No apologies: British government at the height of pride over Balfour

Published April 25th, 2017 - 07:41 GMT
'While my family live in Palestine under the daily injustices of apartheid, the legacy of the British is felt every day through their pain. The least Britain can do is apologise.' (AFP)
'While my family live in Palestine under the daily injustices of apartheid, the legacy of the British is felt every day through their pain. The least Britain can do is apologise.' (AFP)

The British government have released an unsettling official response to demands that they should officially apologise for the Balfour Declaration. The petition, which calls on the UK to ‘apologise for the Balfour Declaration & lead peace efforts in Palestine’, is a criticism of the colonial policy of Britain between 1917 - 1948, which led to the mass displacement and massacre of the Palestinian people, and created one of the most complex political conflicts of the modern world.

As the total number of petition signatories reached 10,000, the government released their official response, which equalled a declaration of pride in Britain’s role in the creation of the State of Israel, and an absolute refusal to issue an apology. Not only is this sense of pride is majorly contested by a visible portion of British society, but it also goes against the sentiment of British politicians in cabinet at the time of the Balfour Declaration.

What was the Balfour Agreement, and was it something to be proud of?

The Balfour Declaration of 1917 laid the foundation for the creation of the state of Israel, and was an expression of support from the British government for creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The agreement paved the way for mass immigration of Jews from all over the world to Palestine, which later led to the Nakba, or ‘the catastrophe’ of 1948 when between 750,000 to 1 million Palestinians were expelled from their homes. To this day, Palestinian people are systematically discriminated against and do not enjoy equal rights with Israeli citizens.

The controversies and  of the Balfour Declaration are not a modern discovery of the left, but were similarly apparent prior to its enactment. Balfour faced many opponents in the British cabinet who did not agree with pursuing Zionist agendas in Palestine.

Lord Curzon, who served as foreign minister after Balfour, and Edwin Montagu, an anti-zionist Jew were both cabinet ministers who fought against Balfour and the Zionists. Curzon was of the opinion that Jewish migrants would not be able to establish a homeland without endangering the position of non Jewish communities. He was responsible for including a commitment to ‘non Jewish communities’ within the Declaration, but remained convinced that the policy was not right, branding it as ‘the worst’ of Britain’s Middle East commitments. 

He also brought up another very important factor in the assessment of the Balfour Declaration, the striking contradictions it displayed in British commitments. The clearest of which was a uturn on British commitment to the Arabs, whom they fought alongside during war with the Ottomans.

This year marks 100 years since the Balfour Declaration, a commemorate date that Palestinian activists are using to advance campaigns in achieving justice. Today, they demand an apology from the British government to the Palestinian people who are still suffering the effects of Balfour’s decision.

Response of the UK government to the petition

Despite what seems to be a very reasonable and modest request of an apology, on the 22nd April when the official petition reached over 10,000 signatures, the UK government issued the following response:

The Balfour Declaration is an historic statement for which HMG does not intend to apologise. We are proud of our role in creating the State of Israel. The task now is to encourage moves towards peace.

A copy of the full statement was also sent to a all signatories of the petition, including 27 year old Waleed Shahidah, a British citizen of Palestinian origins who was angered by the response of the British government.

‘I have a lot of love and respect for the UK and all it has stood for in my lifetime. However, as a Palestinian, the atrocities of the Empire cannot be forgotten. While my family live in Palestine under the daily injustices of apartheid, the legacy of the British is felt every day through their pain. The least Britain can do is apologise’

(a screenshot of the email received by Waleed from HMG) 

The Balfour Apology Campaign, launched through the Palestinian Return Centre also condemned the response of the UK government.

‘PRC Condemns Government’s response to Balfour Apology petition

Foreign and Commonwealth Office reiterated its position that it does not intend to apologise. Although as the Balfour Apology Campaign petition reaching over 13,000 signatures suggests there is a broad and growing popular support in the UK for the government to make this historical recognition. The FCO repeated its stance that it is ‘proud’ in its role in creating Israel but it does not mention the ethnic cleansing of over 700’000 Palestinians in 1948 which was the precondition for the state to be established. This denial towards British and Israel’s crimes committed against Palestinians which are the root causes of the current impasse will only prolong the conflict.’

(official press release)

Today, 100 years after the Declaration of Balfour its critics continue to be loud. In branding the Balfour Declaration as a ‘historic statement’ and justifying it within the context of a world of ‘competing imperial powers’ the British government are failing to acknowledge the colossal damage caused by its implementation. The lack of humility and unwillingness to admit failure is a huge injustice to the many victims who have lost their homes and their lives in the bloody conflicts which have arisen as a result. Just as opponents of the Declaration were given a voice to object to Zionist endeavors in Palestine in Whitehall in 1917, opposition voices today also deserve to be heard in the current political arena.  

The Balfour Apology Campaign who are based in the UK have told albawaba that they will continue with their work on demanding an apology from the UK government in regards to the Balfour Declaration.

Support them by visiting their facebook page and sign the official petition demanding the UK apologise for the Balfour Declaration here If signatures exceed 100,000 parliament will be obligated to debate the issue in parliament.

Sahar Esfandiari 


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