Three Anniversaries of Palestinian Oppression

A poster on the Separation Wall in Bethlehem imagines a copy of the Balfour Resolution being torn up.

During my most recent trip to Israel/Palestine I noticed an unusual poster which was pasted on the Separation Wall which snakes its way through the holy city of Bethlehem. A Palestinian artist had painted an imagined picture of the Balfour Resolution being torn up. A document written in English long ago in a land far away to the north of Palestine nevertheless still angered the artist who painted a copy of the document translated into Arabic. It angered him because it had negatively influenced his life.

Anniversaries are a good time to reflect upon the profound importance of history in human affairs. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the issuance of the “Balfour Declaration” on November 2, 1917, by England, a document which announced that country’s decision to establish a homeland in historic Palestine for the Jewish people. The idea may have had the approval of His Majesty’s Government in London and it clearly pleased the Jewish immigrants to Israel. But it most definitely has not pleased Palestinians who have been watching their ancestral land and their political influence shrink and shrink and that of the State of Israel grow and grow.

The picture of a piece of an old paper being torn up reminds us of two essential points we Americans need to grasp if we are to understand the Middle East: first, the key role that history plays in creating the modern realities in the Middle East today, and second, that there are at least two sides to every conflict in the Middle East. Our news media is unwaveringly sympathetic to the Israeli point of view. We need to work hard to hear and understand the Palestinian viewpoint if we are to honor the complexity of the situation.

Shortly after the Balfour resolution was signed, another significant event took place which began a century of catastrophic Western military meddling in the Middle East. December 11 will mark the 100th anniversary of the invasion and occupation of Jerusalem by British General Allenby.

And a third anniversary we should note: earlier this year later we marked the 50th anniversary of the Israeli illegal occupation of the West Bank following the 1967 war. The occupation continues with solid U.S. support with no end in sight, despite worldwide condemnation. In a gloomy assessment of “Israel’s Everlasting Occupation,” Nathan Thrall of the International Crisis Group observes that “Israel [is] now receiving more military assistance from the United States than the rest of the world does combined.” He also notes that the U. S. has “spent tens of billions of dollars backing pro-Israel regimes ruling over anti-Israel populations in Egypt and Jordan.”

Across the Jordan River in Amman, I picked up a copy of The Jordan Times and saw some of the very frustrated views which are typical of the Arab world. For example, on May 17, ’17, Ramzy Baroud wrote that “Palestinians are still reeling under the Nakba — or catastrophe — that befell their ancestors in 1948. When Israel was established, over 500 Palestinian towns and villages were destroyed, and the Arab, both Muslim and Christian, identify of that country was violently gutted out, to be replaced by a Jewish one.” Mr. Baround noted in regards to a new proposed Jewish nation-state bill that “Israel’s odd definition of democracy . . . is rarely challenged by American and European allies.”

Israel continues to anger the Arab and Muslim world by building settlements such as this just outside Bethlehem.

In the views of the people of the Middle East, the West — the U.S. and Europe —is a major part of the problem in their region rather than part of the solution. Israel’s ever-encroaching take-over of the historic land of Palestine and its unwillingness to stop settlement building and share the land outrages the entire Arab and Muslim world. History will judge the U.S. for our failure to stand up for the rights of the Palestinian people.

Mel Lehman
Common Humanity
New York City
September 13, 2017

Mel Lehman

Mel Lehman is the director of of Common Humanity. He has worked in international humanitarian issues for several decades, inducing two decades at the National Council of Churches. He has traveled extensively in the Middle East and has published a number of articles about his experience.