JERUSALEM–November 2 marks the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, of what is arguably the most important moment in the reestablishment of the Jewish state in the land of Palestine. This was the instance in which British Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur Balfour issued a statement of intent whereby the British Empire viewed “with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object.”
Though the Jews would have to mobilize and fight themselves for eventual statehood in 1948, without the backing of the British Empire in 1917, Jewish statehood would have never been given a chance.
But when we look at the circumstances surrounding the Balfour Declaration, we see that it was more than purely a human endeavor.
Against All Odds
While Zionists had petitioned the British government to support a Jewish homeland in Palestine, there was little chance of that happening until British forces, in the midst of World War i, made a change in strategy. This was in part due to the unexpected drowning of Lord Kitchener en route to Russia in 1916. Kitchener wasn’t interested in a campaign in the Holy Land. He went as far as to say, “Palestine would be of no value to us.”
After his drowning and the transfer of his office to Lloyd George, British forces began moving resources to the eastern Mediterranean, making the capture of Palestine even plausible.
In January of 1917, British troops began the conquest of Palestine, coming up against the forces of the Turks, who had ruled over the area for half a millennium.
For most of that year, they were stuck fighting the Turkish position at Gaza, losing men and gaining no territory. As a last-ditch effort, the British forces, made up heavily of Australians and New Zealanders, decided to wage a surprise attack on Beersheba, which was further inland. If they could take Beersheba, British forces could largely outflank the Turkish defensive line and make their way along the ridge up to Jerusalem.
Beersheba was heavily fortified with artillery and lines of trenches to push back any normal military assault–and it had done so through most of the day portion of October 13. The British 20 Corps couldn’t break the Turkish line by traditional means. So the decision was made an hour or so before sunset to charge the Turkish line using 800 Australian Light Horse soldiers. The brazen attack meant that the horseman would be under constant fire for two kilometers in an open field as they galloped toward Beersheba at top speed. Nevertheless, the troops charged forward directly into artillery and machine gunfire, approached the Turkish line, dismounted and used their bayonets as swords to take on the entrenched Turkish soldiers.
Stunningly, it took less than an hour for the Australian and New Zealand (anzac) troops to take Beersheba. Even more astounding was that only 30 horsemen were killed and another 36 wounded. The Turks didn’t fare so well, losing more than 500 men, with another 1,500 surrendering.
The event would go down in history as the last successful cavalry charge in warfare.
And simply looking at the ratio of deaths, this could be classified as a modern-day miracle.
The fact that the Turks and Germans didn’t destroy all the wells in time as the town was being taken is another miracle. As is the fact that most of the Turkish marksmen in the trenches forgot to lower their sights as the anzac horseman approached. God’s hand in that battle was evident.
British Empire: Unlikely Backer of Jewish Statehood
The miraculous victory at Beersheba was just the first of a contagion that saw Jerusalem conquered a little over a month later and the complete push of Turkish troops out of Palestine. War historians consider it the turning point of the whole campaign.
Given that Britain commanded the fighting force, it meant that Britain would largely dictate the postwar settlement and control of Palestine.
Astoundingly, Britain didn’t wait until after the war to decide its policy on who would settle Palestine.
In fact, on October 31, the very day that the Light Horse took Beersheba, a proposal successfully passed through the war cabinet back in London: the Balfour Declaration. While the official letter from Balfour wasn’t sent until two days later, the British government had already made its decision that the greatest empire the Earth had ever seen favored the establishment in Palestine of “a national home for the Jewish people.”
What is often overlooked is that the declaration itself was an anomaly in British history and just as much as a miracle as the battle of Beersheba. In the years before the agreement, and definitely the years following, the majority of Britain’s leadership had done anything but wholeheartedly support the establishment of a Jewish state.
And yet, for about five years, from 1917 to 1922, pro-Zionist Britons occupied the most important offices in the land, which was the reason the Balfour agreement passed through the cabinet.
First, there was Prime Minister David Lloyd George, a longtime Christian Zionist who was known for his regular Bible reading. Secondly, Winston Churchill occupied the office of munitions, then occupied a position in the war cabinet and, crucially, secretary of state for the colonies. As secretary of state for the colonies, one of his primary responsibilities was laying the foundation for a future Jewish state, a task that was often met with stiff opposition from members of Parliament.
Then there was Arthur Balfour himself, a Zionist who, 15 years previously, offered parts of Uganda and Kenya as a future homeland of the Jewish people, although it was rejected by the Jews. In June 1917, just six months after he became foreign secretary, he asked his friend and influential Zionist Chaim Weizmann, as well as Lord Walter Rothschild, to draft a declaration that would propose the creation of a Jewish state. That effort culminated in the November 2 declaration.
These leaders, among others, came to the very front of British politics and basically dictated a pro-Zionist policy–the likes of which would never be replicated by British leaders. In fact, Israeli columnist Caroline Glick spent the bulk of last week’s piece documenting just how anti-Zionist Britain was in the immediate aftermath of the declaration. She wrote:
In fact it is richly ironic that the Palestinians and their supporters blame the British for the establishment of Israel. Shortly after the Balfour Declaration was issued, British authorities, particularly on the ground in the Middle East, did everything they possibly could to cancel it.
In 1920, British military officers asked the local Arab strongman Haj Amin al-Husseini to incite a pogrom in Jerusalem over Passover. Husseini’s thugs murdered four Jews and wounded many more. The purpose of the pogrom was to convince the British Parliament to cancel the Balfour Declaration.
The plan didn’t work. Lloyd George and Balfour and their colleagues weren’t interested in abandoning their three-year-old declaration.
Two years later the League of Nations established the British Mandate for Palestine on the basis of the Balfour Declaration. But the seeds of doubt were duly sown. …
The Mandate required Britain to fulfill the promise of the Balfour Declaration, by among other things facilitating mass Jewish immigration to the land of Israel. Yet with each successive wave of Arab terrorism against the Jews, the British issued restrictions on Jewish immigration and limitations on the right of Jews to purchase land that grew harsher with each iteration. These actions paved the way for the 1939 white paper which abrogated the Balfour Declaration in all but name. It renounced Zionism and effectively ruled out any possibility of a viable Jewish state being established by blocking Jewish immigration and land purchase.
Furthermore, Anshel Pfeffer drew attention to this fact in her Haaretz piece earlier this week, stating that “an ambassador to Israel once acknowledged to me, ‘Of all the great powers, we were probably most hostile and did our utmost over a considerable period of time to prevent the emergence of the State of Israel.”
And yet for that half decade from 1917 onward, there was a pro-Zionist element inside the government of the British Empire. It simply could not have happened under any other administration both before it or after it.
This fact of British support and the coalescing of world events in order to create the Balfour agreement is best summed up by historian Paul Johnson in his book History of the Jews. He writes (emphasis added):
The Balfour Declaration was the key piece in the jigsaw, for without it, the Jewish state could never have come into existence. Thanks to Herzl and Weizmann, the Jews got in just in time. All over the world, nationalism and irredentism were winning the day. The allies were besieged by subject peoples demanding that the coming victory and peace should guarantee them territorial rights on the basis of strict numerical head-counting, whether ethnic, linguistic or racial. The Jews had a romantic and historical claim to Palestine, but it was a very old one, and by the criteria applied at the Versailles settlement they had virtually none at all. At the time the Declaration was published, there were between 85,000 and 100,000 Jews living in Palestine, out of a total population of 600,000. Almost all the rest were Arabs. If the Arabs as a whole had been properly organized diplomatically during the war–if the Palestine Arabs had been organized at all–there is not the slightest doubt that the Declaration would never have been issued. Even 12 months later it would have been impossible. As it was, Weizmann pulled the Zionists through a brief window of time, fated never to open again. … He received perhaps the last Ex Gratia gift of a great power, which went clean against the arithmetical spirit of the age.
On paper, the Balfour agreement didn’t make sense. In terms of the historic British position on the Jews, it didn’t make sense. Furthermore, even the military victories that gave Britain the power to even implement such a policy didn’t make sense.
Numerous end-time prophecies indicate that the Jewish state needed to exist in order for God to fulfill His purpose. The amazing victories that the Jewish people have attained since that fateful day on Oct. 31, 1917, continue to indicate God’s hand in the Jewish state’s preservation.
But for what purpose? To answer that question and for more information on why those miraculous victories have ceased, please request and read Mr. Flurry’s booklet Jerusalem in Prophecy.