Amid the destruction of World War One, hope emerged upon the horizon for the beleaguered Jewish people–The Balfour Declaration.
The war, which had officially begun on the same day as the ninth of Av, now offered a moment of respite and hope. The Balfour Declaration, announced by the British Government through foreign secretary Arthur Balfour, in a letter to British Jewish leader and former MP, Lord Walter Rothschild announced British intentions to grant the Jews a National Home in Palestine. (An ancient name for the land).
It seemed like a dream: The establishment of a Jewish homeland as guaranteed by the Balfour Declaration seemed closer offering solace and hope. These were very tragic times.
At the beginning of World War One, there were about ninety-five thousand Jews in the Palestine. But those numbers soon diminished following the outbreak of war, due to the forced expulsion of Jews mostly with Russian citizenship, by the Turks as well as the flight of Jews fleeing Turkish wartime oppression. Starvation and disease also tragically took a significant toll of the population as well. By November 1917, there were less than 45,000 Jews in the land. The future of the Zionist enterprise was threatened.
Times were also very bleak for world Jewry. Tens of thousands of Jewish soldiers from all sides were falling on the battlefields of Europe. Since the beginning of the war, about one and a half million Jewish refugees fled the destruction wrecked by armies and by forcible expulsions by Russian forces, which presented its own dangers. Jewish towns throughout Russia, Poland and Galitzia were ravaged by pogroms causing even further devastation. Overcrowded cities in Poland and Russia from the flood of refugees faced starvation.
The extent of the destruction defied description.
Amid catastrophe, the Balfour Declaration was issued.
Jews fought and bled for nations which too often told them in return that they are not welcome. The Balfour Declaration told Jewry that they have a recognized home, though not yet established.
Zion on the Map
The Balfour Declaration was not just a British policy statement. US President Woodrow Wilson expressed his support, as did leaders of France, Italy, Greece, and other Western nations. The prospect of Jewish statehood became something tangible.
Opposition to Balfour emerged among the British military occupation in Palestine soon after the war’s end. The British would eventually completely back track upon its commitments, with the issuing of the 1939 MacDonald White Paper, as western nations looked away with indifference.
The Balfour Declaration did not create the Jewish State but by galvanizing world support, its prospect became something eventual.
It gave direction and impetu
Zion was now a more viable destination. The Balfour Declaration spurred the 3rd wave of Aliyah, 1919-1923, from Poland and Russia. Forty thousand Jews arrived in flight from anti-Semitism and devastating post war pogroms in Eastern Europe. The most horrific wave of pogroms occurred in the Ukraine which saw the most emigrants to Zion. Many also arrived from recently declared independent Poland where Jews also suffered anti-Semitic violence. Immigrants of the 4th Aliyah wave between 1924-1929 of eighty thousand, mostly from Poland and the USSR, were also escaping oppression. The fifth, wave 1932-1936 of over 175,000 immigrants arrived, mostly from Germany as a result of the avalanche of Jew hatred in Germany with the rise of Nazism.
These waves, albeit under horrific circumstances, produced the foundation of the State of Israel.
What was promised and what was eventually granted
As areas were being carved out of vast Middle-East during the war that were part of collapsing Ottoman Empire, for nation building, the Jews were granted their portion via a letter. According to the declaration, the Jewish homeland would include the other side of the Jordan River in what today is the nation of Jordan. It was carved down in a 1922 partition, and then again in the November 29, 1947, UN Resolution 181, passed by the General Assembly which granted the Jews 12% of the land mass, promised them by the Balfour Declaration.
One hundred years later
In November 1917, a small minority of Jewry lived in Palestine. Today about one half of World Jewry resides in Israel.
Today, opponents of Israel are still fighting the Balfour Declaration. The opposition was once spearheaded by the Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini. Today, there are several inheritors of that role from the Fatah, to Hamas to Hezbollah.
Then, Jewish opposition was from among the elites and some others who feared that Jewish nationalism threatened their status and would cast aspersions on their patriotism. Suddenly, they might be seen as pariahs within their societies. They were often referred to as ‘assimilationists.’ Today, those Jews who express opposition to the State of Israel are seeking amalgamation with their political allies, the far Left, which has become increasingly anti-Israel over the last several years.
One century later, in a world being confronted with Islamic terror, Israel is on the front line. It has managed to survive terror since 1920, and even thrive. The people of Israel have given more to the world, than the Balfour Declaration gave to the Jews.
The London Jewish Chronicle which lauded the Balfour Declaration, also made a poignant observation in 1917. “Neither England, nor France, nor the United States, can give Palestine to the Jewish people, it must be desired, it must be sought for, it must be earned.”
With the help of the Almighty.
By Larry Domnitch