100 years of Palestinian nationalism
During my undergraduate days at the University of Lagos, I read a book titled From Beirut to Jerusalem written by Thomas Friedman, an American journalist and author. This book gave me my first youthful insight into the complexities of the Palestinian nationalism and the interplay of struggles for legitimacy in the Middle East. Friedman is Jewish and had studied Hebrew language as a child. He earned a Master’s degree in Middle East studies at the Oxford University. Thereafter, he became a reporter and worked as Jerusalem Bureau chief for New York Times. His insight and deep understanding of the realities in the Middle East as espoused in the book was quite illuminating and it helped galvanize my interest in the Palestinian struggle.
This month November, this year marks the 100 years of the Lord Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917. The content of that declaration was the statement of intent by the then British colonial cabinet members to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The provisions of that letter by the then British foreign secretary, Lord Arthur Belfour, was what later became popularly known as the Balfour Declaration of 1917.This declaration, amongst other provisions, sought to ensure “that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other countries.”
Consequently, upon this premise, on the 14th of May 1948, David Ben-Gurion, the executive head of the world Zionist Organisation formally made a declaration for the establishment of the independent state of Israel. Ironically, however, for the Palestinians, in the last 100 years of the Belfour declaration, it has been a historical catalogue of anguish, deprivation and hopelessness in the face of constant and perennial Israeli domination and brutality.
To ventilate the anger and frustration of a people whose right to a homeland has been denied by the criminal conspiracy of global leaders like Britain, Israel and the United States, the Committee on the Exercise of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, once again brought together intellectual leaders of thought, civil society groups and developmental partners, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York for a lecture to discuss the Palestinian issues. The lecture was titled “100 years of Balfour Declaration and its Impact on the Palestinian people.” As a representative to the United Nation for the Centre for Convention on Democratic Integrity, I got an invitation to attend the lecture at the UN Headquarters. The lecture was delivered by the renowned professor of history, Rashid Khalidi, co-director of the Centre for Palestinian Studies at Columbia University in New York.
In the highly explosive lecture, Professor Khalid went down memory lane to expose injustice and the global attitude of insensitivity and outright diplomatic hypocrisy of world leaders on the plight of the Palestinian people. All the Balfour declaration has succeeded in doing the last 100 years has been to create a single state of Israel while the Palestinians remain in perpetual subjugation under the tyranny of the state of Israel. The critical component to engender peace, harmony and peaceful coexistence in Palestine was not intended by the drafters of the Balfour declaration. Owing to the hypocritical nature of the British colonial government, the Balfour declaration was a politically motivated inglorious plan to further extend and sustain British strategic and imperial interest in Palestine.
From 1947, more than 726,000 Palestinians have been forced to vacate their homeland or become refugees even at home. During the 1967 military occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza strip, about 300,000 Palestinians were forcefully ejected from their homes to other parts of the occupied Palestinian territories and regional borders.
Palestinians have continued to face displacement through Israeli harsh policies which include home demolition, evictions, land confiscation, residency revocation, construction of settlement, walls and huge Israeli military presence.
In 1988, under the leadership of the late President Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, PLO, made a painful, but historic compromise by accepting the creation of a Palestinian state on a mere 22% of the historic land of Palestine. Subsequently, the Israeli government scuttled this laudable initiative as the leadership refused engagement in the critical negotiation process. In 1993, the PLO signed the Oslo Accord which was an interim agreement to metamorphose into the creation of a Palestinian state in five years. But sadly, the Israeli reneged on this path of peace and continue her occupation of Palestinian territories. For the Palestinians, the story taken out of the lecture was the journey of a highly fragmented and broken people whose humanity and dignity to descent living has been decimated and I don’t think anybody is sorry about this because the whole world has been watching with utmost inertia and lethargy.
It’s also apparent that the colonial masters, Great Britain, France,USA are even yet to come to terms with their inglorious legacies of perpetrating slavery, segregation, racial discrimination and colonialism and this perhaps is the reason the Palestinians are being denied a homeland of their own. Negotiations are undoubtedly necessary to arrive at an agreeable solution, however, such negotiation should end in creating a two states solution with the emergence of a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem living in peace and harmony with the state of Israel. May the ancient suffering of the Palestinian people begin to yield fruits after 100 years of the Balfour Declaration.
Ajibola is the NGO representative for the Centre for Convention on Democratic Integrity (CCDI) at the United Nations, New York.