Amos Trust group walk 2000 miles to mark Balfour Declaration centenary

23-10-2017 13:13

Source: Alexandra Lort-Phillips


In June 2017 a small group of walkers set off from the United Kingdom to walk 2000 miles to Al Quds/ Jerusalem.  Nine of the group will have completed the whole trip with an average of 16 walking at any one time with the ultimate aim to arrive in the Holy Land in November 2017 to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration.  The walkers are organised by the Amos Trust, a small human rights organisation from the UK which has three main stated aims for this immense journey, a) in order to express solidarity with those who have no freedom of movement, b) to demonstrate a willingness to walk the path of peace together with Palestinian and Israeli peace activists and c) as an act of penance recognise the wrongs of Britain’s political failure in the Holy Land.


It is the third aim of the walk which is most clearly linked with the Balfour Declaration centenary.  The Balfour Declaration November 2nd 1917 was a simple letter written by the then British foreign secretary MP Arthur James Balfour to a British Zionist peer, Baron Lionel Walter Rothschild, expressing British government favour for a Jewish homeland in Palestine.  The letter is seen as one of the key moments in the modern history of the Holy Land and its entrenched, decades-long destructive conflict.  Material from the archives of the British government, compiled by author Doreen Ingrams in 1972 as a book, ‘The Palestine Papers 1917-1922- Seeds of Conflict’ reveals confusion and dismay amongst political and religious leaders of the time over the meaning and interpretation of the Balfour text.  The Balfour declaration also constitutes a betrayal of the Arabs, primarily Sherif Hussein, who had fought with the British against the Ottoman Empire on the promise of independent Arab territory, including Palestine, under the McMahon agreement in 1915 two years earlier.


The practical effects on the ground in Palestine however were clear: the Balfour letter acted as a green light for European Jewish migration to Palestine which immediately accelerated as Britain became the Mandate government of the region.  The Balfour text had also expressed that the rights of the indigenous “non-Jewish communities” in Palestine be respected but although the British remained governors of Palestine over three decades they appeared incapable of upholding indigenous rights.  Inevitable bitter conflicts over land, resources and identity rapidly emerged culminating in the Arab uprising of 1936, this was severely crushed by the British Mandate government that had failed to recognise the concerns that had been raised.


British political failure is still ongoing.  This year a campaign was mounted to call for the British government to apologise for the declaration but this was refused.  In the decades since the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948 British governments have been unable to persuade the administration to respect dozens of United Nations declarations asking for the rights of the Palestinian population to be respected, instead arms deals completed between the UK and Israel can be seen as an example of British complicity with the ongoing rights violations and military occupation.  Human rights and peace campaigners frustrated by the British government’s failure to condemn war crimes and apologise for political mistakes feel they have no choice but to take actions such as writing, protesting and now walking, asking all parties involved to change the record.


It is not surprising that anyone who encounters or experiences the Holy Land today, who witnesses the restriction of movement of Palestinians by Israel, who looks at the illegal separation wall built by Israel, who learns about the siege of Gaza imposed by Israel, who learns about discriminatory laws, who has seen the expanding illegal Israeli settlements sprawling across land, at some point may ask themselves ‘what is going on here?’ and then they may ask themselves, ‘what does this have to do with me?’ and possibly ‘what can I do about it?’.  


Most of the Amos Trust walkers have previously visited the Holy Land and witnessed for themselves ‘what is going on’, they have explored the historical context and continuing rights inequality and recognised that it is ‘to do with me’.  They recognise that an apology or act of penance and solidarity is appropriate and right and on this occasion they choose to communicate by walking 2000 miles in peace and solidarity.  

Topics : #Palestine #UK #Israeli occupation #Balfour Declaration #Balfour Centenary #Walking for Palestine

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