New Worker Banner

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

A Day of Shame

LAST SATURDAY Palestinian solidarity campaigners evaded security to gain access to the House of Commons Private Members Lobby in the Palace of Westminster in London. Once inside, they doused the statue of Lord Arthur Balfour in fake blood and unveiled the Palestinian flag, before gluing themselves to the plinth to state their intentions.

Lord Arthur Balfour was the architect of the declaration that sealed the fate of the Palestinian people in the 20th century.

On 2nd November 1917 the British government pledged its support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, which was then a province in the Turkish Ottoman empire, Germany’s chief ally in the Middle East.

Lord Balfour, the foreign secretary in Lloyd George’s war-time government, issued the declaration that authorised Zionist settlement in Palestine when it became part of the British Empire following the defeat of Germany and its allies in the first world war.

But in 1917 the outcome of the war was still in doubt. The Germans had knocked Russia out and they held the line along the Western Front. British imperialism was looking for new allies in a conflict with Germany that plunged Europe into war in 1914. Locked in a stalemate on the Western front they sought support from the influential Zionist lobby within the Jewish community in Britain and the United States. At the same time British agents had encouraged feudal Arab leaders to rebel against their Turkish masters with false promises of British support for an independent Arab kingdom when victory came.

What these Arabs didn’t know was that behind their backs Britain had already agreed to partition the Ottoman Empire – Britain would get Palestine and Iraq: the French got Syria and Lebanon and the Russians would get Constantinople. Even Italy and Greece were promised small slices of the take that would leave the Turks with just a rump state in Asia Minor. The Arabs would get nothing.

And that’s what largely happened after the defeat of Germany and its allies in 1918. Despite the Russian revolution and America’s entry into the war the Ottoman Empire was partitioned along the lines of an Anglo-French plan. A resurgent Turkish nationalist movement thwarted Italian ambitions and threw the Greeks out of Asia Minor but the Arabs were powerless to stop the recolonisation of their lands under Western rulers.

Britain’s feudal Arab allies became puppet rulers of Iraq and Jordan while France set up bogus sectarian statelets in Syria and Lebanon. Palestine came under direct British colonial rule.

Balfour promised the Zionists a “national home” in Palestine while stating “that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. But Palestine was not Balfour’s to give and the Arabs, the overwhelming majority of the population in the British “mandate” of Palestine, never consented to this and in any case they were never consulted.

The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 led to the expulsion of nearly a million Palestinians from their homes. The war that began in 1948 continues to this day. The Palestinians fight on and they will continue the struggle until their legitimate rights are restored.

UN resolutions have provided the basis for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. First of all Israel must totally withdraw from all the occupied territories seized in 1967, including Arab East Jerusalem and Syria’s Golan Heights. The Palestinians must be allowed to establish a state of their own on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian refugees whose homes are now in Israel must be allowed to return or, if they so wish, be paid appropriate compensation in exchange. And all states in the region, including Israel, should have internationally agreed and recognised frontiers guaranteed by all the Great Powers.