The Balfour Declaration: 100+ Years of Ethno-Nationalist Apologetics

Some food for thought, in “commemoration” of the Balfour Declaration, drafted 31 October 1917, adopted by the British Government 2 November 1917.

(1) Lord Arthur Balfour, speech to Parliament on the need for the British to retain control of Egypt (1910)

First of all, look at the facts of the case. Western nations as soon as they emerge into history show the beginnings of those capacities for self-government…having merits of their own…You may look through the whole history of the Orientals in what is called, broadly speaking, the East, and you never find traces of self-government. All their great centuries–and they have been great–have been passed under absolute government. All their great contributions to civilisation–and they have been great–have been made under that form of government. Conquerer has succeeded conqueror; one domination has followed another; but never in all of the revolutions of fate and fortune have you seen one of those nations of its own motion establish what we, from a Western point of view, call self-government. (Quoted in Edward Said, Orientalism, p. 33)

(2) Balfour Declaration, Zionist Draft (July 1917)

  1. His Majesty’s Government accepts the principle that Palestine should be reconstituted as the national home of the Jewish people.

  2. His Majesty’s Government will use its best endeavours to secure the achievement of this object and will discuss the necessary methods and means with the Zionist Organisation.

(3) Balfour Declaration, Final Draft, (finalized 31 October 1917, adopted 2 November 1917)

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. (Both drafts quoted in Charles D. Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History with Documents, 8th ed., p. 94)

(4) Edward Said on the Balfour Declaration

What is important about the declaration is, first, that it has long formed the juridical basis of Zionist claims to Palestine and second, and more crucial for our purposes here, that it was a statement whose positional force can only be appreciated when the demographic or human realities of Palestine are kept clearly in mind. That is, the declaration was made (a) by a European power, (b) about a non-European territory, (c) in flat disregard of both the presence and the wishes of the native majority resident in that territory, and (d) it took the form of a promise about this same territory to another foreign group, so that this foreign group might, quite literally, make this territory a national home for the Jewish People. (Edward Said, The Question of Palestine, p. 16)

(5) Lord Balfour on the Balfour Declaration (1919)

The contradiction between the letter of the Covenant [the Anglo-French Declaration of 1918 promising the Arabs of former Ottoman colonies that as a reward for supporting the Allies they could have their independence] is even more flagrant in the case of the independent nation of Palestine than in that of the independent nation of Syria. For in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country, though the American Commission has been going through the forms of asking what they are. The four great powers are committed to Zionism and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desire and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land. In my opinion, that is right. (Quoted in Edward Said, The Question of Palestine, pp. 16-17)

(6) T.E. Lawrence on the Arab Revolt of 1917-18 (1926)

However, these worries would have taken their due petty place, in despite of the body, and of my soiled body in particular, but for the rankling fraudulence which had to be my mind’s habit: that pretence to lead the national uprising of another race, the daily posturing in alien dress, preaching in alien speech: with behind it a sense that the ‘promises’ on which the Arabs worked were worth what their armed strength would be when the moment of fulfillment came. We had deluded ourselves that perhaps peace might find the Arabs able, unhelped and untaught, to defend themselves with paper tools. Meanwhile, we glozed our fraud by conducting their necessary war purely and cheaply. But now this gloss had gone from me. Chargeable against my conceit were the causeless, ineffectual deaths of Hesa. My will had gone and I feared to be alone, lest the winds of circumstance, or power, or lust, blow my empty soul away. (T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph, p. 501)

There was no escape for me. I must take up again my mantle of fraud in the East. With my certain contempt for half-measures I took it up quickly and wrapped myself in it completely. It might be fraud or it might be farce: no one should say that I could not play it. (T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph, p. 503)

(7) Joseph Weitz, Director of the Jewish National Fund, on the need for forcible transfer of the Arab population of Palestine (1940)

It must be clear that there is no room for both peoples in this country. No “development” will bring us closer to our aim, to be an independent people in this small country. If the Arabs leave the country, it will be broad and wide-open for us. And if the Arabs stay, the country will remain narrow and miserable. When the War is over and the English have won, and when the judges sit on the throne of the Law, our people must bring their petitions and their claim before them; and the only solution is Eretz Israel, or at least Western Eretz Israel, without Arabs. There is no room for compromise on this point…there is no way besides transferring the Arabs from here to the neighboring countries, to transfer them all; except maybe for Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Old Jerusalem, we must not leave a single village, not a single tribe. (Quoted in Edward Said, The Question of Palestine, p. 100)

(8) Israel Defense Forces announcement, in Arabic, to the inhabitants of Aida Refugee Camp (October 2015)

People of Aida camp: we are the army of occupation. You throw stones, and we will hit you with gas until you all die: children, youth, the elderly. You will all die; we will leave no one alive. We have arrested one of you, and he is with us now; we took him from his home. And we shall slaughter and kill him as you watch, if you keep throwing stones. Go home or we will gas you until you all die–your families, your children, everyone. We will kill you. Listen to me, all of you: go home; this is better for you. (Video taken by Yazan Ikhlayel, Aida Refugee Camp, outside Bethelehem, published Middle East Eye, October 29, 2015).

(9) Greg Johnson, American White Nationalist Leader, on “The Jewish Question.”  

Q: What would be your logistic solution to the Jewish question, the Jewish problem? If one defines it as the unsatisfactoriness of a very small population exerting a lot of influence over the majority of the population–the disparity there. What would be your solution to that problem?

Johnson: Well, the solution ultimately is to expel them.

Q: To Israel?

Johnson: Yeah. To send them to their ethno-state.

Q: So that implies, essentially, you support the state of Israel for that purpose?

Johnson: Yeah, yeah. I believe in ethnic homelands for all peoples, and that includes Jews. And we have to stop letting them have it both ways and basically say, “You need to go to Israel,” or we’re going to freeze you out of our society.

(Jesse Singal, “Undercover with the Alt-Right,” The New York Times, Sept. 19, 2017).

(10) The Quiet Americans Visit Israel (added October 31, 2017)

I was flipping through Facebook, and happened on the photo album of a well-known academic couple who had recently been to Israel. They take a picture of the dome of Masjid al Aqsa and the photo caption reads: “The dome is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.” They take a picture of the Dome of the Rock, and the caption reads: “The Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount, and the Western Wall.” They take a picture of a minaret in the Haram Sharif complex, and the caption reads: “Tower of David, Old City of Jerusalem.”

Right. The Church of the  Holy Sepulchre is nowhere near the mosque of Al Aqsa. The Dome of the Rock is neither itself a “temple” nor on one. And “the Tower of David” is not an Islamic minaret–nor is the minaret they photographed the Tower of David. (Absurdly, their photo album includes two pictures of the actual Tower of David, both of which they leave uncaptioned. An honest mistake, no doubt, but a hilariously symbolic one: they manage to transform a minaret into the Tower of David, but miss the real thing.)

I can’t think of anything that better epitomizes the spirit of the Balfour Declaration: a couple of foreigners fly to Jerusalem, tiptoe around the Palestinians and the occupation (but make sure to go to Masada), screen out any unavoidable traces of the Palestinians they happen to encounter in East Jerusalem, mischaracterizing what they see there so as to erase the Palestinian presence. Then they fly home, telling their friends all about their trip to “Israel,” and the painless entry and exit they had through security at Ben Gurion. Cue Louis Armstrong: What a wonderful world.

No pictures of The Wall, the checkpoints, the Border Police, the demolished homes of Silwan or Beit Hanina, the lockdown at Issawiya, or of a single square foot of the West Bank. Doesn’t fit the narrative. Isn’t quite “Israel.” Except when it has to be: when it’s time to rule it, or to take it.

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