Building the Land: Balfour and Beyond by David ben Gurion
By David Ben Gurion, Jerusalem Post, Balfour Declaration 50th Anniversary Edition
This article written by DAVID BEN-GURION specially for the Jerusalem Post Balfour Jubilee Supplement is an account by a man who played a central role in Zionist affairs throughout the three decades covered by the article.
On November 2, 1917, the day the Balfour Declaration was issued, I was in America with my friend and colleague, Itzhak Ben-Zvi. We had been banished “forever” from the Ottoman Empire (which then included Eretz Yisrael) on the 7th of Nissan in 1915, by order of the Turkish governor, Jemal Pasha.
I had never been to England, and all my knowledge of the country was derived from the reading of Jewish history. The most renowned personality in our world of the 19th century was Sir Moses Montefiore, a Jew of Italian origin who had been knighted by queen Victoria. One of the great British statesman of the 19th century was a Jew - converted to Christianity in his childhood- who carried his Jewish heritage with pride all his life and who also, bore a distinctly Jewish name: Benjamin Disraeli. I also know that Britain as a free country and a democracy where Jews were not persecuted as they were in my land of birth- Russian Poland.
Several days after November 2 I wrote an article on the Balfour declaration which was published on November 14 in “Der Yiddish Kampfe.” the organ of Poale Zion movement in America. In the article, I said:
“The great miracle has taken place. The mightiest of world powers, whose army is now approaching the gates of Jerusalem has officially declared the ‘establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. Ever since our last national disaster, the defeat of Bar Kochba, we have not existed as a political or national entity. The Hebrew nation has not been a factor in international affairs. The Jews were hated and despised. There were Jews who existed as objects of pity and protection- but the Jewish people did not exist as a political factor. Without the framework of a homeland, the nation broke up into little pieces, which were scattered like fragments of a broken vessel - never to be put together again.”
“But a miracle happened and the broken vessel was made whole again. That which we believed in has come to pass: we are again a nation. It had to be, because our faith in the national resurrection of the Jewish people never faltered. After 35 years of pioneering endeavor in which the nation proved it was capable of restoring ruins of its Land, after 20 years of national-political activity which opens the eyes of the world to the Jewish people's longing for their homeland- the mightiest of the world powers declared that it officially recognized the existence of the Hebrew people and undertakes to help establish that people’s national home in Eretz Yisrael.”
“England has not yet restored our land to us at this moment of triumph, it is not in England’s power to return our land to us. Not because the land is not, or not yet, in her possession. After the entire country, from Beersheva to Dan, is conquered by the British, it will not be ours even with their consent, and even if all the nations of the world agree to it. No people can establish a land except through its own toil, creative effort and settlement. England has done a great thing: it has recognized our existence as a political entity and acknowledged our right to the land. But the Hebrew people itself must transform this into a living fact. Through its own efforts of body, soul and material assets, Israel must set up its National home and complete its national redemption”
Now we stand at the threshold of the moment.
The realization of Zionism - in full- has been placed on the agenda. This is the duty and responsibility facing us at this hour.“We must return the people to its land”- now that our right to the land has been restored to us.
History will not tarry. Eretz Yisrael, without Jews, has been waiting for 1800 years. Eretz Yisrael, promised to the Jewish people, cannot wait even 18 years longer for the Jews to come. We must establish a majority in Eretz Yisrael within the next 20 years. This is the crux of our historical situation.
In a third article published at the beginning of January 1918, I wrote:
“We have realized our national aspiration from the political point of you. The English declaration will soon be ratified and implemented by the family “What is important that Zionism.”
Outwardly the Zionist aspiration has been essentially fulfilled: the question of the Jewish people, and its ties with Eretz Yisrael, and the question of the revival of the ancient Hebrew homeland have been placed on the agenda of world politics, where it will stay until it is finally settled in favor of the Jewish people and in keeping with historic justice.
“Zionists are now left with their second major task- more important, serious and difficult than the first- to place the realization of Zionism on every single Jew - to link the revival of the homeland with the personal fate of the wide masses of Jewry.
Zionists must now take an inward direction, towards the Jewish people. All our material and spiritual assets must now be utilized to the great, urgent and challenging task before us: the building of the land by the Hebrew people.
Ben-Gurion greeted the Balfour Declaration in 1917 stating that it was not on England’s power to restore Eretz Israel to the Jews. This the Jews could only do themselves. Thirty years later, he led the few hundred thousand Jews who had risen to the challenge of reacquiring their ancient land to a bloody victory and the affirmation of independance.