World War I changed the map of the world.
World War I, a huge conflict waged over four years (1914-1918) pitted the Allies (chiefly France, Britain, Russia, and later, the U.S.) and the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Turkish Ottoman Empire) against each other. The end result of their struggle was very dramatic:
*Russia of the Czars disappeared. In the midst of the war, and in some part because of it, the Russian Revolution succeeded, creating the Communist state known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
*The domination of Eastern Europe by Germany and the Austria-Hungarian Empire ended. Poland-which had not existed for more than a hundred years, having been divided between Russia, and Prussia (Germany) and Austro-Hungary-was re-created anew.
*The entire Middle East, which had been part of the Ottoman Empire, was split into two great swaths. Half was controlled by France (the French Mandate), the other half by England (the British Mandate).
The French Mandate included the northern part of what is today the territory of Lebanon and Syria. The British Mandate included the southern and eastern part of the Ottoman Empire.
It is important to keep in mind that the Ottoman Empire controlled the Middle East from the 16th to the early 20th century-for some 400 years. During this time, the countries of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, etc. did not exist. The residents in these areas were predominately Arab subjects of the Ottoman Empire, living in loosely organized tribal communities.
The British Mandate included the landmass on the West Bank of the Jordan River all the way to the Mediterranean Sea, as well as the landmass on the East Bank of the Jordan River, an area known as Trans-Jordan. The British called this whole huge area "Palestine."
(As we might recall from Part 38, the name Palestine for the land of Israel had been coined by the Romans after their destruction of Jerusalem, which they re-named Aelia Capitolina.)
When the British took over the land of Israel, suddenly the dream of a homeland for the Jews became a real possibility as opposed to a fervent hope.
By this time, there were between 85,000 to 100,000 Jews living in the Land of Israel, of a total population of 600,000. (See History of the Jews by Paul Johnson, p. 430.) Most of the Arabs living in the land had migrated there only in the previous thirty years attracted by the jobs created by the Jews who were building and farming. (Note that when Jews began to immigrate to Palestine in large numbers in 1882, fewer than 250,000 Arabs lived there. See From Time Immemorial by Joan Peters, p. 244)
A big boost for a Jewish homeland came from Earl Arthur Balfour (1848-1930), then foreign secretary, who in 1917 promised British support for the cause.
As we might recall from Part 63, Balfour became a friend of the Jewish cause in some measure because of Chaim Weizmann whose invention of artificial acetone, the chief ingredient in cordite-smokeless gun powder, enabled the British to mass-produce gunpowder for the war effort. Balfour said that acetone converted him to Zionism.
A fascinating conversation is recorded between Balfour and Weizmann in 1906, with Balfour arguing that the Jews should consider the offer made by the British some three years earlier to take Uganda instead of Israel (At the time the Ottomans still controlled the Middle East)l:
In reaction, Weizmann said to Balfour, "Would you take Paris over London?"
Balfour replied, "But we already have London." (He meant, of course, Jews should take whatever they can get; beggars can't be choosers.)
At which point Weizmann came back with, "Mr. Balfour, the Jews had Jerusalem when London was a marsh."
That gave Balfour pause. "Are there many Jews who think like you?" he asked.
"I believe I speak the mind of millions of Jews whom you will never see and who cannot speak for themselves, but with whom I could pave the streets of the country I come from," Weizmann answered.
"If this is so, you will one day be a force," Balfour concluded.
Balfour's support for a Jewish homeland became known in history as the Balfour Declaration which was issued in the form a letter to Lord Rothschild on November 2nd, 1917. It stated:
"His Majesty's government looks with favor upon the establishment in Palestine of a national homeland for the Jewish people."
One month later, in December of 1917, the Turks surrendered Jerusalem to British.