Thursday, January 17, 2013

Britain, It's Time to Apologize

The following words, on the disastrous and inglorious finale to Britain's unprecedented and utterly outrageous colonial experiment in Palestine, by Sir Henry Lovell Goldsworthy Gurney, the last Chief Secretary to the Palestine government, are a breathtaking instance of hypocrisy and denial of responsibility for the consequences of one's actions:

"If you haven't heard us properly, let us say again we are leaving on the 15th May. We have kept these people from each other's throats for the last 25 years, and if anyone else is prepared to to do it let him say now and do something about it. Only don't say we haven't warned you. If there is a vacuum, it is not our fault but yours, because you have assumed responsibility for Palestine from the 15th May. This is a thoroughly wicked child, though we brought it up as well as we could, and it was really very nice of you to take it over. It is rather urgent, because the child is getting more and more out of hand, and we are finding it almost impossible to look after it properly. Cutting it in half may well be the best thing that could happen to it, but we warned you that it wasn't likely to agree. This is the 15th May. We're off!" (Diary entry for 16/4/48, quoted in 'A Senseless, Squalid War': Voices from Palestine 1890s-1948, Norman Rose, 2010, pp 216-217)

By pressing ahead with the implementation of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, promising 'a national home for the Jewish people' in Palestine, a country with an overwhelmingly non-Jewish population at the time, successive British governments courted disaster. Britain, the wicked child here, cannot, and should not, escape responsibilty for what it did in Palestine from 1917 to 1948. In the no-nonsense  words of JMN Jeffries:

"We are no victims of circumstances in Palestine along with the Arabs and the Jews. We made the circumstances: we, by the acts of our rulers, and we alone, are primarily responsible for the state of that country, and there must be no self-absolution proposed by us." (Palestine: The Reality, 1939, p 711)

In light of Britain's primary responsibility for the sufferings and outrages still being perpetrated on the Palestinian people, I can think of few more relevant and timely educational initiatives than the following:

"The Palestinian Return Centre (PRC) has launched an international campaign that targets collecting one million signatures asking Britain to apologize to the Palestinian people. The London-based PRC statement on Monday said that Britain should apologize for its historic mistake starting with the Balfour Declaration and for the human rights abuse suffered by Palestinians under the British Mandate. It said: 

"International Campaign, Britain, It's Time to Apologize -1917-2017 - A Century of Palestinian Suffering

"It is nearly 100 years since the UK Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, issued the Balfour Declaration of 2nd November 1917, promising a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. Ever since, Palestinians have suffered enormously in the shadow of Britain's colonial past. Justice has finally been rendered over Britain's colonial past in the Mau Mau case.* In that case the world heard what every subjugated people know - Britain committed brutal crimes against indigenous populations.

"The Palestinian Return Centre (PRC), with other partners around the world, is preparing to launch their global campaign to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration. The campaign, which will be launched in the UK, will gather a million signatures from those seeking justice in Palestine, in condemnation of British colonial policy between 1917 and 1948. Over 11 million Palestinians continue to suffer from Britain's unjust and misguided policy in Palestine.

"The 5-year campaign will include mass mobilizations, popular events, conferences and workshops, lobbying, a petition and other initiatives. Great injustices leave great scars - it is time Britain apologized to rebuild the future. Since Britain has shown it's capable of taking responsibility for its past atrocities, we are optimistic in achieving our goal." (PRC organizes 'Britain, It's Time to Apologize' campaign, 22/10/12,

That was October last. The Britain, It's Time to Apologize campaign is about to be officially launched at a conference, Britain's Legacy in Palestine:

"An international conference looking at Britain's legacy in Palestine is being organized by the Palestinian Return Centre (PRC). It will coincide with the fourth Palestine Memorial Week, from 19th-25th Jan 2013, and be the formal launching pad for an international campaign against the Balfour Declaration, Britain, It's Time to Apologize, a 5-year initiative by the PRC to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration in 1917. The campaign intends to raise greater awareness of Britain's failed policy in Palestine and its devastating consequences. Thousands of Palestinians who suffered under British administration are still alive and many millions continue to endure terrible human rights abuse as a result of Britain's failed policy in the region. The conference, Britain's Legacy in Palestine, is scheduled for Saturday 19 January 2013, from 9:30am to 5:00pm at Friends House, 173 Euston Rd, London NW1 2BJ.

"The following sessions and speakers are confirmed:
Opening Session: The conference will be inaugurated by Prof Manuel Hassassian, Palestinian Ambassador to the UK, Mohamed al-Hamid of PRC and a number of MPs.
Session 1: The Early History
The theological and ideological roots of the Balfour Declaration
British policy in Palestine
Israel Continues Britain's colonial legacy in Palestine
Session 2: Britain's Legacy in Palestine
Ethnic cleansing of Palestine: Same goal, different model
Living under occupation, the mechanics of ongoing ethnic cleansing
Session 3: The African Mau Mau case & Britain - A Comparative Review
Australia's National Sorry Day - Lessons to be learnt
Why Mau Mau matters to Palestine
The legal framework of the Mau Mau case and its implications for Palestinians
Session 4: What Next?
A discussion of the international campaign to push Britain to apologise to the Palestinian people 

Confirmed Speakers:
Prof Manuel Hassassian, Palestinian Ambassador to the UK
Dr Uri Davis, academic and civil rights activist
Dr Alison Weir, journalist and activist, Director of If Americans Knew
Alan Hart, British author and journalist
John Bond, British-Australian activist
Mohammed Othman, Palestinian civil rights activist freed from Israeli detention after an international campaign
Rev Dr Stephen Sizer, British author and activist, and incumbent of the Anglican Parish of Christ Church
Martin Linton, former British MP
Maria Holt, lecturer in the Democracy & Islam Program at Westminster University
Mohammad Al Hamid, head of PRC Board of Trustees
Ibrahim Hewit, journalist and activist
Dr Ghada Karmi, writer, academic and activist
Daud Abdullah, director of Middle East Media Mentoring (MEMO)
Sabah Al Mokhtar, president of the Arab Lawyers Association

One to watch...

[*There was dancing and praying in the streets of Nairobi earlier this month when 3 elderly Kenyans won an unexpected legal victory in London. They had been granted the right to sue the British government over the horrific ordeals they suffered during the Mau Mau insurgency, although the abuses had been inflicted on them more than half a century earlier... What other arguable claims could be out there, lurking in the memories of ageing rebels, and within documents that have been concealed or withheld for a generation? And is it possible that such claims could challenge not only the government and its lawyers, but also the British people's carefully nurtured narrative of the final days of their imperial mission?" (The Mau Mau may rewrite the history of the British empire, Ian Cobain, The Guardian, 28/10/12)]

No comments: