‘We Demand Apology For Balfour Declaration’ And Recognition Of Palestinian State!

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Palestinians demonstrate outside the Israeli embassy against the Israeli bombing of Gaza
Palestinians demonstrate outside the Israeli embassy against the Israeli bombing of Gaza

– Rally 10 Downing St November 4

‘WE DEMAND an apology for the Balfour Declaration and we demand repatriation and recognition of the Palestinian state,’ Palestinian Ambassador Manuel Hassassian told News Line on Monday.

He was responding to the call by the Fatah Central Committee for demonstrations outside British embassies all over the world over the British government’s intention to hold celebrations marking 100 years of the infamous Balfour Declaration.

On November 2nd, 1917, years before the occupation of Palestine, the then British Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour promised, in a letter to Jewish leaders, the establishment of the state of Israel, with a total disregard for the Palestinians whose land it was and who lived there.

Palestinian Ambassador Manuel Hassassian said: ‘There is big rally on November 4th outside 10 Downing Street. The rally is calling to rectify the Balfour Declaration and deal with its unfinished business. It was one-sided in helping the establishment of the state of Israel for the Jews while not helping to secure the rights for the Palestinians.

‘ “Make it right!” – this is the slogan of our campaign. Britain holds the moral and historic responsibility for the loss of the Palestinian lands. This is not the time for this government to celebrate the Balfour Declaration and be so proud about it while there is such injustice for the Palestinians, who, for so many years, have been living under the occupation.’

Hassassian will be addressing the 100 years Anniversary Rally of the Russian Revolution taking place on Sunday November 12 which has also been called to mark 100 years since the Balfour Declaration demanding ‘Forward to the Palestinian State!’

Meanwhile, a British university has been slammed for its decision to allow a Balfour Declaration ‘celebration’ organised by a pro-Israel Zionist group. The Manchester Balfour 100 event will be held at the University of Manchester’s main campus later in October and is part of a broader series of events to mark the anniversary of the Declaration. 

For supporters of the Zionist cause, the Declaration marks the first major milestone leading to the creation of Israel in 1948. However, for Palestinians, the Declaration led to the loss of their historic lands, subsequent displacement, and later occupation.

The university’s decision has been highly criticised by both academics and students. ‘Having the celebration of the Balfour Declaration on campus is totally disrespectful to students of Palestinian origin,’ said Ayham Madi, a Palestinian studying at the university, adding: ‘Many people lost their homes, land and their lives.’ 

The cybersecurity student said that, a hundred years later, Palestinians continue to feel the impact of the Declaration and that he felt ‘great pain’ that the university has allowed the event to take place.

‘My grandfather owned land in Palestine and it was taken away from him with no right to do so, my father was born in a refugee camp and spent most of his life in one.’ He continued: ‘I lost an aunt due to the bad conditions inside a refugee camp and I have another aunt who lives under occupation and I have never seen her in my life. All this is as a result of the Balfour Declaration.’ 

In a letter in 1917 to leading English Zionist Lord Walter Rothschild, Balfour promised British help in creating a ‘national home’ for the Jewish people in Palestine. The letter conditioned British assistance so that there be no ‘prejudice’ against the rights of existing non-Jewish populations living in the area.

After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War, the UK became the dominant power in the region and established Mandate rule in Palestine. University of Manchester senior lecturer and academic Dr Nicholas Thoburn said he was ‘dismayed’ that the institution had allowed the event to take place on its campus, which he said commemorated the moment Britain, ‘with its imperial chauvinism and entitlement, knowingly gave the green light to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

‘Lord Balfour declared, chillingly, that Zionism was “of far profounder importance than the desire and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land”. ‘That this could be a cause for celebration, hosted in whatever way by a British university, when the consequences then and now have been so devastating … is indicative of the contempt that Israel and its advocates hold both for Palestinians in the region and in exile,’ he added.

A university spokesperson said: ‘The University allows some of its premises to be hired by third parties for external events, provided that the events in question comply with the University”s Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech,’ claiming: ‘This (Balfour 100) event is one such commercial booking and it has no connection to, nor is it endorsed by, the University.’

Over the past year, tensions between pro-Palestinian activists and university administrators have become strained over allegations of censorship of Palestinian events, yet this pro-Zionist event is allowed to proceed on the Manchester campus.

Events marking Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) were only allowed to go ahead after several meetings and were subject to a strict set of conditions, which included a university veto over speakers.

The university also withheld approval for two talks organised by Palestinian activists in October 2016 and February 2017, but blamed administrative issues for the events not going ahead. In February 2017, a Freedom of Information request revealed that the Israeli ambassador to the UK met University of Manchester officials to ‘discuss alleged anti-Semitism on campus’.

The university agreed to prohibit the title of a talk by a Holocaust survivor based on that meeting. ”Many colleagues are concerned that there is a double standard at play,’ said Dr Thoburn. ‘The university seemingly allowing this centennial celebration of ethnic cleansing without complaint, while having imposed numerous constraints on a recent student-organised event during Israel Apartheid Week.’

Huda Ammori, a Palestinian student, who worked on the IAW events said the university was frequently putting obstacles in the way of Palestinian activists. ‘The university’s senior management team is happy to meet with the Israeli embassy to discuss events run by a student campaign, but they won’t respond to a student request for meetings with Palestinian students,’ Ammori said, adding the university was now allowing a ‘celebration of Palestinian suffering’.

Ammori, along with other activists, is planning to protest outside the event when it takes place later this month. Palestinian groups have ramped up pressure on the UK to apologise for the Balfour Declaration in the run-up to the centenary next month. The British government has said the Declaration was a ‘historic statement’ and one it would not be apologising for.

• Israel is planning to build 31 housing units in the Beit Romano settlement slap bang in the middle of Hebron’s Old City. For the first time in 15 years, Israel’s civil administration has approved the construction of settlement housing units in the Palestinian city.

They plan to build the 31 housing units on a site that used to be a bus station on Shuhada Street, but next to it an Israeli military base operates from what used to be a Palestinian school. Shuhada Street, the Old City’s main commercial artery, has been shut down by the Israeli army since 1994, forcing many shops to close. Palestinians have been banned from accessing the street, costing many their livelihoods and their homes.

‘The decision to build new settler housing challenges the international community and violates international laws and agreements,’ Issa Amro, a spokesperson for the Youth Against Settlements activist group in Hebron said.

‘This will make life even more unbearable for Palestinians living in the Old City, who are already suffering from checkpoints, closures and repeated attacks from Jewish settlers and the Israeli army.’

Palestinians can appeal the plan, which could postpone the construction of the settler units. Tayseer Abu Sneneh, the mayor of Hebron, said that the decision constitutes ‘blatant aggression on the property of Hebron’s municipality. We will challenge this decision legally, and will apply political pressure as well,’ he said.

The settlement in Hebron ‘represents the occupation in its most ugly form,’ added Hagit Ofran of Peace Now. ‘The permits approved today would increase the number of settlers in Hebron by 20 per cent … While doing everything in his power to please a small group of settlers, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is harming Israel’s morality and image abroad, while crushing basic values of human rights and dignity.’

In the next couple of days, further approvals of settler housing were expected throughout the occupied West Bank – up to 3,800 units. That would make a total of 6,500 settlement units so far this year. If you compare that to previous years, in 2015, there were fewer than 2,000 units, and in 2016 there were 2,700.