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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

The centenary of the Balfour Declaration is an occasion to remember the plight of the Palestinians

Israel has the power of life and death over Palestinians. But Palestinians have few civil rights under Israeli law

A century after the Balfour Declaration, the world map features an ever-expanding Israel and a rapidly shrinking Palestine. Getty Images
A century after the Balfour Declaration, the world map features an ever-expanding Israel and a rapidly shrinking Palestine. Getty Images

Thursday marks the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. The brief memo, drafted on November 2, 1917, by Britain’s then Foreign Secretary, Lord Arthur Balfour, and addressed to Lord Rothschild, altered the course of history by openly proclaiming London’s sympathy for the “establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”.

A century later, the map of the world features a Jewish State – the product, as Jonathan Cook wrote earlier this week in The National, “of a transparently colonial project” – while what remains of Palestine, in the words of the Israeli intellectual Gideon Levy, is barely enough to “establish another amusement park”. The Balfour Declaration’s pledge that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice” the rights of Palestine’s “non-Jewish communities” disappeared with the communities themselves, driven out of their homes in the Nakba of 1948.

The denial of the distinct national characteristic of the Palestinians was a crucial trope of Israeli politics long before the country fell to right-wing reactionaries such as Benjamin Netanyahu, the current prime minister of Israel. “There is no such thing as a ‘Palestinian people’”, Golda Meir said in 1969. “It is not as if we came and threw them out and took their country. They didn’t exist”. Such beliefs, erasing Palestinians’ claims to their own land, quickened the annexation of vast swathes of Palestinian property by the Israeli state. “Settlement building” is a euphemistic phrase that scarcely conveys the horror of Palestinians being abruptly cleansed from their lands. “Colonisation” is the more appropriate term for what Israel has been doing in the West Bank since 1967. Gaza, the most densely populated patch on earth, is effectively an open air prison.

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Balfour Declaration: how Britain broke its feeble promise to Palestinians

Balfour Centenary Declaration launched to give Palestinians justice

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Israel has the power of life and death over Palestinians. But Palestinians have few civil rights under Israeli law. There are separate roads for Israelis and Palestinians, whose territory is dotted with checkpoints manned by trigger-happy Israeli soldiers and who are compelled to carry identity cards in their own land. Intermarriage is prohibited, and a gargantuan barrier physically walls of the residents of the West Bank.

This is the “democracy” that Israel wants the world to applaud. And the largely world does, to its enduring shame. Mr Netanyahu will this week attend a lavish dinner hosted by British Prime Minister Theresa May at London’s Lancaster House. As he toasts the Balfour Declaration, will anyone remind him of the plight of the Palestinians?

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