The Jewish right to the land of Israel

Published date10 May 2021
In the period before the first World War, it was apparent to many Englishmen in decision-making positions both in the the British Foreign Office and in the field in Egypt that the Ottoman Empire was moribund. Nominally in control of much of the Middle East, it was still living in medieval times with a medieval mode of government. Should it become embroiled in the conflict that was clearly coming, Turkey might not be able to maintain control of the territories remaining (greater Syria, Iraq and the Arabian peninsula).

Concern for the future integrity of England's "Life-Line to India," made the division of the remaining Ottoman territories of vital interest. Plans for future disposition of strategic territory needed to be made before the end of the coming war.

Since the middle of the 19th century, prominent non-Jewish English politicians - Palmerston and Shaftesbury, for example - and writers such as George Eliot and Benjamin Disraeli promoted the idea of a return of Jews to Eretz Israel. This idealism was furthered by seeing what the the Hovovei Zion and later the Herzlian Zionists had accomplished. Jewish immigrants were regenerating millennia-old neglected land despite Turkish corruption and resistence. They had on their own revived a dead land that had little to sustain even the tiny population that lived there. Cabinet officers such as Lloyd George and Arthur Balfour were openly supportive of ideas and measures supporting a political and economic role for Jews in greater Syria as allies in the Empire.

The unabashed British intent was to take over as much of Ottoman territory in the strategic vicinity of Suez as possible. This, together with the growing desire of these Englishmen to see the Jews return to their ancestoral home - to a region they called Palestine - culminated on November 2, 1917 in the Balfour Declaration, issued in the form of a letter from Balfour (as head of the Foreign Office) to Lord Rothschild.

The Declaration stated:

"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 term National Home was first used by Max Nordau at the First Zionist Congress in Basle in 1897. He believed the term 'homeland' would be an inoffensive substitute for 'state.' He said, "I did my best to persuade the claimants of the Jewish State in Palestine that we might find a circumlocution that would express all we meant, but would say it in a way so as to avoid provoking the Turkish rulers of the coveted land."

The extent was not precisely defined. But the Arabs had already gained considerable sovereignty and vast areas when the Ottoman holdings were reallocated. Given that the Jewish claims to Biblical Israel were commonly accepted, clearly the Jews were intended to receive a significant segment of what, under the Ottomans, had been the southern province of Syria. It included the land both east and west of the Jordan River. The area of the Turkish "Palestine province" was approximately 42,000 sq miles, of which nearly 8,000 lay to the west of the Jordan. Eretz Israel east of the Jordan, except for a few towns such as Amman, was largely uninhabited.

How the Return of the Jews to Palestine was Viewed

The London Times, authentic expression of British government policy in 1919, called for the inclusion of eastern Palestine as essential to the Jewish State. Specifically on September 19th of that year, the Times declared, "The Jordan will not do as Palestine's eastern boundary. Our duty as Mandatory is to make Jewish Palestine not a struggling State but one that is capable of a vigorous and independent national life."

The Guardian was no less enthusiastic. Its editor at the time was strongly pro-Zionism. Shamefully, the now anti-Israel paper published its regrets for backing the Balfour Declaration this past week calling the support a mistake.

On December 2, 1917, Lord Robert Cecil said at a public meeting in London; "the keynote of our meeting this afternoon is liberation. Our wish is that the Arabian countries shall be for the Arabs, Armenia for the Armenians and Judea for the Jews."

Hussein ibn-Ali, Sherif of Mecca, wrote in Mecca's Al Qibla, in 1918, "The resources of the country are still virgin soil and will be developed by the Jewish immigrants. One of the most amazing things until recent times was that the Palestinian [Arab] used to leave his country, wandering over the high seas in every direction. His native soil could not retain a hold on him... At the same time, we have seen the Jews from foreign countries streaming to Palestine from Russia, Germany, Austria, Spain, and America. The cause could not escape those who had a gift of deeper insight. They knew that the country was for its original sons - abna'ihi-l-asliyin - for all their differences, a sacred and beloved homeland. The return of these exiles - jaliya - to their homeland will...

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