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Gazans demonstrate on anniversary of Balfour Declaration

4 November 2010 | International Solidarity Movement

As Israeli army snipers in the control tower at the Erez crossing looked on, Saber Al Za’anin, the General Coordinator of the Local Initiative group spoke passionately about Palestinian resistance on the anniversary of the November 3rd 1917 Balfour Declaration.

“We carry forward the fight of our great grandfathers to dismiss the disgraceful and unjust promise that the UK Foreign Secretary offered to the Zionists to create a state in the middle of Palestine 93 years ago. Here we are, the present-day Palestinian generation standing strong again to uphold the principle of our forefathers and the struggle that has been passed down for us to continue today.”

It was the 93rd anniversary of the Balfour promise, and local volunteers from the Local Initiative group from Beit Hanoun and activists from the International Solidarity Movement demonstrated next to the Israeli border in Beit Hanoun, Northern Gaza. The crowd marched up to 100 metres from the Israeli wall, where previous non-violent demonstrations had been fired upon with live ammunition. The protesters were bringing attention to the horrific injustices that have befallen them since the promise by British occupiers to create a Jewish homeland over an area that was over 90% Palestinian Arab.

The demonstration took place near the Erez border , near the Israeli imposed ‘buffer zone’ – an area of land 300 metres from the fence stretching along the entire border fence. A United Nations investigation found that farmers, rubble collectors, civilians and protesters have been shot up 1500 metres of the fence, which makes 35% of Gaza’s most agricultural land a high risk area to access, causing severe loss of food production and livelihoods.

The demonstrators approached the Israeli wall, stopping at a barbed wire fence and ditch created by a bulldozer during an Israeli incursion over a month before in which 3 farm workers we killed. Planting one Palestinian flag at the fence, they chanted and waved flags before people spoke of the horrific legacy of the Balfour Declaration.

Local farmer Abzel Al Baseony spoke about the current plight he faces; he stands to lose more land near the border. He has been farming since 1984, taking after his father. He explained how the Israeli army bulldozed much of his land that used to be covered in trees and how afraid people are to farm there now. Like most Palestinians, he was also well aware of Britain’s historical role in facilitating the creation of Israel on Palestinian land.

“It was the British who created this problem allowing the Israeli state to be built on the ruins of our refugees and you’ve seen what they have done to us ever since. During the British mandate before 1947 their attacks on us killed many civilians, and now they, like the American and European Governments, continue to support Israel when it takes our land and bombs our families. But we will keep farming for another 93 years if that’s what it takes to get justice for our people.”

Like over 80% of Gazans, most of the demonstrators were refugees from different Palestinian towns and villages such as Faluja, Min Dimra, Askelaan or Majdel, arab villages located in what is now Israel. In total, 531 villages were wiped out and demolished in 1948 by the Israeli army after their Palestinian inhabitants were violently forced to leave. Ever since they have been refused their right of return.

British International Solidarity Movement activist Adie Mormech believes that people from his country have a duty to right the wrongs of the British involvement in Palestine, which continues today with political, commercial and military support.

“The British Government’s role in the middle east is a sad one, like much of the British empire was for the inhabitants of the countries they were colonizing. Britain contributed similarly the Apartheid system in South Africa. Fortunately many British citizens opposed the apartheid regime, boycotting the South African government until their racist policies had to end. Today in Britain and throughout the world, boycotts, divestment and sanctions of Israel are growing while the international community continues to allow with impunity Israel’s medieval siege of Gaza, it’s military occupation of the West Bank and Jerusalem and its continuing discrimination and ethnic cleansing. As was the case for South Africa, it is up to people of conscience around the world to join the movement until Israel adheres to international law and allow Palestinians the same human rights as any other people.”

The demonstration ended without incident, although there was no mistaking the memories and sense of injustice stirred by the anniversary of Balfour, emphasized by the resolution of organiser Saber Al Za’anin:

“We are out from under the rubble of Israeli oppression to prove again to the whole world that the Palestinian people will never accept the ethnic cleansing and murder against us. We will remain steadfast for our rights, our freedom and our land.”