Thirty Years Since the Balfour Declaration
On Thursday, October 30, 1947, this article was published in the Israeli weekly children’s magazine Mishmar LeYeladim. The article discusses the historical significance of the Balfour Declaration in the context of the thirty years that had since passed. The writer tells of a dialogue conducted with a young child about the value and significance of the Balfour Declaration.
The child raises two important points regarding the importance of the Declaration: the first, that Britain never fulfilled its promise to help the Jews build their national home in Israel; and the second, that the vote to be held at the United Nations a month later on the establishment of a Jewish state in Israel was far more significant.
The writer agrees with the child that the British government did not fulfil its promise as stated in the Declaration but stresses that the Balfour Declaration was the first time that a world power “recognised the enduring connection between the fate of the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.” The writer uses a stronger and more assertive tone for his concluding message that the Jewish people must make the most of the renewed opportunity, that was initiated in the Balfour Declaration, to move en masse to Israel and establish a state. His statement that “we have all paid dearly for this mistake” is a clear reference to the Holocaust, which ended only two years previously.
This article demonstrates that the feelings of gratitude and appreciation of the British government, so manifest in the years immediately following the Balfour Declaration, had given way to disappointment and anger that Britain had not fulfilled its promise and was, in fact, obstructing the establishment of a Jewish national home. Also evident is the inner tension within the Zionist movement between the desire for broad international recognition and a deep sense that the fate of the nation was in the hands of the Yishuv alone.
Mishmar leYeladim was a children’s periodical that was founded in 1945 by the newspaper HaMishmar, whose readership was mainly members of the kibbutz movement. Mishmar leYeladim is evidence of the key role of the press in instilling Zionist values in the children of the Yishuv.
This article could be used in Jewish History lessons to teach about the connection between the Balfour Declaration in 1917 and the UN vote in 1947 and the tensions in Palestine as the British Mandate period drew to a close. It could also be used to discuss the development of the Zionist movement and the development of Hebrew culture in the 1930s and 1940s.
Jewish Studies teachers could discuss the famous maxim by Hillel quoted at the end of this article: “If I am not for myself, who am I, and if I am only for myself, what am I, and if not now, when?”
Media Studies teachers could show this article when discussing the concept of children’s newspapers and what purpose they served in the past and what purpose they serve today.
When was this article printed?
What event was being commemorated?
Where was the article printed?
What is the article about?
Who is having this conversation?
In the article, the child protests against the importance of the Balfour Declaration. What two points does he raise?
What is the writer’s response to the child?
What famous Talmudic saying is quoted in this article, and who wrote it?
Reading Between the Lines
Explain the writer’s response to the child. How does the writer feel about the Balfour Declaration?
Why does he write: “we have also done wrong”?
What does he believe the Jewish people should have done differently?
Why do you think he would write about this ambivalence in a publication for children?
What is the writer’s attitude towards Jews who have not moved to Israel?
What do you think about the different views presented by the writer and the child?
Who do you agree with more and why?
Do you think that the British government did indeed fail to keep its promise to the Jewish people?
Did the Balfour Declaration have the same significance in 1947 as in 1917? Explain your answer.
Did the Jewish people miss the opportunity to return to the Land of Israel at any other points in history?
Rewrite the discussion between the writer and the child in your own words.
Give a title to the conversation.
Organise a “live” debate in the classroom between the writer and the child.
Alternatively, create a comic strip representing the writer and the child’s different opinions of the Balfour Declaration?
Thirty Years Since the Balfour Declaration
One of my young friends saw me preparing to write an article about the 30th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. He thought for a second and then said:
“Don’t bother with all this!”
“Why not?” I asked him.
“First,” he replied, “Britain never fulfilled Lord Balfour’s promise to help us build our national home in the Land of Israel. If it weren’t for what we have done by ourselves, nothing would have been left from this Declaration except for a piece of paper.”
“ And second?”
“Second, the nations of the world are about to declare a Jewish state in the Land of Israel. This will be a far more important declaration than the Balfour Declaration.”
And my friend was right, but not in everything.
The settlement of the Land of Israel did indeed begin many years before the Balfour Declaration, but for the first time in the history of our people and the history of the world, a great power, followed by other nations, recognised the enduring connection between the fate of the Jewish People and the Land of Israel. It was a kind of IOU that remains valid even if the signatory, the British Government, did not honour its commitment. And now, thirty years later, the nations of the world have realised that it is time to pay off the debt.
But in this, my friend was correct: we achieved the real value of the Balfour Declaration through our own efforts, with our own hard work. And we should also remember the following: although the British sinned against us by not keeping their promise, we have also done wrong.
The Balfour Declaration was a tremendous opportunity, but we did not take full advantage of it. Many more Jews could have come [to Israel], and much more land could have been purchased. It would also have been easier then to gain the agreement of our Arab neighbours.
But then, the situation of our people was much better, and millions of our brethren did not realise that this was their opportunity. They remained safely in their lands, trusting in the generosity of their governments, and they did not heed the call of Zionism. We have all paid dearly for this mistake. And if, in the coming days, we are given another opportunity, we hope that everyone will understand the importance of the phrase:
“If I am not for myself, who am I, and if I am only for myself, what am I, and if not now, when?”