PALESTINIANS PROTEST the Balfour Declaration in Ramallah last week. .
(photo credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)
Leaders of Israel’s Arab minority are organizing a protest outside the British Embassy in Tel Aviv to mark the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.
The demonstration on November 7 comes five days after the anniversary of the declaration by foreign secretary Arthur Balfour that the British 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,” while not harming the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities in Palestine.
For Zionists this was a major historic turning point in reestablishing Jewish sovereignty in what they view as their historic homeland, but Palestinians see it as the beginning of a process of dispossession and favoring of Jewish rights at their expense that continues to this day through West Bank settlement and Knesset legislative efforts seen as relegating Israeli Arabs to second-class citizenship.
“In 1917 less than 10% of the population was Jewish and more than 90% Arab. The British gave to the Jews something that didn’t belong to them,” said Raja Zaatry, an official of the High Follow-up Committee, the Arab community’s leadership body.
“During the mandate, until 1948 they helped the Zionist movement build the state, allowed immigration and assisted the Zionists. We are asking that they take responsibility for the suffering caused to Palestinians and meet a concrete demand: recognize Palestine as a state in the UN.
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“The West Bank and Gaza are still under occupation. They are not recognized as a country by Britain so Britain is actually supporting the occupation. British people should rethink their history of colonialism and their role in this country,” he said.
But Likud MK Anat Berko, a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, sharply criticized the planned demonstration and termed those who would protest “disloyal.”
“They are really poor souls, the Arabs of Israel,” she said sarcastically.
“They are invited to join their brothers the Palestinians if it is so bad for them here. They’ll get citizenship of the Palestinian Authority or the Islamic emirate in Gaza and they won’t have to suffer in the State of Israel, which is the national home of the Jewish people where they have equal rights.”
Asked if she meant steps should be taken against “disloyal” Arabs, Berko said, “It’s a democratic country and they have the right to demonstrate but we have to understand that they are demonstrating against the very existence of the state. Not 1967, not the ‘occupation’ but 1917, the Balfour Declaration, ‘a national home for the Jewish people.’ This means that after a hundred years they haven’t accepted the existence of a Jewish state in which they have equal rights.”
MK Yousef Jabareen, however, said the reality in Israel is one of discrimination against Arab citizens.
“Ironically the discourse used in 1917 is now being used by the Netanyahu government,” he said, citing the “Nationality Law” bill, which has been criticized for appearing to give primacy to Jews over Arabs. He also said that the government’s approach of confining the Palestinians in the West Bank to limited self rule without independence was similar to the Balfour Declaration’s provision that non-Jews would have civil and religious rights but not political or national ones.
The protest at the British Embassy was decided upon in coordination with the Palestinian Authority, which is calling for demonstrations at British embassies all over the world. Protests are also planned across the West Bank and Gaza, with the main ones being held in Ramallah and Gaza City.
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