(MENAFN - Arab News) The latest mayhem in Gaza coincided with the 95th anniversary of the British imperial pledge that spawned the Palestine-Israel conflict.
It was in November 1917 that Britain's then Foreign Secretary, James Arthur Balfour, signed the fateful letter to the Jewish banker, Lord Rothschild, in which he declared that Britain "viewed with favor" the establishment of a Jewish home in Palestine - provided that the creation of such a home did not infringe on the rights of Palestine's existing "non-Jewish" communities.
Nothing is more striking about the "Balfour Declaration" than its cursory reference to "non-Jewish" communities. In the eyes of Balfour and his lordly colleagues, the Arabs of Palestine had no identity, no palpable significance as human beings. What is extraordinary is that the Declaration's infinitely supercilious attitude toward Arabs is no mere historical phenomenon. For all that latter-day British politicians have been obliged to acknowledge the existence of Palestinians and the legitimacy of their aspirations to statehood, their actions often suggest that they share Balfour's view of them as a lesser breed.
Visiting Ramallah the other day, in his derisory capacity as the West's Middle East envoy, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair sought to persuade the Palestinian Authority to forgo its efforts to become a "non-member observer state" at the United Nations. What does such lobbying imply if not a determination to maintain the status of the Palestinians as eternal supplicants? Blair's consistent betrayal of the Palestinians is all the more blatant because part of his justification for British military action against Iraq 10 years ago was that it would yield tangible benefits when it came to furthering the Palestine-Israel peace process.
All too manifestly, British politicians persist in paying lip service to the rights of Palestine's longstanding Arab population while endlessly deferring to the claims of the Zionists who settled there in the 20th century. They are forever engaged in Realpolitik, in cynical manoeuvres to secure Western advantage. Consider how, in contrast to its lack of enthusiasm for the Palestinian application to the UN, the British government has been swift to recognize the rebel forces in Syria, a scattered, ill-defined coalition, who, unlike Palestinian representatives, possess no established democratic credentials.
In short, the attitude of British politicians toward the Palestinians is scarcely less contemptuous than it was in 1917. The same contempt has long suffused the British media. During the Gaza crisis, the Palestine ambassador to the UK enjoyed a fraction of the access to the media vouchsafed to the Israeli ambassador. What has changed is British public opinion vis-a-vis Palestine. Ever more people in Britain, as indeed in other Western countries, need no persuading of the pressing need to address Palestinian grievances. The gap between attitudes of British politicians on this question and those of the wider society would be even starker if knowledge and understanding of the actuality of the Palestinian experience were more widespread.
Dedicated since 1967 to advancing Arab-British understanding, the London-based pressure group, CAABU, tries hard, in the teeth of financial difficulties, to remedy the gross onesidedness of the official presentation of Palestine-Israel conflict. Its latest report, "Palestinian Detainees," is more than usually valuable, focusing as it does on an issue which contributes hugely to entrenching Palestinian bitterness toward the Jewish state yet which is routinely ignored by the Western media.
Director of CAABU, Chris Doyle, records how he struggled to believe his eyes when, in the Israeli town of Ofer, he witnessed a 13-year-old boy clanking into a courtroom wearing leg irons. Doyle points out that generations of Palestinians have known humiliation and degradation at the hands of a military justice system that is one the harshest features of Israel's 45-year-old occupation. He writes that it is vital for Israelis and Palestinians to discover their common humanity if there is to be an end to conflict. Can it be doubted? After all, what credible prospect is there of peace so long as Israel continues to incarcerate and brutalize great numbers of Palestinians as a matter of policy. Long before his release amid much publicity in October 2011, the whole world had become familiar with the predicament of the abducted Israeli sergeant, Gilad Shalit. Yet virtually no attention was accorded in the Western media to the more than 1,000 Palestinians freed in exchange for Shalit, or to the nearly 4,500 who remain imprisoned, many without charge. Effectively, Palestinian detainees are non-persons.
Subtitled "No Security in Injustice," CAABU's report details specific cases, men and women who have become victims of long-term arbitrary detention, with a view to conveying the human reality of Palestinian oppression. An especially instructive page of the report spells out the fates of two 12-year-old children, one a Jewish settler, the other a West Bank Palestinian, following a fight that leads to their arrest by the Israeli police.
The Israeli child can expect to be seen by a civilian judge within 12 hours, the Palestinian child may wait 4 days to be seen by a military judge; the Israeli child will wait no more than 6 months to be tried, the Palestinian child will wait up to 2 years; the Israel child's chances of bail before trial are 80 percent, those of the Palestinian child 13 percent. And whereas no Israeli child under 14 can be subjected to custodial sentencing, Palestinians as young as 12 can be imprisoned under Israeli military law.
Last week, the British weekly newspaper, the Jewish Chronicle, exulted that Israel's latest onslaught against Gaza had been the "war that worked." In sober truth, the latest violence has accomplished nothing except death and destruction. The underlying message of CAABU's report on Palestinian detainees is that the Palestine-Israel conflict will only end when Israel accepts that Palestinians are fellow human beings with the exactly the same rights in law and entitlement to respect as Israelis themselves.