The Herald on Sunday - - 29.10.17 THE WORLD -

THERESA May says it is a cen­te­nary she will cel­e­brate with “pride”. For many oth­ers, how­ever, it marks 100 years of con­tro­versy and con­tention.

This Tues­day evening the British Prime Min­is­ter, along with her Is­raeli coun­ter­part Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu and some 150 other VIP guests, will sit down to a lav­ish din­ner at a cen­tral Lon­don venue.

All of them will be there to cel­e­brate a doc­u­ment that al­though only 67 words long, changed the course of his­tory. That doc­u­ment, writ­ten in 1917, was a let­ter from British For­eign Sec­re­tary Arthur Bal­four to Lord Lionel Wal­ter Roth­schild, leader of the British Jewish com­mu­nity at the time.

Its words marked a his­toric prom­ise that the British Gov­ern­ment would use its “best en­deav­ours” to fa­cil­i­tate the “es­tab­lish­ment in Pales­tine of a na­tional home for the Jewish peo­ple”. To­day most of us know that let­ter by its more com­monly used ti­tle: the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion.

To say that the cel­e­bra­tions planned around the an­niver­sary of the dec­la­ra­tion this week have sparked con­tro­versy would be a huge un­der­state­ment.

Since it was first is­sued a cen­tury ago, the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion has al­ways in­voked as much anger as it has cause for cel­e­bra­tion.

As the Jewish his­to­rian Avi Sh­laim has said, it was a mo­ment when Bri­tain chose to recog­nise the right to na­tional self-de­ter­mi­na­tion for the Jewish peo­ple but to deny it to the Arab peo­ple.

At that time, Jews con­sti­tuted 10 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion of Pales­tine, some 60,000 or so in to­tal along­side just over 600,000 Arabs.

It was an­other Jewish writer, Arthur Koestler, who per­haps most mem­o­rably summed up Bri­tain’s con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion, by point­ing out that here was one na­tion sol- emnly promis­ing an­other na­tion the land of a third na­tion.

Given this, it’s hardly sur­pris­ing that while some on Tues­day will laud and hon­our the dec­la­ra­tion, oth­ers will protest and point to what they see as its con­tin­u­ing role to­day in the subjugation of the Pales­tinian peo­ple by the State of Is­rael.

“UK Gov­ern­ment plans for the cen­te­nary of the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion sum up per­fectly its one-sided ap­proach,” said Manuel Has­sas­sian, the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity’s (PA) am­bas­sador to Lon­don.

“The dec­la­ra­tion led to the cre­ation of Is­rael but at the same time signed away the Pales­tinian peo­ple’s in­her­i­tance and cre­ated gen­er­a­tions of refugees,” Has­sas­sian added.

One point of­ten re­peated in the heated de­bate sur­round­ing the cen­te­nary is that the dec­la­ra­tion’s un­der­tak­ing to the Jewish side was not matched by ful­fil­ment of its prom­ise to the Pales­tini­ans.

For Bal­four’s memo, as well as declar­ing that the British Gov­ern­ment viewed “with favour the es­tab­lish­ment in Pales­tine of a na­tional home for the Jewish peo­ple”, also stated that this was on the clear un­der­stand­ing “that noth­ing shall be done which may prej­u­dice the civil and re­li­gious right of ex­ist­ing non-Jewish com­mu­ni­ties in Pales­tine”.

This pledge to the Pales­tini­ans has not been hon­oured, and, if any­thing, to­day the op­po­site is true, say crit­ics of the dec­la­ra­tion. “The true legacy of Bal­four is five mil­lion Pales­tini­ans liv­ing in refugee camps. The sec­ond part of the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion hasn’t been ful­filled,” pointed out SNP MP Joanna Cherry dur­ing a de­bate last week on the dec­la­ra­tion at West­min­ster.

ONE hun­dred years on, even some British diplo­mats still har­bour a sense of frus­tra­tion over the in­ter­pre­ta­tion and im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Bal­four memo. That much was ev­i­dent in a Tweet last week by Jonathan Allen, the UK’s deputy per­ma­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tive at the United Na­tions. “Let us re­mem­ber, there are 2 halves of #Bal­four, 2nd of which has not been ful­filled. There is un­fin­ished business,” Allen mes­saged.

Those crit­i­cal of Tues­day’s cel­e­bra­tion, how­ever, say it’s un­likely that the plight of mil­lions of Pales­tini­ans will re­motely cross the minds of Theresa May and her guests as they sit down to their cel­e­bra­tory din­ner this week.

How many of those din­ing, ask the same crit­ics, will know that at times some 80 per cent of Gaza’s Pales­tinian pop­u­la­tion has de­pended on hu­man­i­tar­ian aid for their ba­sic daily food?

They point also to the dis­turb­ing fig­ures com­piled by the United Na­tions (UN) and other hu­man­i­tar­ian or­gan­i­sa­tions that show some one mil­lion Pales­tinian chil­dren in Gaza are suf­fer­ing from “un­liv­able” con­di­tions, many so trau­ma­tised they are un­able “to sleep, study or play”.

Ac­cord­ing to the hu­man­i­tar­ian agency Save the Chil­dren, more than 740 schools in Gaza are strug­gling to func­tion with­out elec­tric­ity, and most fam­i­lies re­ceive only two to four hours of elec­tric­ity each day.

The UN es­ti­mates that, cur­rently, more than 300,000 such chil­dren are in need of psy­cho-so­cial sup­port after years of liv­ing

The truly legacy of Bal­four is five mil­lion Pales­tini­ans liv­ing in refugee camps. The sec­ond half of the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion – the pledge to the Pales­tinian peo­ple – has not been ful­filled

un­der an Is­raeli mil­i­tary and eco­nomic block­ade, a volatile sit­u­a­tion com­pounded too by of­ten bit­ter po­lit­i­cal wran­gling be­tween Pales­tinian groups like Ha­mas and Fatah.

The plight of those Pales­tini­ans in Gaza has al­ways been es­pe­cially dire, with aid agen­cies high­light­ing how “60 per cent of the sea around the coastal strip is con­tam­i­nated with un­treated sewage and over 90 per cent of wa­ter sources are too con­tam­i­nated for hu­man con­sump­tion”.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent UN report, the liv­ing con­di­tions for those two mil­lion peo­ple in the Pales­tinian en­clave are de­te­ri­o­rat­ing “fur­ther and faster” than the pre­dic­tion made in 2012 that the en­clave would be- come “un­liv­able” by 2020. It’s against this back­drop that the Bal­four memo and cen­te­nary will be seen in such dif­fer­ent ways.

To be­gin with, not ev­ery­one within UK Gov­ern­ment and diplo­matic cir­cles shares Theresa May’s “pride” over the cen­te­nary.

Ac­cord­ing to the Is­raeli daily news­pa­per Haaretz, the British Em­bassy last Wed­nes­day held a re­cep­tion at the am­bas­sador’s res­i­dence in the Ra­mat Gan neigh­bour­hood in the city of Tel Aviv to com­mem­o­rate the dec­la­ra­tion.

By all ac­counts it was a sur­pris­ingly lowkey af­fair, at­tended mainly by mem­bers of the small An­glo-Is­raeli com­mu­nity and at which the UK am­bas­sador to Is­rael, David Quar­rey, made a short speech, which fo­cused more on the con­tri­bu­tion of British im­mi­grants to Is­raeli so­ci­ety than the let­ter writ­ten 100 years ago by For­eign Sec­re­tary Bal­four.

What the guests didn’t re­alise, re­ported Haaretz, was that the quiet re­cep­tion in the am­bas­sador’s back yard gar­den was the only of­fi­cial event or­gan­ised by the British Gov­ern­ment in Is­rael it­self to mark the Bal­four cen­ten­nial.

Clearly some British of­fi­cials feel that Bal­four’s dec­la­ra­tion is not some­thing the UK should be crow­ing about.

As the Haaretz colum­nist ob­served, while some British diplo­mats in Is­rael have been stick­ing to May’s line about mark­ing the dec­la­ra­tion with “pride”, for many past and present mem­bers of the For­eign Of­fice “it has been less pride and a good deal more em­bar­rass­ment”.

De­spite this, May has stuck to her po­si­tion, per­haps not such a sur­prise for one of the most pro-Is­rael lead­ers in Europe. Last De­cem­ber, in a speech to the Con­ser­va­tive Friends of Is­rael, which in­cludes over 80 per cent of Tory MPs and the en­tire Cabi­net, she hailed Is­rael as “a re­mark­able coun­try” and “a bea­con of hope”.

Many in the UK dis­agree with her cosy­ing up to Is­rael, ar­gu­ing that some greater recog­ni­tion by Bri­tain of the pain, dis­posses- sion and col­lec­tive trauma the dec­la­ra­tion led to for Pales­tini­ans would go part of the way to­wards help­ing some rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process be­gin.

May, how­ever, re­mains obliv­i­ous to such calls and re­cently she was quick to re­buff those who have de­manded that the UK gov­ern­ment should is­sue an apol­ogy to Pales­tini­ans over the Bal­four memo.

“We are proud of our role in cre­at­ing the State of Is­rael. Es­tab­lish­ing a home­land for the Jewish peo­ple in the land to which they had such strong his­tor­i­cal and re­li­gious ties was the right and moral thing to do, par­tic­u­larly against the back­ground of cen­turies of per­se­cu­tion,” read an of­fi­cial Gov­ern­ment re­sponse.

The state­ment was pub­lished after 13,637 peo­ple in the UK signed a pe­ti­tion call­ing for just such an apol­ogy.

Writ­ing re­cently, Ian Black, au­thor of a new book en­ti­tled En­e­mies And Neigh­bours: Arabs And Jews in Pales­tine And Is­rael, 1917-2017, warned that the con­tested cen­te­nary re­mains a dan­ger­ous po­lit­i­cal mine­field for Theresa May.

All those in­volved in Tues­day’s din­ner, he says, are keen to em­pha­sise that the event is be­ing hosted not by her, but by the cur­rent Lords Roth­schild and Bal­four.

The lat­ter, the 5th Earl of Bal­four, ad­mit­ted re­cently that he had to look up in an en­cy­clopae­dia ex­actly how his fore­bear changed his­tory 100 years ago.

Just as in the past though, to­day’s po­si­tions adopted over the dec­la­ra­tion re­main as ir­rec­on­cil­able as ever.

“The prob­lem ... with the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion is that what­ever ex­pla­na­tions we give, none of them jus­ti­fies do­ing what was done in a coun­try which was al­ready in­hab­ited,” says Ghada Karmi a British-Pales­tinian au­thor and lec­turer at Exeter Uni­ver­sity’s In­sti­tute of Arab and Is­lamic Stud­ies.

This, says Karmi, is the fun­da­men­tal flaw in the dec­la­ra­tion and fun­da­men­tal is­sue in the nar­ra­tive of its im­pact

“You’re deal­ing with a coun­try with an indige­nous pop­u­la­tion so you can­not go and plant an­other peo­ple in such a coun­try. It’s very sim­ple,” Karmi in­sisted.

THE per­spec­tive taken by many Jews, of course, is very dif­fer­ent, as out­lined by an­other aca­demic, Martin Kramer, an Is­raeli-Amer­i­can his­to­rian and found­ing pres­i­dent of Shalem Col­lege in Jerusalem.

“Yes, there were 700,000 Pales­tinian Arabs ... but there were five-and-a-half mil­lion des­per­ate Jews who did not en­joy the cit­i­zen­ship rights of West­ern Europe,” ar­gues Kramer.

“If you say that Pales­tine is not their home, then what is their home? They are the eter­nal wan­der­ers.”

No doubt Is­raeli prime min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, when he ar­rives in Lon­don this week, will en­joy a brief re­spite from the po­lit­i­cal and per­sonal prob­lems he faces at home that in­clude al­le­ga­tions of graft and cor­rup­tion.

At home on the po­lit­i­cal front, Ne­tanyahu’s gov­ern­ment, the most right-wing in Is­rael’s his­tory, has worked with ul­tra­na­tion­al­ist el­e­ments to ex­pand and con­sol­i­date its set­tle­ment pro­gramme an­nex­ing more and more Pales­tinian land in the process.

It is a land grab that along with other moves to po­lit­i­cally dis­en­fran­chise Pales­tini­ans, many see as part of the his­tor­i­cal con­se­quences of the Bal­four memo. But Pales­tini­ans are not the only ones in Ne­tanyahu’s sights these days.

At home, too, he is turn­ing his po­lit­i­cal and leg­isla­tive guns on Is­rael’s own hu­man rights or­gan­i­sa­tions like B’Tse­lem and Break­ing the Si­lence, which as­sist Pales­tini­ans in mak­ing their case against some of the more puni­tive mea­sure of the Ne­tanyahu gov­ern­ment.

In all, Novem­ber is a painful month in the Pales­tinian cal­en­dar. It is dot­ted with com­mem­o­ra­tive days that have one theme in com­mon: the par­ti­tion­ing of Pales­tine.

This month – to­day in fact – Pales­tini­ans also com­mem­o­rate the UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly Res­o­lu­tion 181, which rec­om­mended in 1947 the par­ti­tion of Pales­tine giv­ing rise to the State of Is­rael.

Al­though the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion did not of­fer par­ti­tion, it sowed the seeds for it.

As the great ex-pa­triot Is­raeli writer and his­to­rian Ilan Pappe has pointed out, “the seeds were sown in 1917, reaped in 1947 and poi­soned the coun­try ever since.

“It is time to adopt a fresh moral and po­lit­i­cal view on this his­tory for the sake of a bet­ter fu­ture.”

If there is one thing al­most cer­tain about the con­tro­versy sur­round­ing the Bal­four cen­te­nary, it’s that Pappe’s words will have lit­tle res­o­nance around the cel­e­bra­tory din­ner ta­ble of Theresa May and her guests when they sit down on Tues­day night.

One mil­lion Pales­tinian chil­dren suf­fer ‘un­liv­able con­di­tions’ in the Gaza Strip to­day

British For­eign Sec­re­tary Lord Arthur Bal­four in 1917 Pho­to­graphs: Getty

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