How is Israel's war on Gaza linked to the UK's 1917 Balfour Declaration?

How is Israel's war on Gaza linked to the UK's 1917 Balfour Declaration?
The Arab League said what's happening today in Gaza can be traced back to the 'ill-fated' Balfour Declaration, issued 106 years ago today.
3 min read
02 November, 2023
Israel's war on the besieged Gaza Strip has so far killed more than 9,000 people [Ashraf Amra/Anadolu/Getty]

The UK issued 106 years ago a highly controversial statement that helped pave the way for the creation of the state of Israel.

The 1917 Balfour Declaration gets its name from then UK Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour who delivered the message in a letter to British Jewish leader Baron Lionel Walter Rothschild.

"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," the declaration read.

The declaration is viewed as an important moment in the leadup to the 1948 foundation of Israel, an episode that resulted in the ethnic cleansing of some 750,000 Palestinians from their land.

Palestinians know the event as the Nakba ("catastrophe" in Arabic) and many consider it an ongoing process of displacement.

Many of those forced out of their homes ended up in the Gaza Strip, where 70 percent of the population today are descendants of refugees.

Israel's indiscriminate war on Gaza and its warnings to 1.1 million people living in the north of the Gaza Strip has led to fears of a "second Nakba", with a leaked intelligence document suggesting earlier this week that Israel was planning to displace Gaza's inhabitants to Egypt.

Palestinian Ambassador to the UK Husam Zomlot, who grew up in a refugee camp in the enclave, has also linked the Balfour Declaration to the ongoing killings of Palestinians in Gaza.

"The ongoing campaign of mass murder against our people in #Gaza and all over #Palestine is a stark reminder of the catastrophic consequences of that declaration," he said on social media platform X, formerly Twitter.

"It is the responsibility of the UK to correct this historic injustice, demand an immediate end to Israel's aggression, recognise the #State_of_Palestine and collect international support to once and for all end Israel's #occupation."

It comes amid the war in Gaza, where more than 9,000 people have been killed as Israel relentlessly bombards the besieged enclave and has recently stepped up ground operations.

There has also been an increase in violence by Israeli settlers and forces in the occupied West Bank, with some Palestinians fleeing their villages.

The general secretariat of the Arab League, a body that brings together Arab states, linked present events with the Balfour Declaration in a statement released for the anniversary.

"What is happening these days in the Gaza Strip and in the occupied West Bank is a continuation of the series of massacres, displacement, and emptying the land of its original inhabitants, which began with the ill-fated Balfour Declaration," it said.

"The general secretariat of the League of Arab States renews its call upon the international community to take serious and immediate action to halt the vicious war being inflicted on the Palestinian people and to allow humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip urgently."

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The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), an intergovernmental Muslim body, also mentioned the situation in Gaza in a statement about the Balfour Declaration.

"This painful anniversary coincides with the ongoing crises in the occupied Palestinian territory, especially in the Gaza Strip, which is witnessing the escalation of killings, organised terrorism, displacement, and the deliberate destruction of residential buildings, schools, hospitals, places of worship, and infrastructure," the OIC said.

"These actions constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Israeli occupation."

Both the OIC and Arab League expressed support for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem.