How was it received by Palestinians and Arabs?
In 1919, then-US President Woodrow Wilson appointed a commission to look into public opinion on the mandatory system in Syria and Palestine.
The investigation was known as the King-Crane commission. It found that the majority of Palestinians expressed a strong opposition to Zionism, leading the conductors of the commission to advise a modification of the mandate’s goal.
The late Awni Abd al-Hadi, a Palestinian political figure and nationalist, condemned the Balfour Declaration in his memoirs, saying it was made by an English foreigner who had no claim to Palestine, to a foreign Jew who had no right to it.
In 1920, the Third Palestinian Congress in Haifa decried the British government’s plans to support the Zionist project and rejected the declaration as a violation of international law and of the rights of the indigenous population.
However, the other important source for insight into Palestinian opinion on the declaration – the press – was closed down by the Ottomans at the start of the war in 1914 and only began to reappear in 1919, but under British military censorship.
In November 1919, when the al-Istiqlal al-Arabi (Arab independence) newspaper, based in Damascus, was reopened, one article said in response to a public speech by Herbert Samuel, a Jewish cabinet minister, in London on the second anniversary of the Balfour Declaration: “Our country is Arab, Palestine is Arab, and Palestine must remain Arab.”
Even prior to the Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate, pan-Arab newspapers warned against the motives of the Zionist movement and its potential outcomes in displacing Palestinians from their land.
Khalil Sakakini, a Jerusalemite writer and teacher, described Palestine in the immediate aftermath of the war as follows: “A nation which has long been in the depths of sleep only awakes if it is rudely shaken by events, and only arises little by little … This was the situation of Palestine, which for many centuries has been in the deepest sleep, until it was shaken by the great war, shocked by the Zionist movement, and violated by the illegal policy [of the British], and it awoke, little by little.”
Increased Jewish immigration under the mandate created tensions and violence between the Palestinian Arabs and the European Jews. One of the first popular responses to British actions was the Nebi Musa revolt in 1920 that led to the killing of four Palestinian Arabs and five immigrant Jews.
Who else was behind it?
While Britain is generally held responsible for the Balfour Declaration, it is important to note that the statement would not have been made without prior approval from the other Allied powers during World War I.
In a War Cabinet meeting in September 1917, British ministers decided that “the views of President Wilson should be obtained before any declaration was made”. Indeed, according to the cabinet’s minutes on October 4, the ministers recalled Arthur Balfour confirming that Wilson was “extremely favourable to the movement”.
France was also involved and announced its support prior to the issuing of the Balfour Declaration.
A May 1917 letter from Jules Cambon, a French diplomat, to Nahum Sokolow, a Polish Zionist, expressed the sympathetic views of the French government towards “Jewish colonisation in Palestine”.
“[I]t would be a deed of justice and of reparation to assist, by the protection of the Allied Powers, in the renaissance of the Jewish nationality in that Land from which the people of Israel were exiled so many centuries ago,” stated the letter, which was seen as a precursor to the Balfour Declaration.
What impact did it have on Palestinians?
The Balfour Declaration is widely seen as the precursor to the 1948 Palestinian Nakba when Zionist armed groups, who were trained by the British, forcibly expelled more than 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland.
Despite some opposition within the War Cabinet predicting that such an outcome was probable, the British government still chose to issue the declaration.
While it is difficult to imply that the developments in Palestine today can be traced back to the Balfour Declaration, there is no doubt that the British Mandate created the conditions for the Jewish minority to gain superiority in Palestine and build a state for themselves at the expense of the Palestinian Arabs.
When the British decided to terminate their mandate in 1947 and transfer the question of Palestine to the United Nations, the Jews already had an army that was formed out of the armed paramilitary groups trained and created to fight side by side with the British in World War II.
More importantly, the British allowed the Jews to establish self-governing institutions, such as the Jewish Agency, to prepare themselves for a state when it came to it, while the Palestinians were forbidden from doing so – paving the way for the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA