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  • Writer's pictureHaim Sandberg

"Balfour Declaration" 106th anniversary – Palestinian law still denies the legitimacy of Zionism

Updated: Apr 9

On May 7, 2023, the President of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), decided to use his powers as the supreme lawmaker of the PA to enact the "Law to Commemorate the Nakba".

The nickname "Nakba", which literally means "Holocaust", is recognized in the Palestinian narrative as a nickname for the results of the War of Independence that led to the formation of the Palestinian refugee problem in the years 1947-1949. The PA's law to commemorate the Nakba is actually a law against the denial of the Nakba. The law draws its inspiration from the legislation recognized in Israel (and also in several European countries), which prohibits the denial of the Holocaust, i.e., "the acts committed during the Nazi regime and which are crimes against the Jewish people or crimes against humanity", as defined in Section 2 of the Israeli Law Prohibiting Denial of the Holocaust, 5766 -1986. The law commemorating the Nakba, which aligns with the Palestinian narrative that sees the disaster of the refugees as a "Holocaust", therefore draws a comparison between the denial of the Holocaust of the European Jews and the denial of the disaster of the Palestinians. Thus, S. 2 of the Nakba Commemoration Law defines the Nakba as a crime that does not expire that continues "as long as the racist Israeli colonial occupation, aggression against the Palestinian Arab people and the denial of their legitimate rights, including their right to return and self-determination, continue". S. 3 of the law imposes a prison sentence of up to two years for the crime of denying the Nakba. The scope of the factual basis of this crime includes not only the denial of the Nakba's existence, in whole or in part, but also the casting of doubt on its existence and content, its public justification, the claim that the Palestinian people left their homeland voluntarily and without being forced upon them, the denial of the characterization of the Nakba as a crime against humanity or the release of the "Zionist gangs" (the law use this phrase) from their responsibility to the Nakba. In fact, any statement that even slightly supports the Israeli Zionist narrative regarding the causes and responsibility for what happened in the years 1947-1949 will be considered, in the territories of the Palestinian Authority, a criminal offense. Even denying the responsibility of the mandate government for the Nakba is a crime, so that even individuals in the United Kingdom may commit the crime of denial.

The attitude reflected in the law is not surprising in light of the PA and the Palestinian leadership's stubborn refusal to give up the right of return. This is nothing new. However, it seems that the law to commemorate the Nakba also has evidence of something deeper, which is reflected in the repeated mention of the Balfour Declaration in this law. The introduction to the law explains that its legislation derives not only from "the Nakba of 1948 in which 78% of the Palestinian people were displaced from their homeland by force of arms through massacres and systematic terrorism" but also "from what preceded it, namely the ominous Balfour Declaration that denied the rights and existence of the Palestinian people through forgery and the lie that Palestine is a 'land without a people'". The Balfour Declaration is also mentioned in Section 1 of the Nakba Commemoration Law, which defines the term "Nakba", for the purposes of the law, as "a crime, tragedy and human catastrophe that was born in the context of a colonial plan that began with the Balfour Declaration in 1917 that included planned immigration of Jews to Palestine". Hence, in the Palestinian Authority, even denying or just casting doubt on the colonial nature of the Balfour Declaration and the Jewish immigration to Israel during the Mandate period, may be considered a crime.

Lord Balfour, the British foreign minister, published his famous statement on November 2nd of 1917, thirty years before the Nakba and one hundred and six years before the law to commemorate it. So, what does the Balfour Declaration do in 2023 in the law to commemorate the Nakba?

The Balfour Declaration was the first time that international recognition was granted by His Majesty's government to the right of the Jewish people to establish a national home in the Land of Israel. This was the first political achievement of the Zionist movement. It led to the British Mandate on the land, in which the mandate government was authorized to take care of the establishment of the Jewish National Home and it also paved the way for the United Nations' decision on the establishment of the Jewish state and its de facto declaration.

The Palestinian National Movement opposed the Balfour Declaration. Days of mourning and protest were immediately announced in Jenin and Nablus. t also denied the legality of the British mandate and opposed during the entire period of the British mandate any step that would lead to the establishment of a Jewish state, including opposition to the immigration of Jews to the Land of Israel, which could have provided refuge for the Jews of Europe during and after the Holocaust. The Nakba increased opposition to the State of Israel, but it is not the source of the absolute negation of Zionism, which was expressed many years earlier in the opposition to the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate.

The Palestinian National Convention adopted in 1968 by the Palestine Liberation Organization, currently headed by Mahmoud Abbas, was not content with calling for the return of the refugees and stated that there is a "national duty to repel from the great Arab homeland the Zionist and imperialist invasion and to cleanse Palestine of Zionist existence" (S. 15), that "the Balfour Declaration and the wording of the mandate and what arose from them will be considered invalid. The claims of the historical or spiritual connection of the Jew to Palestine are not consistent with the truths of history, or with the elements of the state in their true meaning, Judaism, as a heavenly religion (that is, of revelation) is not a nationalism with its own reality, Likewise, the Jews are not one nation, which has its own personality, but are citizens of the countries in which they are found" (S. 20) and that only "the Jews who lived in a permanent home in Palestine until the start of the Zionist invasion of it will be considered Palestinians" (S. 6). In 1973, the United Nations Assembly, in the spirit of the speech at the assembly a year earlier by PLO leader Yasser Arafat, called for the elimination of Zionism along with the call for the elimination of colonialism and neo-colonialism. Haim Herzog, who was then Israel's ambassador to the United Nations and later the sixth president of the State of Israel, tore up the decision during his speech at the Assembly.

There were those who expected, and perhaps still expect, that the establishment of an independent Palestinian Authority, which has already declared itself a Palestinian State, would focus the disputes between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority only on territorial issues or on the issue of a solution to the refugee problem, while recognizing the existence of the State of Israel. The preamble to the Oslo Accords included Mutual recognition by the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization of their legitimate and political rights. The Israeli government also demanded that the Palestine Liberation Organization fulfill its promise to cancel the aforementioned articles in the Palestinian Convention. Yet, they were not canceled.

The mention of the Balfour Declaration in the Law to Commemorate the Nakba reminds everyone that even in 2023 the Palestinian Authority has not yet recognized that the State of Israel is the realization of a legitimate claim of the Jewish people. The worldview, which found its expression in the law published in 2023 in the official newspaper of the "State of Palestine", is very similar to the worldview that guided the leadership of the Palestinian national movement before the mutual recognition of the Oslo Accords.

Indeed, for its part, Israel also enacted a law denying budgets from budgeted institutions for "denying the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state" or "marking Independence Day or the day of the establishment of the state as a day of mourning" (section 3b(b)(1), (4) of the Foundations Law The Budget, 5555 1985). In the Basic Law: Israel - The Nation State of the Jewish People, 5578-2018, it stated that "the exercise of the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people", but these laws do not rule out the possibility of recognizing the rights The Palestinians, as the Balfour Declaration, the British Mandate and the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel did not rule out such recognition. Furthermore, all of these enactments did not impose criminal responsibility accompanied by a prison sentence on those who merely doubt the truth of their content. The discourse in Israel also tolerates very critical attitudes towards the State of Israel.

The PA's law to commemorate the Nakba is another expression of the fact that relations between Israel and the PA have gone back many years. It has not yet been clarified whether criminals have already been prosecuted for the crime of denying the Nakba. It is likely that many in the Palestinian Authority support the narrative that the law reflects even without a criminal prohibition. Even if the ban on denying the Nakba is more of a declarative action than a practical one, its very existence, not to mention the political and educational message that stems from it, leaves very little hope for recognition and reconciliation with the existence of the State of Israel.

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