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Are the Palestinians Going to Take the League of Nations or the UN to Court?

by Maurice Hirsch

The late Lord Arthur Balfour. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

July 24, 2022, marked 100 years since the League of Nations adopted the “Mandate for Palestine.” The sole purpose of the mandate was to empower Great Britain to create a Jewish State in the entire area from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea — from Lebanon in the north to the Red Sea in the south.

As the preamble of the Mandate clearly stated:

Whereas the Principal Allied Powers have also agreed that the Mandatory should be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2nd, 1917, by the Government of His Britannic Majesty, and adopted by the said Powers, in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might 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; [emphasis added]

While referring to contemporary decisions that had been made by the Allied Powers during and after World War I, the preamble added that the establishment of the Jewish State was not an arbitrary act of the international community to allocate a random piece of land for creating a homeland for the Jewish people. Rather, the preamble emphasized that the goal was a reflection of the historic connection of the Jewish people to that specific piece of land and the recreation of a national homeland that had once existed:

Whereas recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country. [emphasis added]

For the Palestinian Authority (PA), the Balfour Declaration, referred to in the preamble as the “declaration originally made on November 2nd, 1917, by the Government of His Britannic Majesty” is the root of all evil.

Issued on November 2, 1917, the Balfour Declaration stated that, “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

At the time, according to Palestinian historian Abd Al-Ghani Salameh, “there was nothing called a Palestinian people”:

Before the Balfour Promise (i.e., Declaration) when the Ottoman rule ended (1517-1917), Palestine’s political borders as we know them today did not exist, and there was nothing called a Palestinian people with a political identity as we know today, since Palestine’s lines of administrative division stretched from east to west and included Jordan and southern Lebanon, and like all peoples of the region [the Palestinians] were liberated from the Turkish rule and immediately moved to colonial rule, without forming a Palestinian people’s political identity.” [emphasis added] [Official PA TV, Nov. 1, 2017]

Nonetheless, as Palestinian Media Watch has already reported, soon after the centennial to mark the issuance of the Balfour Declaration, the Palestinians decided to sue Great Britain, demanding that it take responsibility for issuing the Balfour Declaration that “destroyed the life of an entire Palestinian people” and for alleged “crimes” of British soldiers against the Palestinian people during the Mandate period. The case (Palestinian Journalists Syndicate v. The British Government, 2021) was filed in the PA court in Nablus. Not surprisingly, the court found in favor of the plaintiffs.

Building on their success in the PA court, the Palestinians are now taking the issue to the British courts:

The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate held a meeting yesterday [May 22, 2022] with the legal team supervising the submission of a lawsuit against the British government for its responsibility for the consequences of issuing ‘the Balfour Declaration’. Lawyer Ben Emmerson briefed the syndicate on the legal proceedings that his team has been supervising for more than a year, which deal with submitting a lawsuit at a British court against the British government so that it will apologize for “the Balfour Declaration.” [emphasis added] [Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, May 23, 2022]

The Chairperson of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate (the Plaintiffs) Nasser Abu Bakr added:

The legal team explained in detail that it is important to forcibly extract a ruling condemning the Balfour Declaration from a British court. … The goal of this effort is to hold Britain responsible for our people’s tragedy, out of an assumption that all the decisions that were based on the Balfour Declaration starting with the establishment of the occupation state and uprooting of the Palestinian people — are invalid and constitute a crime that has continued to this very day.” [Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, May 23, 2022]

From a legal point of view, while diplomatically important, the Balfour Declaration was nothing more than a statement of British policy.

In the aftermath of World War I, the allied powers met to discuss the future of the territories that had been held by the Ottoman Empire for 400 years. As regards “Palestine,” the allies resolved:

The Mandatory will be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on the [2nd] November, 1917, by the British Government and adopted by the other Allied Powers, in favour of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people. [emphasis added]

The decisions made in San Remo in April 1920 by the Allied Powers then formed the basis for the preparation of a number of Mandates. Indeed, two years later, alongside the Mandate for Palestine, the League of Nations also adopted the Mandate for Syria and the Mandate for Lebanon. Together with the Mandate for Palestine, it was these instruments that provided the international legitimacy to create Israel (the Jewish State), Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.

Since it is the League of Nations, since replaced by the United Nations, that is truly responsible for creating Israel, the question that must be asked, is: Are the Palestinians going to sue the League of Nations/the UN?

Whatever the Palestinians decide to do, the truth remains that July 24, 1922, was probably one of the most important dates in the history of the Jewish people. On that day, the international community openly recognized the connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and decided to end 2,000 years of Jewish exile. On that day, the international community gave legitimacy to reconstitute the Jewish national homeland.

Lt. Col. (res.) Maurice Hirsch, Adv. is the Head of Legal Strategies for Palestinian Media Watch, where a version of this article first appeared.


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