Well, another chapter in the sad story of the Palestinian/ Israeli Conflict has been titled and the ink is drying on the page. And sadly, this chapter is just a reoccurrence of the last chapter, and I am sure the following chapters will have the same themes as well. The theme will be one that articulates the consequences of killing and warfare, and what I am hoping shows the consequence of British foreign policy in the Middle East and more specifically British policy in Palestine.
In the past four days there have been 350 people killed in this conflict. There has been much news coverage of this event and I have been eagerly watching all coverage of this event. However, there is one element in this analysis that is missing and it is the reason why this conflict is happening. Many commentators will take this story as an opportunity to tell you why the Bush administration has failed or as to why Bill Clinton failed in Oslo in 1993 or Camp David in 2000 but that is not why this conflict is here. The emergence of this conflict has to do with one man, one British man who has brought this entire conflict upon the Middle East, and his name is Arthur James Balfour.
Before him, there has to be a history lesson here. In the months leading up to the release of the Declaration (which was November 2nd, 1917) there was a series of three “aliyas” (aliya simply means going up or immigrating) in which Jewish peoples immigrated to the land of Palestine. There was a total of five aliyas, and in the first three there was a total of 115,000 Jews that immigrated to Palestine. As once can imagine, Jews were immigrating to Israel for religious reasons and the Palestinians were there for religious reasons as well. So, the situation is now ripe for the British to do something. Since what seems like forever, the British have been dividing up the Middle East into sections (Sykes- Picot Agreement, Palestinian Mandate, etc.).
So, now we have the Balfour Declaration, which was issued in hopes that the British would gain Jewish support in the Middle East. The British were hoping to issues propaganda in the US and other countries as well. So here is the document:
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.
Arthur James Balfour
Ok, a couple things to notice. Look at where it says “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” This is probably the most controversial line here. Look at what it says, it says IN PALESTINE. So there you go already, they are giving land IN PALESTINE, which caused much trouble. But they also said the words “national home” but they didn’t say the words state or country. The British are committing land to a group of people but they didn’t say where or they didn’t say how much. This has led to some interesting opinions. It seems to me like this was not well thought out. In fact, Sir John Evelyn Shuckburgh said “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.”
So how convenient is this for the British? They can make promises but have no records to back up the discussions.
This is the memo that has caused all of the problems in the Middle East. This note is what gave the Jewish people something to hold on to and something to fight for. This is also the note that made the Palestinians look at the British with disgust because they are dividing up their land. This document, above all else, was the before the fighting in Palestine and before the ongoing war between two sides, but rather it caused the fighting between the two sides. This was just another chapter in the continuing stampeded of British escapades in the Middle East but it was also the beginning of a new chapter in the ongoing war between Palestine and Israel.