The oldest physical footprint left by the 100-year-old Balfour Declaration in what is today Israel is visible from my home in Nazareth. From my vantage point on a ridge above the Jezreel Valley, Balfouriya appears like a dark smudge below in the middle of the vast agricultural plain.
The small, exclusively Jewish farming community was established in 1922, five years after Britain’s foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour, signed a letter pledging help to create “a national home for the Jewish people” in what was then Palestine.
Named in Balfour’s honour, Balfouriya was the first Jewish community to be founded in Palestine after the declaration was issued. Today, its 500 residents live in one of more than a dozen communities set up to “Judaise” a swath of land in the Lower Galilee, known in Arabic as Marj Ibn Amer, that Palestinians once farmed.
At the time of the Balfour Declaration, the vast majority of Jews in Europe and the United States viewed the Zionists heading to Palestine, like those who founded Balfouriya, as something akin to a cult. But in truth, they were more like political opportunists, piggy-backing on the ambitions of the British empire as it sought to consolidate its colonial hold over the Middle East.
The major European powers were jostling for pre-eminence in the region, as the First World war neared its end and the Ottoman empire was crumbling. Balfour’s letter was, in part, intended to pre-empt the potential threat of France making a…