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In the 1880s the balance of Palestine’s sparse population began to change with a significant influx of Jews fleeing from the pogroms in Russia. Increasing anti-Semitism in Europe saw the birth of the Zionist movement led by Theodor Herzl whose aim was to bring about the formation of a Jewish State in Palestine. Although Herzl never lived to see his dream fulfilled, the First World War brought the beginning of its realisation. At the same time an Arab nationalist movement within the Ottoman Empire was beginning to emerge. 


Theodor Herzl, whose aim was to bring about the formation of a Jewish State in Palestine.


The Turkish Army


At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 the Turkish Ottoman Empire sided with the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Germany against France, Russia and the British Empire. Great Britain, together with her allies from Australia, New Zealand and troops from across the British Commonwealth fought against the Turks, who were backed by the Germans. As the war on the eastern front progressed, both the British and French governments started to consider how the Ottoman Empire would be divided up in the event of its defeat.


Map of the Sykes-Picot Agreement

In 1915, the British High Commissioner in Egypt, Sir Henry McMahon, entered into correspondence with Sharif Hussein of Mecca. These letters involved commitments by the British to support the movement that would lead to the independence of Arab states. "But these letters were not public. They were private confidential exchanges between the British and the Arabs. And then in 1916 there were other commitments, this time made between the British, the French and the Russians - the Sykes-Picot agreement. And they decided to allocate and to distribute rights in respect to the very same territories. The Sykes-Picot in particular was a secret agreement – and it had an impact later on the borders of what became Palestine, and the borders of Lebanon, and Syria, because the French always reminded the British of the prior agreements. But they were not binding legal instruments in international law. " Dr Jacques Gauthier, International Human Rights Lawyer

El Arish

"In late 1916 the Allied Forces were nearing El Arish and the border with Palestine, thus ensuring a sufficient buffer zone against any further Turkish and German aggression against the Suez Canal. By this time a new Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary took office. David Lloyd George and Lord Arthur Balfour replaced Asquith and Grey. Both came into power and both wanted to take the Land of Israel. They wanted to make a big buffer zone – to make sure that in the future no rival European power was ever going to come in and cut or thwart Britain’s link through to the Eastern Empire." Kelvin Crombie, Historian and Author


Arthur Balfour

"The Balfour Declaration is truly a defining moment of history. Why? Because a number years earlier the Zionist movement took off as a result of the initiatives of Herzl. First there was his very important document, The Jewish State, where he was looking for a solution to the Jewish problem. This document really is the beginning of the story. To understand the importance of the Balfour Declaration, we’ve got to go back to him and his proposal. His solution was: ‘We need to end the homelessness of the Jews. We need a home, we need a state.’ And then he had this conference in Basle, Switzerland, in 1897 and brought together 200 prominent Jews from around the world, and did something rather miraculous – he got them to unite. The history in Europe of what the Jewish people went through is horrendous. It is persecution, it is massacres, pogroms, expulsion from countries. And there were leaders in Great Britain who were courageous and were prepared to make a decision . It was time to repair these wrongs. When the British government, with the help and support of the United States, of France, of Italy, decided that we’re going to uphold and support this policy regarding the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine, everything changed." Dr Jacques Gauthier

Cavalry at Beer Sheba

On 31st October 1917, as the War Cabinet met in Whitehall to decide the final wording of what became known as the Balfour Declaration, unbeknown to them at that moment in time, the Allies won their first victory in the campaign to liberate Palestine from the Turks. Earlier that day the British and New Zealand forces paved the way for the epic charge of the Australian Light Horse to take the historic town of Beersheba, in what was one of the last cavalry charges in the history of warfare. The news of the victory in Beersheba reached London on the day that the letter from Lord Balfour to Lord Rothschild was signed on 2nd November 1917.


Field Marshall Allenby entering Jerusalem

The fall of Beer Sheba paved the way for the conquest of Jerusalem and to bring the ancient Jewish homeland under British rule. A year later, on 31st October 1918, the Turkish Ottoman Empire surrendered to the Allies. The surrender of Germans and the Austro-Hungarian Empire followed shortly after that. After the end of World War One in November 1918, a Peace Conference was convened in Paris in early 1919. The Balfour Declaration, which had the full support of the Allied Powers, was a pledge to facilitate the formation of a Jewish National Home in Palestine. However, at the time, it was merely a political statement with no legal authority. Contrary to popular belief today, the Balfour Declaration also had support from Arab leaders at the time.


The Balfour Declaration

"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."


Weizman and Faisal

In January 1919 Chaim Weizmann, the leader of the Zionist Organisation, met with one of the sons of Sharif Hussein, the Emir Faisal of the Arab Kingdom of Hedjaz. "They were looking for each other’s support in respect to their national aspirations. Their discussions resulted in the signing of an agreement, which is often overlooked. And there are several provisions in this agreement which was signed on January 3, 1919, which make it clear that Palestine is supposed to be the territory for the Jews. In fact the third article of that agreement specifically mentions the policy of the Balfour Declaration in respect to Palestine. There is no doubt that the spirit and the letter of this agreement relates to a Jewish Home in Palestine, and a very significant independent Arab state in other parts of the Ottoman Empire." Dr Jacques Gauthier

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