The Belfour blow: Britain’s crime of crimes, 100 years on

By Ameen Izzadeen
If moral decadence is defined as doing a shameful act and being proud about it, then Britain under Prime Minister Theresa May is an embodiment of moral decadence.
One hundred years ago, on November 2, Arthur James Balfour, the then British foreign secretary, sent a letter to Lord Walter Rothschild, a British Zionist leader, declaring:
“His Majesty’s government views with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country. I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.”
Since this original sin of planting the seed for the creation of Israel in Palestine, the Balfour declaration has brought death, destruction and displacement to millions of Palestinians.
Even today, because of this abominable product of the liaison between Britain and the Zionist movement, Palestinians are being persecuted and their lands forcibly robbed by Israel with impunity.
Yet, Britain has no remorse.
While refusing to offer an apology to the Palestinians, a barefaced Prime Minister Theresa May took a preposterous stance to defend the declaration, which Mahatma Gandhi described as a crime against humanity. On Wednesday, at the House of Commons, May declared, “We are proud of the role that we played in the creation of state of Israel and we will certainly mark the centenary with pride.”
If only she had paused and reflected on the issue before she agreed to break bread with Israel’s hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it would have, perhaps, occurred to her that Britain had no right to give another nation’s land to a group of wealthy Zionists.
In a famous quote, British author and journalist Arthur Koestler described his country’s move as, “One nation solemnly promised to a second nation the country of a third.”
If only May had pondered as to why Labour Party Leader James Corbyn is boycotting ceremonies being held to celebrate the Balfour declaration, she would have seen the historic wrong the British Government had heaped on the Palestinian people, who were not even told that their land was to be handed over to European Jews. So much for Britain’s boast about its proud history of democratic evolution since Magna Carta and its claim to be the birth place of parliamentary democracy and being the first country to adopt a Bill of Right!
In 2002, Labour Government Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, in an interview with New Statesman said the Balfour declaration and the contradictory assurances given to Palestinians could be “an interesting history for us, but not an honourable one.”
Straw was referring to the pledge made in correspondence between British diplomat Henry McMahon and Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca and great grandfather of the present king of Jordan. Simply put, Britain promised the Arabs independence if they betrayed their Ottoman Caliph.
One hundred years after this broken promise, the British government has no compunction about exposing its moral depravity, as it goes ahead with celebrations to mark a document that stands out as the nastiest symbol of colonial arrogance.
It is often claimed that the Balfour declaration arose out of a noble intention to help the European Jews subjected to anti-Semitism. Far from it, the declaration that came after the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, smacks of Britain’s intention to further its war efforts and continue its colonial plunder.
When the declaration was issued, Hitler was not even in the European political landscape. The Jews were financially strong in the United States, Britain, and other parts of Europe. Anti-Semitism was waning, especially after the infamous Dreyfus Affair in France.
The Zionists claimed their right to Palestine was based on a biblical promise. If justice is the core of religion, the promise made to a different set of Jews in a different time in history is no licence to perpetuate injustice.
It is also said that the declaration was a payoff for Zionist movement’s support for Britain’s war efforts. Zionist leader and scientist Chaim Weizmann had helped Britain to produce acetone, a key ingredient in naval explosives. Some even detect a racist motive in the declaration — a ruse to ‘ethnically cleanse’ Europe of Jews.
One hundred years ago, before this criminal declaration was made, most of the Jews living in harmony with their Arab brethren in the Middle East had not even heard about the Zionist movement founded by Austrian activist Theodor Herzl in 1897. Not knowing the Zionists’ ulterior motive, the Palestinians welcomed the European Jews’ migration. When in the 1930s, the Arabs realised the danger and revolted, Britain, which was governing Palestine, under a League of Nation Mandate, crushed the uprising and killed several prominent Palestinian leaders.
Within 30 years since the declaration, the Jewish population in Palestine rose from less than 10 percent to more than 30 percent in 1947, the year in which the Palestinians were dealt another devastating blow, this time by the United Nations, an organisation formed to establish justice and world peace.
Fatefully, the 70th anniversary of this grave injustice in the form of the UN General Assembly Resolution 181 falls also in November, a painful month, in the Palestinian calendar, just as May, in which Israel declared its independence after killing hundreds of Palestinians and expelling more than 750,000 from their homes. Is it justice when the UN divided Palestine, giving Arabs who constituted 70 percent of the population 45 percent of the land and the 30 percent Jewish population 55 percent of the land? Seventy years on, the UN is still a puppet of big powers, incapable of righting the wrong imposed on the Palestinians in its name.
After 100 years, three major Arab-Israeli wars, two intifadas, scores of peace efforts, Palestinians are yet to be freed from the yoke of colonialism.
Today, they possess just 18 percent of the territory the UN partition plan had allocated to them. Laws are regularly passed in Israel to annex as much land from the remaining Palestinian territory. As Jewish settlements grow in occupied Palestine, Israel has become an apartheid state.
It was not the Palestinians who persecuted the Jews during World War II. The Palestinians are paying for Europe’s ugliest crime. Sadly, the persecuted have become the persecutors. As the Palestinians mark the Balfour declaration with tears, the international community is impotent to order Israel’s withdrawal to 1967 borders. The promise of a two state solution is a charade perpetrated by Israel and its key ally, the United States.
As for Britain, we await the dawn of a world order based on justice to take the colonialist nation before a truth commission to face restorative justice.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
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