Britain’s Broken Promise
“Britain’s Broken Promise: Time for a new approach” was a remarkable event organised by the Balfour Project at Central Hall Westminster. It was remarkable not only in terms of the list of prominent speakers but, even more, for the sober way in which it meticulously exposed British history in Palestine. It was described as an opportunity for reflection and it delivered well in this respect. Reflection ought to lead to action and one particular action (below) was referred to again and again.
The event was live-streamed and shortly can be watched on line here. A handful of people such as Dr Monica Spooner and John Bond have worked hard to realise a vision for this project that has been in the making for many years.
The impressive line-up of speakers included: –
|Dr Peter Shambrook,||Historical adviser to the Balfour Project|
|Tom Brake MP||Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Foreign Affairs|
|Baroness Helena Kennedy QC||Principal, Mansfield College, Oxford University|
|Layla Moran MP||Britain’s first British Palestinian MP (Liberal Democrat)|
|Emily Thornberry MP||Labour Shadow Foreign Affairs|
|Crispin Blunt MP||Former Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee (Conservative)|
|Dr Philippa Whitford MP||SNP Foreign Affairs spokesperson|
|Rt Rev Declan Lang||Roman Catholic Bishop of Clifton and CBCE&W spokesperson on International Affairs|
|Rt Rev Christopher Chessun||C of E Bishop of Southwark|
|Rabbi Danny Rich||Senior Rabbi, Liberal Judaism|
|Dr Imad Karam||Award-winning film-maker|
|Sir Vincent Fean||Former UK Consul-General, Jerusalem|
|Lord David Owen||Former Foreign Secretary|
The mesmerising music group Chai for All were joined by Palestinian and Syrian musicians.
The programme guide for the event describes the 1917 Balfour Declaration as a first step towards the creation of a sanctuary for a persecuted people, the Jews. The Balfour Declaration pledged Britain’s support for a ‘national home’ in Palestine for the Jewish people on the understanding that the rights of the ‘existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine’ would not be prejudiced.
Here we offer a brief account of the event through the words of the many excellent speakers.
Britain’s Contradictory Promises
The Balfour Project’s 18 minute film describes the contradictory promises made by Britain to Jews and Palestinians during and after the First World War. This immediately set up a conflict between the communities over the right to self-determination in Palestine. Britain secured a mandate from the League of Nations that included a ‘sacred trust’ to prepare the people of Palestine for Independence. But in the end Britain walked away.
Dr Peter Shambrook, “The Balfour declaration shows that Britain can be as devious as any other country. Acknowledging that would not be a sign of weakness but rather a statement of our values today.“
An unequal struggle
Sir Vincent Fean, “I lived in Jerusalem for 3 years, when I worked for our Government. May I share one experience with you? I went to the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh to express condolences at the death of a young man from the village, shot dead by a sniper from the Israeli Defence Force during a demonstration at which some Palestinians threw stones. The dead man’s sister asked what recourse the family had. I had nothing to say. We both knew that there was no recourse to justice. There is no recourse. Procedures involving the military, yes – but no recourse.”
Dr Imad Karam and Lord David Owen “We have lost sight of equal rights to security.”
Dr Imad Karam “The occupation will not end, so long as we, the international community, leave it to both sides to battle it out.”
Dr Philippa Whitford MP “What we are seeing at the moment is conquest by concrete. In the international community if we do not have international law we have nothing.”
Crispin Blunt MP “The settler interest is as straight-forward a breach of the 4th Geneva Convention as its drafters could have imagined.”
Time is not on our side
Lord David Owen “Time is not on our side. There is a very real risk of another war in Southern Lebanon and this would set back the whole peace process, reinforcing suspicions and fears.”
The UK’s responsibility today
Tom Brake MP “The UK Government has a central role to play. This is not something that we can delegate to the Americans, we must take a lead on this.”
Sir Vincent Fean “The UK Government has a policy of ‘wait and see’. With respect, that is not a policy. To say the right things, but choose to do nothing effective to make those right things happen, is worse than useless. It is prevarication – and wrong.”
Rt Rev Christopher Chessun “I believe that the time is right for the UK to recognise Palestine. The UK government has evaded this responsibility.”
From Reflection to Action – Recognition of a Palestinian State
Dr Philippa Whitford MP “You can’t have a two state solution if you don’t recognise two states.”
Emily Thornberry MP “In 2011 William Hague stated that the UK government “will recognise a Palestinian state at a time of our choosing when we think it can best bring about peace”. Well how about now? If this government does not recognise Palestine then a Labour government will.”
Layla Moran MP (with reference to Boris Johnson’s comment “that the moment is not yet right to play that card”) “This is not a game. Recognition of Palestine is not a card to be played but a right to be realised.”
And finally …..
The Balfour Project meeting launched the ‘Balfour Centenary Declaration’ that has been signed so far by over 60 leading British personalities. In support Prominent Israelis have also called for the recognition of Palestine