Britain’s colonial entanglement in Palestine did not begin with the entry of General Allenby into Jerusalem, nor with the Balfour Declaration. Its roots go back to the era of high imperialism in the mid-nineteenth century.
Jeremy Ben-Ami has a straightforward explanation of the Balfour Declaration: “The British in the course of fighting World War 1 were looking for the support domestically in the U.K. of the Jewish community and there was a desire to offer and to promise to that community something that they wanted.”
Olive branches, a huge Palestinian flag, a large cardboard drawing of Lord Arthur Balfour, and Theresa May cartoons were some of the creative props displayed during the 15,000-strong ‘Justice Now: Make it Right for Palestine’ march and rally in London to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration.
The Balfour Declaration was a wartime play by the British government to win international Jewry to its side. This meant the Russian masses in the U.S., and banker Jacob Schiff, who were against American entry into the war. The British may have exaggerated Jewish power, but Zionists lobbied successfully for the declaration by citing such power, marking the entry of the Israel lobby on the world stage.
As the hundred year anniversary of the Balfour Declaration takes way, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, as well as various other Palestinian politicians are calling on the United Kingdom to not only apologize to the Palestinian people for the “suffering” caused by the declaration, but to also recognize Palestine as a state. Meanwhile, the UK is planning quite the opposite, as Israeli Prime Minister heads to a state dinner organized by UK Prime Minister Theresa May to celebrate the centennial.
Mohammad Arafat writes, “‘Once we heard about the declaration, we knew the future of Palestine and the Palestinians was in danger,’ Um Abed so softy I could barely hear her. She couldn’t say more without crying.”
It is time that British Government declare that Israel has never lived up to the revered Balfour Declaration and rescind it once and for all. For if Great Britain believes in human rights and democracy, it will demand that Israel recognize the right of Palestinian refugees and their offspring to return home and to live as equal citizens under a representative government.
Rana Askoul writes to British Prime Minister Teresa May: “I hear you will be celebrating the centenary of the Balfour declaration with ‘pride’. I hear you also said that you will be conscious of the sensitivities that some people have about the Balfour declaration and that there is more work to be done. Pride, sensitivities, some people, more work. In my mind, I picture you standing in front of my paternal grandmother, as she walked on her journey out of Palestine to Lebanon in 1948, clutching my father as a baby to her chest. I see you uttering these words to her. Pride, sensitivities, some people, more work. It seems Ms. May, you also have not the slightest clue as to how we Palestinians can move on. It seems Ms. May that you too, like your predecessors have chosen the easier wrong, over the harder right. It seems Ms. May, that you too need a lesson as to why we need to apologize when we have done wrong.”
Britain fulfilled its promise to the Zionists in full, but broke even its feeble commitment to the Palestinians to protect their civil and religious rights. An apology from Britain is long overdue, as are efforts to repair the damage it initiated 100 years ago.
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.