1. Why are you called the Balfour Project?
First and foremost, the Balfour Project team are not apologists for or supporters of Arthur Balfour. In 1917 the British Government issued the Balfour Declaration, a short statement pledging its support for ‘the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.’ The memo also stated that ‘nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.’ The declaration has had long-term consequences and remains controversial for the inherent contradictions contained. Crucially, while a homeland for the Jewish people has been achieved, Palestinians remain stateless, exiled, refugees or second-class citizens within Israel. In the lead up to the centenary of the Balfour Declaration in 2017 a group of British citizens asked themselves how their country would mark the occasion. They called their research, reflections and advocacy the Balfour Project.
2. Who founded the Balfour Project?
A group of British individuals who seek to promote a deeper awareness in Britain of Britain’s historical involvement in Palestine/Israel and advocate equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians.
3. How are you funded?
Our running costs and events are financed by donations from a range of supporters.
4. What are you hoping to achieve?
Greater public, parliamentary and government awareness of Britain’s role in the region in the first half of the last century and the impact of Britain’s attitude and actions today. The Balfour Project invites the Government and people of the United Kingdom to:
- Acknowledge Britain’s historical role in shaping 20th and 21st century Palestine/Israel, particularly in light of the Balfour Declaration and the policies of the British Mandate.
- Support Palestinians and Israelis in building a peaceful future based on equal rights, justice and security for all.
- Work for British government recognition of the State of Palestine.
5. What are your main activities?
The charity’s activities are primarily educational and include schools workshops, regular webinars and conferences and a Peace Advocacy Fellowship programme for UK university students. Click here for recorded webinars and here for information on past conferences and keynote lectures. The Balfour Project also engages in advocacy activities such as influencing UK politicians to uphold international law and promote equal rights.
6. Are you asking for a government apology for the Balfour Declaration?
The Balfour Project advocates change in government policy today, not an apology for the past. We seek to raise awareness of the deliberately ambiguous Balfour Declaration’s intentions and consequences, particularly the Declaration’s dismissively vague attitude towards the Palestinian Arab population, which was not even mentioned as such. While the declaration of 1917 acknowledged the political and national rights of the minority Jewish community in Palestine, it notably failed to acknowledge those of the majority Palestinian Arab population (described as ‘non-Jewish communities’). That failure is evident and its legacy has had an enduring impact. While a homeland for the Jewish people has been achieved, Palestinians remain stateless, exiled, refugees or second-class citizens within Israel. The implementation of the Balfour Declaration, via the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine (ratified in 1922), was also a breach of the Covenant of the League of Nations (Article 22) under which Britain assumed ‘a sacred trust of civilisation’ to ensure the ‘well-being and development’ of the Palestinians.
7. How can taking responsibility for the past make a difference now?
Where once Britain exercised power, now we can and should exert influence for peace with justice and equality under the rule of law.
8. If the two-state solution is dead, why argue for U.K. recognition of the state of Palestine on pre-June 1967 lines?
International law and a series of United Nations Security Council Resolutions recognise the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) – Gaza, East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank – as the territorial basis for Palestinian self-determination and a future Palestinian state. In 2012 the United Nations General Assembly granted Palestine the status of Non-Member Observer State after 138 member states voted in favour.
The Balfour Project advocates Britain’s recognition of Palestine as a state, noting that such recognition has wide Palestinian support and was the subject of an overwhelming vote in favour of recognition by British Members of Parliament in 2014. Recognition of a Palestinian state would substantially improve the Palestinian position in international forums and enhance its bargaining strengths and status. Advocacy of a Palestinian state does not mean that the Balfour Project takes a position on final status for the Palestine-Israel question, such as one-state, two-state or any other formula.
9. Are you pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli?
We advocate peace, justice and equal rights for both Palestinians and Israelis and believe that international law and United Nations resolutions must be upheld in Israel and Palestine. We recognise Israel’s right to exist and we recognise the rights of Palestinians to justice, equality and self-determination.
10. Is Israel an ‘apartheid state’?
Apartheid was designated a crime against humanity in Article 7 of the Rome Statute in 2002. The ‘crime of apartheid’ was described as ‘inhumane acts …… committed in the context of an institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.’ Recent reports by human rights NGOs B’tselem and Human Rights Watch in 2021 and Amnesty International in 2022 have analysed the practices of the Israeli Government which privilege Jewish Israelis over Palestinians within Israel and in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and concluded that in the OPT those practices meet all the criteria to qualify as the crime of apartheid. The term ‘apartheid state’ has no legal definition.
11. Is Israel perpetrating ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank?
There is no legal definition of ethnic cleansing, but aspects of what is commonly understood by the term were held by a UN Commission of Experts to ‘… constitute crimes against humanity …, be assimilated to specific war crimes’ or fall ‘within the meaning of the Genocide Convention.’ The purpose and result of Israel’s settlement project (seizure of Palestinian land for military purposes, national parks, settlement infrastructure including roads, settlement expansion and new settlements, facilitation of settler violence against Palestinians and their property, discriminatory planning policies, house demolitions and forced transfer of Palestinians) demonstrably lead to Palestinians being squeezed out of East Jerusalem, and in the rest of the West Bank Palestinians being confined in the small and more densely populated Palestinian enclaves of Areas A and B, to the benefit in both areas of Jewish Israelis.
12. What is BDS and why is it controversial?
BDS is a non-violent movement initiated by members of Palestinian civil society to campaign globally under the strapline ‘freedom, justice, equality,’ for Palestinian human rights and an end to the occupation. It calls for international solidarity from individuals, businesses and governments; putting pressure on Israel to comply with international law through consumer boycotts, disinvestment or sanctions against businesses or institutions that are complicit in Israel’s violation of Palestinian rights.
Opponents of BDS often seek to label the movement as antisemitic, but The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism, which is supported by the Balfour Project, says ‘BDS is not, in and of itself, antisemitic.’
13. How does the Balfour Project respond to accusations of being antisemitic?
We strongly condemn antisemitism and all forms of racism. Please see our policy on racism here.