On November 2, 1917, British Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur James Balfour sent a letter to Zionist leader Lord Walter Rothschild, confirming British support for the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel.
The Balfour Declaration, a letter penned by British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to prominent Jewish community leader Lord Walter Rothschild in 1917, was written for transmission to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland. It represents the first political recognition of Zionist aims by a global power.
According to the document, “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.”
During the First World War, British policy gradually recognized the virtue of establishing a Jewish home in what had been known as “Palestine” since the 2nd century, when Roman King Hadrian changed the name of the territory of Judea to “Palaestina” in an attempt to erase Jewish identification with the land.
When Jews, who had been expelled from the land for 2,000 years – except for small communities that remained – began returning in mass numbers in the late 1900s, they cultivated a land that was barren and neglected, literally making the desert bloom.
At the time of the Balfour Declaration, Palestine and the surrounding areas were part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. The British Mandate of Palestine, then considered southern Syria by the Arabs, was implemented in 1922 and lasted until the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.
Great Britain, however, reneged on its commitment to a Jewish state in later years and severely restricted Jewish immigration to Palestine, notwithstanding the mass murder of Jews in Europe during World War Two.
The Balfour Declaration nonetheless established a foundation for official recognition of the right of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel.