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At British embassy, Israeli-Arabs return Balfour Declaration to sender

Israeli-Arab activist Raja Zaatry and Haifa University Professor Assad Ghanem present British diplomat Patrick Haughey with a letter on November 7 2017
Jesseca Manville/i24NEWS
Protest comes as Israeli Knesset marks Balfour centennial with joy

As the Israeli parliament convened a special session to mark the Balfour Declaration as a “groundbreaking moment in history” on Tuesday, a group of Israeli-Arabs gathered outside the British Embassy in Tel Aviv to protest the anniversary of the same document, which they say is symbolic of their continued plight.

Organized by the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens, an NGO, a crowd of around 40 Israeli-Arabs assembled on a busy Hayarkon crossroads adjacent to the embassy’s gates to deliver a letter of protest directly to British envoy David Quarrey.

The missive called on the British government to apologize to the Palestinian people “for the crime that it carried out”, to recognize “the right to self-determination for the Palestinian people” and to pressure the Israeli government to implement policy “consistent with the ideal [that all] citizens are equal partners.”

“This is an attempt by the High Follow-up Committee [for Arab Citizens] to ask Britain to cancel the Balfour Declaration and to help Palestinians gain their collective rights” said Assad Ghanem, Professor of Political Science at Haifa University, whilst presenting the brown envelope to Quarrey.

While addressed to Quarrey, the letter was instead accepted by a more junior member of the mission’s diplomatic staff, Patrick Haughey, who promised “we will read the letter with attention.”

The ambiguous language of the mere 67-word long document, addressed by British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Lord Walter Rothschild in November 1917, has been the cause of much controversy.

Proclaiming Britain’s support for Zionist aspirations by facilitating the establishment of “a national home for the Jewish people” it concurrently stated that nothing shall be done “which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”

Also on Tuesday, at a Knesset event to mark the Balfour centennial that was peppered with British dignitaries, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the declaration “set a fire in the heart of world Jewry” and “prepared the international ground and supported Zionism in Europe, America, and in other parts of the world.”

However Raja Zaatry, head of media at the High Follow-up Committee told i24NEWS outside the embassy that “the British government have a responsibility today to rewrite this historical injustice and recognize the rights of the Palestinian people.”

He also said Israel was responsible for the “Nakba in 1948”, when thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes in Israel’s War of Independence, and also blamed the failures of Arab leadership who were “agents of the British government and refused a solution.”

The Balfour Declaration, Zaatry said, paved the way and “is responsible for the situation we are living 100 years later.”

“We [Palestinians] still have no right for self-determination and no state of our own,” he lamented.

Noting the Declaration’s caveat to not prejudice the rights of non-Jews, he called on the Israeli government to “stop all racist laws that discriminate against 20% of the population.”

“We [Arab-Israelis] are native people of this land while the declaration gave superiority to the immigrants,” said Zaatry, referring to the very contention at the heart of the manuscript’s legacy.

On Thursday in a similar exercise of protest, some 70 people, lead by a dozen schoolgirls, descended upon the British consulate in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem to present diplomats with another letter seeking an apology.

Earlier this week, as a high-level Israeli delegation was in London to mark the centennial, thousands took to the streets in Ramallah to lament the short, but powerful document.

When i24NEWS asked protesters outside the Embassy in Tel Aviv about the content of the letter and if Britain should apologize, student activist Amir Marshi and Nazareth resident scoffed, “do we expect Britain to apologize?”

“I don't think we even need an apology, we still don't think Britain is our ally, it will always remain Israel's ally,” he said.

A polarized United Kingdom has itself been divided on how to mark an event with repercussions so inextricably linked with complex Arab-Israeli relations. Labour Party chief Jeremy Corbyn has emerged as a controversial figure in support of the Palestinian cause.

Alongside Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry, Corbyn argued that the centennial should be marked by Britain bestowing unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state. This runs contrary to Prime Minister Theresa May’s affirmation of Israeli achievements and vow to mark the event “with pride.”

When pressed about his thoughts on Corbyn, student Marshi stated “I think he is a great person” but, he continued, “what you can do in the UK [does not] affect the geopolitical structure and so, Corbyn is limited.”

Before heading on to attend a ‘Balfour Declaration symposium’ arranged by the Palestinian society at Tel Aviv University, Marshi added that “what we ask for, is the British people to start asking questions about their colonial past and their complicity in current crises."

"These question need to be addressed.”

Jesseca Manville is a web editor on the i24NEWS English web desk.



there should be no such thing as an Israeli Arab. they are all enemies of the state. send them to Jordan.

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