A century down the line from the Balfour Declaration, the obliteration of Palestine remains the aim of the Israeli colonial entity built on stolen land. On Wednesday, Israeli forces violently dispersed a protest in Bethlehem marking the anniversary of the infamous letter. The protestors marched to the Apartheid Wall, where they were confronted by Israeli police forces, who fired rubber-coated steel bullets and live ammunition at the gathering, injuring one person. Other protestors suffered from tear gas inhalation.
The by now routine violence which, on several occasions, resulted in more severe injuries and deaths, has attracted little attention in the media. Several factors may account for this, but the silence is revealing.
Historically, the Balfour Declaration achieved more than just being incorporated within the British Mandate for Palestine which paved the way for Zionist colonisation to take place unhindered. Notably, it was one of the first major steps towards Palestinian oblivion following the first Zionist colonisation efforts in the late 1880s. The convenience of timeframes ensured that each laceration of Palestinian territory eclipsed the one previous in terms of remembrance rather than significance: the 1948 Nakba and the 1967 war are two such prominent examples. The declaration, therefore, lay mostly in the background until the realisation dawned that its centenary was drawing near, which prompted the Palestinian Authority to make grand declarations from a compromised platform about prosecuting Britain. No doubt Balfour is of significant historical importance. However, one of the mistakes lay in separating the significance from the violations, thus adding value for Israel’s territorial expansion.
Yesterday’s protest reflects this distorted process. There is a near-irreconcilable divide between Palestinians and Palestinian leaders, a vacuum where terms such as reconciliation and negotiations breathe a cloistered life of their own until the time comes to bestow their ramifications upon the population.
At times, 1948 is a representative date. This year, 1917 took precedence. Between these fluctuations, there has been an incessant perfecting of violations to the extent that yesterday’s protest in Bethlehem went largely unnoticed even though the context — the Balfour Declaration centenary — has been the subject of much public discussion. Perhaps the protest was on a smaller scale compared to more visible activities on social media. Nevertheless, the contrast in reactions should instigate serious questioning, for while the collective action in Bethlehem was largely ignored, it still warranted enough attention for Israel to send security forces to disperse the Palestinians taking part.
Perception has been flawed, as on other occasions. While attention is diverted to grander gestures, including renewed, and timely, discourse by the PA about seeking legal recourse, Israel continues to have unfettered access to Palestine. The time spent chasing fragments according to anniversaries could have been utilised more beneficially by consolidating and promoting Palestinian collective memory. This would challenge the Balfour Declaration and its approval of colonisation more effectively than making transient speeches befitting the occasion which, given the complicity inherent in the PA, are of no significance practically and historically.
Israel, meanwhile, invested in the usual violations to smother Palestinian voices, thus preventing an expression of collective and historical memory from taking place according to plan. The absence of any media coverage of the Bethlehem incident has, unfortunately, resulted in yet more normalisation of Israel’s colonial violence. In that context, it is well in tune with the purpose of the Balfour Declaration issued 100 years ago this week.