The Balfour Declaration in the Press of the Early Lebanese Republic

By Mouannes Hojairi
Submitted to Session P4498 (Reception, Interpretation, and Implementation of the Balfour Declaration: Imperial Mindsets and Communal Perspectives, 2016 Annual Meeting
Arab-Israeli Conflict;
On September 1, 1920, a little under three years after the Balfour Declaration was proclaimed, general Henri Gouraud: the commander of the French “Army of the Levant” declared the creation of the “State of Greater Lebanon”. The representative of the French government in the Middle East had effectively expanded a predominantly Christian autonomous zone into a heterogeneous state with a sizeable Muslim denomination. This action was carried out partially in response to the demands of the Lebanese Maronite elites, and in complete disregard of the desires of the mostly Muslim indigenous population of the annexed provinces.

This paper analyzes the receptions and responses of the Lebanese Christian intelligentsia to the Balfour Declaration over the course of the 1920s and the 1930s. The paper examines the yearly commemorations of the Balfour Declaration in the press of the nascent Lebanese republic during the aforementioned decades.

The research questions that the paper addresses are as follows: (a) Were Lebanese Christian elites supportive of the Balfour Declaration under the British Mandate in Palestine as they were with the declaration of Greater Lebanon under the French Mandate in Syria and Lebanon? (b) What were the main factors that informed their readings of the Balfour Declaration? (c) Was there a shift among the Christian elites in Lebanon from the 1920s to the 1930s in their perceptions of the Balfour Declaration? And (d) How did the changing relationship between the French Mandate authority and Lebanese nationalists affect such a shift?

The sources that inform the study are located in the Lebanese press of the 1920s and 1930s. The daily newspaper al-Bayraq is the main source covering the early phase, and the Annahar along with al-Bayraq newspapers are the main sources for the period of the 1930s.

The paper sheds light on the fact that the Maronite support for the French Mandate authorities and their hostility towards Muslim Arab power in Greater Syria were conceived within the framework of self determination for Lebanese Christians and did not in fact imply support for British imperial policy in Palestine. The unsympathetic attitude toward the Balfour Declaration became more pronounced in the 1930s. This shift was due in part to the rapprochement with Lebanese Muslim political elites and a realization that Lebanese Christian nationalism no longer shared common interests with the French Mandate, leading to their increased scrutiny of imperial policies in the region.