2016 was a very significant year for the Jews of Sussex, as we celebrated the 250th anniversary of Brighton Jewry – and 2017 is set to be even more significant for Jews throughout the world, as we mark the 100th Anniversary of the Balfour Declaration (https://wwi.lib.byu.edu/index.php/The_Balfour_Declaration). On 2 November 2017, Lord Balfour wrote a letter to Lord Rothschild that has since become famous:
“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
So, twenty years after the First Zionist Congress gathered in Basle in Switzerland, the possibility of realising the Zionist dream – made all the more real by subsequent events: the end of the First World War a year later, swiftly followed by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the division of the region formerly ruled by the Turks between France and Britain and, in particular, the formation of the British Mandate in Palestine, which came into operation on 29 September 1923.
The British Mandate in Palestine was due to last 25 years. During that time, the rise of Nazism, and with the triumph of Hitler in the German elections of 1933, the enactment of his plan to isolate and demonise the Jewish people as a precursor to the murder of six million Jews and the destruction of tens of thousands of Jewish communities across Europe. It was in the aftermath of the Sho’ah that the United Nations voted on 29 November 1947 to partition the land on the eastern seaboard of the Mediterranean into two states: a Jewish state and an Arab state (See: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/partition_plan.html).
There is no need to rehearse everything that has transpired during the past 70 years. We know, 100 years on, that the work of realising the Balfour Declaration in full has yet to be completed. Another less well-known letter, written by Martin Buber to Mahatma Gandhi on 24 February 1939, says it all. Writing in response to Gandhi’s position that ‘Palestine belongs to the Arabs,’ Buber declared:
“…. two vital claims are opposed to each other, two claims of a different nature and a different origin which cannot objectively be pitted against one another and between which no objective decision can be made as to which is just, which unjust… We considered and still consider it our duty to understand and to honor the claim which is opposed to ours and to endeavor to reconcile both claims” (See Arthur Hertzberg, Ed., The Zionist Idea, Jewish Publication Society, 1997, pp. 463-464, for the full text of the letter).
The work remains of reconciling the ‘two vital claims’ to the land, loved equally by both Israelis and Palestinians. Let us hope and pray that during 2017 progress will be made towards an equitable solution to the conflict that ensures sovereignty and security, justice and peace for both peoples.