Thursday, 2 November 2017

Balfour and his Middle Eastern Legacy

Arthur Balfour
Hanan Ashrawi, 'Opinion:A century on from Balfour, I challenge Britain to finally do the right thing' Guardian Thursday 2 November 2017):
Today we mark the centenary of the calamitous Balfour declaration. In 1917, with a few paragraphs and a stroke of his pen, the British foreign minister, Lord Balfour, unleashed historic forces that changed the fate of an entire people and a whole region. He committed a grave sin: promising the homeland of one people to another. A century on, every Palestinian is still plagued by the consequences of that decision – whether it is the refugees yearning to return, still clutching the keys to their homes, Palestinians suffering under an occupation that has lasted 50 years, Jerusalemites experiencing the fraudulent transformation of the character, demography, culture and landscape of their city before their eyes, or Palestinian citizens of Israel who are undergoing an intricate and cruel system of discrimination and exclusion in a country that claims to be democratic. The Balfour declaration was quintessentially a colonial decision emanating from the myth of the “white man’s burden”, the idea that “advanced nations” needed to administer the territories of “peoples not yet able to stand by themselves” – in the words of the covenant of the League of Nations – an inherently problematic and racist notion in itself. The land was neither Balfour’s nor Britain’s to give away, but, as is always the case with colonialism, a diktat made in a capital far away is meant to supersede the collective rights and aspirations of a people.
She asks when Britain will recognise that the real legacy of the Balfour declaration 'is of suffering, dispossession, oppression and injustice – a painful legacy that every Palestinian generation since 1917 has inherited'.
If the UK is looking for past glories, it will not find them in exceptionalism, stepping outside the global consensus or celebrating the colonial calamities it has created. Rather, it is called upon to stand up for what is right, and become a champion of the norms and values we collectively hold as an international community. The first step in a process of rectification and redemption is to recognise this historical injustice and apologise to the Palestinian generations that have been its victims. The UK must decide to stand for peace, equality, justice and self-determination, and hold Israel accountable for violating these basic rights. Having denied us that opportunity in 1917, a century on we hope Britain can help create and recognise a sovereign, independent Palestinian state. A century on, we hope Britain will make it right.

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