The Legacy of Balfour: 100 Years of Betrayal and Suffering

A report from the refugee camps of Lebanon

It is hard to reconcile how a government that sold out the civilian population of Palestine can celebrate the shameful letter Lord Balfour sent to Lord Rothschild. Although termed in language that presented itself as only offering a homeland to the Jewish people, with no discrimination to be brought against the indigenous Palestinian population, it is evident the agreement was always intended as a precursor to the establishment of Jewish Statehood in Palestine. It is documented that Lord Balfour stated that he had no intention of consulting the Palestinians when he effectively gave their homeland away. This initial deception has only deepened over the years – hence Theresa May’s blinkered ability to further shame the British people by indulging in overt celebrations on the occasion of the centenary of the signing.

Is it really credible that Theresa May and her cabinet are unaware of the 100 year suffering this infamous agreement has caused? While some Palestinians were alert to the intent of this carefully worded script, it was not until the widespread massacres of Deir Yassin and other villages in 1947/8 that Palestinians woke up en-mass to the reality of threat to their homeland. Even then, although fleeing widespread massacres many locked their homes, taking their keys with them, in the belief that it would not be long before an Arab uprising would quell the attacks and they could return home.

It’s now 70 years since they left and took up residence in miserable, crowded refugee camps, but the dream of returning – enshrined in international law as ‘RIGHT of RETURN’, is what makes living in the camps bearable. During this past week of the 35 year commemoration of the Sabra Shatilla massacre I have been visiting camps in Lebanon: Shatilla, Bourj Barajneh, Nahr ElBarad, Rashidieh and Wavel. The genocidal massacre that took place in Sabra Shatilla in 1982 is believed to have resulted in around 3,000 plus deaths. The victims ranged from the elderly, the women, children and babies – (those not yet born are included since witness accounts describe several instances of babies ripped from their mother’s womb. In one report, a baby, close to its birth date was seen to utter its first cry before a knife slit its threat and its un-lived life was halted). Young girls, barely having reached puberty, were raped by Phalange thought to be high on cocaine and pumped up with rage. This civilian population were unprotected by their men folk because all PLO fighters had been assured that if they agreed to go into exile in foreign countries their families would be safe. Upon leaving Lebanon, Yasser Arafat said: “I am leaving here because I love Lebanon”. He believed that by agreeing for the PLO to  leave, not only would the Israelis retreat from their occupation of Lebanon, but that it was the safest way to protect all their families. 

The massacre of Sabra Shatilla is not the only massacre that has taken place here, or within Palestine. Jenin camp experienced a massacre in 2002. The Gazan civilian population, already suffering from near starvation, lack of clean water and other essential resources, experience frequent military attacks from Israel. Each of the camps I visited this past week in Lebanon, have their own history of poverty, hardship and death. Nahr ElBarad has partially been rebuilt after being attacked in 2007. It was only large protests in 2009 that led to the camp returning. Tel al-Zaatar and several others have never been rebuilt. Only the memories remain along with some old PLO film footage. Ain al-Hilweh, the largest of the camps, is currently in semi-lockdown because it’s feared ISIS allied groups may have infiltrated it. Is their fate going to be that of Yarmouk in Syria – insecurity and starvation?

I met a young woman with her three small children in Wavel Camp. She had fled to Lebanon from Yarmouk camp in Syria after it was infiltrated with Islamic State (paid mercenaries). Both she and her children have only known fear and suffering. I couldn’t assure her that her suffering, and her children’s suffering, will end. Maybe like her grandparents, her parents, and her husband, it will only end at the time of their death. Wavel is a small camp for the demands made upon it. There are many refugees living in tents across the fields of Beqaa. Some had slept in a nearby graveyard. Lebanon is facing a crisis of having to cope with an ever increasing number of refugees.

However, what was shocking to hear is that when Syrian/Palestinian refugees enter Lebanon they are required to pay a residency tax of $66 US per person per ramonth. At the point of registration the first three months are free. UNWRA provides some help to about 12% of the families ($100 per household) but it still leaves a massive shortfall in people’s needs. Refugees are left with stark choices; go back to Syria or from wherever they came, risk being picked up by the police, or go into hiding. By creating such a bleak survival scenario for the new coming refugees the global community, Lebanon, UNWRA, are creating a scenario where impoverished refugees could become vulnerable targets for recruitment by ISIS allied paid mercenaries. This is certainly of concern to the Palestinian Popular Committees who are always alert to any kind of radical infiltration into the camps.

As in the case of the Shatilla massacre where it was the Christian Phalange who carried out the physical attacks, Israeli generals often choose to direct operations from a strategic distance. It was by securing the camp boundaries with Israeli soldiers and tanks parked at the entrance that the massacre was able to continue for three days uninterrupted. During the massacre Israel fired flares at regular intervals which Palestinians describe as ‘turning night into day’. It certainly made it easier for the Phalange to carry out their mission. In manipulating others the Israelis are able to keep their hands clean and the deception (palatable to our government) of Israel ‘defending itself’, can continue.

In stark contrast to last year it was interesting to observe that at this year’s gathering in Martyrs’ Square, the attending media appeared not to be interested in interviewing any foreigners. A Palestinian friend pointed this out so I asked one of the camera people if that was the case. He confirmed these observations and when it was suggested that this might have something to do with the 100 year Balfour celebrations in Israel and UK, he acknowledged that this was very likely. Lebanon has good reason to be nervous about its Israeli neighbour, yet the influence of this Corporate Zionist alliance (US, UK, Israel, Saudi Arabia and others) is always present. The ‘allowed’ main stream narrative is dominated by a Zionist Israeli perspective while the Palestinian story continues to be endlessly suppressed. As witnessed this past week, the memory of the massacre of Sabra Shatilla will not be forgotten any more than will the other massacres carried out during this hundred years of injustice committed against the Palestinians.

Zionist Israel has a legacy of crimes against humanity that continue with impunity on an unprecedented level.  Israel has never defined its borders and as a Global corporatist entity it has been at the heart of conflict in the Middle East for the past seventy years. Jerusalem, a city that is considered sacred by the three major Abrahamic faiths, should be a place of peace. The conflict surrounding it and emanating across the Middle East represents a mortal wound in the human body, that if allowed to fester should be a wake up call to all humanity if we want to preserve the dignity of life. The British left Palestine in a chaotic, conflictual mess. It therefore falls upon the British Establishment to take some responsibility for this global tragedy. It is outrageous that Theresa May should celebrate the Balfour declaration, a declaration that has resulted in untold misery and wider conflict in the world. By liberating Palestine from Zionist oppression we would be liberating the world. There is no time limit on memory. All oppressive empires fall. This global corporate Zionist alliance is no exception. It is only a matter of time before the voices of the oppressed… of their narrative….. will be heard. The volume and weight of their truth and rightness will be so powerful that it will no longer be able to be silenced.

Heather Stroud, the author of The Ghost Locust and Abraham's Children, has been involved in human rights issues for a number of years. She lives in Ryedale where she is increasingly drawn into campaigns to keep the environment free from the industrialization and contamination of fracking. Read other articles by Heather.