Just a few weeks before the momentous November 1917 day when Britain officially promised to help Zionists create a Palestinian homeland, a Paris-based, Russian Jew floated a letter presenting a different idea that, if accepted, would have changed the course of international geopolitics.
That letter, recently revealed by the British Library, spelled out this man’s rather unorthodox plans for an alternative Jewish homeland in the Persian Gulf — part of what is now Saudi Arabia. The letter was dated September 12, 1917, and was received by the British ambassador to France, Lord Francis Bertie. Upon opening the letter, Bertie found a request for military assistance from one Dr. M.L. Rothstein, a Jewish doctor, reports Haaretz.
Bertie explained to his superior, Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour, that Rothstein proposed the Entente Powers help organize an army “for the conquest of the Turkish province of El Hassa [Hasa],” (currently on the east coast of modern-day Saudi Arabia) in order to be part of the “creation of a Jewish State on the Persian Gulf.”
Furthermore, Roshstein wrote that he was willing to “undertake to assemble, for next spring, a Jewish fighting troop, a force of 120,000 strong men” to join forces with the British troops. While admitting the plan “may appear unrealistic,” the good doctor was confident all doubts would be erased “as soon as the first thousand men have arrived on the scene,” according to the British Library website. Anticipating a potentieal war with Turkey due to the incursion, Roshstein vowed to fight to the death, or a Jewish state.
Perhaps due to the letter’s relatively unknown author, or perhaps due to the plan’s general ridiculousness, Foreign Secretary Balfour’s office rejected the plan as “wholly inappropriate,” notes the library. But just a few weeks later he would sign the so-called Balfour Declaration, a letter written to wealthy Jew Baron Lionel Walter Rothschild, expressing the government’s support for a Jewish state in Palestine.