Last Update 22:38
Monday, 30 March 2020

TIMELINE: 100 years of Balfour

Al-Ahram Weekly chronicles events leading to the Balfour declaration in 1917 and its catastrophic consequences for Palestinians and the region

Amira Howeidy, Friday 3 Nov 2017
Views: 6382
Views: 6382

The Balfour declaration


The Ottomans seize Palestine from the Mamelukes and incorporate it within the Empire


The Ottomans begin compiling detailed taxation records and conduct a census in Palestine. The latter reveals a Muslim majority, a Christian minority and a tiny Jewish minority.


The Palestine Exploration Fund, a British society based in London which undertakes topographical and ethnographic surveys of Ottoman Palestine, begins producing detailed documentation of Palestine’s Arab, mainly Muslim population, and its majority Arab villages.


Russia issues laws prohibiting Jews from living or owning property outside specific areas. In response Lovers of Zion organisations are formed to organise emigration to Palestine.


Austro-Hungarian writer Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, publishes Der Judenstaat (The State of the Jews), in which he argues that Jews who want to leave Europe should head either to Argentina or, preferably, Palestine. Jews already had a nationality, he wrote, but they needed a homeland. Only the latter, he argued, would allow them to escape anti-Semitism and practice their faith freely.


At Herzl’s initiative the World Zionist Organisation is founded in Basle Switzerland. Its mandate, to establish a legal home for Jews in Palestine, sets the stage for the occupation of Palestine and the ensuing conflict.


The Jewish National Fund is founded. Focused on buying Palestinian land on which to build Jewish colonies, it becomes one of the principal conduits of colonization.


The Zionist movement begins approaching European governments asking them to allocate territory for a Jewish state. Herzl asks King Victor Emmanuel of Italy about territory in North Africa (present-day Libya), an approach the king flatly rejects.

The British government offers the World Zionist Organisationland from itscolonies in east Africa to establish a homeland for Jews. The offer is rejected by a group led by Russian-British chemist Chaim Weizmann who insists on Palestine.


Ottoman Turkey enters World War I, siding with Germany, Austro-Hungary and Bulgariaagainst the Allies,  Britain, France, Russia, Italy and the United States.

The Jewish population in Palestine is 38,754 (5 per cent of the total) of which 12,332 are Ottoman subjects and the remainder new immigrants from Europe.

The Ottoman Empire formally enters WWI, 1914



Henry McMahon, Britain’s High Commissioner in Egypt, begins exchanging letters with Emir Hussein bin Ali,the Sharif of Mecca, encouraging him to revolt against Ottoman Turkey. McMahon promises Hussein London will recognise an independent Arab state which includes the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, El-Sham (Syria, Lebanon and Palestine) if the Arabs help the Allies in the war against Turkey.

Home Secretary Herbert Samuel, the first British government figure to espouse Zionism, puts forward a proposal for a British protectorate over Palestine to facilitate the establishment of a Jewish state there.


19 May: Mark Sykes and Francois Georges Picot, representing the British and French foreign ministries, secretly reach an agreement dividing Arab lands under Ottoman rule into French and British spheres of influence.

They decide Iraq will go to Britain and France will take Syria and Lebanon. It is decided that Palestine will be placed under international administration since other Christian powers, most notably Russia, maintain an interest in the area.

10 June: Sharif Hussein officially proclaims his revolt against the Ottomans with the help of his two sons Ali and Faisal. By October they have Hijaz under their control, with eventual help from British forced who are keen to keep 12,000 Ottoman troops tied down in Medina ahead of the British invasion of Palestine.

Sharif Hussein of Mecca


2 November:The British government issues the Balfour Declaration announcing: “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.”

The document neglects to mention Palestine’s indigenous Arab inhabitants by name. It refers to them instead as “non-Jewish communities”.

The declaration is addressed to Lord Walter Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community,for transmission to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland. The text of the declaration is published in the press on 9 November 1917.

23 November: Revolution erupts in Russia and the Bolsheviks take power. They discover the Sykes-Picot agreement and make it public by publishing it in the press 556 days after it was signed.

9 December: Jerusalem falls to British troops under general Edmund Allenby’s command who proclaims: “the wars of the crusades are now complete"

Allenby enters Jerusalem after it fell to British troops, 1917 proclaiming "“the wars of the crusades are now complete."


Balfour and other British officials give Sharif Hassan vague replies when he expresses concernover the Balfour declaration. They claim the Sykes-Picot has not been signed and reassure Sharif of their previous promisesto recognise an independent Arab state.

September:  Britain occupies east Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.It persuades France to abandon the idea of internationalising Palestine as stipulated in Sykes-Picot. France agrees in exchangefor Britain ending its support for the Arab government established in Damascus under the leadership of El-Sharif Hussein’s son, Emir Faisal,thus enabling France to occupy Syria.

October: Exhausted Ottoman Turkey agrees to an armistice.


After WW1 ends with the Allies victory the Paris Peace Conference is held to set peace terms. The French and Americans come out in support of the Balfour declaration.

US President Woodrow Wilson appoints the King-Crane commission to report on the situation in former Ottoman territory. The commission submits its findings in August. It concludes that the region, while not ready for independence, opposes the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine because it conflicts with the Balfour Declaration’spromises to respect of the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities in Palestine.

The commission reports that "Zionists looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine, by various forms of purchase”. Nearly 90 per cent of the Palestinian population is“emphatically against the entire Zionist program”.

The argumentmade by Zionist representatives that they have a "right" to Palestine based on an occupation of 2,000 years ago “can hardly be seriously considered” says the report.

The report is not made public until 1922.

The King-Crane commission 1919


The Allies meet in San Remo and decide that Iraq and Palestine will be placed under British mandate, Syria and Lebanon under French.


The terrorist militia Haganah is formed to defend Zionist settlement in Palestine.


After WWI, Jews make upjust three per cent of the population of Palestine.

The Jewish Agency is founded in Jerusalem and encouraged by the British mandate authorities to seize Palestinian land, take part in administering Palestine, build settlements and smuggle Jewish immigrants who beginmilitary training.


The British mandate over Palestine is recognised by the League of Nations.


March 5: Sharif Hussein of Mecca declares himself King of the Hijaz and the Arab lands, which is rejected by the powerful rival Arab clan of Saud who oust him from power in October.


The Jewish Agency is officially founded. Its mission is to "inspire Jews throughout the world to connect with their people, heritage, and land, and empower them to build a thriving Jewish future and a strong Israel”.

Palestinians begin resisting Zionist efforts to grab Islamic sites in Jerusalem. The Al-Buraq Revolution is triggered after Zionist gangs raise flags on the Al-Buraq Wall - the southern section of the western wall of Al-Haram Al-Sharif mosque in the old city of Jerusalem- declaring it theirs. 

Palestinians across the country rise up against the British occupation and plans to colonise Palestine as a Jewish state. The British round up hundreds of Palestinians and sentence 29 to death. This is later reduced. Three are executed, the remainder are sentenced to life in prison.

The Buraq revolution, 1929

Fouad Hijazi, Atta El-Zeer, Mohamed Jamjoum executed by British occupation for their role in the 1929 Buraq revolution


Jewish immigration to Palestine jumps from 4,075 to 61,854.

The more radical elements in the Haganah split from the militia and form Irgun.


The Nazi party led by Adolf Hitler seizes power in Germany and begins persecuting Jews, leading to a surge in Jewish immigration to Palestine.

The World Zionist Conference


The Arab Revolt: Palestinians rise against British colonial rule and mass Jewish immigration. They demand the nullification of the Balfour declaration and autonomy. The revolt lasts for three years before it is crushed by British forces and Zionist militias.

Abd Al-Qadir Al-Husseiyni
Abd Al-Qadir Al-Husseiyni, one of the Palestinian leaders of the 1936 Arab Revolt

The Arab Revolt 1936


The British government issues white papers restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine and vowing to end its mandate in 10 years. Zionist settlers declare war on Britain.

The United States allies with the World Zionist Organisation.


The Jewish National Fund begins to compile a registry of Arab villages in Palestine. Known as the village files, the registry of 1,200 population centres becomes useful a few years later when Zionist militias begin their ethnic cleansing, occupyingvillages and expelling their inhabitants on the eve of the creation of Israel in 1948.


Yitzak Shamir centre, a leader in the terrorist Zionist Stern Gang is wanted for his role in assassinating Lord Moyne the British Secretary of State for the Colonies 1944. Shamir would later become Israel’s prime minister.

9 November: The terrorist Zionist group, Stern Gang, assassinates Lord Moyne British Secretary of State for the Colonies near his home in Cairo.


The Zionist group Stern Gang assassinates the British Minister of State in the Middle East, Lord Moyne, and tries on several occasions to assassinate the British High Commissioner for Palestine, Sir Harold MacMichael.

Jewish terrorist militiasHaganah, Palmach, Irgun and Lehi,growing since 1945 in Palestine,are directed by the Jewish Agency to weaken or destroy the British mandate.

The 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel by Zionist terrorist groups


Zionist terrorist groups Stern Gang and Irgun attack British forces and bomb the Kind David Hotel, the British military headquarters in Palestine, killing 91 people of different nationalities.

October: the Irgun bomb the British Embassy in Rome and conducts several sabotage operations against British military transportation routes in occupied Germany.

Menachem Begin, Irgun’s leader, would later become Israel’s  seventhprime minister.

Illegal immigration sees the number of Jews increase to 608,225 (32.96 per cent of the population).Palestinian Muslims and Christians number1,237,334.

Jewish immigration to Palestine, 1947


Bowing to American pressure the League of Nations General Assembly issues a resolution dividing Palestine between Arabs and Jews. It is rejected by the Arabs.

David Ben-Gurion, chairman of the Jewish Agency’s executive committee,secretly begins mobilising terrorist Zionist militias inside and outside Palestine. Plan Dalet, employing massacres, ethnic cleansing and terror to conquer Palestine, is implemented.

Terrorist Jewish groups mine and sabotage the Cairo-Haifa express, 1948

December: Zionist militias massacre Palestinian villagers in Haifa, Al-Tira, Balad el-Sheikh, Yehiday, Khisas and Qazaza.


The forced depopulation of Palestinians is underway.

4 January: Jews in British Army uniforms enter Jaffa and blow up the Serai (the old Turkish Government House), killing more than 40 and wounding 98.

5 January:Haganah terrorists bomb the SemiramisHotel in the Katamon killing 24 Muslims, Christians, foreigners, women and children.

March: Zionist terrorists sabotage and mine the Cairo-Haifa express for the second time in a month, killing 40 pand wounding 60.

The Palestinian exodus, 1948

9 April: Zionist gangs implementing Plan Daletsurround the Palestinian village of DeirYassin from three sides and kill at least 254 Palestinians. They leave a corridor open to allow a number of villagers to escape and recount the horror.

Massacres in Palestinian villages and towns continue for months. They include Al-Lajjun, Qaluniya, Ayn el-Zaytoun, Abu Shusha, Al-Tantura ,BeitDaras, Lydda, Al-Dawayima , Saliha and Hula.

Estimates put the death toll at 15,000.Thousands of Palestinians are rounded up in labour camps.

14 May: Britain declares the end of its mandate over Palestine after completing its mission by issuing the Balfour declaration. Despite decades of incessant efforts to acquire land, by the end of the mandate Jews control just 5.8% of the land in Palestine.

AL-NAKBA: The Catastrophe 15 May: Ben Gurion announces the creation of Israel. Throughout 1948 and 1949 the Palestinian population of over 600 townsand villages are forced from their homes. There are 35 reported massacres.

800,000 Palestinians are ethnically cleansed between 1947 and 1949.

The Atlas of Palestine documents 232 incidents of atrocities, including massacres, destruction of homes, plunder and looting by Zionist forces,between 1947 and 1956.

From the archives:  Al-Ahram Weekly's special pages commemorating 50 years of Arab dispossession since the creation of Israel



Short link:



© 2010 Ahram Online.