Balfour and the History of Israel

Arthur James Balfour. The Balfour Declaration, a letter from the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour. Dated 1917.
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Balfour and the History of Israel

The history behind the creation of the Jewish state

“For the Jewish refugees and pioneers who built Israel on the ashes of the Holocaust, theirs was a straightforward tale of justice, heroism and redemption. But a half-century later, a maturing nation is reassessing its violent birth, with historians angrily debating a long-suppressed question with broad implications: Was Israel born in sin?” (The Daily Oklahoman, Dec. 22, 1997).

“New historians,” as they have been labeled, contend that Israel was born in violence and deceit. They cite examples of secret treaties, broken promises, and ultimately war as the means by which Israel became recognized as a state to fuel their desperate pleas to end Israeli dominance and control over the region of Palestine.

Yet those who have lived through the struggles of the fledgling nation report a very different tale of birth.

What Does History Teach?

Arabs and Jews both trace their ancestry back to Abraham. Centuries ago, God promised Abraham that powerful nations would come from his descendants. But those promises were conditional upon his obedience to God and His laws.

God tested Abraham by closing the womb of Sarah, his wife. She could not have children, which made the promise of his seed becoming a great nation seem ridiculous. At first, Abraham waited patiently, knowing that the same God who created the universe would also open his wife’s womb. Sarah was a bit more impatient. She begged Abraham to lay with her handmaid Hagar so he might have a son (see Genesis 16). His faith weakening, Abraham agreed and Hagar did have a son, named Ishmael. Sarah became jealous of Hagar and eventually caused her to run away. As Hagar fled, Abraham prayed that God would bless Ishmael.

As most Bible students know, after Abraham committed his life to God in total submission and obedience, God eventually opened the womb of Sarah and fulfilled the awesome national promises through their son Isaac. Through Isaac, the nation of Israel was born. By Israel, I mean all twelve tribes, not just the one tribe of Judah located in the Middle East today. But even though a small part, the people of Judah, the modern-day Jews, are in fact Israelites—direct descendants of Abraham.

But what about Ishmael? Where does he fit in? Though cut off from God and not included in the great national promises God made to Abraham, Ishmael’s descendants also became a great people. God answered Abraham’s prayer for Ishmael! (Genesis 21:13). Ishmael’s progeny developed into the many nations of Arabic people in the world today.

Ishmael and Isaac both became great nations (Genesis 21:13; 22:17-18). To Isaac and his progeny, God gave the promised land—modern-day Palestine. The Arabic people also settled around Palestine. This makes sense; both peoples come from the same father. (It’s interesting to note that even the Arabs, though mostly Muslim, revere Abraham as a prophet of God.)

But that is where the similarities end, at least between Jews and Arabs. Through the centuries, as both families grew, they spread to other continents. Most of the Israelitish tribes today have lost their identity, but not the Jews. Both the Jews and Arabs live in a variety of countries today, but the land they both call home is Palestine.


In a.d. 70, the Jews revolted against the ruling Roman Empire. Jerusalem was destroyed by Titus and thus began the dispersion (or Diaspora) of the Jews over the continents of the world.

With the Jews scattered throughout much of Europe, the vacuum created in Palestine was filled by Christianity and Islam—both fighting for preeminence. Randolph Churchill notes, “For more than two hundred years the Crusaders tried to regain Jerusalem for Christianity and in the same period, it became for the Arabs a symbol of resistance to intrusion from the West” (The Six Day War, p. 4). The tenth and eleventh centuries hosted the crusades between the Christians and Muslims. According to H. G. Wells, “The great wars that began between Christendom and Islam…have left a quite insane intolerance between these great systems right down to the present time…” (The Outline of History, p. 526). Hatred, warfare, and violence best describe this troubled region of the earth throughout the history of man. Jerusalem is critical to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All three religions have influenced and driven their believers to fight for and conquer Palestine.

The Jewish Plight

Late in the 19th century, Russian Jews journeyed to Palestine, then under Turkish rule, to purchase and settle small plots in the Holy Land. Primarily agricultural settlements, these Jews received financial support from Baron Edmund de Rothschild. But the limited number of settlers and the money contributed by the Rothschilds was woefully inadequate to convince the world into accepting Palestine as a Jewish state.

Between 1894 and 1897, a man named Theodor Herzl began a movement to gain Palestine as a permanent home for the Jewish people. “Under Herzl the first Zionist conference was held in Basle in 1897 and defined as its object ‘the securing for the Jewish people of a home in Palestine guided by public law’” (The Six Day War, p. 5). Here we find the beginnings of a peaceful, non-violent action to claim the promised land as a permanent home for the Jews.

The British government was moved by Herzl’s work to propose a land agreement for part of the Sinai. Others in the government, such as Joseph Chamberlain, the colonial secretary, suggested other tracts of land in Africa to be the home for the Jews. But Herzl knew he could never motivate “the national enthusiasm in an area outside Palestine, the Holy Land, and declined the offer” (ibid.).

Shortly thereafter, Mr. Herzl died, but the Zionist movement became increasingly popular and powerful. The Jewish National Fund began to accumulate money to be used for the purchase of land in Palestine. Over the next few decades, Jewish agricultural settlements formed throughout the region. In 1909, the first kibbutz was established in Deganiah. The town of Tel Aviv sprouted up in close proximity to Jaffa (a small Arab town). And by 1914, the Jews once again began to influence Jerusalem by their presence.

With increasing control in Palestine, the Zionist movement, now under the leadership of Chaim Weizmann (Herzl’s successor), sought international recognition as a state within the borders of Palestine. To accomplish this objective, Weizmann began negotiations with Sir Edward Grey, the British foreign secretary. In 1916, both Weizmann and Grey worked toward an official declaration making Palestine the Jewish state. Unbeknownst to Grey, the situation was complicated when the British government promoted the implementation of the Sykes-Picot agreement during the same month.

The Sykes-Picot deal promised independence to the Arab Federation and was to include an Arab settlement in the region of Palestine. Though the Arabs were to receive the land under the Sykes-Picot agreement, the Russians, French, and British felt this territory should be governed by an international administration. Even though the Arabs would not enjoy full dominion in Palestine it was nonetheless an attractive deal for the Arabs because it provided them territory in Palestine.

With the Sykes-Picot arrangement, the British were trying to divide the land between the Jews and Arabs, retain territorial control over Haifa (due to its strategic importance) and resolve the conflict with the French over leadership in the Near East. The most difficult question was how to divide Palestine in a manner which fulfilled the conditions set forth in the negotiations with the Jews and Arabs.

To appease the mounting influence of Jews, and to compel them to accept a portion of Palestine as their new home, the British drafted the Balfour Declaration. This document was intended to gain the support of the American and Russian Jews who would, in turn, pressure their governments to support the plan to divide Palestine.

Balfour Declaration

This official declaration, stating the British Empire’s support of the Zionist movement, came at a time when British forces were engaged with Turkish forces for control over Palestine. This document gave the Jews something England did not yet possess and which actually belonged to another nation. William Hull wrote that to the Jews, “The Balfour Declaration was the hand of God writing a warrant for His people. The same hand which wrote the Law of Sinai 3,400 years earlier now wrote the confirmation of the title deed for the land He had given to Abraham. On the secular plane, the Balfour Declaration was the Magna Carta of the Jewish people” (The Fall and Rise of Israel, p. 122).

But this declaration failed to gain the support necessary to really bring about change. Zionism was a movement supported by many, but scattered as they were, they lacked the unity needed to give the cause real efficacy.

After the first World War, the British worked to implement the conditions of Balfour. By 1920, the British were awarded the Palestine Mandate (rulership over the region of Palestine). This wasn’t initially satisfactory to the Jews because they were not permitted to govern themselves. But the Arab reaction was even more adverse. They felt betrayed by the British who had promised them independence in return for their cooperation to overthrow the Turks in this region just a few years prior. They were further enraged because the British had allotted territory to the Jews, and that even their land would be governed by the British. The Arabs responded to the Palestine Mandate with rioting and anti-Jewish demonstrations.

Over the next decade, as Jewish migration to Palestine increased, the proportion of Jews to Arabs tilted out of balance. The Arabs countered with a movement toward unity, led by Haz Amin el-Husseini, Muslim high priest of Jerusalem. Now the British and Jews had a formidable opponent, bringing the collective resistance of the Arabs to bear against non-Arab inhabitants.

Haz Amin el-Husseini began a terrorist campaign aimed at overthrowing both the Jews and British. Support for Arabic terrorism came from Syrian and Iraqi mercenaries as well as from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Though this terrorist campaign had many supporters, in 1937 it fell short of driving the Jews and British from Palestine. This defeat caused El-Husseini to lose his status as president of the Supreme Moslem council. Within weeks, he was forced to flee to Beirut and eventually to Egypt. Thus, the violent attempts of the Arabs to regain control of Palestine failed miserably.

Pressure Continues

In 1924, the United States, known for its unrestricted access to foreigners, introduced laws which drastically squeezed down the flow of immigration. This closed a door for Jewish immigration to the United States and brought the Jewish plight to the world’s attention once again. They needed a land for their people.

As the years passed, the British became increasingly aware that they would not be able to govern Palestine in a manner which satisfied both Arabs and Jews. Appeasing the Arabs was necessary to ensure unrestricted passage through the Suez Canal and harmony with the Arabs serving in the Empire’s military forces. They realized that if immigration remained steady, the Jews, with strong financial backing from the United States and European countries, would eventually become the majority population in Palestine.

The Arabs were also keenly aware of the increasing proportion of Jews in Palestine. They were concerned about growing Jewish influence, politically and financially. In another effort to alter the situation, more Arab rebellion against the British boiled to the surface. This new wave of violence resulted in the Palestine White Paper of May 1939.

The White Paper “fixed at 75,000 the number of Jewish immigrants who could enter [Palestine] in the next five years, meaning that all immigration would cease in 1944” (The Six Day War, p. 12). Hence, the British Mandated Power set themselves at odds with the Jewish Agency.

The situation was further complicated by Hitler and the Jews fleeing from the concentration camps. The Palestine White Paper prevented Jews from settling in Palestine because the quota had already been filled. Ironically, the British were later to become dependent on the Jews in Palestine for strategic military purposes.

“With the end of the war in 1945, the British attitude towards Palestine changed. The Egyptians demanded the evacuation of British forces, without conditions, from their country, and rejected an agreement made with Ernest Bevin [British Foreign Secretary] for a conditional withdrawal in 1949. Britain therefore turned to Palestine as a strategic substitute for Egypt and the Canal Zone. At the end of 1946 and in early 1947 the British began moving ‘square miles of war stores’ from Egypt to Palestine” (ibid.).

Prelude to War

Finally, after continued terror against the British, the Palestine issue was presented to the United Nations on February 25, 1947. A Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) was formed on May 15, 1947, which instantly recommended the termination of the British Mandate. They further proposed a division of Palestine into an Arab state and Jewish state, with an international regime over Jerusalem. In November of that same year, the UN approved the proposal.

The British agreed to the declaration and committed to a withdrawal by May 1948. The Jews immediately accepted the outline for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, but the Arabs protested violently to any notion of giving the Jews land.

Palestine was to go through the pains of transformation once again. Not since the early 20th century had this region been traumatized by changing administration. It was at that time that the British forces under the command of General Allenby gained Palestine through victorious campaigns against the Turks. The British were no longer to dictate policy for this war-torn region. Through their colonizing efforts, the British brought relative stability and development to this desert locale. Conquering the Turkish forces, and creating a home for the Arabs and Jews was accomplished in three decades. It was now time to pull out of the region, and turn over command to the Arabs and Jews in their newly-declared homeland.

Throughout the early months of 1948, tension and violence between Arabs and Jews escalated. As British forces withdrew from towns, the Jews and Arabs engaged in fighting to control the abandoned area. Palestinian Arabs received substantial support from the Syrians, Iraqis, and Egyptians. Their goal was to “push the Jews into the sea.” Yet the Jews gained the upper hand in April and May as they gained control over Tiberias, Haifa, Acre, Safed and Jaffa.

Loss of these towns infuriated the Arabs who then reverted to terrorism. After several bloody terrorist exchanges by both Arab and Jew, a massive Arab exodus was underway. Of the estimated 700,000 Arabs in Palestine at the time, approximately 530,000 fled the region.

Jewish War for Independence

May 14, 1948, Israel became the Jewish state. The Zionist movement relished their victory, but their celebration was cut short when Arab military forces from six nations invaded the very next day. Outnumbered, the Jews cautiously retreated as they tried to repulse the invasion. Ten days after their new state was invaded, the Jews launched a counterattack. Their tenacious fighting spirit led to miraculous victories. Shortly after the initial Arab invasion, the Israelis regained control of the road to Jerusalem, and conquered the Arab forces in the Coastal Plain, upper Galilee, and the Negev.

The war for independence exacted a heavy toll on this fledgling nation. With only 650,000 citizens in their nation, more than 4,000 soldiers and 2,000 citizens gave their lives in their struggle for Palestine. Yet their valiant effort led to a United Nations-brokered armistice resolution which officially ended the war on November 18, 1948. Once again, the ultimate result of the Arab’s attempt to remove the Jews from Palestine was a defeat at the hand of the Israelis.

The United States became the first nation to recognize Israel as a state, just one hour after its designation as such by the United Nations on May 14, 1948. Other nations soon recognized Israel, including Russia, South Africa, and Canada. Ten months after the United States recognized Israel, the British government also consented. Winston Churchill urged his government to bring about recognition earlier because he felt it was causing a rift between the United States and Britain. After Britain, other European nations and Latin America followed suit.

Historical Conclusions

With that historical background, let’s once again consider the claims by “new historians” that the Jewish nation was born in sin. Though our summary of Palestine’s history is brief, it cannot be denied that the Jews sought a recognized state through the appropriate peaceful, legal and accepted political channels. Statehood was granted to Israel by the United Nations in 1948. The Arabs refused to accept this international declaration and pursued a course of war and violence in an effort to remove the Jews from Palestine.

Through repeated failures, the Arabs surrendered more territory to the Jews than what was originally granted them by the United Nations. As in any war, to the victor go the spoils.

Many historians, especially the Jews, have written about the obvious intervention of God on behalf of Israel. The Bible is full of such examples. Many believe the stunning success of the Israeli army since its declaration as a state is proof that God has still been fighting their battles for them.

Today, Israel is torn between a conservative and liberal element. Both sides desire peace. But how to achieve lasting peace remains a hotly-debated topic. The “new historians” represent a new Israel—one that is seeking peace by rejecting history and its lessons. They don’t understand that it is thinking like theirs which will lead Israel into the very war and violence they despise and condemn.

Denying the lessons of history will only further plunge us into the abyss man is trying to escape. The tensions there today are insoluble by man’s efforts. Angry factions with weapons capable of inhuman destruction, plot daily to gain control over Jerusalem and the region of Palestine. Masked by political efforts, violent struggles for power will culminate in what the Bible calls the Great Tribulation. With Jerusalem as ground zero, this region will once again be engulfed in war and violence, the likes of which man has never seen (Matthew 24:21-22).

Land Not Theirs

For years now, the Trumpet has given perspective and understanding to the Middle East quandary.

Jesus Christ is returning to the earth to bring lasting peace. Using 6,000 years of human history and struggle as proof, He will make plain the undeniable fact that human nature (more appropriately labeled Satan’s nature) has brought this world to the brink of utter destruction.

Who holds the right to call Jerusalem—Palestine—home? Jesus Christ is coming back to return Jerusalem and the surrounding area to its rightful owner—God the Father.

The land called Israel today was given by God to the descendants of Abraham through Isaac. It belongs to God—and He is returning to finally bring Jerusalem, Palestine, and the remainder of the world everlasting peace!