The Balfour Devastation

Nov 2, 2020

Britain wronged the Palestinian people in 1948; it still wrongs them today

Arthur Balfour was a former British Conservative Prime Minister who, as foreign secretary in 1917, issued the Balfour Declaration: the document was, in fact, just a letter, sent to Lord Rothschild, a figurehead of the British Jewish community, affirming Britain’s eagerness to begin building a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.

The “letter” still stands as one of the most condemnable and detested documents ever produced, based on lies, myths and misinformation, and it initiated the Nakba — the beginning of the violent ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948. Simply put, Arthur Balfour gave away a country that was not his to give away.

The myth that Palestine was “a land without people” was propelled into 20th century propaganda to gag any rumours that what was happening in Palestine was anything more than a migration exercise. What, in fact, was happening was the killing, plunder, looting, expulsion, terror, loss, destitution and theft of Palestinian property and homes. Fierce, brutal, armed Zionist militias, trained by the British, forcibly expelled more than 750,000 Palestinian people, destroying over 500 indigenous towns and villages, so that no rightful owner would ever be able to return.

Palestinian homes and farmsteads that survived, were taken over by the “new occupiers” — furniture, keepsakes, personal items, even food still warm and half-eaten on the kitchen table, became Israeli property; everything that was abandoned in the sudden flee of panic and terror, was commandeered — stolen.

The day the Balfour Declaration was rubber-stamped is the day Israel celebrates its birth, but for Palestinians, it is rightly marked as the darkest day in their history; a momentous ‘catastrophe’. Those who managed to remain in their homes, and the generations born thereafter, from child to adult, live under the barrel of a gun, suffering institutionalised discrimination, jail, torture and persecution on a daily basis — Palestine, where Israel literally occupies over the top, is unquestionably, an apartheid regime; and apartheid, as defined by the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, is the second gravest crime against humanity, after genocide — an incremental version of which, is also clearly being inflicted on the people of Gaza.

The Balfour Declaration should never be celebrated. Death, misery, torture, dispossession, massacres, ethnic cleansing and expulsion is not something this country, or any other colluding signatory, should ever commemorate with flags and bunting. We perpetrated a massive, unforgivable crime against humanity, and in our continued alliance with Israel, we are still as guilty as the day the Nakba first began — for indeed, the dispossessions, executions, ethnic cleansing & population transfers are still occurring; for the Palestinians who remain, the Nakba never ended.

“The problem with the Balfour Declaration,” says Ghada Karmi, Palestinian author and lecturer at Exeter University, “is that whatever explanations we give, none of them justify what was done to a country that was already inhabited.”

Steps towards ending the Israeli occupation on the basis of international law, compensating Palestinians for their losses, enabling their inalienable right of return, and recognising the state of Palestine with Jerusalem as its capital, might right some of the wrongs. Instead, the British government chooses to ally itself with the perpetrators of over 100 years of war crimes and invest in their heinous ever-expanding arms trade, which is currently perfecting the art of “efficient killing” by testing its weaponry on the captive population of Gaza.

Over the years, Palestinian and European civil society has mounted sustained campaigns to pressure the EU to stop financing Israel’s illegal occupation, apartheid and ongoing settler colonial projects, or help grow its weapons industry. Elbit Systems — one of Israel’s largest private arms companies, which has ten production sites across the UK, is one of the most demonic accomplices of Israel’s violations of international law.

Elbit is grossly complicit in Israel’s military aggressions against the Palestinian people and one of the world’s key promoters of drones for unmanned “warfare”, population control and spy surveillance, also playing a key role in the construction of Israel’s Apartheid wall and its ever-expanding illegal settlements. After slaughtering over 2,200 Palestinian people and 551 children in 2014, Elbit celebrated, indeed boasted, that its shares rose 6.6% —  Elbit is an infamous war profiteer and a systematic human rights violator — let’s call the spade a spade.

Now the anniversary of the fateful Balfour Declaration is upon us once again, it’s time to commemorate the date, not with applause, but with honest, meaningful and sorrowful acknowledgement of the role our British government played and is still participating in, and this means change.

What’s done can never be undone, but we can begin to apologise by ending our complicity and pulling out of an evil arms trade that is intent on continuing to kill the people of Palestine. “The British government has been complicit for over 100 years,” says Huda Ammori, “so it’s not going to change just because we appeal to them. But we’ve had enough of just letter writing, signing petitions and lobbying MP’s, which has got us nowhere. It’s fallen on ordinary people to say enough is enough, and take it into their own hands and shut these horrible arms factories down.”

It’s true: no one is reading the placards anymore. No one is listening to the speeches. No one is reading the leaflets. Direct action is the only way forward. It’s fast, huge, pacy, in-your-face, loud, obtrusive, impactful and, more importantly, it is actually succeeding in shutting Israel’s UK-based drone factories down, where everything else has failed. If you know something works, why go back to the old way of doing things?

Bullets, bombs, explosives, incendiaries and “smart” missiles have no other job but to slaughter. Until that is fully acknowledged, there can be no peace for anyone, anywhere, ever.

#ShutElbitDown and #FreePalestine