March 21, 2017 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1329

Palestinian Campaign To Sue Britain, Demand Reparation For Balfour Declaration

March 21, 2017 | By D. Hazan*
Palestine | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1329

In July 2016, ahead of the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, Palestinians initiated a campaign to sue Britain for issuing this declaration on the grounds that it led to the establishment of the State of Israel and the Palestinian Nakba. The campaign was launched at the Arab League summit held July 25-27 in Nouakchott, Malaysia, when Palestinian President Mahmoud 'Abbas requested the help of the Arab leaders in filing such as lawsuit. He was apparently prompted to take this decision by reports that Britain is planning to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration with an event attended by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.[1] Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki stated that holding such an event "would have a negative impact Palestinian-British relations,"[2] and PLO Executive Committee Secretary Saeb Erekat said that marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration "doubles the [Palestinians'] pain and makes a mockery of justice."[3]

Following Abbas's statements at the Arab League summit, Palestinian figures and elements called upon Britain to acknowledge that the Balfour Declaration had been a "historic crime" that had brought upon the Palestinian people a tragedy from which it suffers to this day. They urged Britain to "atone" for this crime by taking a series of measures, including apologizing to the Palestinian people; recognizing the Palestinian state without delay; revoking the Balfour Declaration and issuing a new declaration in its stead that does justice with the Palestinians, and compensating the Palestinians for the suffering caused by the declaration, just as Germany compensated the Jews for the Holocaust. As for the lawsuit itself, it seems that the initiative is still being considered by experts on international law and no decision has been taken as to how and where it will be filed.

Columnists and analysts in the Palestinian press welcomed the initiative to sue Britain, accusing that since 1917 and until today Britain has always taken a stand against the Palestinian aspirations and rights. One analyst called upon the Palestinian leadership to continue pursuing Britain and all the countries that enabled their Jewish citizens to emigrate to Palestine, and even to demand the halt of Jewish immigration to Israel today, since it contravenes the Palestinian refugees' right to return to their homes.

Alongside statements and diplomatic activity, Palestinians also staged popular protests outside British and U.N. representations in the West Bank and Gaza, which are meant to expand into an international campaign of protests outside British representations around the world throughout 2017.

This report reviews statements by Palestinian officials threatening to sue Britain for the Balfour Declaration and urging it to apologize for it, as well as the articles in the Palestinian press on this issue and the popular campaign that has been launched to promote the lawsuit.


Lord Balfour and the declaration


'Abbas: We Will Sue Britain For Balfour Declaration That Led To Nakba Of Our People

At the July 2016 Arab League summit in Nouakchott, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki read out a speech on behalf of Palestinian President Mahmoud 'Abbas, in which the latter requested the help of the Arab League secretariat in preparing "a legal dossier in order to file a lawsuit against the British government that issued and then implemented the Balfour Declaration... [This declaration] brought about the Nakba and the expulsion of the Palestinian people and prevented it from establishing an independent state like the other peoples of the region." 'Abbas stated further: "On the basis of this terrible declaration – [in which] those who did not own [the land] promised it to those who were not entitled [to it] – hundreds of thousands of Jews from Europe and elsewhere were brought [to Palestine] at the expense of our Palestinian people who had been living... in their homeland for millennia. Later, the British Mandate authorities and the superpowers of the time allowed the Jewish terror organizations of the time to displace and expel almost half of the Palestinian people to the neighboring countries... which is why today there are about six million Palestinians living in the diaspora."[4]

In a September 22, 2016 speech to the UN General Assembly, 'Abbas again held Britain responsible for the Palestinian Nakba, saying: "...By the end of the year [2017], a century will have passed since the issuing of the Balfour Declaration, 70 years since the Nakba of our Palestinian people, and 50 years since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Yes, a century has passed since the terrible Balfour Declaration, in which Britain unjustly gave the land of Palestine to another people, thereby paving the way for the Nakba of Palestinian people and their dispossession and displacement from their land. Not content with this, the British Mandate [then] translated this Declaration into measures and a policy that contributed to committing the gravest crime against a people living peacefully in its own land, a people that never attacked anyone or participated in a war against anyone."[5]

'Abbas at the General Assembly (image: Al-Ayyam, PA, September 23, 2016)

'Abbas made similar statements in a February 7, 2017 press conference during a visit to France: "British Prime Minister [Theresa May] announced that she has invited Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to attend celebrations marking the centenary of the 1917 Balfour Declaration. This declaration is our tragedy. We question and condemn it, and ask the British Government to apologize to the Palestinians for the destruction and expulsion of our people that it brought about [by issuing this declaration]. We also demand that it recognize the State of Palestine, as recommended by the British parliament in 2014."[6]

PA Officials: Britain Must Apologize For Balfour Declaration, Atone For It By Recognizing Palestinian State

Following 'Abbas's statements, PA officials echoed his claims, charging Britain to apologize for its "historic crime." 'Abbas's advisor for diplomatic affairs, Majdi Al-Khalidi, said: "The general diplomatic activity [in the matter of the Balfour Declaration] was launched with 'Abbas's speech [to the Fatah's November 29, 2016 Seventh Conference in Ramallah], in which he stressed that 2017 would see the end of the occupation." Al-Khalidi added that "the debate with the British Prime Minister [on this issue] has only begun" and that "the next step will be presenting the UN General Assembly with a draft resolution demanding that Israel comply with the [1917] partition plan which granted it 55% of the overall territory of Palestine and which it violated in 1948 when it seized 78% of the territory."[7]

In comments to the website of the satellite television channel Al-Mayadeen on February 11, 2017, PA Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki said that, during a visit to London last year (on October 31-November 1, 2016) he had told his British counterpart, Boris Johnson, that the British government and all its institutions must avoid participating in any events related to the Balfour Declaration and that any celebrations of the declaration's centenary would have a negative impact on Palestinian-British relations. He also demanded that Britian acknowledge its historic responsibility for the declaration, apologize to the Palestinian people, and issue a new declaration recognizing a Palestinian state.[8]

Palestinian presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina termed the Balfour Declaration "the [greatest] crime of the current era." He added that it "caused disasters, expulsion and displacement whose price was paid by the Palestinian people and the Arab nation and whose repercussions are still being felt by everyone." He called upon Britain, who was responsible for this "terrible declaration," to reassess it and correct "this historic mistake that will remain a mark of shame on the forehead of humanity" and to "explicitly condemn the imperialist mentality that sowed endless wars in the region and the world." He stressed that "the Palestinian leadership will follow this matter until it is redressed through a formal recognition of the Palestinian people, its political rights and its heritage."[9]

The London daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported on February 25, 2017 that the Palestinian envoy to Britain, Manuel Hassassian, had spoken with Britain's minister for Africa and the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood, seeking clarification of Britain's position on several issues, chiefly its decision to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration. According to the daily, the minister "clarified that Britain would not celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, but that on the date itself it would not be able to ignore the occasion and avoid marking it symbolically [in some way]."[10]

On November 1, 2016, one day before the 99th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, Palestinian institutions and organizations described the declaration as a "historic crime" and the root of the disasters that had befallen the Palestinian people, and exhorted Britain to acknowledge its responsibility for it and take steps to atone for it. A communique by the Palestinian National Council (PNC) urged the Palestinians to unite and compel the British government to "be just towards us and atone for its crime and its historic injustices against our land and our people, who have been living in Palestine for millennia, they and their forefathers." The PLC charged the British parliament "to reopen [the issue of] the Balfour Declaration and discuss it," and to pressure the British government to "help our people attain its rights" by "immediately recognizing the Palestinian state" and "bearing responsibility for all the repercussions" of the Balfour Declaration. The communique ended with a warning: "Our people and the generations to come will not forgive the plotters who caused the expulsion of our people and the loss of our land and prevented [our people] from living in freedom and honor in its homeland."[11]

A communique by Fatah likewise called the declaration a "historic crime by the imperialist superpower Britain," and held Britain and all its governments since 1917 responsible for the establishment of a Jewish homeland "at the expense of the lands of the noble Palestinian people – we who have grown out of the soil of our homeland Palestine since the dawn of history." Fatah demanded: "As a first step towards atoning for this historic crime, [Britain] must recognize an independent Palestinian state on the June [4], 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital as well as all the international resolutions on the Palestinian matter, and help the Palestinian people realize its rights."[12]

Dr. Zakaria Al-Agha, member of the PLO Executive Committee and the head of its department of refugee affairs, said: "It's time that Britain, which granted this declaration to the occupation state and took part in the expulsion of the Palestinian people, atone for this immense crime and take a step in our direction by recognizing an independent Palestinian state with full sovereignty and by recognizing the rights of the refugees, in accordance with the international resolutions."[13]

Saeb Erekat In Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Article: Britain Must Issue New Declaration Favoring Palestinian People

In a November 2, 2016 article titled "How Can Britain Make Up for the Balfour Declaration?", PLO Executive Committee Secretary Saeb Erekat wrote that this declaration had "laid the foundations for one of the greatest tragedies of the century, the tragedy of a people that is still paying the price of the conspiracy [hatched] against it by several imperialist countries." He also accused Britain that, since 1917, it has been taking an active role in "denying the existence of our [Palestinian] people on the one hand, and consolidating the foundations of the occupation state and training it to win its wars against our people on the other hand. [This] began with [the issuing of] this terrible declaration and continued with the Nakba and later the 1967 war... Britain gave Palestine to the Jews for nothing, and its support of the Balfour Declaration was the first blatant step towards developing and perpetuating [the notion of] occupying Palestine."

Attacking the British plan to mark the Balfour Declaration centenary, Erekat wrote: "Instead of recognizing Britain's moral, legal and diplomatic responsibility and apologizing to the Palestinian people for the diplomatic and humanitarian catastrophe it caused them, some Britons plan to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration... Insisting on marking this painful anniversary with further celebrations and triumphs [only] doubles the [Palestinians'] pain and makes a mockery of justice." He ended by stressing that the Palestinians expect Britain to "amend its positions by doing as follows: revoking Israel's immunity [from punishment]; holding it to account and making it pay for its crimes and its occupation and settlements; supporting the Palestinian initiatives and efforts in the [U.N.] Security Council and [other] international bodies; issuing an official apology to the Palestinian people and giving its victims what they are due; and celebrating the end of the occupation next year [in 2017] and the realizing of Palestine's independence and sovereignty, instead of celebrating and consolidating the ongoing [occupation] at the expense of our people's rights. To atone for its crime of the Balfour Declaration, Britain must recognize a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital, as one of the conditions for protecting the two-state solution that [Britain itself] calls to realize, and [must also] issue a new declaration for the Palestinian people that will help it live free in its national homeland."[14]

Articles In PA Press: We Should Sue Britain For The Nakba

Fury at Britain and calls to revoke the Balfour Declaration were also expressed in articles in the Palestinian press. Dr. Nasser Al-Lahham, editor of the Palestinian news agency Maan, wrote an article titled "What Enraged 'Abbas to the Point of [Deciding] to Sue Britain for the Balfour Declaration?". In it, he claimed that even a century after it was issued, the Balfour Declaration still enrages the Palestinians more than anything else, especially since 'Abbas has received certain information that "some members of the British House of Lords, in coordination with the leaders of some Zionist parties in Israel, are trying to organize a ceremony in the coming months to mark [the centenary of the Balfour Declaration], thereby compounding the crime of the declaration [itself]." According to Al-Lahham, 'Abbas discussed the matter with the PLO Central Committee, but a media blackout had been imposed on the matter until the Arab League summit in Nouakchott at which the he asked the Arab leaders to assist in submitting a lawsuit against Britain. Al-Lahham added: "So far no detailed decisions have been taken in this matter, but the issue is being examined by international law experts, and the Arabs may contribute experts and logistical and legal resources towards suing Britain. It is yet unknown whether British legal experts, or even Jewish experts who support the Palestinians in this matter, will participate [in the initiative]." He wrote further that "the Palestinian leadership has two options: to sue Britain at the International Court of Justice [in the Hague], or sue it in the British courts themselves..." He stressed that "suing Britain will not be a mere media [stunt], but a complex and prolonged legal affair. But the Palestinian leadership has already taken a decision in this matter, no matter how long it takes."[15]

'Omar Hilmi Al-Ghoul, a columnist for the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, welcomed the initiative of suing Britain and proposed to also sue all the countries that "encouraged the immigration of Jews to Palestine" and to demand that all future Jewish emigration to Israel be stopped. He wrote: "Suing Britain is one of the most important measures in the struggle to defend the interests of the Palestinian people... We should broaden and deepen [this initiative] by suing all the countries that encouraged the immigration of Jews to Palestine throughout the decades of the struggle [between the Palestinians and the Jews]. [Moreover], we must demand to immediately stop all forms of [Jewish] immigration to Israel... since this contravenes the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to the homes from which they were expelled in 1948 and 1967."[16]

In an article he published in the daily several months later, Al-Ghoul stated that not only has Britain failed to do anything to atone for its "barbaric crime," it is "still delaying and refraining from recognizing a Palestinian state on 22% of the territory of historical Palestine, an area even smaller than what was stipulated in the U.N.'s [1947] partition plan... [Britain] is openly conspiring with the Israeli ethnic cleansing state in freezing the money [Israel] owes the PA on the pretext that this [money] goes to the families of martyrs... [Britain] persecutes [those engaged in] Palestinian national activity and BDS supporters, and shields Israeli war criminals from [being prosecuted in] the British court system." Al-Ghoul called to compel Britain to atone for every detail of the Palestinian people's suffering, including by "bearing financial and economic responsibility for developing the Palestinian economy, just as Germany and Europe [at large helped] build Israel's imperialist economy, and to give back all the money and property that was stolen from the Palestinian coffers before [Britain's] withdrawal [from Palestine] in 1948." He added: "The Palestinian leadership will stubbornly pursue Britain and everyone else who conspired against Palestine and its people and caused the Palestinian Nakba of 1948."[17]

In an article published by the Palestinian news agency Samanews, Palestinian writer Dr. 'Abd Al-Qader Fares argued that Britain did not make do with issuing the Balfour Declaration some 100 years ago, "which helped the Zionist gang establish the state of Israel on May 15, 1948," but, during the subsequent 70 years, granted "financial and political aid to Israel, and came out against the rights of the Palestinian people in all international forums." According to him, "since the Balfour Declaration and until today, [Britain] has proven that it opposes the Palestinian people's ambitions and rights, and that it stands with the enemy who occupies our land and kills our people, proving once again that it [Britain] sponsors international terrorism and is the hotbed for it, since it fosters thousands of terrorists on its soil and sends them to our Arab lands to destroy and divide our Arab homeland."[18]

Palestinians Prepare For International Campaign Against Balfour Declaration Throughout 2017

Alongside statements and diplomatic activity, leading up to the 99th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration in November 2016 and the start of the 100th year since the declaration, the Palestinians launched a popular campaign against it, which includes protests outside of British embassies around the world and is intended to last throughout 2017.

In late 2016, the Palestinian Return Center launched the 'Balfour Apology Campaign', which aims to collect 100,000 signatures on a petition charging the British government to apologize for the Balfour Declaration. The campaign was launched in the British House of Lords at a conference hosted by Baroness Jenny Tonge and attended by many British activists, academics, jurists and MPs.[19] According to the center's Arabic website, the aim of the conference was "to launch the apology campaign coordinated by the Palestinian Return Center... [which] will continue throughout [2017], until the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration [on November 11, 2017]. [The campaign] will include numerous activities in the British parliament and the [UN] Human Rights Council in Geneva. In addition, several books and studies will be published and awareness campaigns will be held with the aim of breaking the political stalemate on the Palestinian issue in Europe at large and Britain in particular. It should be noted that collecting 100,000 signatures will, according to custom, obligate the House of Commons to address the campaign's petition."[20]

Launch of the Balfour Apology Campaign in the House of Lords (image:

On October 30, 2016, youths from the Palestinian People's Party in Gaza launched "the international campaign to mark the 100th anniversary of the horrible Balfour Declaration" and protested outside the UN envoy's headquarters in Gaza. Muhammad Salah, the Gaza coordinator of the campaign, said that the campaign was formulated by several organizations, institutions, academics, politicians, Palestinian activists, and international sympathizers from around the world, and that it is meant to shed light on one of the most important factors that enabled the Zionist movement "to establish the Israeli occupation state on the ruins of the Palestinian people, and banish it from its land." He added that "the campaign is working to organize protests outside British embassies around the world and encourage widespread participation in Palestine, within the green line [meaning Israeli Arabs], and in all Arab and international capitals."[21]

PLO Executive Committee Member Taisir Khaled called on all Palestinians – in the West Bank, Gaza, Israel, and various refugee camps around the world, regardless of political or ideological affiliation – to join "the international campaign to condemn the imperialist Balfour Declaration... which was the basis for all acts of horror committed by the Zionist movement and the state of Israel against the Palestinian people, and the basis for the Palestinian holocaust, which has lasted for 100 years under the watchful eye and attentive ear of the international community."[22]

On November 2, 2016 – the 99th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration and the start of its 100th year – protests took place in Ramallah and Gaza, in which protestors called on Britain to apologize to the Palestinian people for the tragedies brought about by the Balfour Declaration and to compensate the Palestinians for them. In Ramallah, the "National Popular Committee of the Campaign against the Balfour Declaration in Its 100th Year" held a protest outside the British Council. Omar 'Assaf, a member of the committee's secretariat, said that "the campaign takes place wherever Palestinians are present, and will continue throughout the coming year." Another campaign activist, Ahmad Khalifa, who represents the Israeli Arabs in it, said, "these activities are accumulating and will continue and feature widespread participation from all parts of the homeland." According to him, "The Arab Higher Monitoring Committee of the internal Arabs [meaning Israeli Arabs] will be central [to the campaign] during the coming year." In the Ramallah governorate, schoolchildren delivered a letter to a representative for the British consul in the PA demanding that the British government apologize to the Palestinian people, and nationalist and Islamist forces in Gaza protested outside the UN headquarters. Walid Al-'Awad, a member of the political bureau of the Palestinian People's Party, urged all those who sympathize with the Palestinian people, including its friends in Britain, to act to organize an international campaign to pressure Britain to apologize to the Palestinian people and recognize its rights. Fatah in Lebanon called on Britain "to acknowledge its full responsibility and recognize the crime it committed with the Balfour Declaration, which promised the Jews a homeland on Palestinian soil."[23]

The Turkish Al-Anadolu news agency reported on another protest against the Balfour Declaration, held on February 23, 2017 in front of the British Council in Ramallah. The protestors held up signs condemning the declaration and Britain and calling to realize the Palestinians' right of self-determination and of return. According to the report, Mustafa Al-Barghouti, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative party, who took part in the protest, called on the British government to withdraw the invitation of Netanyahu to attend the centenary events, saying that "a large part of the British people opposes holding the ceremony and inviting Netanyahu to participate in it."[24]


The demonstration in front of the British Council in Ramallah (image:, February 23, 2017)

In a similar demonstration held in Nablus on December 6, 2016 by the local popular national committee, signatures were collected on a petition condemning the Balfour Declaration which is to be submitted to the British parliament. In a video report on the demonstration posted on the Facebook page of the Palestinian news agency Maan, the presenter says that the campaign is meant to continue all year in coordination with other popular and official campaigns, both national and international, aimed at pressuring Britain to "discharge its historical and moral duty and revoke the [Balfour] Declaration." One of the speakers at the demonstration said: "The campaign requires intense national efforts and the participation of our British friends and of liberals worldwide in order to support the Palestinians."[25]

The petition circulated at the Nablus protest (image:, December 6, 2016)

In a meeting between the Palestinian Teachers' Union and a delegation from Britain's National Association of Teachers, which visited Ramallah as part of the collaboration between the two unions, the sides agreed to organize protest moves against a ceremony set to be held in Britain with the participation of Israelis to mark the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, "which perpetuates the historic injustice that the declaration did to the Palestinian people," and coordinate steps to pressure the British government to retract its intention to hold the ceremony and to correct the historic injustice that was done to the Palestinian people.[26]

*D. Hazan is a research fellow at MEMRI.

[1], February 6, 2017. It should be noted that there is an ongoing British campaign, launched several years ago and led by British MPs, academics, bishops and others, which calls to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration by acknowledging "that whilst a homeland for the Jewish people has been achieved, the promise to protect the rights of the Palestinian people has not yet been fulfilled." See

[2], November 2, 2016.

[3] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), November 2, 2016.

[4] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), July 27, 2016.

[5], September 22, 2016.

[6], February 7, 2017. On the British parliament's decision, see, October 13, 2014.

[7] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), November 1, 2016.

[8], November 2, 2016.

[9], November 2, 2016.

[10] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), February 25, 2017.

[11], November 1, 2016.

[12], November 1, 2016.

[13], November 1, 2016.

[14] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), November 2, 2016.

[15], July 26, 2016.

[16] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), July 27, 2016.

[17] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), November 1, 2016.

[18], January 17, 2017.

[19] Jenny Tonge, a former member of the Lib Dem party, was suspended from the party after hosting the conference due to inflammatory statements that were made at it, including that the Jews were responsible for the Holocaust and a comparison of Israel to ISIS. See, October 27, 2016.

[20], October 26, 2016.

[21] Al-Ayyam (PA), January 31, 2017.

[22], October 31, 2016.

[23] Al-Ayyam (PA), November 3, 2016.

[24], February 23, 2017.

[25], December 6, 2016.

[26], February 13, 2017.

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