This cornerstone of imperial treachery must never be forgotten, argues Shabbir Lakha
The infamous declaration made by Britain’s Foreign Secretary in 1917, Lord Arthur Balfour, began what is now known as the Israel-Palestine conflict. A hundred years ago, he declared that His Majesty’s government supported the creation of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. The Declaration was made despite the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence just two years prior that promised independence to the Palestinians following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.
By the time the British acquired the Mandate for Palestine from the newly formed League of Nations, the facilitation by Britain of mass immigration of Jewish people from Europe to Palestine was well underway.
Even despite the declaration being made in contravention of the commitments Britain had already made to the Palestinians and without having the right to do so, Balfour did add that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. However, it soon became apparent that this safeguard in the declaration was not a priority.
In 1919, the King-Crane Commission found that '"a national home for the Jewish people” is not equivalent to making Palestine into a Jewish State; nor can the erection of such a Jewish State be accomplished without the gravest trespass upon the “civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”' and warned Woodrow Wilson, the US President at the time, that “if the American government decided to support the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, they are committing the American people to the use of force in that area, since only by force can a Jewish state in Palestine be established or maintained.”
How right they were. During the First Arab-Israeli War between 1947 and 1949, almost 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly expelled and over 500 Palestinian villages were destroyed. Today, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza continue to live under an illegal and brutal military occupation - the latter under a devastating siege for the last 10 years - with the full support of the US and UK. Palestinians continue to live under a system of apartheid, arbitrary detention and constant violence.
There are now almost 7 million Palestinian refugees living mainly in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, still not allowed to return to their homes.
Theresa May has claimed that Britain should commemorate the Balfour Declaration Centenary “with pride” and has invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to join in with the celebrations. Netanyahu responded by saying the invite “speaks volumes” about UK-Israel relations, and on this rare occasion I agree with him.
The UK’s relationship with Israel is founded on settler colonialism, mutual violation of human rights and airbrushing history. For a hundred years, the UK has always been ready and willing to support Zionism at the expense of the Palestinians, from the Balfour Declaration itself to the continued military and diplomatic assistance - even when civilians are being massacred during one of Israel’s routine offensives in Gaza.
So as the centenary of this sordid historical event approaches, the only two words we should be saying, again and again, are: Free Palestine.
Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.
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