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Open Letter to Theresa May: On 100th anniversary of Balfour Declaration recognize an independent Palestinian state

Israel/Palestine
on 17 Comments

March, 2017

The Honorable Theresa May,
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom:

I am a Palestinian who was born in Jerusalem in 1946 during the British Mandate over Palestine. During the first Arab-Israeli war in May 1948 I was two years old. My father, a civilian, was shot and killed in crossfire between the Zionist Haganah militias and the Jordanian army, leaving my mother to care for seven children. The oldest of my siblings was eleven and the youngest six months old. Soon after the death of my father, our neighborhood was taken over by the Israelis and we fled, becoming refugees. As I grew up, I began to ask questions about why my father was killed, what caused the Israel/Palestine conflict and what triggered all the suffering of millions of Palestinians and Jews in the last 100 years.

In time, I learned about the Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate over Palestine. I discovered that in 1917, the British Foreign Secretary sent a letter, later called the Balfour Declaration, to Lord Rothschild and Zionist leaders, promising to support the creation of a homeland for the Jews in Palestine. After WWI, against the objections of my people, the British government colonized Palestine and made it possible for the Zionist movement to take over our homeland.

Your Honor, there is no way that your country can undo the tragic history of the last 100 years. All the wealth of Great Britain can’t compensate me and my fellow compatriots for the death, injury, loss of land and enormous suffering that came upon us and continue to bring pain to us due to the Balfour Declaration and other oppressive policies of your predecessors. I look back to the past only to remind you of the grave injustices that my people and I have endured, due partly to the United Kingdom’s past policies. I seek no apologies and no compensations. And as a Palestinian Christian, I offer you and the British people total pardon.

As I look to the future, I believe that your government can help to end to the Israel/Palestine conflict and bury the memory of the Balfour Declaration, and I call on you to have the courage and determination to do so.

Britain was among the first in creating this tragic conflict but shouldn’t be the last in taking positive steps to resolve it.

This year, which marks the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, your government can help Israelis and Palestinians begin to find the path to a just and genuine reconciliation.

Let 2017 be the year that Britain conducts its policy for Israel and Palestine independently of the influence and dictates of the United States.  

A first step would be for Britain to recognize an independent Palestinian State in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. Once your government takes this courageous act, many reluctant European countries would be encouraged to follow suit. Already 138 countries including the Holy See recognize Palestinian statehood.

Your contribution to ending the Israel/Palestine conflict would not only save Israeli and Palestinian lives but could also usher in an era of peace and help to end bloody conflicts and acts of violence elsewhere in the Middle East and throughout the world.

Prime Minister, let Great Britain lead the way to peace under your brave and wise guidance.

Sincerely,

Rev. Dr. Alex Awad

Author, pastor, and retired missionary of the United Methodist Church

About Rev. Alex Awad

Alex Awad was born in Palestine and served there for decades as a missionary of the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church. Awad was the pastor of an international congregation at East Jerusalem Baptist Church, served as Professor, Dean of Students and Director of the Shepherd Society at Bethlehem Bible College, and is the author of two books: Palestinian Memories: The Story of a Palestinian Mother and Her People and Through the Eyes of the Victims: The Story of The Arab-Israeli Conflict.

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17 Responses

  1. Citizen
    March 22, 2017, 2:59 pm

    I don’t think England’s PM will get this letter.

    • RoHa
      March 22, 2017, 10:40 pm

      But Britain’s PM might. What she will do about it is another matter.

  2. David Gerald Fincham
    March 23, 2017, 10:41 am

    Letters like this may well help to change the mind of the British Government. Parliament has already voted to recognize Palestine, but in a non-binding resolution. There is a British organization called the Balfour Project which aims to bring justice to the Palestinians. A number of MPs and other influential people are members. They are holding a big meeting in November, and it would be great if that meeting could generate momentum towards recognition. They are more an educational than campaigning group, but I will try to persuade them that the centenary would be a good time to get serious and push for a real step forward towards a solution of the conflict.

  3. Misterioso
    March 23, 2017, 12:45 pm

    To quote Reverend, Dr. Alex Awad:

    “I discovered that in 1917, the British Foreign Secretary sent a letter, later called the Balfour Declaration, to Lord Rothschild and Zionist leaders, promising to support the creation of a homeland for the Jews in Palestine.”

    In fact, the Balfour Declaration did not promise “to support the creation of a homeland for the Jews in Palestine.” It viewed “with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish peoples and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this objective….”

    A “national home” is neither a “homeland’ nor a state.

    When the Balfour Declaration was issued, Palestine was still a province of the Ottoman Empire. Hence, by promising to “facilitate” the creation of a “national home for the Jewish peoples” in Palestine, The Balfour Declaration violated the well established legal maxim, “Nemo dat quod non habet” (nobody can give what he does not possess.)

    In discussing the legal basis for the creation of Israel, the highly respected American lawyer and diplomat Sol Linowitz wrote: “…the [Balfour] Declaration was legally impotent. For Great Britain had no sovereign rights over Palestine; it had no proprietary interest; it had no authority to dispose of the land. The Declaration was merely a statement of British intentions and no more.” (Sol M. Linowitz, “Analysis of a Tinderbox: The Legal Basis for the State of Israel.” American Bar Association Journal XLlll l957, pp.522-3)

    Even Chaim Weizmann knew the Declaration had no legal status: “The Balfour Declaration of 1917 was built on air.” (Quoted by Mallison, “The Balfour Declaration,” in The transformation of Palestine: essays on the Origin and Development of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, ed. by Abu-Lughold; Northwestern University Press, 1971 p. 85)

    It should also be noted that although the Allies managed to have the Balfour Declaration mentioned after World War 1 in the aborted Treaty of Sevres, there is no mention of it in the final treaty that was signed with the Turks at Lausanne on July 24, 1923. This is important in international law because Turkey did not agree to the idea of a “Jewish national home” in Palestine when it surrendered sovereignty to Britain.

    By incorporating the Balfour Declaration the 1922 League of Nations British Class A mandate for Palestine did facilitate Jewish immigration to “secure the establishment of the Jewish National Home,” but it did not call for the creation of a sovereign Jewish state or homeland in Palestine or any form of partition. This was made very clear in the Churchill Memorandum (1 July 1922) regarding the British Mandate: “[T]he status of all citizens of Palestine in the eyes of the law shall be Palestinian, and it has never been intended that they, or any section of them, should possess any other juridical status.”

    Furthermore, regarding the British Mandate, as approved by the Council of the League of Nations, the British government declared: “His Majesty’s Government therefore now declare unequivocally that it is not part of their policy that Palestine should become a Jewish State.” (Command Paper, 1922)

    To make it absolutely clear, in May 1939, the British government issued the MacDonald White Paper, which in accordance with the Mandate, ruled out any possibility of a Jewish state, and declared Great Britain “could not have intended Palestine should be converted into a Jewish state against the will of the Arab population of the country.” It called for a Palestinian state in which Jews and Arabs would govern jointly based on a constitution to be drafted by their representatives and those of Britain. The constitution would safeguard the “Jewish National Home” in Palestine and if good relations developed between Jews and Arabs, the country would be granted independence in ten years. Land sales to Jews were to be restricted and the annual level of Jewish immigration was to be limited to 15,000 for five years, following which, Palestinian Arab acquiescence would be required.

    Hence, consistent with the terms of its Class A Mandate and the MacDonald White Paper, Britain abstained on the UNGA vote regarding the recommendatory only Nov. 29/47 Partition Plan.

  4. David Gerald Fincham
    March 24, 2017, 10:12 am

    Mysterioso: thank you for that excellent summary.

    One quibble: you should not use capital letters when referring to the partition plan. The proper name of the plan was Plan of Partition with Economic Union. The Economic Board was in fact the sovereign body controlling all aspects of economic life in the Jewish and Arab states and Jerusalem. Its decisions were binding. There were three members from the Arab state, three from the Jewish State, and three appointed by the UN, so that foreigners had the casting vote. The terms of the Union could not be changed without the agreement of the UN General Assembly. The Arab and Jewish states were therefore not to be independent sovereign states: the arrangement is best described as a confederation of two states under UN Trusteeship. For more details see my my Mondoweiss article “Understanding the Partition Plan”.

  5. David Gerald Fincham
    March 24, 2017, 11:28 am

    It is also worth pointing out that the Zionists accepted the idea of a bi-national state, stating in the 1921 Carlsbad Resolution of the World Zionist Organization that “We do thereby reaffirm our desire to attain a durable understanding which shall enable the Arab and Jewish peoples to live together in Palestine on terms of mutual respect and co-operate in making the common home into a flourishing community, the upbuilding of which will assure to each of these peoples an undisturbed national development… The Jews on the one hand and the Arabs on the other are to be regarded as living side side on a footing of perfect equality in all matters, including the official use and recognition of their respective languages.

    • YoniFalic
      March 24, 2017, 12:24 pm

      The Carlsbad resolution was just PR fluff. Why should E. European Slavo-Turks, who masquerade as descendants of Greco-Roman Judeans and whose only connection to Palestine is purely fictional, have any right to settle in Palestine?

      The native Palestinians, who actually descend from Greco-Roman Judeans, were the native population and the overwhelming majority, had the Wilsonian right of democratic self-determination to determine the character of the country.

      • David Gerald Fincham
        March 24, 2017, 4:53 pm

        YoniFalic: surely you do not deny that Jewishness and Judaism originated in Palestine? Jews naturally have a strong emotional connection to Palestine, as do Christians and Muslims. There is nothing wrong in the desire of some of these to go and live there, as did some of the Spanish Jews in the 15th century and European Jews in the 19th century. Of course, no-one has a right to go and live in another country, they have to be acceptable there. The evil of Zionism lies in its determination that all of the Jews should go to Palestine and take it over, either dispossessing, expelling or subjugating the indigenous population.

        I completely agree with your second paragraph.

      • MHughes976
        March 24, 2017, 5:48 pm

        This was of a piece, I think, with the apparent acceptance on all hands, Zionists included, of the reference to non-Jewish rights in the Balfour Declaration and the dynasty of documents descended from it. This was insincere from the beginning on the British as well as on the Z side.

      • YoniFalic
        March 24, 2017, 8:16 pm

        @David Gerald Fincham. As a Columbia trained historian who specializes in the history of Judaism, I certainly deny that Rabbinic Judaism and Ashkenazi Jewishness have any origins in Palestine. I have discussed the issue previously. Here part of a comment from Why do Palestinians burn Jewish holy sites?: The fraught history of Joseph’s Tomb.

        Ancient Judeans were primarily peasant farmers. Such people do not leave their homelands.

        Probably with the start of the Hasmonean Rebellion (maybe before) Judaism became a massively proselytizing religion in the Occident. It may have started as a way to realize the ingathering of exiles prophecy of Deuteronomy 30:1-5. The main proselytes were Greeks and Phoenicians, the main mercantile populations of the Greco-Roman world.

        The Greek proselytes created their own Hellenistic Greek-language Judaism, which was very different from Judean Temple Judaism. The nature of Judaism among Phoenician converts was less clear. The politics of early imperial Rome is still not fully elucidated, but the new Roman economic order was strongly associated with the new imperial cult. Judaism became the rallying religion of those that lost out in the new economy. The three major rebellions of this time period involved

        1) the mercantile class of the Judeans in the first rebellion that ended with the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple and of the Leontopolis Temple even though the Greek-speaking Judaic population seems to have sided with Rome,

        2) the Phoenician convert population in the Kitos war, which started in Libya and then spread to the Greek convert population in Alexandria, the Greek and Phoenician convert population of Cyprus, then to the Aramaic speaking convert population of Mesopotamia, and finally to Judea, and

        3) once again the mercantile class of the Judeans in the Bar Kochba Rebellion.

        [Note the Judean peasantry, which seems mostly to have practiced a form of Judean Christianity, appears to have sided with the Hasmonean elite and with the Romans.]

        By the end of the 2nd century, Judean Temple Judaism was completely shattered. One can see a very similar religion in Samaritan religious practices which are utterly unlike those of Rabbinic Judaism.

        Hellenistic Judaism went its own way and became the Judaism of the Roman West. Mesopotamia became the center of Aramaic-speaking Talmudic Judaism. Phoenician converts seem to have supported academies in Palestine, but post-Constantine imperial pressure seems to have forced Judaism and Samaritanism into irrevocable decline in Palestine.

        The rising tide of the post 7th century Islamic Empires seem to have elevated Aramaic-speaking Talmudic Judaism of Mesopotamia to the religious and financial center of Judaism.

        Expanding Aramaic/Arabic Talmudic Judaism supplanted the local Judaisms in N. Africa and Europe while the religion simultaneously was refocused onto Hebrew and became Rabbinic Judaism after the 10th century.

        However we understand this evolution, one thing is clear. Rabbinic Judaism is fundamentally Mesopotamian in origin. The Mesopotamian liturgy overwhelmed the Palestinian liturgy. The Mesopotamian calendar replaced the Judean calendar. And obviously the Babylonian Talmud and not the Palestinian Talmud is authoritative. We are not so conscious of the real origins of Rabbinic Judaism today because Mesopotamia to this day still suffers from the ill effects of the Mongol invasions.

        Christianity is a religion that originates in Palestine, but Rabbinic Judaism is not.

        We, who descend from Yiddish speaking religious Jewish communities of E. Europe, have no real connection to Palestine and should get out as quick as possible as part of a settlement to provide relief to the natives, who really do descend from Greco-Roman Judeans.

      • Mooser
        March 25, 2017, 1:15 pm

        “YoniFalic: surely you do not deny that Jewishness and Judaism originated in Palestine?”

        Jewishness “originated” in Palestine?
        “Jewishness” could much more accurately said to have originated in Eastern Europe and Russia, by way of Europe and New York City.

    • talknic
      March 24, 2017, 2:09 pm

      @ D G F

      It’s worth mentioning if only to show that the Zionists have been and still are liars, in complete contravention of the basic tenets of Judaism

    • Mooser
      March 24, 2017, 4:26 pm

      “It is also worth pointing out that the Zionists accepted the idea of a bi-national state, stating in the 1921 Carlsbad Resolution of the World Zionist Organization that…”

      Yes, but at that time the Zionists held out great hopes for Einstein’s Atomic Theory. They mistakenly thought the equations could be used to double the land area and resources of Palestine. So of course, they were inclined to be generous, until the theory turned out to be inapplicable. So things had to change. That’s science!

      • David Gerald Fincham
        March 24, 2017, 5:12 pm

        Mooser: Nothing to do with his Atomic Theory, it’s his General Theory of Relativity which says that the gravitational forces generated by large masses can twist space itself. If all the Jews in the world went to Palestine, and took all their gold with them, there might have been enough mass to do the trick.

      • Mooser
        March 25, 2017, 1:17 pm

        “If all the Jews in the world went to Palestine, and took all their gold with them”

        “All their gold”? Yeah, okay.

    • RoHa
      March 24, 2017, 6:50 pm

      Separate but equal?

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