The Balfour Project Origin Story

Roger and Monica Spooner were invited by Jordanian friends for a holiday in 2008 and whilst in Aqaba they visited an exhibition of the McMahon-Hussein correspondence. The text was displayed in Arabic, and the Spooners asked their host to translate.

For the first time, they learned that in 1915 Britain had promised the Arabs a state, stretching across the Near East, and including Palestine, in return for their military alliance with the British against the Ottoman Empire, which then controlled the Arab world and was allied with Germany. If their friends had not been there they would have missed the promise and its significance.

 After Jordan the Spooners made their first visit to Israel and Palestine. They met both senior Israelis and Palestinians as well as British diplomats and learnt that in 1917 Britain had reneged on their promise to the Arabs. With the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the British had appeared to promise the Jews a homeland, perhaps a state, in Palestine. Many Palestinians they met blamed Britain for the loss of their nation and their current dispossession.

On return to the UK, looking deeper at Britain’s contradictory promises, Monica asked many people the question: “How will Britain mark the Centenary of the Balfour Declaration in 2017?” In 2010 two people offered to work with us, and an informal group met for the first time in 2011 using the working title Balfour Project.

At that first meeting they decided to set up a website and bought the title The first articles were published in late 2011 with the aim of educating the British and challenging the Government to acknowledge its historic responsibilities for the ongoing conflict.

The Project organised the first conference in 2012, in Edinburgh,and gradually expanded. A short film, Britain in Palestine 1917-1948, was made and first shown in Oxford in 2014. Sir Vincent Fean, recently retired British Consul-General in Jerusalem, spoke in the panel after the film.  He later joined the Project’s steering group.

The Balfour Project became a charity in 2017 and Monica was asked to be the first chair.  The website reached 44,000 page views a month and was very high in Google searches for many of the relevant topics. In October, Wikipedia wrote to say: Over the last two years since your project has been online, a number of editors have worked very hard to create a fulsome and nuanced account of the Declaration on Wikipedia. The excellent and varied resources provided by your website have been a significant help in these efforts. Later in the month 1200 people poured into Central Hall Westminster for Britain’s Broken Promise: Time for a New Approach. Sir Vincent Fean became chair of the Balfour Project in 2018, and the rest is history!

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