JUST FESTIVAL: 100 Years of Balfour

St. John’s Church, Princes Street
Aug 15-16, 18-19
17:15
1 hour 20 minutes

balfour

The seeds of the Palestinian conflict were sown by Balfour

This production forms part of the Balfour Project – a commemoration of the Balfour Declaration of November 1917 which pledged British support for the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine whilst also promising to protect the rights of the existing indigenous Arab population. Contradicting, as it did the promises already given to the Arabs in 1915, the Declaration sowed the seeds of a future conflict with us to this day. The audience was presented with a meticulously-researched and balanced production based on original documents, leaving it spellbound throughout. Talulah Molleson, as the Voice of History, provided moving and beautifully sung vocal interludes. The commitment and sincerity of all who took part were obvious. We were left in no doubt that British duplicity and their subsequent abandonment of their promises to the Arabs are at the root of the current plight of the Palestinians. Running out of ideas of how to control the violence between Arabs and Jews, the British withdrew in 1948, handing over the problem to the United Nations, which in the aftermath of the Holocaust was strongly supportive of Zionist position (the Zionist Movement for the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine was founded in 1898). The U.N. decided on Partition, resisted unsuccessfully by neighbouring Arab states, giving the newly-established state of Israel the first of its many opportunities to expand its borders.

The story was told imaginatively and was easy to follow – no mean feat given the complexity of the issues involved. Britain’s motives were mixed. As an imperial power she was fighting alongside France and Russia against Germany in Europe – yet her greatest imperial rivals were – France and Russia! Indeed Britain and France had almost gone to war in 1898 over France’s resentment at British dominance in Egypt. A Zionist presence in the region would help to check French ambitions. The Sykes-Picot secret Agreement of 1916 (effectively promising French dominance in Lebanon and Syria in return for British in Iraq and Palestine) was an attempt to pre-empt similar disagreement after the war. And how ironic that at the same time as fighting alongside the most anti-semitic regime in Europe (Russia) the British should be promoting Zionist interests!

100 Years of Balfour did not shirk difficult issues. I was particularly impressed by the emphasis given to the opposition of Edward Montagu, the one Jewish member of the British cabinet, to the Balfour Declaration – on the grounds that it was likely to promote anti-semitism in other countries as well as cause insuperable problems in Palestine itself. But the needs of War, not least the support of Jewish interests in the United States, and British imperial concerns came first.

 

Reviewed by Henry Falconer

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