THIS year is the centennial of one of the most criminal acts in modern history. On November 5, 1917, Lord Arthur James Balfour, the foreign secretary of Great Britain (who was also the prime minister during 1902–05) signed the death warrant of the Palestinians by announcing the declaration that takes his name as the Balfour Declaration that paved the way to create the state of Israel on Palestinian land where they were the overwhelming majority (90 per cent or 6,00,000) and where they had lived for thousands of years. The Jews in Palestine numbered 10 per cent of the population or 60,000 when the Balfour Declaration was announced.
The Balfour Declaration was a short document and, compared with its humungous impact on history, ridiculously short. It was in a letter that the foreign secretary wrote to Lord Walter Rothschild, the leader of the British Jewish community. In it, he conveyed to the British Jews and, through them to Jews worldwide, that Great Britain had decided to establish on ‘Palestinian land’ a homeland for the Jews at a time when it was not in control of Palestine in any way! Great Britain got control of Palestine following the defeat of the Turks in the First World War and the end of the Ottoman Empire. The League of Nations’ mandate under which Great Britain was given administrative control of Palestine was from 1920 to 1948. Thus, the Balfour Declaration was, by any definition, a grossly illegal act.
The Balfour Declaration was also made in criminal disregard to history. The land was known as Palestine since the times of ancient Greeks and its population was known as Palestinians. The Jews were such a small minority that they were not even acknowledged when Palestine was mentioned. In the next three decades following the infamous declaration, Great Britain put its weight behind the establishment of Israel that eventually became independent in 1948. Thereafter, Great Britain supported and helped Israel strengthen its illegal occupation in every conceivable way possible. With the other western powers, Great Britain allowed Israel to become a nuclear power and remained silent as the Israelis made the Palestinians permanent refugees and condemned them to the same lives from which many amongst them had escaped during the Holocaust.
In the midst of his weird presidency, president Donald Trump has hit the bull’s eye on one thing — his portrayal of the media as ‘fake.’ It is the ‘fake’ media that turned the 90 per cent of the Palestinians as terrorists simply because they refused to accept the British deceit and fought against it and have continued to do so for their rights that were usurped from them by the Balfour Declaration. In one of the greatest travesty of the truth and justice in history, the ‘fake’ western media established the usurpers as the rightful owners of Palestine by backing the illegal Jewish state to the tilt and labelling the rightful occupants of what is now Israel as terrorists.
I had befriended a retired Egyptian vice-foreign minister when I was Bangladesh’s ambassador to Egypt in 1999–2002. He had told me something that I thought I must bring to this piece to underline not just the height of deceit and illegality embedded in the Balfour Declaration but the extent of immorality in it. The state minister had told me that till the British deceit with the Balfour Declaration, the Muslims, the Christians and the Jews had lived in Palestine for ages in peace and tranquillity. It was after the Balfour Declaration that was followed by the huge migration of Jews from Europe to the ‘promised land’ that was responsible for the destruction of the inter-religious harmony built over thousands of years.
The Balfour Declaration was preceded by the Zionist Movement that had started in eastern and central Europe at the end of the 18th century that aimed at establishing a Jewish state in Palestine where Jews had once lived, before dispersing to other parts of the world particularly Europe many many centuries ago. The Balfour Declaration gave the illegitimate Zionist Movement real hope where before it, creating an independent Jewish state on overwhelmingly Arab land was little more than romanticism. After the Balfour Declaration, the Zionists of whom many had fought with the British against the Turks and the European Jews who migrated to Palestine in droves joined hands to destabilise the region.
The first terrorist groups in the Middle East were, in fact, formed from these Zionists that fought with the British authorities and the Arabs. Amongst these terrorist groups were the Lehi, the Haganah and the Palmach whose acts of terrorism were thoroughly detestable because their objective was to force out the overwhelmingly majority Arabs from Palestine that was theirs for ages to create the illegal state of Israel for the small minority of Palestinian Jews. It was another travesty of the truth and the trashing of historical facts that, subsequently, the terrorist Zionists were given legitimacy by Great Britain and its western allies while the legal owners of Palestine, the Arabs, were labelled as terrorists because they fought for the land and their rights.
This year also coincides with another historical landmark involving British deceit — the 70th year of the partition of India. This landmark has ushered a fresh look at that partition with renewed interest. And that has revealed that the British had committed in India with the partition the same crime that it had committed in Palestine. They had entered India as traders at a time when the Muslim rule of a thousand years was crumbling. That notwithstanding, the majority Hindus and the Muslims were living in reasonable peace without communal tensions when the British set foot on Indian soil for the first time.
The British ended that thousand years of communal harmony between the Hindus and the Muslims just like it had ended communal harmony among the Arabs, the Christians and the Jews in Palestine. In Palestine, the British destroyed communal harmony with the Balfour Declaration. In India, they destroyed communal harmony with their policy of divide and rule. Under that policy, they gave education, commerce, and feudal power to the Hindus with mala fide intentions to point to them that they had saved them from their enemies, the Muslims. That widened the gap between the Hindus and the Muslims to such extent that harmony was replaced by hatred. The British made belated attempts to bring the Muslims from the utter backwardness to which they had pushed them during the first 100 years of their rule only to find that the Hindus under their political party, the Congress, would only accept a united post-British India where they would rule the country, where the Muslims would have no political power.
And it was Lord Radcliffe who played in the Indian partition the role Lord Balfour had played in Palestine. The British asked him, a British lawyer without any experience in what he was asked to do, to draw the physical lines dividing India into independent India and Pakistan in denial also of the fact that he had never set his foot in India (he never stepped east of Paris). Thus he drew one of the most absurd physical boundaries between peoples, in his case, between the Muslims and the Hindus, that devastated the lives of millions and deaths of two million as Hindus in the Muslim majority areas in Punjab and Bengal fled to India and Muslims in Hindu majority areas fled to Pakistan. The Muslims in Bengal and Punjab had wanted to remain united even as late as 1946.
Before allowing Lord Radcliffe to literally commit murder, the British and the Congress had conspired to scuttle the Cabinet Mission Plan that could have kept India united and saved the lives of millions and the destruction of the lives of many more millions. The Cabinet Mission Plan had proposed a united India where the Muslims and the Hindus were to be grouped separately and given the right to determine their political fate independent of each other and for both the communities, an equal share of power in the central government. The British allowed the Congress to defeat the plan because the latter wanted to dominate the central government and did not want to share power with the Muslim League. That, in turn, pushed British India towards the tsunami of death and destruction. And in Kashmir, they gave the Muslim majority princely state to India that was a breach of the principle under which these princely states were to opt for either Pakistan or India that has led to permanent enmity between India and Pakistan and for the Muslims in Kashmir, a permanent state of terror from Indian security and intelligence.
The centennial of the Balfour Declaration and the 70th year of partition are reminders of British deceit and treachery. The world should see these events to re-access Great Britain’s despicable colonial history because a great deal of current turmoil and tension in the world has come from these two shameful acts of British treachery and deceit.
M Serajul Islam is a former career ambassador.
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