The 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, on November 2, is turning out to be an important occasion for Palestinians to register their sense of betrayal by Britain for colonial-era promises that still govern the lives of so many people in Israel and Palestine, and to call on Britain to make the declaration “right” by assuring Palestinians’ rights at last.
The birthday may not impact Americans as much as the 50th anniversary of the occupation, which caused a lot of navel-gazing last June in the U.S., but the Balfour Declaration was endorsed by the Wilson administration and there are events planned here too.
Here are some of the Balfour responses. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has an op-ed in the Guardian saying that Britain must atone for 100 years of suffering. The Declaration fostered decades of “persecution” of Palestinians, including the Nakba when 750,000 were forced from their lands. The Declaration is not something to be forgotten or to be celebrated either, he says:
The physical act of the signing of the Balfour declaration is in the past – it is not something that can be changed. But it is something that can be made right.
Making it right means Palestinian sovereignty on a portion of mandate Palestine: i.e., the two state solution. Though his piece ends with a warning that the two-state solution is giving way to a struggle for equal rights in all the land:
Israel, and friends of Israel, must realise that the two-state solution may well disappear, but the Palestinian people will still be here. We will continue to strive for our freedom, whether that freedom comes through the two-state solution or ultimately through equal rights for all those inhabiting historic Palestine. It is time for the British government to do its part.
The Palestinian Mission to the U.K. launched a savvy ad campaign on the sides of black cabs in London. From Lema Nazeeh on Facebook:
Activists had launched a “make it right” campaign in which 52 black cabs displayed a logo to “raise awareness about the consequences of the Balfour Declaration which subsequently led to the forced expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948”.
Labour has called on the British government to make it right by recognizing a state of Palestine. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson responded that it would be a tactical error to do so now.
“[T]the moment is not yet right to play that card” of recognising Palestine.
He added in the Commons: “It won’t on its own end the occupation. It won’t on its own bring peace. It isn’t after all something you can do more than once.”
Johnson has put out his own op-ed in the Telegraph. Were you expecting a mea culpa? Nope. The Declaration was a wonderful thing, but it’s unfinished.
On the Centenary, I will say what I believe: the Balfour Declaration was indispensable to the creation of a great nation.
He worked on a kibbutz in his youth (Johnson has Jewish heritage), and Israel is a “miracle.” Even Arabs now accept Israel’s existence.
But he admits that the Declaration’s promise to preserve the rights of others has not been honored:
The vital caveat in the Balfour Declaration – intended to safeguard other communities – has not been fully realised…. A century on, Britain will give whatever support we can in order to close the ring and complete the unfinished business of the Balfour Declaration.
By the standards of today’s US political discourse on Israel, the Johnson statement would be considered as “anti-Israel” as John Kerry’s outgoing speech as so rarely do US officials, these days outside of Sanders, say (1) there is an occupation, and (2) that it must end.
Joining Netanyahu at Thursday night’s commemoration will be U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, who said she would mark the occasion “with pride.” Her comments touched off a storm among Palestinians, who demand an official U.K. apology for Balfour. Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad Malki called the letter a “testament to the colonial, racist mentality that exacted injustice and suffering on peoples around the world.”
The BBC also has extensive coverage of the declaration’s birthday, including a radio piece this morning and a TV piece saying the promise created the longest-running intractable conflict of our time.
A group of marchers against the Balfour Declaration went to Hebron, and got attacked by an illegal settler.
Human Rights Defenders reports:
A British delegation who walked across Europe to Palestine to protest the centennial of the Balfour Declaration, were participating in a peaceful demonstration in Hebron when they were violently attacked by a settler living in the illegal settlement of Kfar Etzion.
The 60-activist delegation marched to Palestine via London, France, Switzerland, Italy, Greece and Turkey, then took a plane to Amman and continued walking towards the Karama crossing in Jericho until they reached Jerusalem.
Badee Dwaik of Human Rights Defenders is in Europe for the centennial, and he says that ademonstrations are planned across Europe, including one in front of the British embassy in Ireland this Thursday.
There’s a march planned in London for Saturday to protest the work of the Balfour Declaration. It’s called the Make It Right campaign, with that hashtag. The declaration set off “100 years of oppression, conflict and dispossession,” says Leanne Mohamad, a student activist. The organizers call for an end to occupation and apartheid.
For the past 100 years Palestinian rights have been disregarded…. [T]he Balfour Declaration… built the path for their dispossession, [and] we are demanding justice and equal rights for Palestinians now.
The artist Banksy is having an “apologetic street party” on the occasion of Balfour, outside his Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem. Some Palestinians have objected to the imagery, and used the party to protest the Balfour Declaration.
Victor Kattan will be speaking at the British Academy tomorrow on the Balfour Declaration. Kattan’s view, as expressed in the Haaretz op-ed linked, is that the Balfour Declaration was motivated by the British desire to push the waves of Eastern European Jewish immigration elsewhere. Kattan faults the British for putting forth the idea of a democracy in the land in the White Paper of 1939 and then abandoning that idea, and also for running away from the Mandate to administer Palestine, in 1947
Britain’s decision to abandon the Mandate was a flagrant violation of its obligations as the Mandatory Power and was condemned by the UN as a “catastrophic conclusion to an era of international concern for the territory.” Israelis and Palestinians have been in conflict ever since.
Kattan’s event also features Jonathan Schneer and Rosemary Hollis.
As for this side of the Atlantic, Rashid Khalidi will be lecturing at the United Nations tomorrow. Many there will surely be lamenting the declaration, as Khalidi did when he described the declaration recently as a gun pointed at Palestinians’ head. Tomorrow’s event
will bring together a broad range of participants, including members of the diplomatic community in New York, UN staff members, representatives of civil society organizations and the general public.