Palestinian activists have launched a campaign yesterday demanding the UK to formally apologise for the Balfour Declaration, which pledged a homeland for the Jewish people in historic Palestine nearly a century ago. Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Jenny Tonge hosted the launch at a launch at the House of Parliament last Tuesday where Palestinian groups and their supporters blamed the plight of the Palestinian people on the legacy of the pledge and wider British colonialism in the region. The activists, backed by the Palestinian diplomatic mission in the UK, intend to pressure the British government in the lead up to the hundredth anniversary of the pledge in November 2017. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also called on the UK to apologize for the Balfour Declaration while in New York last week.
In 1917, in a letter to Lord Rothschild, the head of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, British foreign secretary Arthur James Balfour, promised support for a homeland for Jews in Palestine so long as existing communities in the area were not “prejudiced”. Shortly after the letter was published, the Ottoman Empire, which ruled historic Palestine, was defeated by allied powers in World War I, and Britain established mandate rule in the territory.
Speaking at the debate, the head of the Palestinian Return Centre (PRC), Majed al-Zeer, said the Balfour Declaration marked the beginning of almost a century of Palestinian suffering. He said, “[Britain’s] role directly contributed to the displacement of the Palestinians … the suffering that we are living through today is a direct result of Balfour’s legacy. So instead of independence, Palestinians were to get wars, camps, refugees, blockades, massacres and many more painful memories.”British Palestinian author Karl Sabbagh said Balfour’s promise to the Zionist movement was just one in a series of conflicting pledges made to Jews and Arabs.
If the petition reaches 100,000 signatures, the British parliament will have to consider debating the subject