Palestinians reject Britain’s Balfour centenary celebrations

The people of Gaza are far from impressed with Prime Minister Theresa May’s ‘pride’ in the Balfour Declaration, which paved the way to their disposession, reports Rami Almeghari.

As the Palestinian people in the occupied territories and in the diaspora mark with sadness the centenary of the  Balfour Declaration, Theresa May, Britain’s prime minister, is instead preparing to celebrate the occasion.

On November 2, 1917, Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour sent a letter to Lord Walter Rothschild, a leading figure in the British Zionist movement, in which he stated the British government’s backing for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine.

In 1920, Britain made sure the letter was validated by the League of Nations – in which the indigenous Palestinians were not referred to as Palestinians, but rather as “non-Jews”, thus ignoring their existence on Palestinian soil.

The letter marked a pivotal moment in the history of Palestine, leading to decades of suffering for the Palestinian people, not least through the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, when the British mandate of Palestine came to an end.

A turning point

In the Gaza Strip, 1.2 million Palestinian refugees who were forced from their homes in 1948 either by brutal violence or by fear of that violence at the hands of Israeli militias, now live in eight refugee camps.

The 1,100-acre Alburaij refugee camp, which sits in the central Gaza Strip on land that was once occupied by a British military base, is home to around 47,000 refugees.

“These remarks [by Theresa May] just rub salt into the deep Palestinian historical wound,” Naser Alyafawi, a political analyst, told The New Arab near his Alburaij home.

“They also constitute flagrant support of the Israeli repressors of the Palestinian people. Let me say that May’s statement aligns with the mounting voices of the extreme right in Britain… I believe that May wanted to strike back against all members of the British community who are in support of the national Palestinian rights.”

Refugees reject May’s remarks

Soleiman Sayma, media officer of the Alburaij-based Popular Refugees committee, condemned the remarks, saying they were strongly rejected by Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip and everywhere else.

“This new position indicates that Britain is still taking a colonial position and can not renounce its colonial orientation,” said Sayma. “Instead of declaring that her government would celebrate the anniversary, May should have stated that her government was willing to apologise for that notorious Balfour Declaration.”

His group is set to mark the centenary with public awareness sessions and demonstrations, he says, so that new generations, will be aware of “black chapters of their Palestinian history”.

Alburaij community leader Mahmoud Alnamrouty described May’s remarks as “very mean”, saying they had nothing to do with human rights.

“The Balfour Declaration gave the Jews something that was not Britain’s to give,” he said. “May’s remarks do not necessarily represent all viewpoints of the British community. This week, several representatives of the British community will be visiting the occupied Palestinian territories in support of the Palestinian people, even as the Balfour Declaration is being marked.”

Young activists react

Alaa Jalal Alsamak, a 21-year-old political activist in the Alburaij refugee camp, also rejected the Britsh minister’s remarks. “The Balfour Declaration has been devastating for the Palestinian cause and lands,” said Alsamak. “As you might be aware, Israel as the occupying power has always been accelerating settlement activities on Palestinian lands… I can only say one thing in response to May’s remarks – one day, we Palestinians will celebrate the expulsion of the Israeli occupation from our Palestinian lands.”

Walking down a side-street in the Alburaij camp, Ali Hasaneen, a 60-year-old resident reacted angrily to Theresa May’s remarks.

“We are extremely repressed and sidelined,” he said. “All Arab nations watch our suffering out silently and do nothing for us. Therefore, May and others can say whatever they like. This is the saddest moment in the Palestinian modern history, unfortunately.”

Mahmoud Eisa, mayor of the Alburaij refugee camp, welcomed The New Arab into his municipality office.

“Such remarks are irresponsible, racist and are biased towards the Zionists,” he said. “Such remarks can never obliterate the fact that Palestine is the homeland of Palestinians. We, over the past decades, have been educating our children about their homeland. There must be some grassroots moves – firstly to demand Britain apologise for the Balfour Declaration. Palestinians at all levels should demand the British government reject the remarks by the British prime minister.”

The Balfour Declaration is viewed as the precursor to the 1948 Palestinian Nakba – or catastrophe – when Zionist armed militias expelled more than 750,000 Palestinians from hundreds of Palestinian villages across historic Palestine.

There are now almost 13 million Palestinians worldwide, according to Palestinian statistics, while UNRWA records show 5.59 million Palestinian refugees registered at the beginning of 2016.

Around 29 percent of registered Palestinian refugees live in 58 refugee camps – of which 10 are in Jordan, nine in Syria, 12 in Lebanon, 19 in the West Bank and eight in the Gaza Strip.