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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

The bitter legacy of Balfour - protests in Ramallah, 100 years on  

Demonstrators held up posters of Arthur James Balfour, the British foreign secretary who issued the infamous declaration, and the current prime minister Theresa May, their faces smeared with a bloodstained handprint.

Young Palestinians protest against he Balfour Declarations, the infamous document of 2017 which they say was responsible for casting the Arabs of Palestine into destitution and displacement that continues to this day.  Heidi Levine for The National.
Young Palestinians protest against he Balfour Declarations, the infamous document of 2017 which they say was responsible for casting the Arabs of Palestine into destitution and displacement that continues to this day. Heidi Levine for The National.

An angry protest by several thousand mostly young Palestinians marked the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, the document that pledged British support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine and helped set the stage for the Palestinian tragedy that continues to this day.

Demonstrators held up posters bearing the images of Arthur James Balfour, the British foreign secretary who issued the fateful declaration, and the current prime minister Theresa May, their faces smeared with a bloodstained handprint. Schoolchildren hoisted black flags.

The protesters were furious at Mrs May's declared pride in Britain's role in the establishment of Israel and at her hosting of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a centenary celebration

To Zionists, the Balfour Declaration — which said Britain favoured the establishment of a "national home" for Jews - was the breakthrough they needed to reclaim their ancient homeland after centuries of persecution. Under the British mandate established after the declaration, Jewish immigrants streamed into Palestine and set up the institutions and infrastructure for their future state. But for the Palestinians, the declaration was the catalyst that reduced them to refugees. The British were not only guilty of "giving land they did not own to those who didn't deserve it ' - as the protest posters put it - 100 years ago but British supports or Israel continues to come at the expense of the Palestinians.

"They are celebrating the crime but our struggle against the effects of Balfour will continue," Fatah Central Committee member Mahmoud al-Aloul told the crowd gathered in Yasser Arafat square.

The demonstrators then marched to the British Council offices a few blocks away, where Sameh Abu Awad, head of the workers union at Bir Zeit University, called out, "We protest the criminal British policy. Britain refuses to recognise us till today. They have an obligation to recognise us and correct their mistake. They must halt their support for the raping Zionist entity. May:stop refusing to apologise and stop supporting rapists."

Similar protests were held across the West Bank and in Gaza City, where Hamas legislator Ahmed Bahar called on Arab heads of state to boycott Mrs May's government over its support for Israel and its stance on the Balfour Declaration, which he termed, "the peak of wrongdoing to the Palestinian people and the peak of disgrace to Britain."

In a statement, Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah's said he was "disgusted to see the UK celebrating and promoting apartheid against the Palestinians. We demand the UK apologise and compensate the Palestinian people and immediately recognise the state of Palestine."

An estimated 700,000 Palestinians were expelled by Jewish forces or fled during the war that accompanied Israel's establishment. Most ended up in squalid camps that exist to this day.

"The Jews expelled us, they destroyed our houses, they killed our people," said one protester who said he had been driven out of Ramie, near the coastal city of Jaffa as a five-year-old child. His family lived first in Shati refugee camp in Gaza and moved to Ramallah in 1957.

"We lost everything in Ramle," he said. "It was Balfour and the betrayal by Arab leaders that led to the catastrophe. Balfour gave away the land to those who didn't deserve it at the expense of the Palestinians. Whoever recognises Israel as a state on a grain of our land, Palestine, is a traitor." He declined to be named.

The Palestinian tragedy stemmed from 1917, said a 14-year-old boy. "After Balfour, Israeli mafias came and occupied Palestine. People lost their parents, their brothers, their family, but the main thing is that people lost their land. When you lose your land you have nothing."

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Read more:

Contrary to popular belief, the Balfour Declaration did not sanction the existence of Israel

Britain marks Balfour centenary amid Palestinian protests

Banksy holds 'apologetic street party' for Balfour outside his hotel overlooking Bethlehem wall

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The Bir Zeit University student council sent a letter to the British Council in Ramallah informing them that neither the British government nor the consulate were welcome at the university "until the end of this occupation and terrorism." The blame for the disaster of the occupation and all the destruction that followed lay firmly at Britain's door, they said.

Mohammed Abdul Aziz, a computer science student at Bir Zeit, whose family was expelled in 1948 from Ajjur village, 24 kilometres northwest of Hebron, said: "Without Balfour, the Jews would not have come to Palestine. It's not just a question of Britain saying I'm sorry. The Israeli army should have to withdraw. Israel should withdraw from Palestine."