NEW YORK – While people in Gaza and the West Bank took to the streets in protest against the 100-year-old Balfour Declaration which contributed to the establishment of the State of Israel, Palestinian representatives slammed the document in the UN building in New York.
A prominent American pro-Palestinian historian declared on Thursday that the document written in 1917 by Lord Balfour was, for the Palestinians, “a gun pointed directly at their heads” and “constituted a declaration of war by the British Empire on the indigenous population of the land.”
Rashid Khalidi is an Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies and Co-Director of the Center for Palestine Studies at Columbia University; he is also a former PLO adviser. He was invited by the UN Palestinian Rights Committee to give his perspective on the Balfour Declaration and the impact it has had on the Palestinian people. A large number of diplomats participated in his lecture in the UN headquarters in NY, which was also open to the public and was broadcast live by Palestinian TV.
Riyad Mansour, the Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, who was sitting on the stage next to Khlidi, thanked his diplomat colleagues and others for standing with the Palestinians, “remembering this infamous declaration.”
Kalidi said that “this declaration has launched what has become a century-long assault on the Palestinian people, aimed at implanting this national home at their expense.” Answering a question from the audience, he said that “many many people are the descendants of people who were killed or otherwise harmed by the British Empire, or exiled.”
He was asked why Britain has refused demands to apologize to the Palestinians for the Declaration, to which he replied: “Simple reason. The Zionist narrative continues to dominate the British environment especially in the media and the current Conservative Party, therefore the (British) PM is now hosting the Israeli PM.”
Khalidi was referring to Balfour and the British promise of a national home to the Jewish people. He said that the region needs a “peeling away many layers of myth – one of them is that the British cabinet acted as it did out of a sense of concern for the sufferings of the Jewish people. I don’t think that was the primary motivation of the cabinet.
“There was an element of what you might call Philosemitism, an element of looking at the Bible and seeing it as a sort of road-map for the future, and saying the Jewish people should be restored to its ancestral homeland. However most of the members of this cabinet are hard-headed strategic anchors. Their primary objective was securing British Imperial lands and winning World War I.”
At the same time, Khalidi blamed Balfour himself for antisemitism. He said that Balfour, as a prime minister, kept Jewish refugees fleeing Zarist persecution from entering Britain.
So, said Khalidi, “I think while the sentiment played a small role, I think antisemitism also plays a role here. ‘Better to have them go elsewhere than to have them here,’ was in the minds of some people.”
In response to Khalidi’s lecture, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said, “These statements are another example of hateful Palestinian incitement and their refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state. While the Jewish people realized the dream of Zionism, our opponents continue to focus on hate and violence.
“The true lesson of history is that the Palestinian refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish people to our homeland has not benefited them, and will never undermine the thriving vitality of the State of Israel. We’ll continue to proudly celebrate this historic milestone that led to Israel’s founding.”
The Israeli delegation to the UN will mark the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration in a celebration at the end of November, with many diplomats in attendance and with US Vice President Mike Pence as the key speaker.