Ever since the Balfour Declaration of 1917, Britain has denied our people their rights
On the run: Britain has not taken the steps to realise the establishment of a free state of Palestine Photo:Getty images
Over the past few weeks, British diplomats have stated that they are doing all they can to discourage Palestine’s bid for “observer state” status in the UN General Assembly. If this is an official British position, then it is reprehensible, yet not all that surprising.
Ninety-five years ago tomorrow, on November 2, 1917, British imperialism in Palestine began when Lord Balfour, the then British foreign secretary and former prime minister, sent a letter to Baron Rothschild, one of the leaders of the Zionist movement. This letter became known as the “Balfour Declaration”.
In that letter, Balfour promised British support for the Zionist programme of establishing a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. This pledge of support was made without consulting the indigenous Christian and Muslim inhabitants of Palestine, the Palestinian people. And it was made before British troops had even conquered the land.
Balfour, on behalf of Britain, promised Palestine – over which Britain had no legal right – to a people who did not even live there (of the very small community of Palestinian Jews in Palestine in 1917, very few were Zionists). And he did so with the worst of intentions: to discourage Jewish immigration to Britain. No wonder Lord Montagu, the only Jewish member of the Cabinet, opposed the declaration.
And yet, just two years earlier, Britain had committed herself to assisting the Arab nations in achieving their independence from the Ottoman Empire. Arab fighters all over the region, including thousands of Palestinians, fought for their freedom, allowing Britain to establish her mandate in Palestine.
From that moment, Palestine became the victim of colonial conspiracies. The Balfour Declaration helped to encourage Zionist immigration into Palestine and away from America and Western Europe. Concomitantly, Britain repressed Palestinian nationalism, which was exemplified by its crushing of the Arab revolt of 1936-1939 and the denial of the right of the Palestinian people to express their will through their own representation. In fact, Britain suppressed Palestinian political representation through a policy of systematic denial of Palestinian political rights.
The dying days of Britain’s rule in Palestine were marked by destruction, blood, and the start of the Palestinian exile, meaning the expulsion of the majority of the Palestinian people against the backdrop of Zionist terrorism. It was not the Palestinians who blew up the King David Hotel, who blew up the British Embassy in Rome, who tried to assassinate Ernest Bevin, Britain’s foreign secretary, and who succeeded in assassinating Lord Moyne, British minister of state in the Middle East. That was the Irgun, an ideological Right-wing group – and the predecessor to Israel’s ruling Likud Party.