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Balfour Declaration’s 100th birthday prompts calls on Britain to apologize and recognize Palestinian rights

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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”.

Poster for the Make It Right campaign on the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration

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.

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.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will not be attending a dinner to honor the Balfour Declaration with the visiting Israeli PM. Corbyn’s own base would rebel if he did! From Bloomberg’s coverage: “Century Old Letter Stirs Palestinian Anger…”

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.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of

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Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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23 Responses

  1. JWalters on November 1, 2017, 7:42 pm

    “the promise created the longest-running intractable conflict of our time.”

    This was its intent. Another commenter here once quipped it could be called the “Rothschild Declaration”. The declaration was made in a letter from Balfour to Rothschild. It was arranged in secret meetings in Britain and America, pushed through by big banks. These banks had been profiting from both sides of wars for several centuries, and everybody knew war would follow. The Jewish supremacists from Russia and Poland were their pawns in creating this intractable religious conflict. e.g. “War Profiteers and the Roots of the War on Terror”

    • Citizen on November 2, 2017, 4:24 am

      How Wall Street bankers got the U.S. into WWI

    • ErikEast on November 2, 2017, 6:22 am

      Antisemitic nonsense!

      The sum parts for the creation of the Balfour Declaration were: Zionist lobbying + Defence of Empire.

      Without one or the other there would not have been a Balfour Declaration.

      • MHughes976 on November 2, 2017, 1:00 pm

        I think that was a third element, the spread of Christian Zionism, which made the idea of a potentially dominant Jewish presence in Palestine look entirely reasonable both to elite and to general public opinion.

    • Misterioso on November 2, 2017, 11:25 am

      For the record:

      When the Balfour Declaration was issued, Palestine was still a province of the Ottoman Empire. Hence, by viewing “with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish peoples,” 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)

      For the record, it should be noted that in its report, the 1919 King Crane Commission pointed out that the Balfour Declaration did not call for a Jewish state in Palestine and it could not be achieved without denying the “civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities….” The commissioners also found “…that the Zionists looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants…by various forms of purchase…” and recommended that “Jewish immigration should be definitely limited”, that “the project for making Palestine a Jewish commonwealth should be given up…” (Howard, Harry N., The King Crane Commission, Beirut: Khayats, 1963; quoted by Sami Hadawi, Bitter Harvest, pp.17-18.)

      The King-Crane Commission also made it clear where it stood regarding the Zionist’s historical claim to Palestine: “…the initial claim, often submitted by Zionist representatives, that they have a `right’ to Palestine, based on an occupation of two thousand years ago, can hardly be seriously considered.” (“The American King-Crane Commission of Inquiry, 1919” quoted in From Haven to Conquest, p. 217, edited by Whalid Khalidi) Or as Lord Sydenham stated before the British House of Lords on 21 June 1922: “If we are going to admit claims on conquest thousands of years ago, the whole world will have to be turned upside down.” (Hansard)

      The Balfour Declaration was also opposed by Gertrude Bell, one of the era’s greatest Arabists, a colleague of T.E. Lawrence and a member of British intelligence in Cairo. Realizing what the Balfour Declaration could lead to, she wrote the British cabinet of PM Lloyd George advising it that “an independent Jewish Palestine” was impractical because “[Palestine]…is not Jewish; ” the native population would not “accept Jewish authority…. Jerusalem is equally sacred to three faiths and should not be put under the exclusive control of any one….” (Sanders, The High Walls of Jerusalem, p. 585, quoted by Donald Neff, Fallen Pillars, p. 14)

      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)

      • Boomer on November 3, 2017, 11:34 am

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

        Yes, I’ve always wondered why the Brits didn’t propose establishing “a national home for the Jewish peoples” in Wales. Of course, a few of the folks in Wales might have preferred Scotland as an alternative, or Ireland for that matter.

      • Mooser on November 3, 2017, 1:32 pm

        “preferred Scotland as an alternative, or Ireland for that matter.”

        Not acceptable, on a Biblical basis. We are told by Scripture: “He makes his home in that fish’s abdomen”

      • Boomer on November 3, 2017, 2:24 pm

        re Mooser: “Not acceptable, on a Biblical basis. We are told by Scripture: “He makes his home in that fish’s abdomen”

        Well, perhaps, if Scripture says so, but

        It ain’t necessarily so
        It ain’t necessarily so
        De things dat yo’ liable to read in de Bible
        It ain’t necessarily so

      • Mooser on November 3, 2017, 3:58 pm

        Well, I takes that Gospel, whenever it’s possible.

      • Boomer on November 4, 2017, 5:36 am

        re Mooser: ” I takes that Gospel, whenever it’s possible.”

        An excellent policy. Most commendable. I expected no less of you.

      • Mooser on November 4, 2017, 1:04 pm

        Thank you, “Boomer”.

  2. JosephA on November 1, 2017, 7:55 pm

    …wow! What a summary. Thank you both. The Balfour declaration being celebrated is about as ridiculous as celebrating modern sex slavery or historical South African apartheid.

  3. Citizen on November 2, 2017, 4:45 am

    Behind the scenes: How Israel & The War On Terror Came Into Existence:

  4. Boomer on November 2, 2017, 8:51 am

    As is mentioned, Wilson endorsed it, something I didn’t know until I read the Wikipedia article about the declaration. That article says:

    “British officials asked President Wilson for his consent on the matter on two occasions – first on 3 September, when he replied the time was not ripe, and later on 6 October, when he agreed with the release of the declaration.[132]”

    This mistake by Wilson may be secondary to his decision to take American in to the “War to End all War,” but it is significant in its own right.

    • wondering jew on November 2, 2017, 4:07 pm

      Boomer- Your comment invites all types of speculation regarding alternative history. Specifically: What would have been the outcome of WWI without the participation of the United States?

      The entire focus on this letter from 100 years ago, which gave an official sanction to the Jewish Agency and the building of the the proto state in Palestine, invites speculation regarding alternative history. What would a British mandate in Palestine have looked like without the declaration and its inclusion in the mandate from the League of Nations. What if France would have ruled Palestine as well as Lebanon and Syria? (Or how would a different outcome of WWI have effected Palestine?)

      There is no way that a historically conscious Palestinian can feel anything but pain from the Balfour Declaration. The historically conscious Jew, while acknowledging that pain, cannot ignore the hundreds of thousands of Jews that survived WWII in Palestine as a result of the Declaration. The historically conscious Jew cannot ignore the significance of a Jewish state in Palestine. The politically conscious Jew cannot ignore the significance of the current tense in Palestine, which includes some bright spots, but also includes a political and human mess in regards to the Palestinians. The fact that the entire area of the Middle East is mired in conflict is no comfort in regards to that political and human mess.

      • Boomer on November 2, 2017, 8:00 pm

        re: ” . . . speculation regarding alternative history.”

        Yes, exactly. Such speculation is futile, yet almost unavoidable. Most people, I assume, at times wonder–even if briefly–what might have been. In particular, in this context, my counterfactual fantasies are influenced by reading “The Pity of War.”

        Ferguson argues that Germany had limited goals initially in WWI, and that Britain erred by not accommodating them. Absent the devastation of the war, there would have been no rise to power by Hitler, no Holocaust. One may or may not find his arguments convincing (it’s all speculation, anyway), but it’s hard to regard WWI and what came after it as anything other than a vast, avoidable tragedy. One can, by extension, speculate that absent the US entry to the war, it would have ended on terms more favorable to Germany than was actually the case . . . and again there might have been no Hitler in power, no “final solution.”

        Of course we can’t know what would have happened, if different choices had been made back then. The past can’t be changed, and the future can’t be known. It’s ironic (or so it seems to me) that Ferguson was a big supporter of Bush Jr’s decision to invade Iraq. That, to me, seemed and seems another massive and avoidable mistake.

      • RoHa on November 2, 2017, 8:11 pm

        ” What would have been the outcome of WWI without the participation of the United States?”

        Pretty much the same. It might have taken a few months longer. British and French Empire troops did most of the work. The American troops were helpful but not necessary. American supplies of material were much more important.

        “The historically conscious Jew, while acknowledging that pain, cannot ignore the hundreds of thousands of Jews that survived WWII in Palestine as a result of the Declaration.”

        Is this because the historically conscious Jew thinks that Jews matter and other people don’t?

        “What if France would have ruled Palestine as well as Lebanon and Syria? ”

        And does the historically conscious Jew have to ignore the rules of English grammar?

        “What if France had ruled…”

      • Citizen on November 3, 2017, 9:38 am

        US masses were seduced into WW1 by US government withholding evidence that showed US passenger & cargo ships were illegally transporting to Britain arms and munitions. German submarines were fraudulently depicted as sub-human terrorists by US complicit mainstream media.

        “The American troops were helpful but not necessary. American supplies of material were much more important.”

      • Mooser on November 3, 2017, 1:01 pm

        “And does the historically conscious Jew have to ignore the rules of English grammar?”

        That we may question. Grammar is, or should be, an aid to understanding speech and text.

        But what we must never question is if being a “historically conscious Jew” is better than having a good grip on and dealing with the old here-and-now.

      • RoHa on November 3, 2017, 6:47 pm

        “US masses were seduced …”

        The Zimmerman telegram was another factor.

  5. Misterioso on November 2, 2017, 10:56 am

    Must read and watch:

    Haaretz, Nov. 1/17

    “Banksy Throws Balfour ‘Apologetic’ Party for Palestinians at His West Bank Hotel”

    “The British street artist’s message was centered around the ongoing impact of the declaration on the lives of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.”

    “BETHLEHEM – British street artist Banksy held an ‘apologetic street party’ outside his Walled Off Hotel in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Wednesday morning to mark the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.

    “Banksy’s honorary guests were children from the nearby Palestinian refugee camps of Aida and Dahishe, who sported British military helmets and were seated at a long table just beneath the separation barrier. The table decorations consisted of burned-down British flags and a large British-themed cake.”


  6. James Canning on November 2, 2017, 12:53 pm

    Some might suggest the letter of Lord Balfour was the nose of the camel, poking in to the tent.

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