Blog by Shimon Samuels posted in The Times of Israel
3 November 2017
The concept of “nation” has no universal definition, but has been acknowledged as “a population which shares, inter alia: a common history, traditions, language, territory and, sometimes, faith.
The Italian, German and Polish nations existed virtually, while atomized in principalities or partitioned under foreign occupation.War has constantly shifted borders for the French and Russian nations. Britons existed centuries before the consolidation of a Great Britain. Each of these “nations” accrued power by occupying others with a policy of divide and rule.
Thus was born the 1917 Balfour Declaration — highly prized by the nascent Zionist Jewish national liberation movement — but a function of British colonial policy displayed by competing promises to every possible ally of the moment: Muslim and Hindu in the Indian Raj, “Palestinian Jews” and Arab leaders in Arabia.
In the midst of war against the Prussian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, France, Britain and little Belgium carved up Africa with lines drawn on maps cutting through tribal territories or “proto-nations”.
In the Middle East, under the cover of “Mandates”, France took Syria, cutting from it a Christian enclave around Mount Lebanon. Britain got Iraq and Palestine, with interests in the Gulf and Persia.
The Balfour Declaration was to be shelved when eastern Palestine – then Transjordan, now Jordan – was sliced off and, together with Iraq, given to the Arab Hashemite tribal leaders as compensation for granting the Arabian Peninsula to the Arab Saudi tribal chiefs.
In the post-World War Two Middle East “decolonization,” these Mandates and “Dominions” became “states.” Sovereignty was no longer a function of nationhood. This was repeated with the 1960’s decolonization process in Africa. The growing majority of members of the United Nations were to be dubbed “nation-states”, with a flimsy claim to nationhood. Indeed, they would have been denoted as “state-nations.”
Jewish nationhood, based on a common history, traditions, language and faith has existed for millennia, though its territory was subject to waves of foreign occupation and its people atomized in exiles from which a saving remnant would constantly return to the yearned for – though virtual – “Land of Israel”.
“Palestine”, the land of the Philistines, had been imposed by the Roman occupant to punish the Jewish revolt. Under Christianity, “Palestine” stuck but never as a “nation”. Under the British Mandate, the only “Palestinians” were Jews. Beyond the urban elite, the British administration viewed most Arabs in the Lawrence image as members of Bedouin tribes. The concept of an Arab “Palestinian” evolved as a reaction to the growing Jewish presence.
This image of an autochtonous Palestinian Arab identity seems a precursor to the current ID theft of Jewish and Christian heritage through UNESCO to validate a Palestinian narrative.
The 1947 United Nations “Palestine Partition” resolution, sliced once more at the land envisaged by the Balfour acknowledgement of the Jewish nation. Had the Arab leaders accepted that Resolution as did the Jewish Agency nascent government of Israel, two peoples would be celebrating next year their 70th Independence Day.
The Balfour Declaration is mentioned in Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence. Indeed, its principal reservation that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine…”, receives a response in the Independence Declaration : “We appeal… to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participation in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.”
The Balfour Declaration centenary is celebrated by the Jewish nation as a signpost to its return to sovereignty and geography. Just as Egypt, Greece and China – despite frequent foreign occupation — the Jewish nation never disappeared from history.
Balfour offered a “national home.” The nation thus returned home. Documents do not Create Nation-States… Nations Do!