To end colonial racism, fix Balfour's declaration

To end colonial racism, fix Balfour's declaration
Comment: Remedying the pain caused by British colonial racism includes righting historical wrongs by promoting the birth of a Palestinian state, writes Rami Khouri.
6 min read
18 Jun, 2020
Winston Churchill served as British Secretary of State for the Colonies [Getty]
Sparked by George Floyd's murder last month, Black Lives Matter protests against racism and police violence in the United States expanded spontaneously into worldwide calls to remove public statues of history's white supremacists and colonial oppressors. 

Americans targeting statues of Confederate generals have now been joined by activists in the United Kingdom, France, Australia, New Zealand and other lands calling to remove or put in museums statues of numerous racist colonial figures.

To fully remedy our world's ravages and human pain from white supremacy and colonial racism, we must also address one of the colonial era's most audacious and long-lasting political crimes, one which still reverberates across the Middle East and further afield: the 1917 Balfour Declaration.

In a letter to the prominent Anglo-Jewish leader Baron Lionel Walter Rothschild, Foreign Minister Arthur James Balfour said the British government supported the creation of a homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine - when Palestine was 94 percent Palestinian Arabs and just 6 percent Jewish - and while it had no legal right to designate the future of a territory it did not control or possess.

Balfour's name and policies should be added to the list of targeted racists like slave trader Bully Hayes, Captain James Cook, and Andrew Hamilton in New Zealand and Australia, or slave trader Edward Colston and colonial maestro Cecil Rhodes in the UK and South Africa. The immoral policies he represented are as bad as theirs, and their impact may be even longer lasting due to the Arab-Israeli conflict's genesis in the Balfour Declaration.
Balfour's name and policies should be added to the list of targeted racists
Memorials to racist colonialists should be removed or stored in museums which offer adequate context, because they offend people of all colours who oppose white supremacy and 19th-early 20th century colonialism. These European policies and officials planted their vulgar values around the world, enforced them through massive military violence, and degraded the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

They also left a continuing legacy of tension and violence to this day in India, Syria, Kenya, Sudan, Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon, and many other countries in Africa, South America, Asia, and the Pacific. The statues still widely hurt the South, as they also haunt righteous people in the North.

The Balfour Declaration was among the most destructive such colonial decisions in its brazen racism as well as its enduring ability to create pain and chaos. It ignited the Palestinian-Israeli and wider Arab-Israeli conflicts, which in turn contributed heavily to other tensions that ravage the Middle East, and spread around the world.
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These include post-1940s Arab military rulers who ultimately drove their countries to collapse and their people to poverty; Iranian tensions with the US and Israel; modern political terrorism in the region; and the entrenchment of Arab autocrats supported by western and Eastern powers who devise new forms of colonial manipulation and exploitation, to mention just the most obvious.

Real changes might now occur across societies whose wounds from racism are visible throughout communities of color, in health, education, income, housing, and other sectors. A supreme irony of racist colonialism's long shelf life is that the global movement to remove offensive statues started in the United States - a former colony of the mother lode of colonialism, Great Britain.

Balfour's promise to support a Jewish homeland in overwhelmingly Arab Palestine did not even have the courtesy or honesty to acknowledge the Palestinian Arabs by their name, calling them the "existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine". The British and Zionist colonial attempt to erase Palestinians from history has not worked, because the 1.5 million Palestinians in 1948 are now some 13 million, and they continue to battle to demolish the statues of their own colonial nightmares, especially Mr Balfour and the repeatedly duplicitous British government he symbolizes.
These European policies and officials planted their vulgar values around the world and enforced them through massive military violence
The Trump administration has now assumed the racist mantle of British colonialism in Palestine. It supports Israel's annexation of Palestinian lands, while only throwing leftovers to the Palestinians if they behave and accept to live in apartheid-like Bantustans. The same colonial methods applied over several centuries in different continents reveal themselves more clearly and grotesquely in Palestine than in any other place on earth, perhaps because they have endured here and engendered a conflict that will not go away as long as Zionism's spoils remain unchallenged.

The leading scholar of Palestinian modern history, Rashid Khalidi, notes that this historical background shows us the path, "…towards a real lasting, sustainable peace, and towards real reconciliation and compromise between the Palestinian and Israeli peoples.

"Genuine reconciliation depends on acknowledging historical realities rather than ignoring them. And genuine compromise must be based on justice and absolutely equal treatment, and absolutely equal rights, for all, not on the imposition of the will of the stronger on the weaker."

Righting historical wrongs in Palestine by promoting the birth of a Palestinian state alongside Israel would contribute to peace and security in the Middle East more than almost any other conceivable move. Correcting the wrongs of Great Britain in Palestine, embodied by Mr Balfour, is straightforward and feasible. The British government can temper its colonial bias towards Zionism by affirming Palestinian equal rights now.

It should start with a new statement today, followed by a unanimous UN Security Council resolution recognising the rights of both Palestinians and Israelis to live in their own sovereign states in the land of Palestine (essentially the two-state solution of a new Palestinian state alongside Israel, in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, on 22 percent of historical Palestine).

A British government with some moral fibre would also bilaterally de jure recognise the state of Palestine within the two-state borders, as many others around the world have done. This would affirm its equal support for the equal rights of Palestinians and Israelis, which could help drive a new peace negotiation, while also atoning for its past sins.

As the anti-colonial struggle moves into its second century around the world, atoning for the criminal acts of Mr Balfour and his government would send a strong signal that the past, indeed, is past; the colonial era has ended, and Arabs and Israelis can look forward to a new age of justice and peace for all.

Rami G. Khouri is senior public policy fellow, adjunct professor of journalism, and Journalist-in-Residence at the American University of Beirut, and a non-resident senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School's Middle East Initiative.

Follow him on Twitter: @ramikhouri

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.