Israel / Occupied Palestine: Next Year will mark 100 years to the Balfour Declaration

By Yossi Schwartz (member of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency – RCIT and Central-Israel Branch of Balad), 8 August 2016,

The Palestinian Authority is preparing a lawsuit against the British government over the issuing of the 1917 Balfour Declaration that paved the way for the creation of the State of Israel. The PA’s Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told Arab League leaders gathered in Mauritania, Monday, that London is responsible for all “Israeli crimes” committed since the end of the British mandate in 1948. (1)

While it is true that the British policy helped the Zionists colonialist settlers, blaming only British imperialism is nonsensical. First of all, the Zionists themselves are to be blamed for their crimes and secondly, without the massive support from France, Germany and the US, the Zionists could not have committed most of their crimes. Additionally, the Stalinists counter-revolutionaries’ support for the creation of Israel and their arming of the actual perpetrators of the Nakba should not be forgotten.

Herzl felt that the Jews were in danger as anti-Semitism was on the rise. However, he was not able to analyze the reasons for the rise of anti-Semitism – the main one being Jews losing their economic historical role. He was able to understand that Dryfoos’ trial was but a symptom of a deeper problem.

The Jews and their own National Territory

The idea that Jews should have their own national territory was not wrong in and of itself. What was wrong was the Zionist project attaching itself to the imperialist colonialist conquest of colonies, namely as part of the “Scramble for Africa.” The idea of creating a Jewish national territory within the Soviet Union was raised already in the 1920’s by Lenin. Russian Jews were to be given land that would have allowed them to achieve nationhood, with their own language and own institutions, similar to the other Soviet Republics.

At first, Bolsheviks thought about settling 3 million Soviet Jews in the Ukraine or in the Crimean Peninsula. This plan failed because the native population opposed this. In 1928 Birobidzhan was chosen, but the Zionists opposed it as they preferred Palestine. Until 1936, the region was a center of Yiddish culture. Yiddish and Russian were the official languages in that territory. However, the whole idea was terminated with the purges that began in 1936. The liquidation of the Soviet Jewish national autonomy assisted the Zionists already 12 years before Stalinist Russia would help to create the State of Israel on Palestinians land.

Zionist Settlement Alternatives to Palestine

The Zionists and the Palestinians consider the Balfour Declaration as the unofficial beginning of the State of Israel—if not its birthday, then its date of conception. The Zionist movement, already during Herzl’s time, tried to convince the British government that Zionist settlement in Palestine would advance British interests in the Middle East. For Herzl, however, setting up a colony in the service of British imperialism, was not to take place necessarily in Palestine.

On August 26, 1903, Herzl, proposed British East Africa as Zionist colony. It was named “The Uganda scheme.” Actually, the proposal was to set a colony in what is known today as Kenya (namely the Mau Plateau). For the record, it was the idea of the British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain who suggested it in a meeting in 1902. At that meeting, Herzl tried to convince Chamberlain to allow the Zionists to settle in Cyprus or Sinai as a temporary solution, but accepted Chamberlain’s plan.

British imperialism supported the scheme to settle Zionist colonialists in East Africa in order to increase the white population that removed blacks from their lands and at the same time the British ruling class wanted to divert the Jews, escaping the pogroms in Russia, from settling in Britain itself.

“Earlier that same year, Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain had suggested to Zionist leader Theodor Herzl that this roughly 16,300-square-km portion of the British East Africa Protectorate could be designated for Jewish settlement. Chamberlain, who had recently visited the area, said the plateau had “an excellent climate suitable for white people.” (2)

“The British clarified their intentions regarding Uganda in a letter written in August, 1903. Sir Clement Hill, Superintendent of African Protectorates, wrote that Chamberlain “will be prepared to entertain favourably proposals for the establishment of a Jewish colony or settlement” in East Africa. Such a Jewish colony, the letter stated, would have local autonomy, with a “Jewish Official as chief of the local administration,” and a “free hand” when it came to religious and domestic matters. This autonomy would be conditional on the British government “exercising general control.” (3)

“The first European settlers arrived in Kenya following the completion of the Kenya— Uganda Railway. To build this railway the British government seized private land. The British Commissioner invoked the Land Acquisition Act of India (1894), which allowed the appropriation of a mile on either side of the railway for the European settlers to farm the “idle” land to repay the investment.

“This was followed by a series of laws enacted to expropriate land and encourage colonial settlements. The first was the 1902 Crown Lands Ordinance, which gave the Crown the right over any undeveloped land and powers to sell or rent any land vacated by “natives” to Europeans. Another law, the Land Titles Ordinance, was passed in 1908 to cover the land formerly under the Sultan at the Coast.” (4)

“Herzl supported this plan and the Sixth Zionist Congress voted 295-178 on August 26, 1903, to send an “investigatory commission” to an area bounded by Lake Nakuru, Kisumu, Mount Elgon and the equator.

“The colony was to be called ‘New Palestine’, Israel Zangwill, a devoted supporter of the plan, came up with some other names like ‘New Sinai’, ‘British Judea’, ‘British Palestine’, or ‘New Judea’.

“Two of the three members of the expedition came with a negative report. Wilbusch’s report was that the land is dry and Gibbons’ report spoke about the hardships allegedly experienced by the Zionist expedition. According to Elspeth Huxley, based on settlers’ testimonies, the three commissioners were escorted to the Uasin Gishu by an officer sent out by the Foreign Office and a group of settlers. Since they were not used to walking, they soon ‘learnt that blisters could be a painful affliction’. At night a huge herd of noisy elephants passed very close to their tents. The following day they supposedly encountered a column of Masai, dressed in full war kit. The painted warriors surrounded them, brandishing their spears and ‘shouting hideous war-cries’. Following the settlers’ intervention, the Masai eventually retreated, but not before they performed a terrible war-dance, with the commissioners gazing with distaste and disgust.” (5)

Based on this report this idea was voted down in the Zionist seventh Congress of 1905, one year after Herzl’s death. Otherwise, the Zionists would have created an apartheid state in Kenya as the allegedly promised land and Zionist archeologists would discover the forgotten history of the Jewish people in “new Jerusalem”.

British Imperialism and Zionism

Thus, Palestine was chosen by the Zionists because they considered Palestine an easier place to conquer. The Zionists still claim that Balfour declaration is a binding document. However, most Israelis rely on the Messianic religious belief that all of Palestine was promised to them by God.

Those “left Zionists” who support solving the conflict through the allocation of a mini Palestinian state (in less than 22% of British mandate of Palestine) still argue that Balfour Declaration legitimized Israel. However, they have a problem with this document. If this document is binding so was the “white paper” of 1938, known also as the “MacDonald White Paper” after Malcolm MacDonald, the British Colonial Secretary. This paper stated that creating a Jewish state was no longer a British policy and was to be abandoned in favor of an independent Palestine governed jointly by the Arabs and the Jews. Furthermore, the British promised in 1917 a “national home” not a Zionist state. A Jewish homeland is a form of an autonomy not an independent state.

This we can learn from the homeland the British offered in Kenya. In 1917, The British goal was to use Zionism as a means of spreading pro-war propaganda against Soviet Russia. British capitalist politicians were desperate to combat the advance of revolutionary socialism, and to move the U.S. to enter the war. Those politicians believed the myth that the Jews are very influential. They established – in December 1917 – a Jewish propaganda bureau, the ‘Jewish Section’ of the Foreign Office’s Department of Information led by the British Zionist Albert Hyamson, ‘to mobilize the Jews against the socialist revolution and war against Germany with the argument that Britain support for Zionist goal.’

Balfour and Prime Minister Lloyd George believed in the “Protocols of Elders of Zion” and that Jews possessed great power, especially in the US and this is the real background for the Balfour Declaration. Lloyd George also believed that the Zionists will help the Empire to control Palestine and guard the Suez Canal and thus the sea rout to India, the Crown Jewel.

The British did not consider the option of a Zionist state until 1937 when they came with the idea of the partition of Palestine which would have entailed ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians from the Zionist state. A year later they revoked the Balfour declaration.

Furthermore anyone who reads the declaration can see that it promised a Jewish home conditioned on not hurting the religious and civil rights of the Arabs and a creation of Zionist state could not be achieved without the massive ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

Zionism and World War II

WWII was an imperialist war between two imperialist camps (Stalinist Russia was the only power that was not an imperialist). The interest of the international working class was for the revolutionary defeat of both imperialist camps and the revolutionary defense of the USSR. The Zionists like to accuse the Mufti of Jerusalem for supporting Nazi Germany. However, the Zionists supported British imperialism in the war joining the lie that it was a war of democracy against fascism, while both camps fought for the domination of the world’s economy including the super exploitation and the political oppression of the colonies.

The Nazis used the Zionist support for Britain to accuse the Jews of supporting Britain against Nazi Germany. In 1939 at the outbreak of war, Chaim Weizmann – the president of the Zionist World Zionist Organization – was appointed as an Honorary advisor to the British Ministry of Supply. No doubt the support of the Zionists of British imperialism was based on common interest of the settler colonialists and the British Empire. The settler colonialists could not settle in Palestine without the bayonets of the British army.

The Palestinian Authority decision to bring a lawsuit against the British government is relying on the case of Kenya. In October 2012 the British High Court ruled that three Kenyans could bring a case against the British Government for abuses suffered during the Mau Mau rebellion against British rule. It could open the door to other cases from British colonial history.

The decision of the PA to sue Britain is important not because it will lead to a judgment against the Balfour declaration but because it may reflect the feelings of the Palestinian masses that the Oslo agreement does not lead to a mini Palestinian state and that the goal must be a single Palestinian state that will include the Israeli Jews.

However, the PA is not the leadership that will lead to one democratic state as it fears the Palestinian masses. Such a state can be created only via a revolution led by the Palestinians workers supported by the Fellaheen and the Jews who will break with the Zionist ideology in all of its forms. It will be a democracy of the workers, poor peasants, women and youth as well as parts of the lower middle class.

Furthermore, the declared purpose of the mandate system was to support the development of the native people to achieve independence not to settle new colonialist settlers.  Article 22(1) of the Covenant of the League of 1920 provided:

“To those colonies and territories which as a consequence of the late war have  ceased to be under the sovereignty of the States which formerly governed them and which are inhabited by peoples not yet able to stand by themselves under the strenuous conditions of the modern world, there should be applied the principle that the well-being and development of such peoples form a sacred trust of civilization and that securities for the performance of this trust should be embodied in this Covenant.” (6)

The former colonies of the Turkish Empire, designated as “‘A’ Mandates”, were described in Article 22(4) of the Covenant as having “reached a stage of development where their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognized subject to the rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a Mandatory until such time as they are able to stand alone.”

When British imperialism established the Mandate in Palestine the majority of the people living in Palestine were the Arabs and thus the Mandate was supposed to help their development towards independence. The promise to respect the Balfour declaration could not mean a Zionist state but a national home (sort of an autonomy) of Jewish citizens of a democratic Palestine.

On 26 June 1945 the Charter of the United Nations was signed. The status of the Mandates after the demise of the League of Nations was considered in the case of South West Africa. In 1950 the International Court of Justice gave an advisory opinion on the Status of South West Africa which is applicable to Palestine.

The Court declared that “two principles are essentials: the principle of non-annexation and the principle that the well-being and development of such peoples form ‘a sacred trust of civilization’”. According to the court the Mandates were created “in the interest of the inhabitants of the territory, and of humanity in general, as an international institution with an international object – a sacred trust of civilization.”

Regardless of the racist language of this opinion, it is clear that the declared duty of the mandate was to ensure the self determination of the people living under the Mandate – colonial rule.

In 1946 Britain asked to place Palestine under trusteeship for five years, and explained: “throughout the period of the Mandatory rule in Palestine it has been the object of His Majesty’s government to lay the foundations for an independent Palestinian state in which Arabs and Jews would enjoy equal rights.”

However, instead of an independent democratic state with a majority of Palestinians the UN came with a partition plan that gave more than half of Palestine to the Zionist settler colonialists who comprised 33 per cent of the population of Palestine – a decision that proves that bourgeois international law is an instrument of the imperialists. Oppressed nations cannot be free by relying on imperialists and the International Court but only on the struggle of the oppressed nations for freedom led by the working class and its revolutionary leadership.

Imperialism can not bring Justice!

The Zionists’ propaganda has been for years that Israel accepted the UN resolution no. 181(II) of the partition, while the Palestinians and the Arab states rejected it and thus Israel had to defend itself and in the process was forced to occupy more lands in 1948 and in 1967. The essential truth is that it was impossible to create a state with Jewish majority without the mass expulsion of the Palestinians and Israel occupied the rest of Palestine in order to expand its territory.

The majority of Zionists do not accept a Palestinian state even in the lands occupied in 1967 (22% of British Mandate of Palestine). The Zionist left who are willing to allow the Palestinians a Bantustan on parts of the lands occupied in 1967 are unable come to power and to force their solution on Israel and thus the idea of “two states for two people” is no more than a pie in the sky.


(1) The Times of Israel, July 25, 2016,

(2) Kevin J. Kelley Kenya: Before Israel, Jews Considered Settling in Western Kenya,

(3) Alona Ferber: This Day in Jewish History 1903: Herzl Proposes Kenya (Not Uganda) as a Safe Haven for the Jews, Haaretz Aug 26, 2015,

(4) White Men in Kenya (The White Settlers),

(5) Eitan Bar-Yosef: Spying Out the Land: The Zionist Expedition to East Africa, 1905., p 191


We refer readers to the RCIT’s fundamental documents on the history and the current perspectives of the Palestinian liberation struggle:

Yossi Schwartz: Israel’s War of 1948 and the Degeneration of the Fourth International, in: Revolutionary Communism, Special Issue on Palestine, No. 10, June 2013,

Yossi Schwartz: Israel’s Six-Day War of 1967. On the Character of the War, the Marxist Analysis and the Position of the Israeli Left, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 12, July/August 2013,

Summary of the Program of the Internationalist Socialist League, February 2014,

Michael Pröbsting: On some Questions of the Zionist Oppression and the Permanent Revolution in Palestine, in: Revolutionary Communism, Special Issue on Palestine, No. 10, June 2013,

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top