The Balfour Declaration: 67 words that changed the history of Palestine

First published by the Arab Weekly on 5/11/2017

The Balfour Declaration crucially omitted reference to the indigenous Palestinian Arabs who at the time made up 90% of the population.

The British and Israeli governments celebrated the Balfour Declaration in London and Is­rael while Palestinians and their supporters marched in many cities across the world demanding an apology from Britain for its role in the creation of Israel and the dispossession and continued suffering of the Palestin­ian people. British Prime Minister Theresa May promised a Conserva­tive Friends of Israel meeting in 2016 that Britain would be “mark­ing it with pride.”

The most notable dissenting po­litical voice was the Labour leader and long-time supporter of the Palestinian people, Jeremy Corbyn, who declined an invitation to a dinner in London with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

The Balfour Declaration is a 1917 letter from British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Walter Rothschild, for transmission to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland. The critical part of this short letter said: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Pal­estine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communi­ties in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

It is notable for offering the land of one people to another people without consulting the Palestin­ians, all British Jews or the rest of the British public. It crucially omitted reference to the indig­enous Palestinian Arabs who made up 90% of the population between the Jordan River and the Mediter­ranean. It was bizarrely made at a time when Britain was not even in occupation of Palestine.

Current British Foreign Sec­retary Boris Johnson called the declaration “bizarre,” a “tragically incoherent document” and “an exquisite piece of Foreign Office fudgerama,” two years ago before taking office.

However, he still wrote an article in the Daily Telegraph celebrating Israel’s creation. He said: “I see no contradiction in being a friend of Israel — and a believer in that country’s destiny — while also be­ing deeply moved by the suffering of those affected and dislodged by its birth. The vital caveat in the Balfour Declaration — intended to safeguard other communities — has not been fully realised.”

There is much debate about Brit­ain’s motive in offering the declara­tion that revolves around charges of anti-Semitic leanings against Balfour but also its seeing the crea­tion of a state that would be loyal to it at a geographically sensitive location near the Suez Canal.

The only dissenting voice against the idea of Britain assisting the Zionist movement in creating a homeland for Jews in Palestine in the cabinet of David Lloyd George was the only Jewish member — Ed­win Samuel Montagu. He was op­posed to Zionism, which he called “a mischievous political creed,” and considered the declaration anti-Semitic.

He explained his position by saying: “I assume that it means that Mahommedans [Muslims] and Christians are to make way for the Jews and that the Jews should be put in all positions of prefer­ence and should be peculiarly associated with Palestine in the same way that England is with the English or France with the French, that Turks and other Mahommed­ans in Palestine will be regarded as foreigners, just in the same way as Jews will hereafter be treated as foreigners in every country but Palestine. Perhaps also citizenship must be granted only as a result of a religious test.”

Montagu had some influence on the final wording of the declara­tion but not enough to dissuade the government from issuing it. Britain then ensured it became part of its UN mandate on Palestine and Zion­ists began to implement its promise soon after the mandate started in 1920.

Israel’s creation in 1948 and sub­sequent occupation of a remainder of historic Palestine in 1967 have been catastrophic for the Pales­tinian people who live either as second-class citizens in Israel, as occupied people in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, or as refugees in 70-year-old camps in neighbouring countries or in the wider diaspora. Their total number is estimated at 13 million, almost half of whom live outside their homeland.

Israel’s expansionist policies continue with some 700,000 set­tlers residing illegally in settle­ments across the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The international community, including Britain, con­tinues to say there is only one solu­tion to the conflict, which is the two-state solution. They condemn settlement expansion, which they say is an obstacle to peace but exert no pressure on Israel to end it.

As Israel entrenches the occupa­tion and promises to annex the West Bank formally ending the prospect of a two-state solution, Britain celebrated the 100th anni­versary of the Balfour Declaration.

If it were serious about bringing peace to the region, it could instead have apologised to the Palestin­ians for its role in their continued suffering, recognised Palestine as a state and threatened sanctions against Israel if it did not end and reverse its settlement building to comply with UN resolutions and see a Palestinian state emerge. The atonement process for its sin could then have started.

What if Wales had been offered to the Jews as a homeland?

First published by the Middle East Eye on 1/11/2017

One hundred years ago, the Balfour Declaration backed Palestine as a Jewish homeland. Imagining if history had taken another turn offers a fresh perspective.

 

On 2 November 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour sent a letter to Lord Walter Rothschild, a prominent zionist, which became known as the Balfour Declaration.

In it, the British government promised Palestine to the Zionists – and did so without consulting Palestinians, British Jews, or the wider British population. While Palestinian Arabs at the time made up 90 per cent of the territory’s 700,000 population, they were bizarrely only referred to as “existing non-Jewish communities”. The letter also said “that nothing should be done to prejudice” their “civil and religious rights”.

The declaration had a catastrophic impact on the Palestinians. It eventually led to the creation of Israel in1948, during which Palestinians were driven from their homes, mostly through Jewish acts of terror.

The least the Palestinians might expect on the 100th anniversary from the British would be some remorse and an apology. But Theresa May’s government has not only refused to apologise on behalf of the UK, it is also planning to “mark it with pride” as she told the pro-Israel lobby group Conservative Friends of Israel in December 2016.

This week she will be joined in London by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they mark the centenary alongside pro-Israel groups.

Britain had no right to offer Palestine to the Zionists. The claim that Jews have a perpetual right to live there is rejected by Palestinians. Do all Muslims have a right to “return” to Saudi Arabia? And what about a Christian “right of return” to Palestine? Israel is seen as a democracy by its supporters – but many others seen it as a colonialist settler state.

What if Balfour offered Wales to the Zionists?

If we assume that London wanted in 1917 to help a persecuted people find sanctuary, then surely it could have offered the Zionists a homeland in a territory that it controlled at the time?

They say that charity begins at home. David Lloyd George, a proud Welshman, was British prime minister at the time of the declaration. What if the Balfour Declaration had read: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine Wales of a national home for the Jewish people?”

Present day Wales covers 20,779 sq km. Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip covers 20,770 sq km.

The population of Wales in 1917 would have been around 2.5 million while that of Palestine was around 1 million (Jews made up less than 10 percent of that number).

Had Balfour offered Wales to the Zionists, it is safe to say that the Welsh would have rejected the Declaration. Jews, though disappointed at failing to obtain Palestine, would soon have started arriving to settle the land.

There would likely have been tensions between the two groups. London would have tried to keep the peace but would likely have failed, especially given the ongoing fight in Ireland – which the British also controlled – for independence.

The Zionists would have set up armed militias to fight the Welsh. More and more Jews would have arrived in Wales during the early 1940s. The United Nations would then intervene in Wales, as it did in Palestine, and offer a partition plan that gave Jews 56 percent of the land, leaving the indigenous Welsh with only 44 percent.

Does anyone believe the Welsh would have agreed to give up an inch of their homeland to the Zionists? Or would they have resisted, including through armed struggle?

In 1948, the Zionists would declare their independence and establish Israel as a state. They would also start the process of expanding their hold on Wales. Welsh villages would be destroyed. Some two million Welsh refugees would flee to England, Scotland and Ireland. Some would even make it to France and Spain.

When the guns fell silent, Israel would extend the area of the former Wales that it occupies to 78 percent, well beyond that of the partition plan. The UN would issue a resolution calling on Israel to allow refugees to return – but Israel would refuse.

The world would call for a two-state solution in which Israel and Wales would live side by side, with Cardiff as a shared capital. In 1967, Israel would attack the Irish and the Scots, who try to help the Welsh resistance regain their occupied land. Eventually Israel would capture the whole of Wales and declare Cardiff as its eternal, united capital. More Welsh would be expelled to neighbouring countries such as Ireland.

For “security’ reasons” Israel would begin to build settlements for Jews in occupied Wales, near population centres such as Swansea. It would make it increasingly difficult for a two-state solution to be realised. Abandoned by the international community and seeing their land eroded further, the Welsh would start a ‘gwrthryfel Cymreig’ (the Welsh uprising, or intifada) in 1987, which would be suppressed by Israel by 1991.

In 1993, secret talks in Finland between the Welsh and the Israelis would result in the Helsinki Accords. The Welsh Liberation Organisation (WLO) would recognise Israel – but Israel would only recognises the (WLO) as the “sole representative of the Welsh people”.

Resistance from the Gwent Strip

There would be no genuine move towards peace, which would lead to a viable Welsh state by 1998. Instead Israel would increase its settlement enterprise and divide the occupied Welsh territories – including much of the former county of Dyfed – into areas A, B and C.

Israel would link the settlements in the occupied Welsh territories to each other and to Israel. It would apply military law to the Welsh but civil Israeli law to the illegal Jewish settlers.

The Welsh would see no end to their occupation. A second gwrthryfel would erupt in 2000. This time it would be more violent. The Welsh would be accused of being terrorists.

Israel would build a wall deep inside occupied Welsh areas, including Gwent, and increase the number of checkpoints to limit the movement of people, animals and goods. It would also capture most of the water resources and sell them to the Welsh at inflated prices.

The Gwent Strip would be particularly problematic and become a hub of resistance. Israel would decide to remove its settlers and then lay siege to the territory, a siege which would last to this day.

In Israel itself, Welsh citizens would be treated as second-class, subject to 60 discriminatory laws. They would be able participate in Israel’s democracy – but it would really be a democracy for Jews only.

In Cardiff, Israel would manipulate the population demographics to ensure that there was always a Jewish majority. The Welsh would be frustrated by a planning system which would not allow them to build houses in occupied Cardiff.

Eventually some would build homes without permission, only for the Israeli authorities to demolish their homes. The state would revoke their “residency” permits if they judge Cardiff not to be their “centre of life“.

The Welsh would not be allowed access to an airport or a seaport. To travel abroad they would have to use the border crossing into England and then fly from Bristol or Birmingham.

The Welsh catastrophe

And in the Middle East? Despite earlier Zionist wishes, Palestine was never promised as a Jewish homeland. Instead an independent Palestinian Arab state was established when the British mandate ended there in 1947.

Its capital is Jerusalem, where Muslims, Jews and Christians live happily to this day. The city has its own Welsh Solidarity Campaign, which works to support the legitimate rights of the Welsh people.

On 2 November 2017, in this alternative future, London will celebrate the centenary of the Welsh Balfour Declaration “with pride”.

But the British prime minister will refuse to apologise to the Welsh for Britain’s role in their dispossession and subsequent trychineb (the Welsh word for “catastrophe”).

Will the Welsh in the occupied territories likewise be celebrating?

– Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a longstanding campaigner for justice, especially for the Palestinian people. He is vice chair of the British Palestinian Policy Council (BPPC) and a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC).  He appears regularly in the media as commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com and tweets at @kamelhawwash. He writes here in a personal capacity.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Palestinians girls, relatives of 12-year-old Palestinian Waleed Abu Kamar who was killed during an Israeli attack, cry during his funeral in Rafah, south of Gaza city May 20, 2004  (REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic)

Can the Palestinians sue Britain over Balfour?

First published by the Arab Weekly on 30/4/2017

The Balfour Declara­tion is a letter from Arthur Balfour, then the British foreign secretary, to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, dated November 2, 1917.

The critical part of this short letter said: “His Majesty’s government view[s] with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use [its] best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done that may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

For Israel and many Jews around the world, the centennial anniversary of the Balfour Declaration is cause for celebra­tion. After all, the declaration paved the way for the establish­ment of a homeland for Jews in Palestine, which, 100 years on, Israel would claim has been achieved in what it calls “the Jewish state.”

Palestinians, both informally and at the official level, argued that — at the very least — Britain should use the document’s 100th anniversary to acknowledge the role it played in what the Pales­tinians describe as the nakba — “disaster.”

After all, peace has not been achieved; the Palestinians continue to exit either in exile, under occupation or as second-class citizens within Israel’s internationally recognised borders.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas demanded an apology from Britain during his address at the UN General Assembly last September.

“We ask Great Britain, as we approach 100 years since this infamous declaration, to draw the necessary lessons and to bear its historic, legal, political, material and moral responsibility for the consequences of this declaration, including an apology to the Palestinian people for the catastrophes, misery and injustice this declaration created and to act to rectify these disasters and remedy its conse­quences, including by the recognition of the state of Palestine,” Abbas said. “This is the least Great Britain can do.”

In the Palestinian diaspora, several ideas were considered, including mass demonstrations on or near November 2.

The London-based Palestinian Return Centre secured a petition on the British government’s petitions site calling on London to openly apologise to the Palestinian people for issuing the Balfour Declaration.

“The colonial policy of Britain between 1917-1948 led to mass displacement of the Palestinian nation,” the petition reads, adding that London should recognise its role during the mandate and “must lead attempts to reach a solution that ensures justice for the Palestin­ian people.”

The government’s response was that the Balfour Declaration is a historic statement for which London “does not intend to apologise. We are proud of our role in creating the state of Israel.”

It further stated that “estab­lishing a homeland for the Jewish people in the land to which they had such strong historical and religious ties was the right and moral thing to do, particularly against the background of centuries of persecution.”

The statement recognised that the declaration “should have called for the protection of political rights of the non-Jewish communities in Palestine, particularly their right to self-determination. However, the important thing is to look forward and establish security and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians through a lasting peace.” It then reinstated Britain’s position on how peace can be achieved.

Britain plans to celebrate Balfour or “mark it with pride,” as British Prime Minister Theresa May announced. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will attend and a royal visit to Israel is planned.

In response, Palestinian envoy to Britain Manuel Hassassian said celebrating Balfour “rubs salt in the wounds of the Palestinian people.” He made no reference to the threat made at the Arab summit last July by Abbas to sue Britain in an international court for the Balfour Declaration.

The Times of Israel recently reported that the British govern­ment, which has been delaying the issue of a visa to the new Palestinian head of mission announced by Abbas, might be planning to “downgrade” the status of the diplomatic mission in London.

The prospect of the British government responding to the call from its own Parliament in 2014 to recognise the state of Palestine seems as distant as ever.

الحصاد: بلفور … قرن من الظلم 

مشاركتي في برنامج الحصاد على قناة الجزيرة بتاريخ ٢٢/٤/٢٠١٧