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Photo: Lord Arthur James Balfour
Lord Arthur James Balfour

Balfour Declaration

The Balfour Declaration was a statement of support made by the British Government for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael. It was sent in the format of a letter on November 2nd 1917, written by British Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur James Balfour and sent to Lord Lionel Rothschild, a senior member of the Jewish Community in England.

The declaration stated: "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".

The background for the Declaration: At the outbreak of the First World War, the leaders of the Zionist movement, including Dr. Chaim Weizmann and Nahum Sokolow, had tried to recruit Great Britain in promoting the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael. Britain was aiming to conquer Eretz Yisrael during the war in order to guarantee its control over the northern Suez Canal. The declaration was a means by which to raise American-Jewish support in the American war effort, as well as Russian-Jewish support in the continuation of the war against Germany.

The Balfour Declaration motivated the Arab National Movement to guarantee its own control over Eretz Yisrael. Despite the declarationís statement that the status and rights of Arab citizens will remain, they interpreted the declaration as Britainís attempt to separate between a Jewish state in Western Eretz Yisrael and the Kingdom of Jordan east of the Jordan River. Several Jewish groups also expressed their objection, for the declaration had reduced the area of biblical Eretz Yisrael by more than two thirds.

The declaration became a landmark in the history of the Zionist movement, as it symbolized the first official support of a great power in its aims. Furthermore, due to Britainís intention to conquer Eretz Yisrael from the Turks, it was made possible for her to act on the basis of the declaration and promote the establishment of a Jewish state within Eretz Yisrael. The declaration was included in the mandate given to Great Britain in the 1920 San Remo Conference, which was approved by the Commonwealth on July 24th 1922.

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