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November 2, 1917: A day that will live in Infamy
 90th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration

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Mazin Qumsiyeh

Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD was born to a Palestinian Christian family in the Shepherds' Field. He served on the faculty of both Duke and Yale Universities . He is a member of a number of human rights groups . His third and latest book is titled "Sharing the Land of Canaan: human rights and the Israeli/Palestinian Struggle".

This is an excerpt on the Balfour declaration from the book "Sharing the Land of Canaan: Human Rights and the Israeli Palestinian Struggle" and a brief follow-up comment on its relevance to today's events (wars on Iraq and soon on Iran):

The events leading up to the support of Britain and France for Zionist aspirations have received little historical discussion. In examining historical documents of powerful nations like France and Britain, we find these nations issuing declarations to support the Zionist aspirations. This came in France first with a letter sent from Jules Cambon, Secretary General of the French Foreign Ministry to Nahum Sokolow (at the time head of the political wing of the World Zionist Organization based in London) dated June 4, 1917:


"You were kind enough to inform me of your project regarding the expansion of the Jewish colonization of Palestine. You expressed to me that, if the circumstances were allowing for that, and if on another hand, the independency of the holy sites was guaranteed, it would then be a work of justice and retribution for the allied forces to help the renaissance of the Jewish nationality on the land from which the Jewish people was exiled so many centuries ago.
The French Government, which entered this present war to defend a people wrongly attacked, and which continues the struggle to assure victory of right over might, cannot but feel sympathy for your cause, the triumph of which is bound up with that of the Allies. I am happy to give you herewith such assurance" [7]

Some five months later, on November 2, 1917, the British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour conveyed to Lord Rothschild a similar declaration of sympathy with Zionist aspirations. It stated that:

"His Majesty's Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors 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.”

Palestinians and others in the Arab world were immediately alarmed. This declaration was issued when Britain had no jurisdiction over the area, and was done without consultation of the inhabitants of the land that was to become a "national home for the Jewish people." The declaration also wanted to protect "rights and political status" of Jews who choose not to immigrate to Palestine. However, the native Palestinians are simply referred to as non-Jews and their political rights are not mentioned but only their "civic and religious rights". Lord Balfour wrote in a private memorandum sent to Lord Curzon, his successor at the Foreign Office (Curzon initially opposed Zionism) on 11 August 1919:

"For in Palestine we do not propose to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants ... 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 import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land" [8]

The Jules and Balfour declarations are two documents that demonstrate the support made to the Zionist supranational entity that facilitated giving them control over a land that neither of the two governments had control of at the time. Some British authors have provided explanations of this support based on a quid pro quo for Weizmann’s contribution to the British war efforts through such efforts as the development of better chemicals for explosives. Some argued that it was related to Britain's simple domestic situation with many Zionists both in the government and among the electorate. It could also be argued that Britain and France now had more reason had to benefit from a revival of their early 1840s desires to settle European Jews in Palestine as a way of a structural remodeling of Middle East geopolitics. Undermining the Ottoman Empire, which was now allied with Germany, provides only partial explanation and a poor one at best.

Jewish population in Palestine at the time was miniscule and most and was hardly in any position to engage in resistance against the Ottoman Empire. By contrast, nationalistic Arabs from the Arabian Peninsula were willing to oppose the Ottoman Empire and eager to liberate their native lands from the grip of the Turks. England in fact promised to support their independence as a result of their convergent interests as supported by documents such as the British correspondence with Sharif Hussain of Arabia and in the memoirs of T. E. Lawrence "of Arabia". As historians do, there is much argument about the factors and their relative importance that led to the decisions made by the governments in question. Much is now written about how the US entered the war and the possible role of influential corporate interests and US Zionists in bringing the US media and government to support the war efforts.

The British had also made a promise of independence to the Arabs if they aided them in opposing the Ottoman Empire. This was one of many "promises" but it was the one that was to over-ride all others as concrete actions were to reveal in just a short period of time. It important to note that these governments declared their public support for Zionism, even while simultaneously making private assurances to Arabs. The British and French public support was later joined by the Americans.

With acquiescence by the ailing President Wilson and an American administration slowly sinking into isolationism, the British had a free hand to implement their plans in Palestine. Palestinians, both Christians and Muslims, rioted against the British forces on February 27, 1920 in Jerusalem. The British command in Palestine recommended that the Balfour Declaration be revoked. However, the British leadership in London did not share the views of their soldiers and commanders in Palestine. As soon as Britain managed to secure the League of Nations mandate, it replaced its military governor there with a Zionist Jew: Sir Herbert Samuel as the first High Commissioner of Palestine (1920-25). It was Samuel who so effectively coached Weizmann during the Balfour negotiations. After Samuel became high commissioner, Jewish immigration greatly increased, and with it Palestinian resistance. Herbert Samuel and the Zionist leaning colonial offices in Palestine proceeded to set up the political, legal, and the economic underpinning for transforming the area to a Jewish country. Britain, with the acquiescence of other great powers, acquired the powers needed for its colonial venture. At the World Zionist Organization meeting held in London in July 1920, a new financial arm was established named the Keren Hayesod.

End of excerpt from "Sharing the Land of Canaan"

In November 2, 1918, Balfour day parade in Jewish Jerusalem, Musa Kathim al-Husseini, Jerusalem's mayor at the time, handed the British governor of Palestine, Storrs, a petition from more than 100 Palestinian notables which stated:
"We have noticed yesterday a large crowed of Jews carrying banners and over-running the streets shouting words which hurt the feeling and wound the soul. They [Zionist Jews] pretend with OPEN VOICE that Palestine, which is the Holy Land of our fathers and the graveyard of our ancestors, which has been inhabited by the Arabs for long ages, who loved it and died in defending it, is NOW a national home for them." (Benny Morris, Righteous Victims, p. 90)

Lord Sydenham of the British House of Deputies replied prophetically to Balfour:
"... the harm done by dumping down an alien population upon an Arab country - Arab all around in the hinterland - may never be remedied ... what we have done is, by concessions, not to the Jewish people but to a Zionist extreme section, to start a running sore in the East, and no one can tell how far that sore will extend." (UN: The Origins And Evolution Of Palestine Problem, section IV)

Edward Mandell House, US President Wilson's aid, wrote Lord Balfour predicting the outcome of future implementation of the Balfour Declaration: "It is all bad and I told Balfour so. They are making [the Middle East] a breeding place for future war." (Benny Morris, Righteous Victims, p. 73)

AIPAC and other Israeli apologists pushed for the war on Iraq ($500 billion, countless lives so far) and are pushing for conflict with Iran after countless wars and tens of thousands of lives lost and millions of refugees displaced. That it has been a "breeding place for future wars" is an understatement.

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