The Original Sin

 

The British conspiratorial role against the Palestinian people started with the Sykes Picot Accord which was signed in 1916 between France and Britain distributing the Arab Homeland  to be occupied later by the two states as if it was their inheritance. Palestine was the share of Britain which offered Balfour Declaration to the Jews of the world.

This year marks one hundred years since the Balfour Declaration was issued and set in motion the process which led to the displacement and dispossession of millions of Palestinians over  ten decades. There are now more than 5 million Palestinian refugees facing poverty and insecurity across the occupied Palestinian territories, Lebanon,  Jordan and Syria.

The Gaza Strip and the West Bank have been under military occupation for many thorny long years; the West Bank is being colonized by illegal settlers, while the Gaza Strip languishes after a decade of siege.

 The British government's decision to back celebrations marking the centenary of the 1917 Balfour Declaration has highlighted to younger Britons its role in denying the Palestinians a state. Theresa May, the British prime minister, declared that her government was “proud” of the role the UK had played in establishing the Israeli state.

She will attend a dinner to celebrate the declaration, jointly hosted by the current Lord Balfour and Lord Rothschild, with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

 In the letter, Balfour said the British government viewed “with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”, and would use its “best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object”. The Hungarian-born Jewish writer Arthur Koestler  described this ominous declaration: One nation solemnly promised to a second nation the country of a third.” It had no moral or legal right to do so. The declaration contradicted Britain’s previous promise of “complete and final liberation” for the Arabs if they rose up against their Ottoman occupiers.

One would reasonably think that 2017 should be a time of national introspection in Britain over its central responsibility for the Palestinians’ continuing plight, not to mention the devastating consequences it has had on the wider region.

One might think that this year would be an opportunity to correct a grave mistake by supporting Palestinians inalienable rights and national aspirations.  Britain should call for an end to the longest military occupation in modern history, to the illegal colonization of another people’s land and to a racist, apartheid system that should have gasped its last breath in South Africa almost 30 years ago.

The British government should use the Balfour centenary as an opportunity to apologize to the Palestinians for the declaration.

 Instead of showing remorse for the declaration’s catastrophic legacy, Britain will actually be celebrating it, and has invited Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take part.

The historical impact of the Balfour Declaration was reflected in a series of calls by British MPs for their government to immediately recognize Palestine as a state. Joanna Cherry, a Scottish Nationalist Party MP said that Palestine was not a desert. It was towns and villages in which Palestinians represented more than 90 per cent of the population. The true legacy of Balfour is five million Palestinians living in refugee camps.  She said the Balfour Declaration deprived the Palestinian nation, which constituted 90 percent of the country’s residents at the time, of its national and political rights, giving the homeland to the 10 percent – the Jews. 

Besides the fact that Britain had no right to the country, the declaration paved the way to the Palestinian  people’s Nakba “catastrophe”. There was no British Mandate in the country in 1917, and yet someone without a mandate awarded national rights to someone who didn’t deserve them and completely ignored the national rights of the Palestinians in the country, and the ramifications of this declaration continue until today. If the British really want to do justice – and they talk a lot about a two-state solution – then the British government should do the minimum and recognize Palestine within the 1967 borders.

A century after Balfour, the Palestinians continue to be denied their basic rights to peace and security. In London, Jerusalem and elsewhere, however, others will be commemorating and protesting  the declaration  as an act of betrayal and deceit, the “original sin” that led to injustice, war and disaster for the Palestinians in the Nakba in 1948.  The Balfour Apology Campaign is demanding Britain make amends for “colonial crimes” in Palestine.

It is promoting a short film, 100 Balfour Road, which tries to explain the long-term effect of the declaration by showing the Joneses, an ordinary family in suburban London who are evicted from their home by soldiers and forced to live in appalling conditions in their back yard. Another family, the Smiths, take over their house and, supported by the soldiers, mistreat the Joneses and deprive them of food, medicine and their basic rights.

The declaration didn’t create the state of Israel, but it set in motion a process by which Zionism was adopted internationally. It is an outcome of a colonial era and it belongs to that era in many ways – the European white man’s burden of trying to reorganize the world as they saw fit, to distribute land, to create states. They defined the Palestinians as the ‘non-Jewish communities’. It’s so patronizing, so racist.”

 The Balfour declaration betrayed the understandings between Sharif Hussein and Sir Henry McMahon, Britain’s high commissioner in Egypt. And these in turn were contradicted by Sykes-Picot, under which much of Palestine was to be under international administration.

Britain’s promise to the Zionists lacks real validity, partly because she had previously committed herself to recognizing Arab independence in Palestine, and partly because the promise involves an obligation which she cannot fulfill without Arab consent.

The British public have been urged to join a demonstration in London marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration .

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), Stop The War, and UK's largest trade unions are among the organizations and supporters of the protest. The demonstration is the centerpiece of a wider series of actions by a large number of organizations around the country marking 100 years since the Balfour Declaration and highlighting widespread and systematic rights violations at the hands of the Israeli state as a result.

The centenary of the Balfour Declaration reminds us of Britain's historic complicity in establishing a process that has led to the dispossession of the Palestinian people and many complications in the Middle East.

K.Q.

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