The University of Manchester's decision to celebrate a document that has led to a hundred years of crimes against the Palestinians cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged, argues Huda Ammori
We, students of the BDS campaign at the University of Manchester (UoM), recently discovered that the university plans to host an event on Tuesday 31st October at 7.30pm to celebrate 100 years since the Balfour Declaration, co-organised by the Israeli embassy and the Zionist Federation. The Balfour Declaration was a British pledge to allow for a “Jewish homeland in Palestine”. The current plight of the Palestinians is the result of the legacy of this pledge and wider British colonialism in the region. British political interests have been the source of Palestinians suffering for decades. The Balfour Declaration allowed for the legitimisation of genocide which led to the Al-Nakba in 1948, which translates into English as the great catastrophe. Appropriate to its title, the Nakba was the expulsion by the Israeli militia of over half the Palestinian population from their homes, the murder of thousands, the rape of Palestinian women and the destruction of over 400 villages. This system of ethnic cleansing continues to the present day.
Shortly after the Balfour Declaration, the British had murdered my great grandfather as part of their colonial regime. His wife, my great grandmother, was pregnant at the time with my grandad. In 1967, my father, alongside his younger brothers and sisters, were expelled from their homes with military force, forcing them to become refugees. Every Palestinian will have a similar family history, one entrenched with death, hardship, struggle and resistance.
The decision of the university to host the ‘celebrations’ of the Balfour Declaration is a complete mockery of the historical and ongoing suffering Palestinian students and their families face. We are students who have been ignored completely by the university administration, which also chooses to ignore the British people who stand against racism and colonialism, and who disapprove of an event which celebrates Western imperialism.
In fact, Palestinians have been running a campaign for the British government to apologise for the Balfour Declaration. Instead of apologising, British institutions are now supporting the celebrations themselves, despite claiming to be inclusive and “socially responsible”.
The university has met previously with the Israeli ambassador, Mark Regev, and listened to his concerns over events ran by a student campaign during Israeli Apartheid Week. As a result of his lobbying, the university imposed even more conditions upon our events, including the censorship of the title of a talk by a holocaust survivor. This is despite a strong campaign from students and academics for the university to cut all links with Israel’s apartheid regime, and which took place shortly after the Students’ Union had endorsed the BDS campaign following a successful majority vote in favour of the boycott of Israel.
Furthermore, the university has failed to respond to all the requests from Palestinian students to meet to discuss events run by the student BDS campaign, and to discuss the university’s links with Israel’s war crimes - of which there are plenty. The university has continued to fail to engage with Palestinian students, and has only engaged with a foreign government and its embassy over our events rather than with the student organisers. The student organisers are members of the university community and continue to support the institution through their participation in university events and tuition fees. This is clear evidence of a worrying double standard.
To celebrate an event that led to the ongoing wiping out of an entire people, who are still suffering the consequences today, is an insult to the Palestinians who have lived under decades of Israel's illegal military occupation. It is an insult to the idea that crimes against humanity should be opposed and not celebrated at a prestigious university. It is an even graver insult to the many Palestinian students at the university who are the lucky few that Israel allowed to leave to study abroad, and who have lived their entire lives under occupation and brutal control by the Israeli army being represented at this “celebration".
There is even a monument in the university to Chaim Weizmann, the man that helped bring about the Balfour Declaration, which is a slap in the face to all those that lost their lives, homes and homeland to the horrors that came about as a consequence.
As a Palestinian student myself, it feels like this University is a permanent celebration of the suffering of my family and the Palestinian people. It is time for this to stop, and as students understand more and more the morally defunct position of support for Israel that the University manifests, we will no longer stand for such complicity in the crimes against humanity that the Israeli state continues to commit. It is a moral imperative to end these celebratory links with Apartheid Israel, both on our campuses and in the policies of our government. We, as a community against the principles of imperialism and racism, will protest against the Balfour “celebration” and stand with the Palestinian people.
Huda Ammori is a British student, activist and writer with Palestinian and Iraqi heritage. She is completing her studies at the University of Manchester where she founded and currently chairs the BDS Campaign UoM, which exposes and seeks to end the university's complicity with Israel's war crimes. Huda is also engaged in pro-Palestine and anti-arms trade activism on a national and global level.