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Palestinians to the UK government: 'Ask us for forgiveness'

Palestinians marked the centenary of the Balfour Declaration with protests in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Gaza and Hebron
Israeli policemen preventing demonstrators from mounting Palestinian flags on the British consulate's wall in East Jerusalem (Reuters)

Hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated on Thursday against the Balfour Declaration outside the British consulate in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem.

Israeli policemen dispersed the protesters, scuffling with some and arresting others, according to local news reports. 

The demonstrators were urging the British government not to celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, issued on 2 November 1917.

They asked the government of British Prime Minister Theresa May to apologise to the Palestinian people, and raised black flags in an expression of mourning.

The demonstration included activists and Palestinian public figures, including Adnan Husseini, Jerusalem governor of the Palestinian Authority.

Israeli police tried to break up the demonstration when Palestinian flags were raised, according to witnesses. 

An Israeli policeman scuffles with a Palestinian during a demonstration against the Balfour Declaration on its centenary outside the British consulate in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem (Reuters)

Mohammed Abu Hommos, an activist from Al-Issawiya neighbourhood in Jerusalem, fled from the scene after the Israeli police attempted to arrest him.

He said that two men were arrested after they mounted Palestinian flags on the wall of the British consulate.

“The Balfour Declaration is not some historical moment that has ended and is now over,” Abu Hommos told Middle East Eye.

“It is a continuous moment that led to the Nakba in 1948," he added. 

"And we still live under a brutal occupation, suffer from the separation wall, house demolitions, settlements, and ID revocation. The list is endless.”

Another Palestinian activist, Oum Kamel, said: “The Balfour Declaration's aim was not only to establish a national homeland for the Jewish people but also to create a strategic ally to destroy and control the Middle East.”

She said that her family was expelled from the Talbiya neighbourhood in west Jerusalem in 1948.

'The Balfour Declaration is not some historical moment that has ended and is now over... It is a continuous moment'

- Mohammed Abu Hommos, activist

“In 2008, I myself was expelled from my house in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem by Israeli police. Settlers occupy my house now. I say to the British government that we want our homeland and this is our right. We live in a permanent status of destruction and expulsion.”

She added that she was sceptical about some of the activities organised by the Palestinian Authority to mark the centenary. 

"We do not need words and slogans. Abu Mazen asked the British government to apologise. But will that return our homes and houses to us? Britain should ask the Palestinians for forgiveness, not the opposite," she said, referring to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas denounced the Balfour Declaration, and urged the British government to recognise Palestine.

In a letter published in The Guardian he wrote that "the creation of a homeland for one people resulted in the dispossession and continuing persecution of another – now a deep imbalance between occupier and occupied".

Palestinian news website the Palestine News and Info Agency turned its webpage black to mourn the event.

Meanwhile, the Times of Israel webpage was hacked by Turkish hacking group Akincilar. The hackers left a message saying: "Even if there is just one of us left in this world, we will stand up for Gaza, for Palestine."

Akincilar Turkish hacker group message on Times of Israel webpage

Earlier on Thursday, hundreds of people also took part in PA-organised demonstrations in Ramallah, the political capital of the occupied West Bank, with some carrying signs which read "The promise of he who doesn't own to those who don't deserve" - a common expression in Arabic for the Balfour Declaration.

Some protesters also held black flags calling for Palestinian refugees to be allowed the right of return, as they marched from Ramallah's Arafat Square to a nearby British cultural office.

"Balfour promised to establish the Israeli entity and its result is everything the Palestinian people still suffer from today, such as displacement, destruction and pain," said Abu Haitham Amro, 70, a protester who was carrying a Palestinian flag.

In Hebron city, 100 candles were lit on Wednesday evening in a protest at the Balfour Declaration and the Israeli occupation.

Issa Amro, a Palestinian activist, said that "each candle represents a year of suffering from colonisation".

"A hundred candles that shed a light on the life we live in Palestine, and in Hebron where we had to suffer from settlers and Israeli army attacks, houses and market closures, from checkpoints, the theft of land and the Palestinian cultural heritage," he told MEE.

A hundred candles were lit in Hebron city

Protesters took to the streets of Gaza City, the main city in the Gaza Strip which has been besieged and blockaded by Israel since 2007.

On Thursday morning, waving Palestinian flags and tearing up copies of the declaration, some carried placards reading "Balfour Declaration 100" with the faces of Arthur Balfour, the British foreign secretary who signed the letter, and Theresa May, the current British Prime Minister, obscured by red crosses.

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