Palestinians protest the 100th anniversary of Britain's Balfour Declaration.
(photo credit: ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)
NEW YORK – Palestinian representatives slammed the Balfour Declaration at UN headquarters in New York on Thursday, the centenary of the historic document, calling it a “century-long assault on the Palestinian people.”
Prominent Palestinian- American historian Rashid Khalidi declared that the 1917 document, which pledged London’s support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Mandate Palestine, was “a gun pointed directly at their [Palestinians’] heads,” and “constituted a declaration of war by the British Empire on the indigenous population of the land.”
Khalidi, a professor of Modern Arab Studies and co-director of the Center for Palestine Studies at Columbia University, is also a former PLO adviser.
Speaking at the UN on the invitation of the Palestinian Rights Committee, Khalidi was asked to give his perspective on the declaration and the impact it has had on the Palestinian people.
The event, which was attended by many diplomats, was open to the public and broadcast live on Palestinian TV .
PLO Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour, who sat on the stage next to Khalidi, thanked his colleague, diplomats and others for standing with the Palestinians in “remembering this infamous declaration.”
“This declaration has launched what has become a century-long assault on the Palestinian people aimed at implanting this national home at their expense,” said Khalidi.
In response to a question about why Britain has refused to apologize to the Palestinians for the document, Khalidi said: “Simple reason: The Zionist narrative continues to dominate the British environment, especially in the media and the current Conservative Party. Therefore, the [British] prime minister is now hosting the Israeli prime minister.”
Khalidi also said that the original motivation behind the declaration needed “peeling away many layers of myth.
One of them is that the British cabinet acted as it did out of a sense of concern for the sufferings of the Jewish people. I don’t think that was the primary motivation of the cabinet.
There was an element of what you might call philosemitism, an element of looking at the Bible and seeing it sort of as a road map for the future and saying the Jewish people should be restored to its ancestral homeland. However,...
their primary objective was securing the British Empire and winning World War I.”
Khalidi accused then-UK foreign secretary Arthur Balfour himself of antisemitism, claiming that Balfour did not allow Jews fleeing tsarist prosecution to enter Britain. “I think antisemitism also plays a role here: Better to have them go elsewhere than to have them here [in Britain] was in the minds of some people,” he said.
In response to Khalidi’s lecture, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said, “These statements are another example of hateful Palestinian incitement and their refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state. While the Jewish people realized the dream of Zionism, our opponents continue to focus on hate and violence.
The true lesson of history is that the Palestinians’ refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish people to our homeland has not benefited them, and will never undermine the thriving vitality of the State of Israel. We’ll continue to proudly celebrate this historic milestone that led to Israel’s founding.”
At the end of November, the Israeli delegation to the UN will mark 70 years since the UN Partition Plan, with US Vice President Mike Pence as the key speaker at the event.