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Pro-Palestine activists urge UK to apologize for Balfour Declaration

Palestinians wave national flags as they take part in a rally to commemorate the 68th anniversary of Nakba (Catastrophe) Day in the West Bank city of Ramallah on May 17, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

Activists have called on Britain to apologize for causing a century of suffering for the Palestinians through its support for a document that paved the way for the Israeli occupation of Arab lands.

The campaigners made the plea during a Saturday forum at University College London, dubbed Palestine Conference 2017, marking the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.

The document issued in November 1917 by the then British foreign secretary Arthur Balfour said the UK government "views with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

It set the stage for the al-Nakba (Catastrophe) that refers to the Palestinian exodus when more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes by Israel during the 1948 war.

The event organized by the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) and Olive, a Palestinian youth organization, aimed to "expose the illegality of the state of Israel while giving practical steps in campaigning towards an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.”

Participants of Palestine Conference 2017 at University College London react during an event on March 4, 2017. (Photo by Middle East Eye)

"What is happening in Palestine is the biggest social injustice of our time. We send a message to the people of Palestine, we are here and we stand with you," said FOSIS President Zara Mohammed.  

Among other speakers, Salma Karmi-Ayyoub, a criminal barrister and external consultant for the Palestinian human rights organization al-Haq, denounced the UK’s role in the ordeal of the Palestinians.

"The UK should issue an apology and think about compensating the Palestinians for their losses... which are a direct result of British policy,” she said.

Jonathan Rosenhead, chairman of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, described the Balfour Declaration as "disastrous.”

The conference further discussed the Israeli occupation and condemned US President Donald Trump’s support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to expand settlements in the occupied territories.

The forum stressed that backing the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel is the only way to topple the "apartheid" regime.

UK crackdown on pro-Palestine campus activities 

Pro-Palestine activists on British university campuses fear a crackdown is taking place against them following the cancellation of several events affiliated with the Israeli Apartheid Week initiative.

At least two events linked to Israel Apartheid Week have been canceled or postponed this week, sparking fears about freedom of speech on campus.

The developments came after more than 200 academics signed an open letter condemning attempts to silence campus discussion about Israel and its treatment of Palestinians.

Several activists told Middle East Eye online news portal that university senior management had sent representatives to monitor their activities and demanded that their events be recorded. 

Anum Riaz, the president of Friends of Palestine Society at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), said the crackdown was in line with the government's new definition of anti-Semitism, which critics say equates criticism of Israel to anti-Semitism. 

Israeli Apartheid Week is held every year on campuses across the world and aims to draw parallels between the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and apartheid-era South Africa. 

The Palestine movement has gained traction across UK campuses with student unions passing motions urging universities to divest from companies complicit in the illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

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