A reflection on the Balfour Declaration

By EA Keith, Northern West Bank

“As a 15-year-old I was forced to flee my home which is in a small village only 15 miles away from where I live now. I ended up with other refugees in a cemetery in Tulkarm. I was given a tent by the UN and settled there. I was soon supporting six people, my grandparent, mother and father, a younger brother and sister. The tent was destroyed and blew away in the strong winds and I built a shack and eventually a house where we live today on the very same spot where my tent stood. For five years I had no job and very little food. I asked Allah ‘Why did you create me?’”

Nour and father in law
Nour and his father-in-law. Photo: EAPPI/Keith

So spoke the father-in-law of Nour, now 85 years old and one of the founders of the Tulkarm Refugee Camp in 1948. The refugee camp today has expanded into a tightly packed community of narrow winding streets. Buildings loom high overhead as families need to build upwards. They cannot build outwards and the population has grown.

Tulkarem refugee camp portrait

A street in Tulkarm refugee camp. Photo: EAPPI/Keith

He and many others here believe their problems started in 1917 when the British government made the Balfour Declaration. The centenary of this document, on 2 November this year, is fast approaching. 

For them this is not a historical declaration from a long time ago but a living grievance.

It declared:

“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”.

“The Balfour Declaration was a brief letter dated 2 November 1917 by Lord Arthur Balfour, the British foreign secretary at the time, addressing Baron Lionel Walter Rothschild, a British Zionist peer, expressing the British government’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

British liberal public opinion at the time felt that the West had a responsibility to enable a Jewish homeland due to historical injustices suffered by the Jews for which they believed the West was to blame. In the aftermath of WWII and the Holocaust, the push for a Jewish homeland intensified amidst growing international support for the Zionist Movement and the creation of the State of Israel.

In 1920, Britain was assigned the temporary administration of Palestine in accordance with the “mandate” system shaped by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Britain was thus entrusted to work on behalf of Palestine’s both Jewish and Arab residents.”

nakba poster cropped

Part of a Palestinian poster from the Department of Refugee Affairs. Photo: EAPPI/Elisabet

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There are major events to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration in the next month. On 31 October there is an event entitled Balfour – Britain’s Broken Promise, at Central Methodist Hall, London. On 7 November there is an event celebrating the Balfour declaration centenary at the Royal Albert Hall, London.

The Balfour Project website contains further information. Decide for yourself whether you think we should be celebrating.