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Unintended consequences and hope (November 2017)

Dear Friends,  

History is full of events and decisions enacted with good intentions which have resulted in unintended consequences – and hindsight is often a difficult thing!

This month, along with the ‘remembrance’ that November always brings us, we will mark the centenary of the ‘Balfour Declaration’ – a letter written by a British politician which changed the course of history and politics in the Middle East and particularly laid the foundation for the establishment of the state of Israel.

On the 2nd of November 1917 Lord Arthur Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary at the time, wrote to Lord Lionel Walter Rothschild, a Jewish peer in the UK House of Lords and member of the British Zionist movement, a short letter which said:-

“His Majesty’s Government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

Thirty years later, after the second world war and the horrific treatment of the Jewish people in Europe during the conflict, that vision of a ‘national home for the Jewish people’ was brought closer to reality by the declaration of the existence of the State of Israel. But sadly, and history has narrated the depth of that sadness, the second part of Balfour’s letter which outlined the intention to protect the rights and freedom of the existing communities of people in Palestine, became a casualty of the hopes for the new state.

The struggle for coexistence between Israel and Palestine, as we’ve learned to call the two peoples trying to negotiate living in this small land, has been deeply conflicted and painful – and continues to be so.

In October I travelled to Israel and Palestine on pilgrimage and had the opportunity to learn about these two countries that share one land. And while I know that I have had just a glimpse of life there and can hardly grasp the complex situation of the people who live their lives in communities on either side of the separation wall that divides them – the very strong impression I came away with is that in different ways both Israeli and Palestinian people carry the very heavy weight of the situation that has evolved there. And the land to call ‘home’ where ‘civil and religious rights’ are respected by and for all who live there … is far from the reality we see on the ground today. While Palestinians long and struggle for their freedom … Israelis live in fear and build walls to protect themselves.

I met many wonderful people who are committed, in faith, to peaceful, non-violent, change. People of hope who were deeply inspiring. I have come home with many stories to tell.

What should the British do about the Balfour Declaration? – we asked as we tried to grapple with the issues of this place and these people. And the thoughts that were shared suggested that it is a part of history that the British people need to be accountable for and realize that it was part of the building of the present situation. But a part of ‘history’ it is – and more than apologies or guilt or self-defending arguments, what is needed now is support that tries to move the situation forward, resolving conflict peacefully, in solidarity with the people of Palestine and Israel.

So, we’ll remember Balfour this month, and learn of its ‘unintended consequences’ … but let’s also make that remembrance the beginning of our hope for change, for equality and dignity, for all of the people who live in the in the Holy Land.