Balfour and Britain’s broken promise

may & netanyahu
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel at Downing Street in London, Feb 6, 2017. (photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP)

November 2 is the 100th Anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, signaling Britain’s support of the nascent Zionist movement.

By Tim Llewellyn / Mondoweiss / Oct 26, 2017


“Our record [in Palestine] demonstrates that we [British] can be, and have been, as devious as any other people. A nation which only has room for national pride, and no room for honest reflection about its past has little claim to describe itself as either moral or civilized.”
— Peter Shambrook, Durham University historian


If the British Conservative Government of Teresa May represented the views of the people of Britain rather than the preferences of the state of Israel on the disastrous outcome for the Palestinian Arabs of the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, she would not be planning to celebrate this 100th anniversary with Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister. This will happen at a cosy London dinner party at the home of Lord Rothschild, heir to the recipient of that infamous letter from Arthur J. Balfour, Britain’s then Foreign Secretary.

As it is, her November 2 tete-a-tete with Mr. Netanyahu, Lord Rothschild and Lord Balfour, a descendant of Arthur J. Balfour who had no direct descendants, and a subsequent November 9, rally organized by Christian Zionists at the cavernous Albert Hall, in London’s Hyde Park, which Britain’s leader and Zionist and Israeli notables will also attend, are being pre-empted and countered by a host of events throughout the British Isles. These are not only highly critical of Britain’s disastrous legacy in its former Mandated Territory, but urge it to recognize Palestine as a state and work practically to grant the Palestinian Arabs their freedom and self-determination.

This was the duty, a “sacred trust,” the League of Nations imposed on Britain when it obtained the mandate to rule Palestine after the First World War — to prepare the people of Palestine for self-government. Where the Arabs were concerned, then 90 per cent of the population, it signally failed to do so, instead encouraging the Zionist movement to create a parallel government alongside the colonial one.

Many British and Irish organizations large, small and tiny have been rallying against this injustice during the past year, reaching a climax of protest as November 2 nears. Although Israel and its many powerful friends and agents in the United Kingdom have worked hard to have these events cancelled or disrupted, and have largely failed, the main point about these cross-Britain and Ireland protests and reconsiderations is that their target is Britain, not Israel. (Not directly.)

The Balfour Project‘s “Britain’s Broken Promise: Time for a New Approach” is one resonant event, on October 31 at Westminster Central Hall, across from the Houses of Parliament. The aim is to seat 1,000 people to hear an array of what might loosely be described as the Great and the Good, Lords and Ladies, legislators from all the major parties (including the Israel-bedazzled Tories), bishops and other clerics from the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Methodist Churches, a liberal rabbi, a historian, a former senior British diplomat who recently served in Palestine, and a Palestinian film-maker. This eminent throng will review critically and from different angles Britain’s policies, past and present, on Palestine and Israel and urge positive and redemptive action.

Elsewhere, activists in such organizations as the English, Scottish and Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaigns and Middle East Monitor are organizing rallies and marches and have already held packed seminars and conferences across the three UK and Irish nations. Smaller gatherings are taking place in towns and villages. They reflect a steady surge in interest in the Palestinian tragedy during the past fifteen years or so, most of it sympathetic to the dispossessed Arabs, fueled by the second intifada of 2001–2005, the three Israeli military onslaughts on Gaza during the past nine years, the continuing siege of Gaza and the steady litany of Israel’s oppression and land theft in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The Balfour Project signals concerns from a slightly different and perhaps more lofty sector of the British people: what used to be called the Establishment. The Project hopes that it can bend different and more influential ears among Britain’s ruling class.

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