Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, August 2017
The Balfour Declaration: Time to Say Sorry, Time We Made Amends
In a letter to a local newspaper about Brexit and the way Prime Minister Theresa May is handling it, I happened to mention in passing the Balfour Declaration, criticising her plans to celebrate the centenary “with pride” and invite Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to the fun. This drew a sharp response from someone spouting the usual Israeli propaganda “facts” and saying my attitude harmed the Jewish community worldwide.
The Balfour Declaration is a deadly serious subject. It is a cause of great horror and grief, of justifiable international anger, and a matter for profound regret. This is a right time and proper time for debate. Let’s focus on it for the next few months because justice groups are urging the British government to mark the Balfour Declaration centenary by saying sorry.
An opportunity that will be missed
Mrs May could do some real good here. She could, at a stroke, help quell the destructive turmoil in the Middle East and begin repair to Britain’s tattered prestige. She could even open new trade routes into Islamic markets, vitally important as we leave the European Union.
By eating a little humble pie and apologising on our behalf for 100 years of agony inflicted on lovely people in a lovely part of the world, Mrs May could take a giant step for mankind on the world stage. She has between now and November to do it. Will she?
No, she’ll be celebrating Balfour in style with the Israeli prime minister and not giving a toss about the people Britain wronged.
Which is shocking when a UN report recently branded Israel an apartheid regime. It’s even more regrettable considering the desperate cry for help from the National Coalition of Christian Organisations in Palestine in an open letter to the World Council of Churches and the ecumenical movement, signed by over 30 organisations in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.
Here’s an extract:
We are still suffering from 100 years of injustice and oppression that were inflicted on the Palestinian people beginning with the unlawful Balfour Declaration… followed by the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza, and the fragmentation of our people and our land through policies of isolation and confiscation, and the building of Jewish-only settlements and the Apartheid Wall…
Mrs May needs a jolt.
When I enquired whether the Balfour Declaration is taught in our schools I was told “no”. So, what exactly is it?
Arthur Balfour, British foreign secretary in 1917, penned a letter to the most senior Jew in England, Lord Rothschild, pledging the government’s “best endeavours” to facilitate the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people. Balfour also wrote: “We do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country.”
It amounted to a betrayal of our Arab allies in World War I. Many in Parliament objected, including Lord Sydenham who remarked: “What we have done, by concessions not to the Jewish people but to a Zionist extreme section, is to start a running sore in the East, and no-one can tell how far that sore will extend.”
At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, when the Great Powers carved up the territorial spoils of war, a Zionist delegation produced Balfour’s promissory note. It planted a powder-keg in the Middle East and the fuse was now lit. Britain accepted the mandate responsibility for Palestine and eventually in 1947 the Great Powers pushed the United Nations into partitioning the territory, again without consulting those who lived there.
So what made Balfour do it? The more you delve, the more incredible the answers to those unaware of the growing influence of worldwide Zionism. Support for the movement and its ambition to create a “New Israel” was quite fashionable in the corridors of power around the time of World War I. The story I find compelling is that, while Britain struggled desperately against German U-boat successes and ammunition shortages, the Zionist power-brokers of Germany and Eastern Europe consulted with their opposite numbers in America and decided, given their grip on money and media, they could bring the US into the war against Germany and its Ottoman ally if Britain were to promise them Palestine for a Jewish homeland afterwards.
Balfour was a Zionist convert (as were many others, including Prime Minister David Lloyd-George) and in the right position. The proposition was put to Britain in 1916. The Zionists delivered. The US entered the war. In the meantime, immigrant Polish-Zionist chemist Chaim Weizmann offered a solution to the production of enough acetone, a critical ingredient in cordite for artillery shells, to satisfy the war effort. He demanded the same promise. Balfour handed them their “receipt” in November 1917 even though Palestine was not, and never could be, Britain’s to give away.
“Name of the game: erasing Palestine”
Balfour had inserted into his “declaration” that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing and non-Jewish communities…” on the insistence of the only Jew in the British Cabinet, Lord Montague, who was anti-Zionist and opposed the deal. But this safeguard was jettisoned as soon as Britain lost control of events.
Not content with the territory allocated to them under the UN Partition Plan, the Israelis declared statehood, ignoring all boundaries. Their “Plan Dalet” offensive, begun beforehand, had seized much Arab-designated land at gunpoint. Jewish militias – the Irgun, Haganah, Palmach and Lehi – raided towns and villages, forcing inhabitants to flee. Numerous atrocities were committed, including the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem (headquarters of the British administration) in 1946, murdering 91, and the massacres at Deir Yassin and Lydda in 1948.
Today Israel illegally occupies the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including the Old City, and has Gaza in a stranglehold so pitiless as to have caused a long-term humanitarian crisis and irreparable environmental damage. For nearly 70 years millions of dispossessed Palestinians and their families have languished in refugee camps, and those who remain in their homeland – Christian and Muslim alike – live a miserable life under brutal military occupation.
The situation stands as a monumental stain on the flag of the United Nations, which hasn’t the backbone to take action. And the continuing repercussions throughout the Holy Land should concern all true Christians and Muslims, especially regular churchgoers like Mrs May.
Miko Peled, the son of an Israeli general and a former soldier in the Israeli army – and now an important figure in the struggle for justice – confirms what many have been saying for years:
The name of the game: erasing Palestine, getting rid of the people and de-Arabising the country… By 1993 the Israelis had achieved their mission to make the conquest of the West Bank irreversible… That is when Israel said, OK, we’ll begin negotiations…
My critic in the local newspaper called Hamas terrorists. Peled describes the Israeli army, in which he served, as “one of the best trained and best equipped and best fed terrorist organisations in the world”. Take your pick. But Hamas’s political wing is not proscribed as a terrorist organisation in the UK.
The accusation that criticising the Israeli regime harms Jewish communities is unacceptable. There are many admirable Jewish groups vehemently campaigning against Israel’s crimes. One-time Israeli military intelligence chief Yehoshafat Harkabi warned that Jews throughout the world would pay the price of Israel’s misconduct. So, the problem appears to be a “family” matter between Jews everywhere.
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