World Bulletin / News Desk
Hundreds of Palestinians on Wednesday staged two separate protests -- outside the British Cultural Council in Ramallah and outside UNESCO’s office in Gaza City -- to mark the passage of 99 years since the controversial Balfour Declaration.
Protesters raised Palestinian flags and banners calling on the British government to apologize to the Palestinian people for the fateful declaration and its wide-ranging consequences.
"We call on the British government to first apologize to the Palestinian people -- and then the whole world -- for the crime committed in Palestine," Mustafa al-Barghouthi, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said at the Ramallah protest.
He went on to describe the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their ancestral homes in 1948 -- to make way for the new state of Israel -- as "one of the worst incidents of ethnic cleansing in recent history".
"An apology alone isn’t enough," he asserted. "Britain must take practical measures, such as recognizing the state of Palestine and taking punitive actions against Israel, which continues to build [Jewish-only] settlements on Palestinian territory."
In a speech delivered in Gaza on behalf of Palestinian political factions, Walid al-Awad, a leading member of the Palestinian People's Party, described the 1917 Balfour Declaration as a "crime" that gave the Jewish people a "national home" on expropriated Palestinian land.
"Britain should take responsibility for its actions; it must recognize the state of Palestine with Jerusalem as its capital," he said.
Al-Awad called on the U.K. government to rectify what he called "the historic injustice that led to the displacement of the Palestinian people and the destruction of their homes".
He went on to urge the international community and international rights organizations to shoulder their responsibility towards the Palestinians so as to allow them "to live in peace and win their freedom from the Israeli occupation".
The Balfour Declaration was sent on Nov. 2, 1917 by U.K. Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Zionist leader Walter Rothschild.
In it, Balfour stressed the British government’s support for "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people".
The declaration came after three years of talks between the British government, the British Jewish community and the international Zionist movement, during which the latter convinced British officials that a Jewish "national home" in Palestine would not conflict with British interests in the region.
Palestine was occupied by British forces in 1917 during the First World War. Five years later, the League of Nations -- a forerunner of the UN -- granted the British a temporary "mandate" over Palestine.
When the mandate expired in 1948, Britain withdrew from Palestine, allowing armed Zionist gangs to capture vast swathes of Palestinian land before unilaterally declaring the new state of "Israel" -- an event known today among Palestinians as the Nakba (the "Catastrophe").
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