The Balfour Centenary, Britain’s Broken Promise: Time for a New Approach
Loraine Mellor President of the Methodist Conference and E Jill Baker Vice-President of the Methodist Conference
The Methodist Conference, meeting in June 2017, acknowledged both the long association of the Jewish people with the region of the Holy Land and the desire of Palestinian people for self-determination. Drawing the attention of Methodists to the online resources provided by the Balfour Project, the Conference also supported a reassessment of the values that guided our foreign policy in the past and called for the centenary of the Balfour Declaration to be marked as a significant historical event but not as a time of celebration.
In this context, we welcome this event, as a serious and reflective attempt to appraise the outcome of political decisions taken a century ago. We hope that all those attending the event will reflect sincerely on the past, present and future of Israel Palestine and we invite you to join us in praying for a lasting peace based on trust, security and freedom from fear for all people in the area.
Dr Hannan Ashrawi Palestine National Council
A century on, it is time to end the colonial legacy in Palestine unleashed by the Balfour Declaration. The UK must recognize its culpability, apologise for this historic injustice and make it right to every Palestinian generation that has suffered from that calamitous decision.
Dr Alon Liel former Director of Israel’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Ambassador to South Africa
The Balfour Declaration was announced before my parents were born. It probably had a lot to do with their escaping to Palestine (from Germany) 30-40 years later. They built their home in Israel, a country that for decades fought for its survival. When I grew up in Israel, nothing was guaranteed.
Today, 100 years after the Balfour declaration and seventy years after Israel’s creation, nothing on the ground looks similar. Israel’s existence is guaranteed; it is strong militarily and has a vibrant and sophisticated economy. During the last decade, Israel has positioned itself as a regional power while some of its neighbors downgraded and almost destroyed themselves.
Instead of using its accumulated power to become more generous, Israel is still obsessed with fears. Israel has become a cruel occupier, running the lives of over 4 million Palestinians, while ignoring their rights for territory and freedom.
This has to change. The Balfour idea was to share and not to control. If Israel will not share the territory, it will have to withdraw from the democratic family of nations, with Balfour turning around in his grave.
You British friends, who see the danger ahead, can help us convince the Israeli government to adopt a new approach: honest, just and long-sighted. We need more international support for the creation of a viable Palestinian State living peacefully alongside the State of Israel.
Very Rev Andrew R C McLellan CBE former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland
We cannot make realistic judgments about the wisdom or morality of a Cabinet Minister a century ago. But we certainly can make judgments about the consequences today of the Balfour Declaration. We must not ignore the cost of the Balfour Declaration to the Palestinian people. Millions have been consigned to lives of misery as a consequence of the promises contained in the Declaration: promises which no-one attempted to fulfil and which could not be fulfilled. Any commemoration of the Declaration which does not recognise the cost to the Palestinian people is a hollow commemoration.
Lord David Owen Former British Foreign Secretary
Successive British governments have helped to fulfil part, but not by any measure all, that Britain pledged in that Declaration.
I was the first Foreign Secretary to visit Israel in 1978. It was in the wake of Sadat’s visit to Israel and Begin’s visit to the UK. Both in their ways acts of deep reconciliation. Camp David with Carter, Sadat and Begin was a moment of hope. Now after three two-term US Presidents – Clinton, Bush and Obama – covering 24 years and following only one negotiating agenda, we are left with a worsening situation.
It behoves us all to think afresh. To challenge previous prejudices and to be cautious about assuming there are no alternatives.
Rev Dr Naim Ateek, founder Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre, Jerusalem
I hope and pray that the British Government will have the courage and moral integrity to take a stand and to right the wrong that happened a hundred years ago when it denied the indigenous people of Palestine their right to self determination. It is important now for the British Government to offer an apology to the Palestinian people, to recognise Palestine as a sovereign state, to pressure Israel to accept the international right of statehood for the Palestinians, and to do everything in its power to champion the cause of justice, peace, and liberation for the Palestinian people. IT IS TIME FOR PALESTINE.
Dr Usameh Jamali Economist dealing with energy resources
By espousing a political agenda based on an exclusionist religious myth, the Balfour Declaration ensured the fragmentation of the Middle East. The radicalisation it engendered stymied the development of democratic political institutions. This ensured that no countervailing power would hinder the domination by colonial powers of the bridge connecting Europe to Asia and the 70% plus of the world’s proven oil reserves.
It was of no consequence that this caused the uprooting of indigenous populations – the Palestinians and the Arab Jewish communities – nor that it came at the expense of the integrity of international law and institutions such as the United Nations.
The Declaration was a geopolitical success for the colonial powers. But the world will continue to suffer as long as its results are not recognised and atoned for. In bringing to light the Declaration’s impact, the Balfour Project is a step in the right direction. Dare one hope for an apology?
Revd Dr Sam Wells Vicar of St Martin in the Fields, London
Israelis and Palestinians are two peoples profoundly more sinned against than sinning. This event promises to be one of lament and grief but also of possibility and hope, as those of different perspectives make strides together to forge a future bigger than the past.
Professor Avi Shlaim Emeritus Professor of International Relations, Oxford University
The Balfour Declaration was only 67 words yet it had the most far-reaching consequences for Jews, Arabs, and the entire Middle East. By supporting a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine when they constituted barely 10 per cent of the population, the British government paved the way to the gradual Zionist takeover of the country. This document and Britain’s policy during the Palestine Mandate made conflict between the Arab population and the Zionists inevitable. Today, 100 years on, we are still grappling with the consequences of the Balfour Declaration. The Balfour Project is an admirable attempt to educate the British public about Britain’s historic responsibility for the ongoing conflict in Israel-Palestine and the conference held on 31 October is an important contribution by a group of leading experts to raise awareness of this critical issue.
Ian Murray MP Labour, Edinburgh South
“The Balfour Declaration was penned 100 years ago, yet today, we are still struggling with its consequences. The United Kingdom has a unique responsibility to the people of the region to help find a peaceful solution to a conflict we helped perpetuate through the iniquitous Balfour settlement.
“In his declaration Balfour stated that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. All these years on, this commitment remains unfulfilled.
“However, initiatives like the Balfour Project can really make the difference- by educating society about our historic role and offering practical solutions towards a peaceful future. Congratulations to all involved in helping improve the understanding and commemorating the centenary.”
Raja Shehadeh Palestinian lawyer and a founder of Al-Haq human rights organisation. Author and winner of the Orwell Prize
The Balfour Project has made a major contribution to bringing to the attention of the British people a past whose tragic consequences have yet to be fully acknowledged. Britain’s promise of Palestine to one people at the expense of another brings with it a British responsibility to seek to address the injustice and suffering caused to the Palestinian people over the last century and support for their long denied right to self- determination.
Duke of Montrose speaking at a Balfour Project event in the UK Parliament, April 2017
This event has opened a window onto the way our history has affected the world and the attitudes that have characterised it. The incredible pride and imperial self-confidence which allowed us to bring certain events in history to reality. We hear a lot about the high-handed way we dealt with Africa, but I have never heard as much about where we ran roughshod over those with local authority in India. This emphasises our need for new perspective on what we created in the Middle East where, at that time, our own self-interest was a major driving force. Is there any forum in the UK where these matters are being discussed as we have discussed here this evening?
Rajmohan Gandhi Historian and biographer of his grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi:
The Balfour Project is an inspiring, inclusive and courageous exercise to stir a nation’s thinking. Citizens in other lands will draw confidence from it to confront their own history and help shape their future.
Samia Khoury Board of Trustees, Birzeit University, Palestine
I would like to express appreciation for the effort of the Balfour Project to bring about awareness of the grave injustice that has befallen the Palestinian people as a result of the Balfour Declaration. I hope this event will initiate a moral apology by the United Kingdom, as well as the recognition of the right of return of the Palestinian refugees who were driven out of Palestine or had to flee out of fear as a result of the establishment of the state of Israel. This moral stand must be followed by the recognition of the state of Palestine that would see the end of the Israeli military occupation. We hope that such a historic atonement will usher an era of peace in our region with a Palestinian State alongside the state of Israel.
Cedar Duaybis Founding member, Sabeel Ecumenical, Liberation Theology Centre, Jerusalem
I believe your event in London will be beneficial for the UK, the Palestinians, the Israelis and the whole of the Middle East.
When Balfour issued his Declaration, Britain had already promised independence to all Arab countries under Ottoman rule, including Palestine. The Declaration was intentionally vague, referring to a ‘homeland’ in order not to scare the Palestinians, while not ruling out a state for Jews. Although Palestinians constituted 92% of the population, they were called ‘non-Jews’, entitled only to ‘religious and civil rights’ without mention of political rights. The British Mandate over Palestine, a sacred trust granted by the League of Nations, incorporated the Balfour Declaration, thereby ensuring a breach of trust from the outset.
The UK could start righting the wrong by acknowledging the injustice done to the Palestinian people; by recognizing Palestine’s right to self-determination; and by formally accepting the vote of the House of Commons ‘to recognize the State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel’.
Adam Sutcliffe Reader in European History, Kings College, London University
Independent Jewish Voices – a campaigning network that challenges uncritical support for Israel and seeks to work toward a just peace in Palestine / Israel – congratulates the Balfour Project on their organisation of Britain’s Broken Promises: Time for a New Approach, and wishes the event every success. We look forward to working in partnership with the many organisations that have contributed to the event, to address the iniquity of the current situation in the region, and the suffering it causes for Palestinians, and to persuade the British government to engage constructively and meaningfully in renewed efforts for a just and enduring peace.
Earlier messages to the Balfour Project
Message from the late Bishop John Austin Baker, former Bishop of Salisbury and Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons:
“There is no peace without repentance;
There is no repentance without knowledge;
There is no knowledge without education.
The Balfour Project so truly fulfils these principles that it can only do good, where good is desperately needed,and deserves all the help we can give”.
Sir Vincent Fean, KCVO British Consul General, Jerusalem 2010-2014 said recently:
We British have a say in the ending of this conflict, just as we had a say in its beginning. It may not have begun with the 1917 Balfour Declaration, but that promise was decisive – and I pay tribute here to the Balfour Project, working hard between now and November 2017 to explain the relevance of the past to the present, to illuminate dark corners, and to educate our young about the unfinished business initiated by our Government back then. Unfinished business in that there is now in Israel “a national home for the Jewish people”, but there is still the second part of the Balfour Declaration to consider: “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.