By Stuart Littlewood – London
"What we have done is to start a running sore in the East, and no-one can tell how far that sore will extend."
Twice running we have stood back and watched. Twice in two years – 2006 Lebanon and 2008/9 Gaza – the British government has done nothing to intervene and indicate to Israel in unmistaken terms that they go too far – well beyond what human decency allows and what we as a nation will stand for – and that there are consequences.
Those consequences should include a drastic downgrading of our relationship on all levels and an end to economic and military co-operation.
If we had no leverage it would still be incumbent on us to initiate moves to uphold international law, human rights and UN resolutions, and to mobilise immediate relief for the civilian community even if we had to land it on Gaza’s beach. After all we – Britain – are the cause of the trouble. We – Britain – sowed the seed and created the conditions for events that would lead to 60 years of dispossession and torment for the Palestinians and 60 years of brutal expansionism and colonization by the Israelis at their expense.
But there’s leverage a-plenty, and it’s time we used it. Israel needs us, and Europe, more than we need Israel.
Stephen Ostrander’s simple verse describes in a few words the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict…
For centuries long
our land enslaved
by Turkish kings
with sharpened blade.
We prayed to end
the Sultan’s curse,
the British came
and spoke a verse.
"It’s World War One,
if you agree
to fight with us
we’ll set you free."
The war we fought
at Britain’s side,
our blood was shed
for Arab pride.
At war’s end
Turks were smitten,
our only gain,
the lies of Britain.
The infamous Balfour Declaration of 1917 – actually a letter from the British foreign secretary, Lord Balfour, to the most senior Jew in England, Lord Rothschild – pledged assistance for the Zionist cause with total disregard for the consequences to the native majority.
Calling itself a “declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations”, it said: His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing and non-Jewish communities….
Balfour, a Zionist convert, wrote: "In Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country. The four powers are committed to Zionism and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now occupy that land."
Earlier, in correspondence between Sir Henry McMahon and Sharif Hussein ibn Ali of Mecca in 1915, the Allied Powers promised independence to Arab leaders in return for their help in defeating Germany’s ally, Turkey.
Yes, there was opposition to Balfour. Lord Sydenham warned: "The harm done by dumping down an alien population upon an Arab country may never be remedied. What we have done, by concessions not to the Jewish people but to a Zionist extreme section, is to start a running sore in the East, and no-one can tell how far that sore will extend."
In 1922 Palestine was placed under British mandate, which incorporated the principles of the Balfour Declaration. Jewish immigration would be facilitated "under suitable conditions" and a nationality law would allow Jews taking up permanent residence to acquire Palestinian citizenship.
That same year the British government, aware of Arab concerns that the Balfour Declaration was being interpreted in an “exaggerated” fashion by Zionists, issued a White Paper to clarify the position.
“The terms of the Declaration referred to,” it said, “do not contemplate that Palestine as a whole should be converted into a Jewish National Home, but that such a Home should be founded ‘in Palestine’. In this connection it has been observed with satisfaction that at a meeting of the Zionist Congress, the supreme governing body of the Zionist Organization, held at Carlsbad in September, 1921, a resolution was passed expressing as the official statement of Zionist aims the determination of the Jewish people to live with the Arab people on terms of unity and mutual respect, and together with them to make the common home into a flourishing community, the upbuilding of which may assure to each of its peoples an undisturbed national development…
The White Paper noted that the Zionist Commission in Palestine, re-named the Palestine Zionist Executive, had no wish to be involved in the administration of the country. It would be allowed to assist in general development but not share in the government.
“Further, it is contemplated that the status of all citizens of Palestine in the eyes of the law shall be Palestinian, and it has never been intended that they, or any section of them, should possess any other juridical status.”
Question: How did we get from there to here… this miserable point in 2009 where the democratically elected government of Israeli-occupied Palestine is holed up under siege in Gaza while the Strip is bombed to smithereens and its citizens systematically slaughtered by the Israel’s high-tech military right under the noses of the international community and assorted sightseers?
Answer: By a good deal of chicanery, cowardice and corruption on the part of Britain and the rest of the international community.
Today the same despicable breed are in charge. And the Palestinians are still waiting for simple justice.
How right Sydenham was.
Postscript – As I file this article TV news is showing the UN’s main compound in Gaza with its humanitarian stores of food and medicines in flames after being hit twice by Israel’s big guns, deliberately some say. Will Israel be ejected from the UN for this outrage? Dream on….
– Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. For further information please visit www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.