THE Palestine Expo event at London’s Olympia last weekend attracted thousands determined see the establishment of a Palestinian state.
In addition to a host of stalls and attractions celebrating Palestine’s history and culture, over 40 conference meetings were held on the issues concerning Palestine.
One of these, ‘Britain, Zionism and Jewish Resistance to Israel’ was addressed by David Cronin, author of Balfour’s Shadow: A Century of British Support for Zionism and Israel, and Leah Levane, co-chair of Jewish Voice for Labour.
David Cronin said:
‘Boris Johnson, believe it or not, once made an incisive comment.
‘The comment related to the 1917 Balfour Declaration. Through that declaration, Britain supported the establishment of a so-called Jewish national home in Palestine, while pretending that it would not harm the indigenous people of that country.
‘Boris Johnson stated: “Another way of putting it might be that the Britishgovernment viewed with favour the eating of a piece of cake by the Jewish people, provided that nothing should be done to prejudice the rights of non-Jewish communities to eat the same piece of cake at the same time.”
‘According to Boris Johnson, the declaration was “bizarre”, “tragicomically incoherent” and an “exquisite masterpiece of Foreign Office fudgerama”.
‘Boris Johnson’s comment should be placed in its proper context. The comment appeared in his fawning biography of Winston Churchill. When the comment is read carefully, it becomes apparent that Johnson was not really concerned about the rights of Palestinians – or “non-Jewish communities” as he described them, quoting the Balfour Declaration itself.
‘He was more concerned about how the Balfour Declaration undermined a previous commitment that Britain had given to the creation of what Johnson called a “big new Arab state” that would incorporate Palestine.
‘The result of these conflicting commitments was, according to Johnson, a “mess that Churchill had to clear up”.
‘I will touch on the question of how Churchill cleared up this particular mess shortly.
‘For the moment, I would like to keep the focus on Boris Johnson. It may not surprise you to hear that Boris Johnson avoids drawing attention to how he once described the Balfour Declaration as “bizarre”.
‘Marking the 100th anniversary of the declaration in November 2017, Boris Johnson praised it as “an historic event, which led to a giant political fact”.
‘That “giant fact” was the foundation of Israel. And according to Boris Johnson, Israel’s foundation was “one of the most stunning political achievements” during the 20th century.
‘Let us examine a little how this “stunning political achievement” came about.
‘It came about through decades of brutality against the Palestinians. Much of the brutality was inflicted by Britain.
‘The Balfour Declaration was enshrined in the League of Nations mandate under which Britain ruled Palestine between the two worldwars.
‘As a result, Britain was tasked with overseeing a process of Zionist colonisation.
‘That colonisation imperilled the basic rights of Palestinians and, unsurprisingly, encountered much resistance.
‘Faced with unrest in the early 1920s, the aforementioned Winston Churchill, then Britain’s colonial secretary, recommended that a special police force should be formed and dispatched to Palestine. It would be comprised of men who had previously served in the Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries – crown forces based in Ireland during its war of independence.
‘The Black and Tans remain despised in Ireland to this day for their vicious conduct.
‘Among their many crimes were that they shot dead my great grand-uncle Patrick Hartnett, who was a postman in County Limerick, and burnt down much of the town where I grew up in County Dublin.
‘The Black and Tans exported such cruelty to Palestine. One former member of the Black and Tans – a man named Douglas Duff – rose through the ranks to become a police inspector for Jerusalem. He has been immortalised in the phrase “duffing up”, a euphemism for torture.
‘Duff’s memoirs indicate that he may have been a pioneer of that odious practice now known as waterboarding and that it was tested out on Palestinians.
‘During the 1930s, a major rebellion erupted in Palestine. The British authorities crushed the revolt through tactics that included home demolitions, detention without charge or trial, shooting to kill and the collective punishment of entire villages.
‘Such tactics are still in use by Israel. And Israel invokes rules introduced by Britain to try and give its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza a semblance of legitimacy.
‘Israel is, therefore, following an ignominious pattern set by Britain. Furthermore, the British recruited members of the Haganah, the largest Zionist militia at the time and a forerunner of today’s Israeli military.
‘The result of Britain’s collaboration with the Haganah was that many of the forces who drove up to 800,000 Palestinians from their homes in the 1940s had received British training. Britain had, in effect, done the spade work for the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
‘So when Boris Johnson called Israel’s birth a “stunning political achievement” he was dancing on the ruins of Palestinian villages that were depopulated by force.
‘Israel’s “achievement” has been to complete the construction of an apartheid system, which had its foundations laid by Britain.
‘The apartheid system continues to have British support. Among other things, Britain has become an important client for Israel’s arms industry.
‘That has been highlighted this week when activists took direction action against firms in the Kent and Manchester areas run by the leading Israeli weapons maker Elbit Systems.
‘Given that Boris Johnson has rhapsodised about Israel’s “stunning political achievement”, it comes as no surprise that he is hostile to Palestinians and to the Palestine solidarity movement.
‘Boris Johnson has said that he “could not think of anything more foolish” than boycotting Israel.’
With typical charm, he has described advocates of the boycott as “corduroy-jacketed, snaggle-toothed lefty academics”.
‘If Boris Johnson insults you, then there is a strong likelihood you are doing something right.
‘The call to boycott Israel has been made by Palestinians who have experienced decades of apartheid and occupation.
‘I have every confidence that ordinary British people will listen to the voices of the oppressed, no matter what Boris Johnson might say.’
Leah Levane spoke of her experience living in Palestine just outside Hebron and how precious water cisterns – vital for Palestinian farmers – were wilfully destroyed by Israeli troops.
On the issue of Zionism she said: ‘Zionism is a minority view among Jewish people.
‘The lies and distortions around anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is anti-democratic.
‘It is important to debate Zionism without being accused of anti-Semitism.’