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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Were there military motives behind the Balfour Declaration?

Filed under: Europe and Israel, International Law, Israel, Palestinians, The Middle East

The fighting in Europe and in the Middle East during the First World War was a major influence on the British government’s decision to make the Balfour Declaration. Because what they wanted to do was to try and ensure that the Jewish community in the United States, in Britain, in Russia and other countries remained on side and supported the British war effort.

The other thing we shouldn’t forget as well, is that Mr. Weizmann was extremely useful to Great Britain in the work he did on developing synthetic explosives, and that, I think, was significantly relevant to the decision to make the declaration.

But David Lloyd George, the British prime minister at the time, himself was very Zionist. He felt a lot of similarities between the Jews in Palestine and the Welsh in Wales, and not only from the sort of geographical perspective with both places about the same size, but also he was a deeply religious man who understood the Old Testament extremely well.

But also at the time, in Palestine, the Jews were being very, very helpful in the war effort and NILI for example, the intelligence organization based in Palestine, provided a huge amount of assistance to General Allenby’s forces. Without them, undoubtedly the campaign would have taken far more casualties than it did and potentially the battle in Gaza and other battles around Palestine at the time would not have gone ahead as effectively as they actually did.

So I think the contribution made by those Jews and others in Palestine was extremely significant, and that was acknowledged by the chief of British intelligence after the war.