Palestinians are one of the largest and longest suffering refugee groups in the world. With over 8.49 million Palestinian refugees worldwide, Palestinians are the highest refugee rate at 66.80% of their total population of 12.7 million. Although their right to return to their lands and be compensated for their losses is stipulated in UN Resolution 194, Israel defies international law and denies Palestinian these rights while at the same time embedding a "Law of Return" policy granting any Jewish person from anywhere in the world the privilege to live in Israel with all their rights protected and even actively promote and encourage their choice to do so.Monday the 15th May 2017 marked the 69th anniversary since the Nakba, the expulsion of Palestinians from their lands, commemorated the day after Israel declared itself as a state every year since 1947. This is not the only major anniversary this year with Palestinians also marking 50 years of occupation since the Six Day War in 1967 and the centenary of the Balfour Declaration with which the UK sealed the fate Palestinians and Israelis to face conflict lasting decades with no end in sight.A declaration based on deceit and scheming, it promised to protect the rights of the Palestinians as it gave away their lands to the Jewish people to set up their own state in light of the horrors of intensifying persecution they faced during the Second World War but at the cost of the indigenous population. It did so under the false guise that the Palestinian land was barren and uninhabited by people, contrary to vibrant nature and thriving Palestinian population.But the Palestinians and Israeli's fate was sealed much before the Holocaust. Arthur Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary under the leadership of British Prime Minister Lloyd George signed the Balfour Declaration on the 2nd November 1917, a letter to Lord Rothchild on the behalf of the British Government promising the land of the Palestinians for Jewish state.Much earlier still, the plans to take Palestinian land and give it to the long suffering Jewish people came in the form the establishment of the Zionist movement in the latter part of the 19th century. Zionism came to mean the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine but not all Jews supported this. In fact most British Jews strongly opposed Zionism and many do to this day.At first glance, it appears to be a movement that sought a just resolution to the problem of persecution against Jewish people and ultimately that is how the movement propagated the legitimacy along with references to a historical and religious claim to the land.Looking deeper into the context of the time we can see that while some of the decision makers and the international community may have had some good intentions, the Balfour declaration which ultimately gave legitimacy to the set up of the State of Israel was based on deception and alternative motives.Lord Balfour was himself a known antisemite and Britain had a long history of persecuting Jews. He was the main supporter of the 1905 Aliens Act restrict Jewish immigration to Britain. At that time the Middle East was a place of refuge and a haven to persecuted Jews. In Palestine, Jews and Muslims lived harmoniously with their neighbours. It is then no wonder that some historians argue that Lord Balfour signing of the declaration was motivated by his own antisemitic views, wanting to keep Jewish people out of Britain and "pack them off to Palestine".Historian Tom Segev wrote ‘The British entered Palestine to defeat the Turks; they stayed there to keep it from the French; then they gave it to the Zionists because they loved ‘the Jews’ even as they loathed them, at once admired and despised them…. The Declaration was the product of neither military nor diplomatic interests but of prejudice, faith and sleight of hand. The men who sired it were Christian and Zionist and, in many cases, anti-Semitic. They believed the Jews controlled the world. ‘The British had much to gain from this partnership with the Zionist Organisation. The British Empire was in trouble and the Declaration was a tactical decision to win support. Britain interested in maintaining strategic colonial order in the region and they favoured the Zionist Organization as a partner because they felt closer to the Jewish people compared to the Palestinians despite the rampant antisemitism. Vitally, there were urgent war time considerations that were likely to seal the pact.‘The vast majority of Jews in Russia and America as indeed, all over the world, now appeared to be favourable of [sic] Zionism. If we could make a declaration favourable to such an ideal, we should be able to carry on extremely useful propaganda both in Russia and America,’ said Balfour in his opening remarks at the War Cabinet meeting.It is questionable whether Balfour himself believed his sweeping claims. In 1913, the last time there were such records, only about one percent of the world’s Jews were indicated they were Zionist whilst most Jews opposed the movement until the 1940s. However, the opening speech is enough to clearly illustrate what Balfour's real intentions were. To win support from USA and Russia.Vitally in all of this, the declaration while purporting to attempt to solve the huge international problem of antisemitism, it did so by causing another international problem and at the expense of the indigenous people- the Palestinians. Without any moral or legal right.By the end of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, approximately 1 million Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes for Israel to call its independence. That is 80% of the Palestinians of what became Israel and 50% of the total Palestinian population of Mandatory Palestine.Between 400-600 villages were destroyed, homes, lands, other property and personal belongings stolen.The declaration promised to protect the rights of the Palestinians but not only failed to do so, but it never intended on it in the first place.Balfour wrote to Lord Curzon in 1919: ‘in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country….'Britain placed Palestine under its Mandate and provided the economic and military power for the set up of a Jewish State. It taught the Jewish militias all of the violations we see the Israeli State commit against the Palestinians today- checkpoints, administrative detention, land annexation, extrajudicial killings, collective punishment and so on.In 1967, Israel imposed a military occupation of the rest of Palestine beyond the agreed borders and in constant violations of international and humanitarian law, it abuses the Palestinians.Adding salt to the millions' wounds, the UK's Prime Minister Theresa May wants to celebrate this fact. The British involvement without any shame, May wants the British people to feel 'pride' in the Balfour Declaration.Moreover, more than 13,000 British people signed a petition urging the government to apologise for issuing the Balfour Declaration and to recognise its role during the Mandate and lead attempts for a just solution. The petition was cut short due to the General Election but not before the government issued a less than mediocre response. It refused to accept any responsibility, merely throwing a bone that he document should have called for the protection of political rights and self determination.100 years later, the UK has not changed. From a British colonial power till now, the UK government is hypocritical, mendacious, uninterested in human rights and self serving. It continues to prize its strategic friendship with Israel over human lives, consistently ignoring its own policies on the conflict. Ultimately, while the government continues to recognise the suffering of the Jewish people, it refuses to equally recognise the suffering of the Palestinians or take any meaningful actions for justice and peace.
Every year since 1977 the United Nations has observed the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People on 29 November. EuroPal Forum invites you to a seminar on “the UN Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People: How to end 70 years of injustice?"