Protestors in Ramallah, Nablus and Gaza slammed Britain for endorsing the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine a century ago.

Palestinians hold posters as they gather in Halhul, north of the West Bank town of Hebron, to demonstrate on the 100th anniversary of the Balfour agreement which resulted in Israel's creation and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. November 2, 2017.
Palestinians hold posters as they gather in Halhul, north of the West Bank town of Hebron, to demonstrate on the 100th anniversary of the Balfour agreement which resulted in Israel's creation and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. November 2, 2017. (AFP)

Palestinians across Ramallah, Nablus and Gaza protested on Thursday, marking 100 years since the Balfour Declaration – Britain's endorsement of the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine a century ago. The helped lead to Israel's creation and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas used the occasion to denounce the declaration, writing in a newspaper opinion piece that "the creation of a homeland for one people resulted in the dispossession and continuing persecution of another."

Several Palestinian leaders have called on Britain to apologise for the 67-word declaration that said it viewed "with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people."

Protesters waved Palestinian flags and held banners demanding Britain rectify its "historical sin."

Some protesters held black flags calling for Palestinian refugees to be allowed the right to return, as they marched from Ramallah's Arafat Square to a nearby British cultural office.

Balfour Declaration

The Balfour Declaration was issued by the British government  on November 2, 1917, announcing support for the establishment of a "national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine. 

The declaration is seen as a precursor to Israel's creation in 1948 and the anniversary is a joyous occasion for Israelis but is contentious for many Palestinians who say it led to hundreds of thousands fleeing or being forced from their homes.

In 1967, Israel occupied the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip in the Six-Day War. It has since annexed East Jerusalem and the occupation of the West Bank continues.

Hopes for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are greatly diminishing.

Celebration dinner

Prime Minister Theresa May and her Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday celebrated the centenary of the declaration.

"We are proud of our pioneering role in the creation of the state of Israel," May will say at a dinner in London to mark the date alongside Netanyahu, according to extracts released by her office.

May will also warn about a "pernicious form of anti-Semitism which uses criticism of the actions of the Israeli government as a despicable justification for questioning the very right of Israel to exist."

On the second day of his five-day visit to Britain, Netanyahu met May in her Downing Street office and held talks with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, including on the Iran nuclear agreement.

A dinner is expected to be attended by dignitaries including a descendant of the Balfour Declaration's author, then-foreign secretary Lord Arthur Balfour. 

At the dinner, May is also set to call for "a renewed resolve to support a lasting peace that is in the interests of both Israelis and Palestinians – and in the interests of us all.

A peace deal that must be based on a two-state solution, with a secure and prosperous Israel alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state."

Banksy's Balfour tea party

British street artist Banksy has offered a royal "apology" engraved on Israel's barrier in the occupied West Bank for Britain's endorsement of the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

The work was unveiled on the eve of Thursday's centenary of the Balfour Declaration at a mock tea party for Palestinian children at the artist's Walled Off hotel that opened last March in the town of Bethlehem.

"Er ... Sorry", read the inscription, a double entendre, on the grey Israeli-built wall. ER, standing for Elizabeth Regina, with the Roman numerals II between the two letters, is Queen Elizabeth's royal cypher.

The point was hammered home at the event by having an actor dressed as the monarch pulling back a red curtain that covered the etching. 

A statement issued by Banksy said the work was commissioned from a professional stone carver whose previous credits include Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey.

"This conflict has brought so much suffering to people on all sides, it didn't feel appropriate to 'celebrate' the British role in it," the statement said.

Banksy, whose real name is not known, has described his guesthouse as having the worst view of any hotel in the world: every room overlooks a walled section of the Israeli barrier that cuts through the West Bank.

Palestinians see the barrier as a symbol of oppression. Israel says it is a bulwark against Palestinian attack.

A person, dressed as Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, gestures during an event ahead of the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, outside Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. November 1, 2017.
A person, dressed as Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, gestures during an event ahead of the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, outside Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. November 1, 2017. (Mussa Qawasma / Reuters)

'Balfour is not a tragedy'

Speaking ahead of his departure for London, Netanyahu said: "The Palestinians say that the Balfour Declaration was a tragedy. It wasn't a tragedy.

What's been tragic is their refusal to accept this 100 years later. I hope they change their mind, because if they do they can move forward finally to making peace between our two peoples," he said.

In Abbas' piece in the Guardian, he said: "We have endorsed the two-state solution for the past 30 years, a solution that becomes increasingly impossible with every passing day.

As long as the state of Israel continues to be celebrated and rewarded, rather than held accountable to universal standards for its continued violations of international law, it will have no incentive to end the occupation," he added, referring in particular to Israeli settlement building.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies