The Centenary of the Balfour Declaration

Today marks 100 years since the Balfour Declaration was made – a promise made by the Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to support “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” The Declaration also committed 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 morning I joined a number of others who were there to highlight the “Citizens’ Apology”  outside the Parliament. Together,  we mark this day, protest the British Government’s historic broken promise, and reaffirm the Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group for Palestine’s   commitment to justice for Palestine.

The Cross Party Group for Palestine also hosted a Centenary reception, at  which Liz Lockhead and some very inspiring young people spoke.

I gave a short speech as one of the Co-Convenors which you can read below:

 

“Tonight we are here to commemorate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration. To recognise the failure of that commitment by the British Government and to commit to action for future justice.

Balfour’s letter to Lord Rothchild 100 years ago tomorrow 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 was an unfulfilled, or broken promise on the part of the UK Government and subsequent UK Governments.

I want to pay tribute to Monica and Roger Spooner whose lead on the Balfour Project has highlighted the British failure to treat all sides fairly to so many people. Monica said in the Souvenir Programme for the Britain’s Broken promise – time for a new approach event held in Westminster Hall London last night. “We are discovering a vast network of people throughout the country who are equally committed to peace and justice for both Palestine and Israel.”

Last night, Emily Thornbury, Britain’s shadow foreign secretary, speaking in Westminster Hall, said “ I do not know whether the Foreign Secretary agrees with the Prime Minister about whether it is worth answering hypothetical questions, but as we mark the centenary of the vital step taken by a former British Foreign Secretary in recognition of Israeli statehood, I ask this Foreign Secretary how he believes he will be remembered in 100 years’ time. Will the Government in which he serves be remembered for recognising the statehood of the Palestinian people and taking a similarly vital step towards correcting an historic wrong? I can assure him that if the Government are not prepared to take that step, the next Labour Government will be.”

In many ways this is a sombre occasion. I have been to Gaza with The European Council for Palestinian Relations in 2012 And with my colleague John Finnie  Green Party MSP, we witnessed the  of occupation  and also saw the devastation caused by the recent disproportionate attack by the Israeli army.

The Palestinian Mission’s campaign is to “make it right.”

The Balfour Project calls on us all to “support Palestinians and Israelis in building a peaceful future based on equal rights, justice and security for all.” I respect both these calls.

This summer I went to an exhibition of Palestinian photography in the Tollcross Community Centre here in Edinburgh. One of those photos by Mohammed Asad comes to my mind recurrently. It is of an elderly Palestinian woman holding a key. The symbolism of that key will not be missed by anyone here tonight.

You have already heard from our Convenor Sandra White and will also hear from Co-Convenor Ross Greer. As convenors of the Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group for Palestine we welcome you here to the Scottish Parliament.

Tonight we reaffirm our commitment to justice for Palestine and its people wherever they may be!”

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