Balfour Declaration

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Image of Balfour and his declaration

In the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917 , Great Britain declared itself in agreement with the goal of Zionism set in 1897 to establish a "national home" for the Jewish people in Palestine . The rights of existing non-Jewish communities should be preserved. At that time, Palestine was still under the control of the Ottomans . The British government at the time under Lloyd George hoped that the commitment to the Zionist movement would bring advantages in mobilizing additional resources during the war, as well as long-term strategic advantages.

On October 31, 1917 troops from several countries of the British Empire (including troops from Australia and New Zealand ) under the British general Edmund Allenby Be'er Scheva conquered ( English Battle of Beersheba ). Gaza fell on November 7, Jaffa on November 16 (see Palestine Front # 1917 ) and Jerusalem on December 9, 1917 .

The British Balfour Declaration was addressed to the leaders of the world Zionist organization . It is seen as a crucial declaration of guarantee to Zionism in order to be able to establish a "national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine.


Balfour's desk in the Museum of the Diaspora , Tel Aviv
UK Government Response

The Balfour Declaration was prepared , among others, by the Zionist activist Chaim Weizmann and by the British MP, Sir Mark Sykes . The Manchester School for Zionism member , Leon Simon , wrote the draft on July 17, 1917. The then British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour then sent a letter in November 1917 to Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild , a prominent British Zionist , the response of the British government, thereby pledging its support for the Zionist movement:

"Dear Lord Rothschild,

I am delighted to be able to convey to you, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, the following declaration of sympathy for the Jewish Zionist aspirations that has been presented to the Cabinet and approved:

His Majesty's Government looks with benevolence on the establishment of a national homestead for the Jewish people in Palestine and will do its best to facilitate the attainment of this goal, provided that nothing shall happen which violates the civil and religious rights of the existing non- Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status of Jews in other countries.

I would be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the World Zionist Organization.

Your devoted Arthur Balfour "

British interests

British interests that led to this pledge were tied to both the ongoing world war and long-term considerations. The cabinet hoped that this declaration would support Zionist organizations around the world in their war efforts against the Central Powers, especially in the USA and Russia. The opportunity was favorable, on the one hand, because in Russia the tsar had been overthrown by the February Revolution , whom the Jews in Russia and the USA had regarded as the main enemy. This obstacle to the mobilization of Zionist circles on the side of the Entente no longer existed. On the other hand, the need for a British declaration in favor of a Jewish home in Palestine seemed more urgent since news of German negotiations with Zionists and Ottomans reached London in June 1917. Since the largest Jewish population groups lived in the USA and Russia and the further behavior of the US government and the Russian government appeared to be decisive for the war, important representatives of the British government such as Balfour and Lloyd George gradually followed the idea of Chaim Weizmann and Lucien Wolf during the war they had repeatedly suggested that Great Britain could receive great support in this way.

In addition to these acute interests at world level, long-term interests occurred in the region itself, as Palestine under British rule offered an ideal link to the British zones of influence in the Middle East and the most important British colony, British India . The Suez Canal , the main artery of British trade with Asia, would also be better secured.

International recognition

The Balfour Declaration was included in the Allied peace treaty with Turkey in 1920 . On July 24, 1922, the declaration was also included in the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine , which laid down the conditions for Great Britain to temporarily take over administration of the country with consideration for its Jewish and Arab population. The Israeli declaration of independence in May 1948 was thus at least indirectly a consequence of the Balfour Declaration.

Specification of the declaration

Since the Balfour Declaration spoke only generally of the creation of a national homeland for the Jews , and dealt neither with the question of immigration nor that of the political organization and the borders of future Palestine, these questions still had to be clarified. After internal deliberations in December 1918, Jewish organizations (e.g. the American Jewish Congress ) initially demanded the creation of conditions which would secure the “development of Palestine into a Commonwealth ”. Chaim Weizmann warned of the enthusiastic efforts to create the "Jewish state" immediately. He took the view that a Jewish state in Palestine could only exist if there was a Jewish majority there. This view was also shared by Winston Churchill , Arthur Neville Chamberlain and Jan Christiaan Smuts .

On February 27, 1919, Chaim Weizmann, Nachum Sokolow and Menachem Ussishkin presented their ideas to the Supreme Allied Council: promoting immigration and settlement, recognition of an official representation of Jews in Palestine and preferential treatment of Jews in the award of concessions for undeveloped land . An autonomous government was not sought by Weizmann, who was able to push through his very moderate line against resistance from his own ranks. Initially, the immigration of 80,000 Jews per year and the establishment of a Hebrew education system were requested. If the Jews formed the great majority, Weizmann said, they would be ripe for establishing a system of government that would suit their development. While Weizmann received criticism from within his own ranks for his reluctance, he met with approval from the Allies.

There was initially no protest against the Balfour Declaration from the Arab side. It was only when different views of the declaration became known that value was placed on an independent statement so that Arab interests would be taken into account. That is why the Jewish representatives also sought an agreement with Arab representatives. To this end, Weizmann met Faisal I , son of King Hussein , in London at the end of 1918 and concluded the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement with him on January 3, 1919 , in which the delegation led by Faisal followed the Jewish national aspirations and Jewish immigration Palestine agreed. The realization of Arab independence was agreed as a condition, but this was not realized, so that the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement became obsolete. The Times published a number of statements on December 12, 1919, intended to illustrate the supposed success of the negotiations. It says that the two main branches of the Semitic family face each other with understanding . The Arabs feel no envy of the Jews and strive for fair cooperation , as they had been assured by the Jewish side. In a memorandum, Faisal stated:

“The Jews are very close by blood to the Arabs and there is no conflict of characters between the two peoples. Basically there is an absolute understanding between us. "

The Jewish Chronicle of January 3, 1919 quotes him as follows:

“I have been told by people who describe themselves as civilized that the Jews want our mosque in Jerusalem as their temple and that they want to oppress and exterminate the peasantry of Palestine. For my part, I know that no real Jew has such intentions. We are not impressed by these inventions. We demand freedom for the Arabs, and we would be unworthy of them if we did not, as I do now, welcome the Jews home and cooperate with them within the scope of the possibilities of the Arab state. "

After Faisal's reservations had been dispelled in further talks, he wrote a letter to Felix Frankfurter , an important American Zionist. In it he assessed the Jewish intentions as moderate and went on to write:

“We will offer the Jews a warm welcome home [...]. The Jewish movement is national, not imperialist, and there is room for each of us in Syria . Yes, I am of the opinion that nobody can be a real success without the other. "

Faisal had tied his approval of the Balfour Declaration to the fulfillment of the promise of independence that the British had made during the war. However, these commitments were not kept. Critics pay no attention to the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement because it never came into force. Yet it is a fact that a leader of an Arab national movement and the Zionist side reached an agreement. This can be interpreted as an indication that Jewish and Arab aspirations did not necessarily have to be opposed.

That Faisal represented particular interests and was not the spokesman for the Arab world and possibly not even the Arabs of Palestine is shown by the resolution passed on July 2, 1919 by a Syrian congress of Arab nationalists, which explicitly opposed the claims “in the southern part of Syria, Palestine called creating a Jewish community, ”pronounced. Arab delegations protested in front of a commission sent by American President Woodrow Wilson .

After differences of opinion between France and England over who should receive the League of Nations mandate for or over Palestine, an agreement was reached in April 1920 and the mandate was transferred to the British. The gratitude of the Jewish side contrasted with the frustration of the Arab side. David Lloyd George assigned the office of British High Commissioner to Palestine to Sir Herbert Samuel , who was Jewish.

The mandate was intended to put the Balfour Declaration into practice. But even at the beginning of Samuel's term of office, it became clear that he was not consistently heading towards the realization of the commitments. He left members of the military administration on duty who were unwilling to implement the declaration and tried to win the Arabs' confidence by making concessions to their demands. The mandate government allowed immigration, but did nothing else to promote a Jewish state.

Arab resistance

Tensions in the country had risen noticeably. Resistance to British politics and the immigrants began to organize in Arab nationalist circles. Members of the military administration also took part, and so in April 1920, on Easter Sunday, there were major riots. An Arab mob ransacked shops in Jerusalem, killing and injuring local Jewish residents. The British troops did not stop the unrest. Shortly before, in the French-occupied Damascus, Emir Faisal had been proclaimed King of Syria. At least now it became apparent that despite the previous negotiations with Arab personalities, there was strong Arab resistance to the establishment of a Jewish state.

In May 1921 there were renewed Arab riots against Jewish immigrants in Jaffa , in which 43 Jews, among them the writer Josef Chaim Brenner , were killed. On May 1, an officially approved demonstration by the Jewish-social democratic Achdut HaAwoda was attacked by a counter-demonstration by the Jewish-communist Mifleget Po'alim Sozialistim - the rival groups also got into the Arab quarter, where the rumor soon arose that the Jews were wanted to storm the mosques. Petach Tikwa was attacked by thousands of Bedouins and rural Arabs. However, the attackers were repulsed by organized Jewish settlers. On May 2, the British declared martial law.

High Commissioner Samuel took the outbreak of the unrest as an opportunity to stop immigration. He set up a commission of inquiry to clear up the causes of the riots. However, Winston Churchill announced the resumption of immigration. The commission of inquiry came to the conclusion that the Arabs had attacked and that the police had not intervened effectively and that parts of the Arab police units had even participated in the attacks. But she also stated that the cause of the unrest was the activities of Zionist institutions, including the propaganda for "Hebrew work" (only Jewish workers should work in Jewish companies). For their safety, Jews were now allowed, unlike Arabs, to carry weapons for self-defense.

In the summer of 1921, Samuel stated in an interim report on his term in office that the extent to which Jewish interests could be implemented depended on the “rights of the population”. In practice, this meant the complete rejection of a Jewish homeland by the Arabs, whose social and political equality in an explicitly Jewish community appeared to be endangered. With this, the Jewish high commissioner bowed to Arab pressure, which then hardened. Samuel's most detrimental act with regard to Jewish interests was the transfer of the office of Mufti from Jerusalem to Mohammed Amin al-Husseini , an Arab nationalist who was later courted by Hitler , sent Arab soldiers to the SS for training, and even to the SS himself -Mann should have brought. On December 8, 1938, Samuel praised the Mufti in a speech in the British House of Lords for his efforts to achieve a balance of interests in Palestine.


When Churchill visited Palestine, he made some concessions to Emir Abdallah of Transjordan , which are detailed in Churchill's 1922 White Paper . It states on the one hand that the British will continue to stand by the Balfour Declaration, and on the other hand it offers the Arabs the prospect of self-government. The Zionist institutions were not given any further say, and it was also emphasized that the British government had no intention of making Palestine "as Jewish as England is English". While the Zionist Organization was forced to accept this policy at first, it was viewed by the Arabs as too willing to compromise on Jewish interests and therefore rejected and boycotted. Churchill's relenting is an attempt to appease the Arab side through concessions; the Balfour Declaration was not withdrawn, but nothing more was done to implement it.

Long-term effect

The Balfour Declaration, the British mandate over Palestine and the Jewish agency approved by the British as a negotiating partner, the Jewish Agency founded in 1929 , set a fundamentally new framework for further development. Within this framework, the Zionist organizations were able to develop and expand their activities with the aim of establishing their own Jewish state. "Despite all obstacles and difficulties, the foundations of the National Homestead were laid in the 1920s."

See also


  • Markus Kirchhoff: Balfour Declaration. In: Dan Diner (Ed.): Encyclopedia of Jewish History and Culture (EJGK). Volume 1: A-Cl. Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2011, ISBN 978-3-476-02501-2 , pp. 243-250.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Benny Morris : Righteous Victims - A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict. 1881-2001 . Vintage Books, New York 2001, pp. 73 .
  2. Balfour Declaration auctioned. AREF, 2005, accessed October 3, 2012 .
  3. Jonathan Schneer (Ed.): The Balfour Declaration. The origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict . Bloomsbury, London 2010, ISBN 978-0-7475-9948-7 , pp. 436 (English, limited preview in Google Book search).
  4. Jonathan Schneer (Ed.): The Balfour Declaration. The origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Bloomsbury, London 2010, ISBN 978-0-7475-9948-7 , pp. 132, 135, 157, 344, 345 .
  5. James Renton: The Balfour Declaration: its origins and consequences. ( Memento of March 4, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) In: Jewish Quarterly , Spring 2008, Number 209.
  6. a b c d e f g h i j k Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson (ed.): History of the Jewish people from the beginning to the present . 4th edition. CH Beck Verlag, Munich 1995, ISBN 3-406-36626-0 (1404 pages).
  7. a b c d e f Robert John, Sami Hadawi: The Palestine Diary . Vol. I. New World Press, New York 1970 (852 pages).
  8. ^ Anita Shapira: Israel: A History . Brandeis University Press, Lebanon (New Hampshire) 2012, pp. 119 .
  9. Hillel Ben-Sasson: History of the Jewish People . S. 1228 .