Author Salman Abu Sitta addressed the UK’s House of Lords on 28 March to discuss the Balfour Declaration and its consequences on the Palestinians. This year marks a century since the document was signed and the future of the State of Palestine was sealed.
Below is the text from Abu Sitta’s speech:
Ladies and Gentlemen:
We are witnessing today the longest war against a people:
A hundred years of the Palestinian people’s struggle for freedom and independence in their own country.
A hundred years of death and destruction in the region.
The hundred years witnessed the destruction of Palestine and the dispersion of its people.
Such an act was made possible by the largest, longest, comprehensive, pre-meditated and still continuous ethnic cleansing operation in modern history.
A hundred years of violating every article in human rights and international law, without remedy or recourse.
A hundred years culminating in the only colonial project in existence today.
The irony is that Palestine was not intended to be a colony at all.
Britain was entrusted to build government institutions in Palestine and Iraq (both as Mandate class A). It was due set a democratic independent country serving the Palestinian people.
It was in fulfillment of the “Sacred Trust of Civilisation”according to the Charter of the League of Nations.
Instead, it was converted into a colonial project for the benefit of European Jewish colonists who were not inhabitants of the country.
It was even worse than a colonial project.
Unlike any other colonial project, it eventually ended up with the mass expulsion of the majority of the population, the confiscation of their land and property, the destruction of their landscape and the erasure of their geography and history. It was the most tragic event in Palestine’s 5,000 year history.
In 1916, while the Allies planes were dropping leaflets on the Arabs in WWI exhorting them to fight the Turks and gain independence and freedom, Britain’s Mark Sykes and the France’s Georges Picot sat in a closed room with a map of the Middle East, planning how to carve it between them.
One year later, Arthur James Balfour, Britain’s foreign minister, concluded a secret agreement with rich European Jews to facilitate the establishment of “a Jewish national home”, not a state, in, not of, Palestine. He kept this agreement under lock and key. Meanwhile British forces entered Palestine in the spring of 1917 and bombarded Gaza using poison gas shells (yes) and destroyed most of its ancient buildings, but were defeated twice at Gaza gates.
On the evening of 31 October 1917, Allenby forces captured Beer Sheba in a surprise attack from the east. The gates of Palestine were laid open. Allenby sent a cable to London on 1 November 1st: “We captured Beer Sheba. Jerusalem will be your Christmas present”. Balfour opened his drawer and made public his secret agreement on 2 November 1917.
Balfour was not ashamed of his deed. He plainly stated his position:
For in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes [not rights] of the present population of the county.
If these were expedient political statements, the subsequent British actions in Palestine put these words in action.
The first act was to select a Zionist British minister, Herbert Samuel, to be the first High Commissioner of Palestine, whose official task was to bring to Palestine independence and a working government.
Samuel did the opposite. He created the roots for the rise of Israel. In his tenure (1920-1925), legally only from 1922, he created the foundations of the future state of Israel; he promulgated dozens of laws which facilitated Jewish acquisition of Palestinian land; recognised Hebrew as an official language; established separate Jewish institutions: banking system, educational system, labour union (Histadrut), Public Works (Soleh Boneh), power generation company (Rosenberg). But the most critical laws for the elimination of Palestine were the creation of a separate Jewish legislative council and separate Jewish armed forces (Haganah), which eventually conquered Palestine.
In today’s legal language, Samuel laid the foundations of Apartheid Israel.
The rise of apartheid
Samuel issued many of these laws without authority, neither from the League of Nations, which approved the Mandate only on 24 July 1922, nor on authority from the Colonial Office in London which often rejected Samuel’s formulation.
The flood of Jewish European settlers to Palestine reached its peak about the middle of the 1930’s. At the end of 1936, the total Jewish immigrant population rose to 384,000 or 28 per cent of the whole population (from nine per cent at the beginning of the Mandate). This ignited the Palestinian Arab Revolt (1936-1939).
The revolt was met with utmost British brutality. The RAF bombed villages indiscriminately. The rising casualties of civilians enraged the population and increased the number of those who joined the ranks of the rebels (called “bandits” by the British). British forces attacked the villages, destroyed their supplies and held the men in cages for two days without food or water. Collective punishment was applied widely. Political parties were dissolved. Leaders were imprisoned or deported.
The British forces at this time (25-50,000 soldiers) were assisted occasionally by Jewish armed forces, notably 20,000 Jewish policemen, supernumeraries and settlement guards in addition to providing intelligence information.
A minimum estimate of Palestinian casualties was: 5,000 killed, 15,000 wounded and a similar number jailed. More than 100 men were executed, including leaders such as the 80-year-old Sheikh Farhan Al-Sa’di, who was hanged while fasting in Ramadan on 22 November 1937. Thus, about 50 per cent of all male adults in the mountainous region of Palestine, corresponding roughly to the West Bank today, where the revolt was particularly active, had been wounded or jailed by the British.
By 1939, the Palestinian society was dismembered, defenceless and leaderless . The year 1939 can be identified as the British-inflicted Nakba.
Almost ten years later, Ben Gurion carried out the Zionist-inflicted Nakba of 1948.
Zionists attacking Britain
At the conclusion of WWII, the Zionists rewarded Britain for its support, which opened Palestine’s doors to a flood of Jewish immigrants. The Zionists started a terror campaign against their erstwhile benefactors. They bombed British HQ, hanged British soldiers and kidnapped British judges.
In 1945, Britain had to fly the 6th Airborne Division to Palestine to fight Zionist terrorism. Its aim was not to save Palestine but to save its soldiers.
Zionists also assassinated Count Folke Bernadotte, the UN mediator appointed to bring peace to Palestine.
Jewish actions were described as “terrorism” by the UN Security Council in Resolution 57 of 1948.
In the remaining six weeks of the Mandate, the Zionists attacked and depopulated 220 Palestinians villages and committed massacres, the most infamous was Deir Yassin. The task of the British was to protect the Palestinians. What did they do?
They did not intervene.
They did not intervene when over a dozen massacres were committed against Palestinian villages. Deir Yassin was the most notorious. The British Chief of Police in Jerusalem was a few kilometres away, but he did nothing. The expulsion of Palestinians from Tiberias was assisted by the British providing transport for the expelled population. In the massive evacuation of Haifa’s Palestinian population, the British forces did not defend the population, but assisted their departure.
The fall of Haifa speaks volumes about the failure of General Stockwell to discharge his duties and protect the population. The charges against him and his “cooperation” with the invading Zionists remains to this day a black spot on his record.
Archived footage of a British newsreel which broadcasted the fall of Haifa and the Nakba in 1948
The handwritten book of signals between the British patrols along the Jaffa-Jerusalem axis and their HQ in the critical period of April-May 1948 is a damning record of the British collusion and failure to honor their obligations.
In the wireless Log (No. 129) of Duty Troops (April and May 1948), there are frequent entries showing the refusal of the British Army to rescue Palestinian villagers when attacked by Jews. The army was ordered to watch, report and not to interfere. When Jews asked for help, the troops were ordered to rescue them.
According to the Log, Deir Muheisen village was burning under the mortar of Jewish Haganah and its people were screaming for help while the British forces were watching and doing nothing. Their reports derided the Palestinians by calling them wogs.
The unceremonious departure of the British left the country in a state of chaos and despair. It was the most disgraceful British departure from any place in the British Empire.
Britain did not hand over a functioning government to the Palestinians as its duty dictated. The British left Palestine in the hands of European Jewish settlers who were admitted to the country by Britain, trained by Britain and armed by Britain. The settlers’ first task was to terrorise the British themselves and chase them out of Palestine.
The last High Commissioner of Palestine, Sir Alan Cunningham, left Palestine with no word of goodbye, neither from the losing Arabs nor the winning Jews.
It is indeed amazing and a sorry reflection on British policy, that instead of standing by its obligations to protect Palestinians and to deliver free and democratic Palestine, Britain, one year after the Nakba, together with the United States and France, issued the Tripartite Declaration of 1950 against any attempt to change the status quo, that is the destruction of Palestine and the expulsion of its people.
The history that followed, from the Tripartite Aggression of 1956, also known as the Suez Campaign, to Theresa May’s suppression of freedom of speech about Israel’s atrocities, just shows that Balfour’s legacy is still alive and well in 10 Downing Street.
I am sure the majority of the British people are not in agreement with this shameful legacy.
After 100 years of Palestinian suffering, we are entitled today to appeal to
ALL PEOPLE OF GOOD CONSCIENCE in Britain, and there are many of them, and in the whole world, to join us in this demand:
We call on the British Government:
To apologise to the Palestinian people for their suffering during a century of death and destruction, still with no end in sight, due to it wilfully or carelessly failing to undertake its duties and obligations,
To pay full compensation for all direct and consequential losses and damages to the Palestinian people,
To comply with the rules and directives set out in the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice regarding the Wall of 9 July 2004,
To make amends by assisting, as required for the purpose, in the establishment of a free democratic Palestine, by means such as:
By correcting its policies within the United Kingdom and in the international arena such that the inalienable Palestinian rights are fully realised,
By helping, as a primary actor, in the rebuilding of Palestine and the repatriation of its people,
By reflecting the actual Palestinian history and suffering of the people in school curriculum and in the media,
And by any other means found necessary to achieve the aim of a free and independent Palestine.
On all the above, we call on all people of conscience in Britain and the world to stand by these demands for restoring Palestine and bringing justice, freedom and peace to its people.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.