This Week in Israeli History: Balfour Declaration, Hannah Senesh and the Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin

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The Balfour Declaration
On November 2, 1917, the British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour sent a letter to Baron Rothschild committing “His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”
The declaration was announced in a public letter to leading British Jews and was celebrated at a mass meeting in which Jews along with leading British statesman and representatives from all over the world were present.
The Balfour Declaration was incorporated into both the Treaty of Sevres (the post WWI agreement between the Allies and the Ottoman Empire) and the Sam Remo Conference, where the League of Nations mandates were agreed upon under Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations. The British Mandate for Palestine was officially ratified by the Council of the League of Nations on July 24, 1922, and assigned Britain the task of putting the Balfour Declaration into effect.
At the time of Balfour Declaration’s issuance and the ratification of the Mandate, Palestine consisted of both sides of the Jordan River (i.e. modern-day Israel and Jordan). However, British political considerations led to the passing of the Transjordan memorandum in September 1922, which annulled the provisions of the Mandate to exclude the territory east of the Jordan River.
The Balfour Declaration is perhaps the most significant document in Zionist history. In addition to the historic right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, the Balfour Declaration served as the impetus for the success of political Zionism and the creation of the State of Israel.
Hannah Senesh
Hannah was born in 1921 in Budapest, Hungary. The anti-Semitic sentiment in Budapest led to her involvement with the Zionist movement, and in 1939, she immigrated to Mandatory Palestine and joined the Haganah.
After the news of Nazi atrocities reached the Holy Land, Hannah volunteered with the British army to parachute into Nazi occupied territory and rescue Jews. Only 33 of the 240 Jewish volunteers passed the test and were selected to jump into Nazi territory, and she was one of them.
In 1944, Senesh and her squad parachuted into Yugoslavia, where they spent three months gathering information with partisan fighters. When they crossed the border into Nazi occupied Hungary, Senesh was caught and cruelly tortured, but did not break or divulge any information about her squad or mission.
Hannah was sentenced to death and remained strong and unwavering until the end; she refused to beg for clemency or wear the traditional blindfold when facing execution. On November 7, 1944, she was executed. She was only 23. In 1950, her remains were brought to Israel and laid to rest in Mount Herzl.
The following poem was found in Channa's cell after her execution:
One - two - three... eight feet long
Two strides across, the rest is dark...
Life is a fleeting question mark
One - two - three... maybe another week.
Or the next month may still find me here,
But death, I feel is very near.
I could have been 23 next July
I gambled on what mattered most, the dice were cast. I lost.
Yitzhak Rabin
Yitzhak Rabin was born in Jerusalem in 1922 to pioneers from the Third Aliyah. As a youth he began to pursue a career in agronomy, but was persuaded by his friend Yigal Allon to forsake his studies and join the newly established Palmach.
Shortly after, the 19-year-old sabra found himself at the forefront of the allied invasion of Lebanon under the command of Moshe Dayan. Yitzhak’s military prowess propelled him to the top of the Palmach command, where he stood out as one of the organization’s most distinguished members.
In 1946 Yitzhak was arrested by the British along with many other prominent Zionist leaders during Operation Agatha and was imprisoned for five months. In October 1947, he was appointed the Palmach’s Chief Operations Officer and went on to serve in many other critical roles throughout Israel’s War of Independence.
Rabin’s military success culminated in his 1964 appointment as Chief of Staff, a position he held until 1968. During his tenure, the IDF achieved the miraculous victory of the Six Day War and established itself as the most dominant fighting force in the region. After retiring from the military, Rabin served as Israel’s ambassador to the US, during which the US became Israel's main weapons supplier.
In 1973 Yitzhak entered politics and was appointed minister of labor in Golda Meir’s government; however, Golda resigned shortly after due to the public outcry following the Yom Kippur War. The Labor Party elected Rabin as her replacement and he was sworn in as Prime Minister, a position he held until 1977.
After the 1984 elections that resulted in a national unity government, Rabin was appointed minister of defense and oversaw IDF military operations during the First Intifada. Rabin was elected Prime Minister for the second time in 1992 and signed the famous Oslo Accords with the PLO the following year (for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize). In 1994 he signed a peace treaty with Jordan.
On November 4, 1995, Yitzhak was assassinated by Yigal Amir, an extremist who opposed the Oslo Accords. In Israel, Yitzhak Rabin Memorial Day is commemorated on the Hebrew date of his assassination, the 12 of Cheshvan.