Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip marked the centennial of the Balfour Declaration with angry protests on Thursday, stressing their view that it was the first step in a process of displacement and discrimination they feel is continuing to this day.
“It destroyed our lives,” said Miasser Abu Ali, 62, who was among several thousand Palestinians to march from Yasser Arafat Square in Ramallah to the nearby offices of the British Council. Schoolchildren waved black flags and protesters held signs denouncing British Prime Minister Theresa May for voicing pride in Britain’s role in Israel’s establishment.
“Theresa May – taking someone’s homeland is no reason to celebrate,” said one sign.
Palestinians see a direct line between the declaration’s support for a Jewish national home in Palestine, where Jews were a minority, to the growth of the Zionist presence under the British Mandate and later the nakba, or catastrophe, of the expulsion by Jewish forces or flight of some 700,000 Palestinians during the War of Independence.
“The British must apologize for their crime,” said Abu Ali, whose parents lived in Milha village – now the Jerusalem neighborhood of Malha – and fled in May 1948 during the weeks following the massacre of some 250 Palestinians by Irgun and Stern Group forces at Deir Yassin, located in what is now Givat Shaul. Her mother told her they were afraid that they too would be massacred and that Jews told villagers they should leave for their own safety.
“We moved to Bethlehem and lived in a poor neighborhood but it was like refugee conditions,” she said. “We left our house, our clothes, our food, our trees. They took a country, they took our lives. I understand stealing from a bank or stealing a car. They stole a land.”
The British are culpable not only for the Balfour declaration but also for “facilitating Jewish immigration under the British mandate,” Abu Ali said. She also blamed France and the United States for supporting Israel.
She held up a sign showing a keffiyeh-clad person wearing a key – the symbol of refugee return – as a necklace, and ripping the Balfour Declaration in two. “Justice and Freedom for Palestine,” the sign said.
Some demonstrators held up posters bearing the picture of Arthur James Balfour, the British foreign secretary who issued the declaration, alongside a photo of Prime Minister Theresa May. Their pictures were splattered with an image of a blood-stained hand.
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“They are celebrating the crime, but our struggle against the effects of Balfour will continue,” Fatah Central Committee member Mahmoud al-Aloul told the crowd.
He later said to reporters: “We want recognition from Britain that it’s a crime, not a paper; a crime that led to the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of people, the destruction of cities and villages and massacres.
We want compensation for the Palestinian people, at least politically, by recognizing its right to a Palestinian state.”
“From Israel – we want it to stop its occupation and its settlement for the sake of the freedom of the Palestinian people,” he added.
Similar protests were held across the West Bank and in Gaza City, where Hamas legislator Ahmed Bahar called on Arab heads of state to boycott May’s government over its support for Israel and its stance toward the Balfour Declaration. He termed the declaration “the peak of wrongdoing to the Palestinian people and the peak of disgrace to Britain.”
Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah’s office issued a statement that the premier “is disgusted to see the UK celebrating and promoting for apartheid against the Palestinians. We demand the UK apologize and compensate the Palestinian people and immediately recognize the state of Palestine.”
Nizar Nazal, a PA Education Ministry official in Kabatiya near Jenin, said: “We teach our children to not forget the declaration, which made possible a Jewish state and caused the suffering of the Palestinian people, and that we ask Britain to apologize and help us build our state.”
A 14-year-old boy said: “The UK didn’t have the right to give Palestine to anybody.
But I am sure they won’t apologize. They support Israel, including today.”
He dated the Palestinians tragedy back to 1917. “After Balfour, Israeli mafias came and occupied Palestine. People lost their parents, their brothers, their family – but the main thing is that people lost their land. When you lose your land you have nothing.”
Ataya Abu Khawla, 55, a PA employee, said he came out to demonstrate “against this heinous crime perpetrated by the British.
If Britain respects itself it will apologize and compensate by recognizing a Palestinian state” in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The Bir Zeit University student council wrote a letter to the British Council in Ramallah saying that “the British government and its members and consulate are not welcome at the university until the end of this occupation and terrorism. This disaster would not have been possible without the British government’s effort and promise.
The British government is responsible for all the destruction that we spot in Palestine.”
MK Yousef Jabareen sent a letter Thursday, on behalf of the 13 Joint List MKs, to the British Ambassador to Israel David Quarrey, calling on the British government to “actively work toward ending the Israeli occupation.”