On November 2, 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour sent a historic letter to a leading British Jewish citizen Lord Rothschild that publicized British support of a Jewish homeland. This was the first national recognition of the Jewish right to Israel since the destruction of Israel in 70 CE by the Romans. The letter was called “The Balfour Declaration.” It led the League of Nations to entrust the United Kingdom with “The Palestine Mandate” in 1922, and ultimately to the reestablishment of Israel in 1948.
Lord Leslie Turnberg, a member of England’s House of Lords, tells the history that preceded the Declaration in his “Beyond the Balfour Declaration,” what led up to it, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that followed the reestablishment of Israel, attempts to resolve disputes, reasons why the attempts failed, a history of missed opportunities to create peace, and suggestions regarding the future. The book is easy to read and very enlightening. It contains a Preface by the 5th Earl of Balfour who writes that the “humanitarian aspect of the Declaration [is what] our family are most proud.”
The story Turnberg tells is fascinating. He points out details such as that the Declaration “was never a legally binding document although its impact [as he shows] was far reaching.” The Declaration was imprecise: there is a striking problem in the Declaration in that it spoke of “a national home” for Jews rather than “the national home.” There were considerable problems about the assignment of future borders for Israel as well as the borders for several Arab countries. While perhaps having good intentions, those who designed the borders of all the nations in the area, created problems that still exist today because of their failure to consider ancient ethnic Arab antipathies.
The book contains a wealth of significant information. We read about the birth of Zionism, what prompted the birth, how it occurred, and who was involved. In 1880, Jews comprised most of the residents in Jerusalem, and remained as the majority ever since. Jews were led to believe that their land would include the whole area east and west of the Jordan River, including at least parts of what is now Jordan. Britain, involved in double dealing, made promises to the Arabs that conflicted with those made to the Jews. In 1938, when the plight of Jews in Germany had become dire, only one country was willing to accept Jewish refugees, not the US, but the Dominican Republic. In 1948, some 750,000 Jews were evicted from Arab countries around the Middle East. Arab leaders recommended at that time that Arab citizens in Israel pack up and leave until the war that the Arabs started was ended. And Israel learnt then and later that it cannot rely on others to come to its aid.
That Israel survived was due to a combination of factors that Lord Turnberg describes in thoughtful detail. He tells us about Theodore Herzl, Chaim Weizmann, David Ben Gurion, Menachem Begin, President Harry Truman, Yizhak Rabin, Moshe Dayan, Yigael Yadin, Yigal Alon, Levi Eshkol. Abba Eban, Shimon Peres, and many others who made significant contributions toward the reestablishment of Israel. We read also about the various wars Israel had to fight to survive, about the birth of the terror groups, Hezbollah, PLO, Hamas, and others.
After describing ideas on how to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Lord Turnberg ends his informative book by saying: “These are tantalizing glimpses of what the future could mean for Israelis and Palestinians. Will it take new leaders with fresh approaches? Probably. Will it take a long time? Certainly. Is the effort and heartache worthwhile? Absolutely.”