By ABBA MAHMOOD —
Morocco is an occupying kingdom. Against all international laws, and the resolutions of both the AU and UN, Morocco has been occupying Western Sahara and exploiting its resources illegally. It is a classical case of the strong oppressing the weak in this 21st century. And Morocco is not going to grant the Saharawis the right to their land anytime soon. This is because, in 2015 alone, Morocco was said to have made $16.5 billion from the sale of illegally mined phosphate belonging to the occupied Western Sahara territory.
The other occupying country is Israel. Against all unknown international laws and several UN resolutions, Israel has been occupying Palestinian territory for decades now. Even after the Palestinians have accepted the existence of Israel as a reality and the peace brokered by the international community for a two-state solution to the lingering crisis in the Middle East in general and Palestine in particular, Israel has remained intransigent.
This year makes it exactly 100 years since the Balfour Declaration that British conspiracy used as a basis to grant Palestinian lands to the Israelis. I remember someone telling me sometime ago that King AbdulAzeez Al Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia, was once quoted to have asked rhetorically: why didn’t the world powers grant the Jews the choicest land of Germany since it was the Germans that actually persecuted and killed the Jews during the Second World War and not the Arabs? Yasmeen el Khouday wrote a nice piece entitled “The Balfour declaration isn’t history, it’s an everyday reality for Palestinians” to mark its centenary and I hereby reproduce it below for dear readers:
In Palestine, Arabs are still silenced and side-lined by a declaration that is being commemorated as if it were a relic of empire Wednesday 1 November 2017
A few weeks ago, I was returning to London from a trip abroad. Exhausted, hungry, and annoyed by the long queue ahead at border control, it took me a bit of time to absorb my surroundings, and to realise that the only language I could hear was Hebrew. I happened to be standing in the middle of a group of Israelis whose flight from Tel Aviv had just landed in London.
I stood in the queue, not knowing how or what to feel. Because, as a Palestinian, I haven’t been able to go back to my country since I left it a few years ago, not even for a visit, owing to the continuing Israeli siege on Gaza. Yet all the Israelis who were around me enjoy the kind of travel freedoms and rights that Palestinians are denied by Israel.
After what felt like a lifetime, my turn finally came. I walked towards the desk and gave the border agency official my Palestinian passport. Flabbergasted, he told me that he had never before encountered a Palestinian passport-holder on the Tel Aviv flight. When I asked him why he thought that might have been the case, he shrugged and said he thought “they probably travel on different flights”.
I explained to him that as a Palestinian passport holder, I am in fact automatically barred from boarding any flight from Tel Aviv, even though Ben Gurion Airport is a one-hour drive from Gaza City, my home town. My husband is also barred even though he carries a British passport, since he was born in Palestine and holds a Gaza ID.
Palestinians in Gaza have absolutely no means of travel: the only airport was destroyed during an Israeli raid in 2001, land borders have been shut for 11 years, and Israel restricts access to the sea for fishing, let alone travelling. “Britain had a major role to play in creating this injustice, and the government is planning to celebrate it this year,” I told the immigration officer. He apologised, but I implored him instead to remember the reality each time he vets the passports of passengers from the Tel Aviv flight.
The British role I was referring to is the 1917 Balfour declaration, a letter from the then foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour, which endorsed the “… establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”. Britain, in effect, promised the Jewish population, who made up less than 10% of the total population of Palestine at the time, a land that Britain was fighting to capture from the Ottomans.
The declaration – which was later endorsed by the British government – barely addressed the 730,000 indigenous Palestinian Arabs who made up the Palestine population, merely stating that “Nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities.” Not only did the declaration reduce the original inhabitants of the land into a single “non-Jewish” category, but it also demoted national rights to civil and religious, thereby denying the vast majority of Palestine’s population any national or political rights.
This week, a hundred years on, the British government is officially celebrating the centenary of Balfour with what Prime Minister Theresa May described as “pride”. But being in Britain for me at this time feels like being deafened by white noise around marking a historic event, as if Balfour was just another relic from the British empire.
The reality, however, is that it is alive and well, and it continues to have a detrimental effect on the lives of millions of Palestinians every day. Yet the continuing discussion in Britain is shallow and superficial, and is in many ways an insulting re-enactment of the atmosphere that prevailed in 1917. We in the “existing non-Jewish communities”, whose immediate lives are still affected by the declaration, just as they were in 1917, are silenced and side-lined.
The British government has refused all Palestinian national demands, including recognising Palestine or even apologising for Balfour. And although I believe that this historical injustice and its ramifications, which led to the ongoing occupation of Palestine, will not simply be resolved by reinstating basic human rights for Palestinians, I would nonetheless ask the following: as a member of the “non-Jewish communities in Palestine”, who do I apply to in Britain now to claim my “civil and religious rights”?