Scores of people squeezed into Sarum College, Salisbury, to hear from experts on the Balfour Declaration of 1917 which gave British support to a home for Jews in historical Palestine.
The Very Reverend Nicholas Frayling said the declaration was the defining document which had never been fully implemented.
The former Dean of Chichester Cathedral – who was involved in the Irish peace negotiations – said the civil and religious rights of the non-Jewish communities there had not been protected which the declaration had specifically underwritten.
“We [the British] bear a heavy responsibility,” he said.
Along with historian Dr Peter Shambrook and theology professor Mary Grey, Mr Frayling is part of the Balfour Project which aims to raise awareness of Britain’s responsibility for the centenary of the declaration in 2017 and to encourage grass roots involvement in demanding a just peace.
He expressed sadness that Jewish leaders in this country did not engage with the project or even show any interest in it.
Dr Shambrook contrasted books which supported the Zionist and Palestinian national narratives of the period.
“The challenge for us British is to face our past with courage – not hide it under the imperial carpet,” he said.
“The effectiveness of our future contribution to a just peace in the region depends on honesty about our own past mistakes, not on our analysis of others’ mistakes.”
Sir Vincent Fean, British consul general in Jerusalem until 2014, said: “The right thing to do is to recognise a Palestinian state. It does no harm to the state of Israel. It doesn’t entail a blockade of Israel and it slightly strengthens the hand of the Palestinians willing to continue the marathon.
“Obama and Kerry have signed off, the EU has signed off the UK has never really signed on. All our governments are deeply uncomfortable about confronting Israel.”
Recognising Palestine would strengthen the nonviolent Palestinian hand in the “asymmetrical conflict” and might induce Israel to comply with International Humanitarian Law for its own long-term good, he added.
Israeli conscientious objector Taya Govreen Segal gave a presentation on the Israeli arms trade. Israeli arms companies turn “blood into money”, she said.
Summing up the day, Mr Frayling said: “We believe that justice must include all the peoples in the land in which the God of many names has chosen to be revealed.” Sharen Green