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Global Context of the

Balfour Declaration


November 2 1st U.S. soldiers killed in combat in WW I

November 2 Balfour Declaration (see picture of Balfour above) proclaims support for a Jewish state in Palestine

November 2 Lansing-Ishii Agreement; U.S. recognizes Japan’s privileges in China

November 6 Bolshevik Revolution begins with capture of Winter Palace

November 6 New York State allows women to vote

November 7 British capture Gaza Palestine from Turks

November 7 October Revolution (Oct 26 OS/Old Style Calendar) in Russia, Lenin (see animated picture above) seizes power

Balfour Declaration of 1917

1917 – The Balfour Declaration

proclaims British support for the

“establishment in Palestine of a

national home for the Jewish

people” with the clear

understanding “that nothing shall

be done which may prejudice the

civil and religious rights of existing

non-Jewish communities”.

The Balfour Declaration of 1917 (dated November 2, 1917) was a classified formal statement of policy by the British government on the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of World War I.

The letter stated the position, agreed to at a British Cabinet meeting on October 31, 1917, that the British government supported Zionist plans for a National home for the Jewish people within Palestine‎ with the condition that nothing should be done which might prejudice the rights of existing communities there.

The statement was issued through the efforts of Chaim Weizmann and Nahum Sokolow, the principal Zionist leaders based in London but, as they had asked for the reconstitution of Palestine as “the” Jewish national home, the Declaration fell short of Zionist expectations.[1]

The “Balfour Declaration” was later incorporated into the Sèvres peace treaty with Turkey and the Mandate for Palestine. The declaration was made in a letter from Arthur James Balfour (Foreign Secretary) to Lord Rothschild (Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild), a leader of the British Jewish community, for transmission to the Zionist Federation, a private Zionist organization. The document is kept at the British Library.

Text of the declaration

The declaration, a typed letter signed in ink by Balfour, reads as follows:

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

Text development and differing views

The record of discussions that led up to the final text of the Balfour Declaration clarifies some details of its wording. The phrase “national home” was intentionally used instead of “state”, and the British devoted some effort over the following decades, including Winston Churchill‘s 1922 White Paper, to denying that a state was the intention. However, in private, many British officials agreed with the interpretation of the Zionists that a state would be the eventual outcome.[2]

An early draft used the word that in referring to Palestine as a Jewish homeland, which was changed to in Palestine to avoid committing to it being the whole of Palestine. Similarly, an early draft did not include the commitment to not prejudicing the rights of the non-Jewish communities. These changes came about partly as the result of the urgings of Edwin Samuel Montagu, an influential anti-Zionist Jew and Secretary of State for India, who, among others, was concerned that the declaration without those changes could result in increased anti-Semitic persecution.

At that time the British were busy making promises. Henry McMahon had exchanged letters with Hussein bin Ali, Sherif of Mecca, in 1915, in which he had promised Hussein control of Arab lands exclusive of the Mediterranean coast. The extent of the coastal exclusion is not clear. Hussein protested that the Arabs of Beirut would greatly oppose isolation from the Arab state or states, but did not bring up the matter of the Jerusalem area, which included a good part of Palestine. This suggests either that the area of Jerusalem and Palestine was not part of the inclusion promised to the Arabs, as shown in some maps and believed by pro-Arab historians, or that Palestine was included but Hussein did not protest. The latter version is supported by Dr. Chaim Weizmann in his autobiography Trial and Error. This interpretation was supported explicitly by the British government in the 1922 White Paper.

Milner as the chief author

In his posthumously published 1982 book The Anglo-American Establishment, Georgetown University history professor Carroll Quigley revealed that the Balfour Declaration was actually drafted by Lord Alfred Milner, who was the head of the Rhodes-Milner Round Table Groups that Cecil John Rhodes called for in his will to be “Churches for the extension of the British Empire.” Milner was the trustee of Rhodes’ will, while both Milner and Rhodes were self-described British race-patriots. The recipient of the Balfour Declaration, Lord Rothschild, was also a close friend of Rhodes and was at an earlier time the trustee of Rhodes’ will.

Quigley wrote:

“This declaration, which is always known as the Balfour Declaration, should rather be called ‘the Milner Declaration,’ since Milner was the actual draftsman and was apparently, its chief supporter in the War Cabinet. This fact was not made public until 21 July 1936. At that time Ormsby-Gore, speaking for the government in Commons, said, ‘The draft as originally put up by Lord Balfour was not the final draft approved by the War Cabinet. The particular draft assented to by the War Cabinet and afterwards by the Allied Governments and by the United States. . .and finally embodied in the Mandate, happens to have been drafted by Lord Milner. The actual final draft had to be issued in the name of the Foreign Secretary, but the actual draftsman was Lord Milner.”[3]


One of the main proponents of a Jewish homeland in Palestine was Dr. Chaim Weizmann, the leading spokesman for organized Zionism in Britain. Weizmann was a chemist who had developed a process to synthesize acetone via fermentation. Acetone is required for the production of cordite, a powerful propellant explosive needed to fire ammunition without generating tell-tale smoke. Germany had cornered supplies of calcium acetate, a major source of acetone. Other pre-war processes in Britain were inadequate to meet the increased demand in World War I, and a shortage of cordite would have severely hampered Britain’s war effort. Lloyd-George, then Minister for Munitions, was grateful to Weizmann and so supported his Zionist aspirations.


During the first meeting between Weizmann and Balfour in 1906, Balfour asked what payment Weizmann would accept for use of his process and was told, “There is only one thing I want: A national home for my people.” Balfour asked Weizmann why Palestine — and Palestine alone — should be the Zionist homeland. “Anything else would be idolatry”, Weizmann protested, adding: “Mr. Balfour, supposing I was to offer you Paris instead of London, would you take it?” “But Dr. Weizmann”, Balfour retorted, “we have London”, to which Weizmann rejoined, “That is true, but we had Jerusalem when London was a marsh.”[4]

Weizmann eventually received both monetary compensation for his discovery and his place in history as first President of the state of Israel.

Contradictory assurances

In a 1919 memorandum he wrote as a Cabinet Minister, Balfour wrote of these contradictory assurances as follows:

The contradiction between the letter of the Covenant is even more flagrant in the case of the independent nation of Palestine than in that of the independent nation of Syria. For in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country, though the American Commission has been going through the forms of asking what they are. The four great powers are committed to Zionism and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder importance than the desire and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land. In my opinion, that is right.[5]

Controversy behind Declaration

British public and government opinion became increasingly less favorable to the commitment that had been made to Zionist policy. In Feb 1922 Winston Churchill, a fervent Zionist himself, telegraphed Herbert Samuel asking for cuts in expenditure and noting:

In both Houses of Parliament there is growing movement of hostility, against Zionist policy in Palestine, which will be stimulated by recent Northcliffe articles. I do not attach undue importance to this movement, but it is increasingly difficult to meet the argument that it is unfair to ask the British taxpayer, already overwhelmed with taxation, to bear the cost of imposing on Palestine an unpopular policy.[6]

Sir John Evelyn Shuckburgh of the new Middle East department of the Foreign Office discovered that the correspondence prior to the declaration was not available in the Colonial Office, ‘although Foreign Office papers were understood to have been lengthy and to have covered a considerable period’.” The ‘most comprehensive explanation’ of the origin of the Balfour Declaration the Foreign Office was able to provide was contained in a small ‘unofficial’ note of Jan 1923 affirming that:

little is known of how the policy represented by the Declaration was first given form. Four, or perhaps five men were chiefly concerned in the labour-the Earl of Balfour, the late Sir Mark Sykes, and Messrs. Weizmann and Sokolow, with perhaps Lord Rothschild as a figure in the background. Negotiations seem to have been mainly oral and by means of private notes and memoranda of which only the scantiest records are available, even if more exists.[7]

Arab opposition

The Arabs sensed danger in November 1918 at the parade marking the first anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. The Muslim-Christian Association protested the carrying of new ‘white and blue banners with two inverted triangles in the middle’. They drew the attention of the authorities to the serious consequences of any political implications in raising the banners.[8]

Later that month, on the first anniversary of the occupation of Jaffa by the British, the Muslim-Christian Association sent a lengthy memorandum and petition to the military governor protesting once more the Zionist intrusion.[9]


  1. Balfour Declaration. (2007). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved August 12, 2007, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online.

  2. Mansfield, Peter (1992). The Arabs. London: Penguin Books, 176-77.

  3. 1

  4. B. Dugdale (1939): “Arthur James Balfour”, Vol I, p. 326 & 327

  5. Edward Said (1992). Question of Palestine. Vintage Books Edition, 16. ISBN 0679739882. , and quoted by The Origin of the Palestine-Israeli Conflict 2nd Edition, 2002, Jews for Justice. Verified 24 Oct 2007.

  6. CO 733/18, Churchill to Samuel, Telegram, Private and Personal, 25 February 1922. Cited Huneidi, Sahar “A Broken Trust, Herbert Samuel, Zionism and the Palestinians” 2001, ISBN 1-86064-172-5, p.57.

  7. Full text of note included CO 733/58, Secret Cabinet Paper CP 60 (23), ‘Palestine and the Balfour Declaration, January 1923. FO unofficial note added ‘little referring to the Balfour Declaration among such papers as have been preserved’. Shuckburgh’s memo asserts that ‘as the official records are silent, it can only be assumed that such discussions as had taken place were of an informal and private character’.][1]

  8. Zu’aytir, Akram, Watha’iq al-haraka a-wataniyya al-filastiniyya (1918-1939), ed. Bayan Nuwayhid al-Hut. Beirut 1948. Papers, p. 5. Cited by Huneidi, Sahar “A Broken Trust, Herbert Samuel, Zionism and the Palestinians”. ISBN 1-86064-172-5 p.32.

  9. ‘Petition from the Moslem-Christian Association in Jaffa, to the Military Governor, on the occasion of the First Anniversary of British Entry into Jaffa’, 16 November 1918, Zu’aytir papers pp. 7-8. Cited by Huneidi p.32.

Balfour Declaration: Global Context in 1917

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