers to “without prejudicing the Palestinian communities already there,” it is not clearly stating just who those communities are, instead working on the presumption that Palestinian communities were Palestinian Arabs.
- This is compounded by the statement that “The Palestinians are furious that their land has technically been promised to the Jewish people.” In 1917 at the time of the Balfour Declaration, there was no national Palestinian identity – the non-Jewish residents of the land considered themselves to be part of the wider Arab nation and Arab nationalists sought an independent Arab state not in Palestine per se but as part of the Ottoman Arab Middle East as a whole.
- So it was not at that time “their land” that the Palestinians are allegedly furious that it had been promised to the Jewish people.
By missing out any historical context, the Daily Mail has erased legitimate Jewish rights that existed even before the Balfour Declaration and has constructed a Palestinian national identity that did not exist in 1917. (Note: this does not mean that a Palestinian identity did not emerge in later years.)