Palestinians Still Displaced after 100 Years of the Balfour Declaration
By: Michaela Schrum/Arab America Contributing Writer
On November 2nd, tomorrow, the world will recognize 100 years since the Balfour Declaration. This declaration would set the world on its edge in the many years to come and change millions of lives in the process.
The Balfour declaration was a letter written by the British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, sent to Lord Rothschild, a prominent leader in the Jewish community in Britain.
The letter stated:
“His Majesty’s 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, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
This text was used to justify the creation of Israel by occupying and terrorizing the Palestinian masses, and eventually, led to the Palestinian Exodus or Al Nakba (The Catastrophe) in 1948, where thousands of Palestinians were forced out of their homes to make way for the Jewish state and Jewish immigrants that would live in Palestinian homes.
Palestinians were forced to walk for days, carrying the belongings they could, including the keys to their homes. These keys would come to symbolize Palestinian rights and their hopes of returning to their family homes. But for most, that was not meant to be the first refugee camps that were set up to accommodate more than 700,000 displaced people.
Where this document signifies for Zionists (those who wanted to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine) hope for an end to collective Jewish suffering, it has come to represent the ethnic favoring of the Jewish people over the Palestinian people and the beginning of the persecution of Palestinians in their own lands.
Hala Ajluni, a Palestinian American from Jerusalem, remembers this time well. She was sitting for a school exam the day that her family was told to leave their home in West Jerusalem and was forced to relocate to the east. Suddenly, she couldn’t do certain things like go to her own school and her family was forbidden to travel to their summer home. Now that 100 years have passed since the original Balfour declaration, Ajluni reflects that her grandchildren would like to visit their family home in Palestine. But Ajluni knows how difficult time the Israeli soldiers would give her family if they tried to return. She says giving money to Israel, like the United States, does empower the occupying power and would hurt the Palestinians.”
During this historic commencement, there have been many reactions. Unfortunately, Theresa May told reporters that she would celebrate with pride and with the chairman of the World Zionist Organization, Yaakov Hagoel who after 100 years, finally sent an official “thank you” letter. In his letter, Hagoel told Arthur Balfour that they had lived up to his hope that Israel would treat Palestinians with respect and dignity. The Jerusalem Post reported that Hagoel’s letter detailed how minority rights are protected in the Jewish state” This was a lie.
Palestinians in Gaza live under a strict economic and movement blockade. Because of the Israeli bombing campaigns and Gaza’s economy, the UN recently stated: “ the Gaza Strip could become ‘uninhabitable” by 2020.” The Israeli occupation of Gaza has left Gazans almost entirely dependent on foreign aid.
Those living in the West Bank live every day under the scrutiny and fear of Israeli soldiers who are known to march through refugee camps and shoot anyone in the street. They are known for their violence and mistreatment of Palestinian citizens. Israel is known for the arrest and torture of children in Israeli prisons who by law do not need a trial to be held for a couple of weeks to a few months.
Hagoel’s letter not only lied to the author of this declaration, it tried to justify the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians which has occurred over the past 100 years since Balfour’s declaration.
Hassan Newash, a Palestinian/American activist remembers his experiences in 1948 which were brought on by the Balfour declaration as “dehumanizing to Palestinians. They (Western leaders) gave away my home, my everything, they all to a third party, the Zionist state of Israel.”
As the Palestinian families in the United States remember their heritage and loved ones this centennial, they always will remember that without this declaration, their lives would have been very different.
“Since we cannot change the past, we must collectively look to the future and fight for the chance to self- determination and the right to live freely in a Palestinian state and a right to return with the spirit of respect for humanity,” Ajlouni said. She encourages everyone else to do the same.