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Thursday, 1 November, 2001, 13:23 GMT
The Balfour Declaration
As Prime Minister Tony Blair meets the Palestinians and Israelis, some protesters have been highlighting the role Britain played in fashioning today's troubled Middle East.

Lord Balfour
born 1848, died 1932
Conservative PM, 1902-5
British foreign secretary during WWI

It was in 1917, 84 years ago on Friday, that a letter was sent by the then foreign secretary Lord Balfour, which recognised for the first time that the British government was sympathetic to a growing movement, Zionism, which was calling for a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Lloyd George, prime minister when the Balfour Declaration made
The letter said that His Majesty's Government viewed "with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people... it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine".

It became known as the Balfour Declaration and is seen as instrumental in helping establish the state of Israel 31 years later.

Two sides: Mr Blair visits Israeli PM Ariel Sharon...
The declaration did not please Arabs, but neither did it completely satisfy the Zionists, who wanted a much more robust statement. It did however provide a focus for European Jewish refugees between the wars to move to Palestine.

There are various theories as to why the British came to make the declaration. These range from there being a desire to get influential Jewish American backing for the WWI effort, to a belief in the Old Testament right of Israel to claim Palestine as its own.

...and is host to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
An Israeli revisionist historian, Tom Segev, says many of the British feared the Jews, believing they secretly ran the world. And not really knowing what to do with Palestine, the creation of a Jewish homeland was therefore convenient for the British. But, says Segev, it had the effect of setting Jew against Arab.

Whatever the truth, the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration is a traditional time for anti-British demonstrations by some Palestinians.

There has also been some speculation that when Osama Bin Laden said Islam had been "tasting this humiliation and contempt for more than 80 years," it was to the Balfour Declaration he was referring.

See also:

01 Nov 01 | Middle East
Blair enters Mid-East fray
01 Nov 01 | Middle East
Anti-British demo cancelled
01 Nov 01 | Middle East
Blair's Middle East challenge
31 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Arab world gives Blair tough message
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