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An exhibition of historical oppression

January 23, 2014 at 2:55 pm

British approval for Israel to temporarily display the Balfour Declaration during the inauguration of a museum in 2015 has met with verbal condemnations from the Arab League and leading Palestinian officials. The declaration is described as a document which negated the political rights of Arabs and Palestinians, as well as being proof of their forced displacement. Israel’s enthusiasm has been vehemently challenged by Palestinians as they contemplate their historic reality – that of a people divested of rights by imperial motives favouring the establishment of a Jewish state.

Diplomatic support by Christian Zionist sympathisers paved the way for colonial occupation and later, for apartheid practices flimsily disguised by the Israeli government as ‘the right to a national homeland’, notwithstanding the fact that nationalism is absent from Jewish texts. The display of the Balfour document is regarded by Zvi Hauser as vital to the Jewish population’s approach to history. “We will do our utmost so that Israelis may view with their own eyes a piece of history that has changed our reality.”

It is possible for Israelis to view not only the document articulating support for the Jewish state, but also the ramifications of such illegalities. Relegating a document to a particular era in history strives to eradicate its recurrent consequences for Palestinians, whose right to self-determination began to dwindle from the moment Zionists obtained support for the illegal occupation of Palestine. In adhering to its tradition of imparting a nationalistic consciousness to Jewish people, the document is viewed as tangible evidence of alleged patriotism inscribing the right to Palestine and its subsequent transformation into Israel. Whatever the motives which materialised into the Balfour document, most notably imperialist ventures, these are likely to be overlooked weaving a selective historic narrative into Jewish collective memory which obliterates the massacres, displacement and destruction of Palestinian territory.

If recent history is to set any precedent, any Jewish attachment to the physical presence of the Balfour document is likely to further entrench belief in the right to resort to state terror in the name of Zionism. Israeli discourse is motivated by Zionist ideology which dismisses the notion of Palestinians living in Palestine prior to the establishment of the Jewish state. By using the metaphor of nostalgia for land, albeit one to which there was no legal and valid claim, Israeli leaders distorted history prior to the inception of the state, and are committed to a continuity of this violation of memory in order to safeguard an ideology engrained with hatred.

Apart from bolstering a false sense of privilege, exhibiting the Balfour document is unlikely to provide any additional wealth of historical memory for Israel.  The Israeli state’s right to perpetrate violence may be perceived as enshrined within the right to protect the illegal, thus consolidating the oppression of Palestinians within a revered and warped definition of history. For Palestinians, the exhibition of enforced national humiliation is nothing less than proof of the necessity of collective resistance. If Israel wants proof of its historic memory, it needs to look no further than its geopolitical strategy and its apartheid practices in ‘protecting’ a land which it has never had the right to dominate.  

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.