Of course, the problem was there were very few Jews in Palestine when British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour signed the declaration on Nov. 2, 1917, and it was published a week later on Nov. 9.
The letter reflected the biases of the political establishment in England and the fundamental anti-Semitism of the West.
No one in the West liked the Jews. But the Arabs liked the Jews, and had given them favored treatment with Christians during Ottoman Muslim rule throughout the Middle East.
It was places such as England, France, Germany, Russia and even the United States where Jews were being persecuted and hated. Anti-Semitism arose not from hate in the Muslim world, but from a “hate grievance” among Christians who blamed Jews for the crucifixion of Christ.
In 1880, the Jewish population of Palestine included 35,000 Jews. A 1914 Ottoman census identified a total population of 689,275 people, with 94,000 Jews, or only 13.6 percent.
That near tripling of the Jewish population had occurred as a result of growing anti-Semitism in the West, with immigrants fleeing to Palestine from Europe.
The Arab world was tolerant and supportive of Jews until the Balfour Declaration pulled the veil off of the West’s true intent to convert Palestine from a Muslim-majority land abandoned by the Christian world into the base for a Jewish homeland.
What Arab activists failed to do, however, is look to the future. History is filled with factual inequities “favoring” racism and hate over justice. Palestine was always a Muslim-majority land and the Christian presence always rivaled the Jewish presence, but the policy of the British was to “favor” the Jews.
The Balfour Declaration is little more than a historical blur fueling a worthless debate over the past 100 years. Its irrelevance superseded Arab failure to protect non-Jewish rights.
The real question is, why did Christians allow this to happen? Was their hatred of Jews so great that they preferred to see them go somewhere else rather than live in their communities? Or is it that Christians really have no genuine interest in their heritage?
Ever since the Balfour Declaration, Christians worldwide have abandoned Christianity’s birthright in the Holy Land. Lured away by personal wealth, greed and good fortune, Western Christians have abandoned heritage sites such as Bethlehem and Nazareth, the origins of their faith.
The Balfour Declaration symbolizes the collapse of true Christianity, a religion gutted of substance. For many, Christianity is a faith wallowing in a faded history replaced by parables of selfishness, possessions and human comfort.
That’s one reason why Israel exists today. Anti-Semitism is driven not by Arabs or Muslims, but by Christians disconnected from the Bethlehem manger where Jesus was born. They no longer need the reality of Bethlehem, which today is under a brutal Israeli military occupation. They have objectified their faith in the “nativity scene,” a model or tableau representing Christ’s birth, displayed in homes and public places at Christmas.
Amid the buzz over the Balfour Declaration centenary, the significant message has been lost — Palestinians had no effective leaders then, and they have none now.
Muslims, too, have changed over the years. The resistance to Jewish terrorism in Palestine in the early 20th century was led, poorly and unsuccessfully, by the Muslim community. Powerful Muslims landowners and families controlled Palestine’s fate. And while we hold them in high historical esteem, the truth is they did a poor job of leading.
Those families are the Husseinis, the Nashashibis and the Khalidis. Many of their descendants survive today. But in the 1930s, when leadership counted, they were AWOL, except for Abdul Qadir Al-Husseini, who was killed in the battle of Al-Qastal in 1948. The British exiled other Palestinian leaders to strengthen Jewish control over Palestine. They even named a Jewish British High Commissioner to control Palestine. They never considered naming a Muslim High Commissioner, for obvious reasons.
The entire system was rigged against Palestine’s population to “favor” one people that the West wanted to see leave their countries, and the Arab leadership was ineffective then — and even more ineffective now — to do anything about it.
Abdul Qadir was the nephew of Amin Al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, whose hatred of Jews trumped his love for Palestine. A friend and supporter of the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, the mufti sought comfort among the only people who challenged the Jewish leadership. It was before anyone knew about the depravity of the Nazi scheme to eradicate Judaism in Europe and murder six million Jews.
You have to admire the resolve of the Jewish people who built a movement to commemorate the murdered six million. But the Nazis also murdered about 12 million non-Jews, mostly Christians, the handicapped, the mentally disabled, Russian prisoners and other non-Aryans. Christians have done nothing to memorialize those 12 million dead.
In truth, the Balfour Declaration is significant in only one respect, as a symbol of the “religious racism” that spawned Israel’s creation. The real significance is buried in the Balfour Declaration’s shadow, where Christians failed to stand up for their battered birthright, and where Palestinian activists, 100 years later, continue to fail in their own leadership.
Hate and anger are not a strategy to re-establish Palestinian rights. The fixation on the Balfour Declaration and other historical trivia suggests Palestinian activists have not moved beyond that anger.
• Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian American writer and author. Email: [email protected]