The Balfour Declaration: 100 years on


The centenary has been marked in very different ways around the world - with British graffiti artist Banksy creating a satirical installation in Bethlehem.

It has been 100 years since the Balfour Declaration, a 67-word statement that laid the foundations for the establishment of Israel.

Around the world, Israelis and Palestinians are marking the centenary of the widely-contested declaration in very different ways.

The Balfour Declaration, made public on November 2, 1917, is seen as the starting point of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Portrait of Arthur James Balfour.
Portrait of Arthur James Balfour.

The statement, written during World War One by the then British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, endorsed the establishment of a Jewish homeland in the Middle East.

SBS ARABIC24: Talkback - Balfour Declaration 100th anniversary

This week, Israelis and Palestinians are marking the centenary of the Declaration, which holds very different narratives in their respective histories.

Palestinians have long condemned the declaration, while Tom Segev, an Israeli historian said Israel "owes its existence to the Balfour declaration." 

"The Balfour declaration made it possible to lay the infrastructures which were needed for the establishment of Israel - the social, political, economic, military, cultural infrastructures," he told SBS News.

"So that you might say that as a result of the Balfour Declaration and the policy that followed the Balfour declaration, it was possible to establish the state of Israel." 

Balfour declaration: Protests held in Jordan
Balfour declaration: Protests held in Jordan

'A very important centenary'

British and Israeli leaders are marking the anniversary with a banquet at Lancaster House, in London. 

UK Prime Minister Theresa May will be joined by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"We're going to mark a very important centenary, 100 years for the declaration of the Balfour Declaration, which recognised the right of the Jewish people for their national home in this land," said Mr Netanyahu before he boarded a plane to London.

"I very much appreciate this gesture by the prime minister of Britain and the government of Great Britain."

Banksy weighs in

As the reception gets underway, protesters in London and the Palestinian territories are expected to gather to demand that Britain recognise their claim to statehood.

In the West Bank town of Bethlehem, British graffiti artist Banksy organised a mock street party to mark the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.

It was held next to the 'Walled Off Hotel', a Palestinian-run guest house that opened earlier this year which sarcastically regards itself as having the "worst view in the world".

A Palestinian looks at a scene depicting Arthur Balfour signing a declaration at street artist Banksy's Walled Off hotel.
A Palestinian looks at a scene depicting Arthur Balfour signing a declaration at street artist Banksy's Walled Off hotel.

The hotel's manager, Wissam Salsa'a said the event has a political purpose.

"The message is that the British government should apologise for the Palestinians instead of celebrating the Balfour declaration this year, for what this declaration caused, not only for the Palestinians but on all of the Middle East," he said. 

Earlier this year, Britain said there would be no apology for the Declaration while insisting it was continuing to work for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Australian communities mark the centenary

Israeli and Palestinian communities in Australia are also marking the centenary.

Nasser Mashni, Treasurer of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network said Palestinians see it as  "the death of a nationhood promised to us."

"It's one people, promising a land they don't own yet, haven't conquered yet, to a people that aren't there, without asking the people that are actually there."

While Dr Tzvi Fleischur, from the Australia Jewish Affairs Council said the Balfour declaration was "the point at which the international community recognised the Jewish right to self-determination." 

"It's a major watershed in the creation of Israel and the achievement of statehood for the Jewish people," he said.

-With Reuters

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