PALESTINIAN leaders marked yesterday’s centenary of the Balfour Declaration by demanding that Britain take responsibility for the Israeli occupation of their homeland.
Thousands of people attended protests across the occupied territories to commemorate then foreign secretary Arthur Balfour’s promise that Britain would help create a Jewish homeland in Palestine, then a part of the Ottoman empire.
A major demonstration was held in Ramallah, seat of the Palestinian Authority, with thousands marching to the British consulate.
More Palestinians protested outside the United Nations headquarters in Gaza and the British consulate in Jerusalem, as well as in Jenin, Salfit, Tubas, Hebron and Nablus, the Wafa news agency reported.
In Jerusalem, police assaulted protesters waving the Palestinian flag and demanding an apology from Britain. Occupation forces also attacked a march in Bethlehem on Wednesday.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the British government of 1917 knew “Palestine was owned and inhabited by another people, the Palestinian people.”
He said his people had “suffered many disasters, most notably the 1948 Nakba” — the “catastrophe” of the founding of the Israeli state — “which displaced most of the country’s indigenous population from their homes.”
Mr Abbas urged the British government to “publicly apologise to the Palestinian people for issuing the Balfour Declaration and to bear the consequences of making that promise.”
That would mean “compensating the Palestinian people politically, materially and morally, recognising the State of Palestine and working towards ending the occupation of our land,” he said.
Palestine Liberation Organisation secretary-general SaebErekat argued that by inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to celebrate the centenary in London, “the British government has chosen to celebrate 100 years of injustice, racism and violence.
“Instead, it should apologise for this shameful declaration and take concrete measures to fulfil its moral and political obligations towards the people of Palestine,” including formal recognition of statehood.
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah added: “It is the right of our people to defend themselves by all means guaranteed by international charters” through progress towards an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital.
He urged supporters abroad “to mobilise British and world public opinion and push forward justice for our heroic people.”
Foreign Minister Riyad Malki announced that the government would begin legal proceedings against London “in order to bring justice and lift the historic injustice inflicted on the Palestinian people.”
He said British lawyers would be hired to “compel the British government to apologise and make reasonable reparations to make up for that tragedy, including recognising the state of Palestine.”