Balfour Declaration centenary: a day for contemplation

UK Prime Minister Theresa May recently expressed pride in the upcoming centenary anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, with intent to celebrate the creation of the state of Israel.

The Balfour Declaration is a public statement written by UK Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour in 1917 committing to the ‘establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people’. The recipient of the document on 02/11/2017 had been Walter Rothschild, a British politician, banker and zoologist. The declaration is seen as one of the key setting-stones providing momentum for the later creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

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Whilst current UK Prime Minister Theresa May acknowledged the sensitivities surrounding the Balfour Declaration, and whilst the declaration commits to not compromising the ‘civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine’, expressing pride in the declaration remains highly problematic, sensitive, and potentially undermines the credibility and neutrality of the UK as one of the active mediators in the two-state solution negotiation process.

Arab Millennial supports anything that can be done to protect and preserve the ethnic and religious rights of Jewish communities to live in full equality in the international community. Arab Millennial also supports the two-state solution as the most viable and realistic attempt of solving the Israel-Palestine conflict, despite difficulties we have faced within our own community for supporting the two-state solution. However, we must remain conscious that the rights of zionist settlers in 1948 ended up jeopardising the rights of indigenous Palestinian citizens who had very little input and influence in diplomatic discussions that would affect the outcome of their lives and their future generations at present and to come.

Since the commitments to equal rights for Palestinians expressed by the Balfour Declaration had been undermined, the upcoming centenary anniversary should be a day for deep contemplation, learning and future planning, and certainly not a day for celebration or pride, contrary to sentiments expressed by Theresa May.

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In light of our press release, below are some responses that we typically receive on the issue of Israel and Palestine, and our answers to these:

1. “What about the historic rights of Jewish communities who were forced out of the Middle East?”

Given our sentiments on the Balfour Declaration, we equally, deeply regret the expulsion and/or ethnic cleansing of other community groups from and/or within their respective home lands. These include historic events that persecuted native Americans, the Jewish communities of historical Egypt and the Levant, continental European Jewish communities, Aboriginal communities in the Pacific, and so forth. In light of these sentiments, we believe that the solution to ethnic displacement is not more ethnic displacement.

We will actively continue to campaign for the rights of Jewish communities to be treated completely equally in the Middle East and North Africa, and completely acknowledge and recognise that many Arab governments and communities are continuing to fail to implement full equality for these communities as visitors or residents.

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2. “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, shouldn’t we at least celebrate that?”

Firstly, post-“Arab Spring”, this is debatable – as Tunisia has arguably democratised. But let us question, for argument’s sake, how democratic Tunisia is, and apply a similar level of scrutiny to Israel: how democratic is Israel? Please see our research here to see our considerations on this subject.

Finally, democratic or not, Israel continues to act in violation of international law in its settlement-building in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip (State of Palestine). Therefore, even if democratic, Israel remains a highly problematic democracy. Many democracies have historically pursued injustice, the only difference that people elect the perpetrator of injustice.

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3. “What about the Palestinians, particularly Hamas; they are not completely innocent?”

We agree that Hamas is a terrorist organisation. This is because we define terrorism as violence or threat of use of violence used to intimidate innocent civilians with intent to advance political, religious and/or ideological objectives. For us, Hamas falls into that category. So, arguably, do Israel’s political military wings, such as the Israeli Defence Forces. Do we exempt the IDF from our definition of terrorism as they are a government institution? This assertion has its own semantic complications.

Getting into the business of weighing up and comparing suffering is problematic. But both actors are wrong. This does not mean, however, that Israel’s actions are justifiable. They remain highly problematic and unjustifiable, as do Hamas’ actions.

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