Raja Shehadeh on Britain and Palestine, a family history

A live online talk in March 2021.

Raja Shehadeh:

My thanks to the Balfour Project for this opportunity to speak to you this afternoon. I would like to begin by commending the work of Monica and Roger Spooner, who have worked very hard to get this project established and going. I had the privilege of following their work in its early days and can attest to how determined they were to make it happen against all odds.

The brief history I present here about the relations between Britain and Palestine is selective. I focus on events in which my father, Aziz Shehadeh, played a role. Much of what I will cover in this talk is taken from my new book, which is about my father and his political involvements, due to be published by Profile Books next year.

How often have I heard father exclaim in reference to the loss of Palestine, ‘it was all the fault of the ‘inglese.’ He blamed the English through their policies in Mandate Palestine for sowing enmity between Arabs and Jews in pursuit of the divide and rule strategy.

My father was born in 1912, during the rule of the Ottomans over Palestine. During his younger years, from 1917 to 1920, he lived under British military rule. Then from 1922 to 1948, under the British Mandate set up by the League of Nations. After qualifying to practice law in 1935, Aziz wrote a short book, which he called ABC of the Arab Case in Palestine. Here is the book. In it, he expressed a novel opinion that the terms of the Mandate did not serve only the Jewish population. He supported this by quotes from the articles of the Mandate.

Then, on page 20, he wrote of what he thought of the Mandate government, “The Palestine government is serving five masters. It tries to please all at the same time, the Arabs, the Jews, the colonial office, the permanent mandate commission and the questioning members of the British House of Parliament. It is thus one of the most perplexed governments in the world. It has no heart or will of its own. Normally, it is supposed to follow the dictates of the colonial office, but it easily become swayed by questions which are asked in the House of Commons by Jewish members or sympathisers. Finally, coming up against what the permanent mandates commission may approve or disapprove.”

With some modification, this might still represent the way it is today with the British government’s policies towards Israel and Palestine. My grandfather, Dr Saleem Shehadeh, a graduate of Cornell University was a district court judge with the Mandate government. Both my father and grandfather knew well the government they lived under and had no illusions, but my grandfather was the more realistic about the ultimate plans of the British for the region and that determination to betray the Palestinians.

After my father delivered the speech on behalf of the Ramallah Refugees Congress at the Jericho Conference on December 1st 1948, challenging the unconditional annexation of the West Bank to Transjordan,his uncle wrote to him from Beirut, where he had taken refuge after being forced out of Jaffa. He wrote, “There is no hope in the second front, [ meaning the Palestinian state, ] the future of Palestine is with King Abdullah alone.” My father, on the other hand, refused to submit and until his death, fought for the establishment of a Palestinian state, side-by-side to Israel.

According to the UN Partition Plan of 1947, Jaffa was to be part of the Arab state in Palestine. This made Aziz, believed that he would be able to continue living in Jaffa after the war. That was why he did not want to leave the city, but the terror launched by the Irgun on the evening of 28th April 1948, that followed other Jewish terrorist attacks, convinced my father that it would not be safe for him, with a two year old child, to remain in the city.

He could see that the British army was failing in its duty of protecting the civilian population. On May 14, the British army withdrew. Britain has never been held accountable for its criminal negligence in failing to defend the UN Partition Plan for which it had voted. But it did not stop there. The initiative of the Jaffa refugees to return to their city that summer was blocked by John Bagot Glubb, the British commander of the Arab Legion in Jordan, as the Jordanian army was then called, who arrested the leaders of that initiative and prevented them from getting through with their plan.

This was followed by another betrayal, again by Glubb, of the people of Lydda and Ramle who called for help of the Arab army in the struggle to stay in their cities. In July 1948, the second round of fighting by the 4,500 strong Arab Legion took place along  the route between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, but Glubb decided to withdraw his forces from the area that had been designated part of the Palestinian state under the UN Partition Plan. This left the cities of Lydda and Ramle undefended and allowed the Israeli army to force the inhabitants at gunpoint to leave the cities. Mass demonstrations in Jordan protested Glubb’s abandonment, of course, to no avail.

Unbeknown to my father, secret negotiations between Britain and the Hashemites had already been taking place as early as 1947. The British were exploring the possibility that the Arab parts of Palestine, that they believed would be unviable as a Palestinian state on their own, would be fused with the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan established in 1946. At a secret meeting in London in February 1948, Ernest Bevin, the UK Foreign Secretary, gave King Abdallah of Jordan the green light to take part of Palestine, provided the King’s forces stayed away of those parts allotted by the UN Partition Plan to the Jews.

Following the 1948 War, Israel had not only expelled the Palestinians from their country, but had also frozen all their bank accounts. Not only had it deprived the refugees of their properties and taken over the country, they were also pursued across the border and deprived of the means to live in the countries where they were exiled. Israeli officials were working on the principle of no money, no country. They wanted to turn the Palestinians into beggars and this was exactly what happened to a large number of them.

When Israel declared itself a state, it inherited all the institutions existing in Palestine. Under the British Mandate, Palestine and Transjordan had the same currency and were treated as a single currency area for the purposes of exchange control. Palestine had the Currency Board and the Palestinian Pound was equivalent to the Pound Sterling. In February 1948, a British treasury announcement was made, with no prior notice or explanation, that it would, “Exclude Palestine from the sterling area and henceforth suspend the free convertibility of Palestinian Pounds into Pound Sterling.”

It also stated that the Palestine Currency Board would no longer, “After May 14,1948, continue to issue Palestinian Pounds.” In other words, upon the termination of the Mandate, the Palestinian currency would no longer be legal tender. What has been aptly described by Walid Khalidi as “the shabbiest regime in British colonial history” was ending without attending to the most basic needs of the majority of the inhabitants of the land. For the thousands of Palestinian refugees who had by then forced to flee to other countries, this meant that they were neither able to exchange their Palestinian Pounds into Pound Sterling or any other Arab currency before they left, nor could they withdraw some from their accounts in other currencies, once they arrived. Arab clients of the Jaffa branch of the Ottoman Bank, now refugees in Lebanon and Jordan, were asking the bank to pay them their balances in Amman and elsewhere. But these requests were refused.

Heart wrenching letters were being written to the banks. Some also to the British government, others to the Bank of England only to get the insulting perfunctory responses that British officials were experienced in drafting from their long colonial history, in which they shirked all responsibility as if the method of the erstwhile clients was no concern of theirs. The fate of these assets was left to the State of Israel, which proceeded to order all commercial banks operating within its territory to, “freeze the accounts of all their Arab customers and to stop all transactions on all Arab accounts.”

The Israeli government gave the banks one month to comply with this order and threatened to revoke the license of any bank found to be in non-compliance. By the end of December 1948, every bank operating in Israel had obeyed the order.

Two years later, the custodian of absentee properties in Israel, who was custodian in name only, withdrew a large amount from the Arab banks frozen account at Barclays Bank and explained to the local manager that, “the reasons for the substantial withdrawal of funds was to finance an irrigation scheme.” Israel was irrigating the orchards it had stolen from the Palestinians using Palestinian funds for the upkeep, with no intention of returning these orchards to the rightful owners.

In 1950, the Arab Bank submitted a case in London against Barclays Bank that went all the way up to the House of Lords, which in 1953, issued a judgment in favour of Barclays Bank. A year later, my father took a case in the Jordanian courts against Barclays Bank, which had also refused to pay its clients who had accounts at the bank’s Israeli branches. He won the case, forcing the bank to pay up. Having won that case, he had plans to take up other cases against Israel in the courts, but this was not in line with the British plans for the future and would have gone against the Jordanian government’s appeasement outlook supported by the British.

In 1954, when parliamentary elections were declared in Jordan, Aziz and other independents decided to run as candidates and to try and bring changes through parliamentary efforts. But the regime used all kinds of means to ensure father’s failure. Glubb, with as much power in the country, would not allow parliamentary democracy to flourish in Jordan, because this would complicate his mission of controlling the policy of the country to the advantage of Britain.

After the elections, my father was put in prison along with other candidates. It now became clear to him that it was necessity to work on ousting Glubb if democracy was to have a chance of flourishing in Jordan. He knew that King Hussein did not like Glubb, who had been imposed on the young King by the British. Yet he could not get rid of him, even though the English man was doing so much damage and treating the country like his personal playground, arresting people and allowing the prisoners to be tortured as my father himself had experienced.

He suspected that the government in London did not know what was being done in its name and that if they were briefed, they would take action to stop it. So he was determined that on his next visit to London, he will lobby against Glubb.

As soon as he was released from prison, he traveled to London to negotiate with Barclays Bank the release of the safe deposit boxes of his Palestinian refugee clients. While in London, he learned that Glubb had issued an order for his arrest for negotiating with Israel, when he had done nothing of the sort. He remained in exile, unable to return home for 27 months.

While in London, Aziz drafted, along with his colleague Mohammed El Yahya, a memorandum dated June 23, 1955 to the British parliament, which covered a range of subjects relating to the refugees and then expressed their belief that the statement by the Jordanian Foreign Minister, that the two Palestinians had negotiated with Israel could not have been made without knowledge and approval of the British Embassy in Jordan. They added, we need not to stress the point that although the Jordan government is considered as an independent state, such influence is felt daily by the citizens of Jordan.

He then gives an example of the recent parliamentary elections and accuses Glubb Pasha , of the forgeries and the harsh measures that were adopted during these elections there. They write, ‘we have first-hand information about what had taken place.’ As I read this, after I secured the copy from the archive of St Anthony’s College, Oxford, I marveled at my father’s audacity and courage to complain to the British government about Glubb. When the man exercised such great power over him and his family. Truly, he was fearless, but perhaps overly optimistic that the British would lift a finger to help him or his cause. With all he knew of the British and the unprincipled behavior during the Mandate, when they tortured prisoners, demolished homes and hanged the rebels during the 1936 uprising and afterwards, how could he have expected justice from them? Why would they want to change the policies in the regionand remove their  agent in Jordan, just because of the accusations of wrongdoing that Aziz Shehadeh and Mohammed El Yahya had presented?

My father was arrested again in 1958. By then Glubb had been removed, [this happened in March 1st, 1956]. This time the arrest took place in the wake of a coup in Iraq that toppled and killed King Faisal. Aziz was sent to the Jafar desert prison established by no other than Glubb. On his way there, Aziz noticed the remnants of railway tracks. At first, he wondered what these could be, then he realised that they must be part of the Hijaz Railway Line, that much heralded line, that once linked Berlin with Baghdad and ultimately the Hijaz, with branch lines to Jerusalem, Amman, Bisan  and Haifa. And another line that was never competed to Nablus.

What had been the promise of great connectedness between the various parts of the Middle East and Europe ended in partition and the loss of Palestine. The shattering of that dream had begun with the dynamiting of these tracks by no other than an English man, T. E. Lawrence during World War One at best for military reasons.

Nonetheless, in the wake of that terrible war, Britain and France carved up the region into small states, giving the ambitious Abdullah a statelet, which he proceeded to enlarge at the expense of Palestine, with British backing. With Palestine lost, my father and others were now reduced by the Jordanian regime to the status of common criminals, feet shackled, banished from society away, from their wives and children, herded into the desert like cattle without explanation or justification other than a British made law on administrative detention. But the detrimental role of the British in our life and the deprivation of our freedom did not stop there.

After 1967, I realised, as my father had done before me, that the ‘inglese’ bequeathed us with the legacy of terrible practices and legislation that the Israeli Occupation has found extremely useful and continue to use them to this day. I only mention here one example, the Defense (Emergency) Regulations on 1945 issued by the British Mandate, which had since the beginning of Israeli Occupation been deployed by Israel to justify such egregious human rights violations as house demolitions and indefinite administrative detention orders. We really have much to thank the British for.

Over the years and as long as Britain was in the EU, it continued to block policies that could bring justice to the Palestinians and often acted as defender of the interests of Israel’s right-wing government. And it continues to refuse to recognise Palestine as a state. In today’s world, Britain is considered one of Israel’s right-wing government’s staunchest allies, but what has been true of the ‘inglese’ as a government has not been the case of the ‘inglese’ as a people.

My life has been greatly enriched and influenced by many English and Scottish men and women who I have known and worked with over the years, who have supported me in a number of ways and promoted both my human rights work and my writing, the number is large. Here, I would only like to highlight the work of one of them, Peter Coleridge, who died in June 2019. In addition to his pioneering work for the promotion and protection of disability rights, as Oxfam representative in the West Bank and Gaza in 1981 he was the first to lend Oxfam support to the work of Al-Haq, when Palestinian human rights work was untouchable. By doing so, he encouraged other organisations to go along. This initial support during the organisation’s early days, proved extremely crucial to ensure that it continued its work. And Peter is but one of many Britishers who have stood with and supported justice for Palestine. In contrast to the position of their government, their work for the promotion of Palestinian rights and the cause of peace in our region continues to proceed at a greater pace than ever.

I would like to end by thanking the Balfour Project for the lobbying work it is doing to further justice in Palestine and for providing me with this opportunity to speak about Britain and Palestine from the perspective of my own family. Thank you.

Diana Safieh:

That was fantastic. Thank you very much. We have a very lovely group of people who’ve come to join us. We’ve got over 300 people watching today and they include, obviously our trustees, Sir Vincent, Andrew Whiteley and so forth. So really happy they’ve joined us. We’ve got Andrew Slaughter and Colin Green. So I’m sure you recognise some of these names. We’ve got some people from St. John’s, Denise Magauran, Georgie Brooks, Nina Zomaya and lots of people from the Twinning Network, from Friends of Palestine. So hello everyone. Thank you so much for coming along. So I’m going to start with a question from Abe Hayim, ‘is there anywhere in the occupied West Bank where Palestinians can enjoy a walk or roam around without interference and assault from settlers and the Israeli Occupational Army?’

Raja:

Well, it’s getting smaller and smaller, the area where we can walk. And the problem is that even in the smaller areas where you can walk without expecting confrontation with the settlers, you can still see the settlements and seeing the settlements breaks away the beauty of the walk, because it brings to mind all the horrors of the settlements and what they’re doing and how they’re spoiling the landscape and making  life so much more difficult, and the possibility that they might come and attack, all of this makes it impossible to have  a proper Sarha, a walk where one let’s go and forgets everything.It puts a stop to that  possibility and ushers thoughts of the colonialism and the problems and so on. So although there are small areas where one can walk without confronting settlers, it’s getting smaller and smaller. These areas are shrinking more and more all the time. And it’s a terrible feeling of a  vanishing landscape that we are enduring now over four decades.

Diana:

Not really conducive to a meditative walk, is it? We’ve got a lovely question from Emily Swain. She’s just asked, ‘what is the most important thing your father and grandfather taught you?’

Raja:

Well, I think persistence, of keep on going on and on and trying and never giving up. I didn’t know my grandfather because he died before I was born, but my father, I knew well of course and worked with him over many years and he never gave up. Although, all the forces were united against him and belittled his idea of a Palestinian state and said it is impossible and called it a joke and called it all kinds of things and gave him a very hard time and took his passport and took his licence to practice law and made life very difficult for him. He never gave up. And I think that was the most important lesson I learned from my father, never to give up, and to work hard on what one believes in.

Diana:

That’s a lovely message. I’ve got a question in from the chair of the Balfour Project, Sir Vincent Fean, ‘the legacy of the Mandate in terms of the 1945 emergency regulations, does that include administrative detention?’

Raja:

Oh yes, absolutely. I mean, now Khalida Jarrar, for example, who has been in administrative detention over many years off and on, off and on, is in administrative detention by virtue of the Defense (Emergency) Regulations. And house demolitions are by virtue of the Defense (Emergency) Regulations. Although my father had argued very convincingly that they were not part of the law when the Israeli occupation began , which is contrary to what Israel claimed,  that it was part of the law of the land when they took over. And he argued against that, but they never accepted that argument. You see, Israel  says that what was the law of the land when they took over continues. And they say that the Defense (Emergency) Regulations were part of the law of the land, but in fact it wasn’t, but it was convenient for them to argue that it was. And so they do.

Diana:

We’ve had quite a lot of comments about people saying that they didn’t know very much about the situation with the currency and the monetary assets and how that worked during the Mandate period before and after. So lots of comments from people saying that they really appreciated that side of the talk.

Raja:

And let me say that I go into great greater detail in my book about this. And so if people are interested, they should read the book, when it is published  next year.

Diana:

Fantastic. We will all keep an eye out for that, I’m sure. From Farzana Saker, ‘do you think Jordan and the UN failed Palestinians?’

Raja:

Oh my God, Jordan not only failed. They took over the part of Palestine that was destined to be an Arab state alongside the Jewish state. That’s one part. The UN never fulfilled its commitment towards Palestine and thus failed and continues to fail. And they just declare. Declarations are useless and they never fulfilled their Security Council Resolutions, most important of which 242, for example, and that was never fulfilled. They never take effective action when it comes to Palestine. And so yes, they absolutely failed Palestine.

Diana:

Thank you for that. We’ve got a question from Martin Linton, who I’m sure you know well. Big supporter and a great man. Hello Martin. Hi, Sara, he wants to know, ‘are your books published in Hebrew? They should be. And if they are, have you had any signing sessions in Israeli bookshops or any interesting comments?’

Raja:

Well, it’s divided into two periods, in earlier periods, and that means before the 2009 Israelis were more interested in Palestinians. And of course now they’re not interested in Palestinians because they built the wall and they think the Palestinians are behind the wall, so they can forget about them. So for example, my very first book The Third Way, was published in Hebrew and I had lots of comments and lots of letters from Israelis commenting on all sorts of things and saying, “Oh, we didn’t know any of this. And thank you for informing us about it,” and so on. And then when I wrote Strangers in the House, When the Bulbul Stopped Singing and Palestinian Walks, they were all  published very well in Hebrew and I had the signing sessions in a book store in Tel Aviv and I got some responses and so on.

But since then, I haven’t had any other of my books published in Hebrew. Although as far as I’m concerned, I don’t mind getting published in Hebrew because I feel that we must speak to the Israelis and let them know about that situation because ultimately we are bound to live together.

Sometimes I get very good things, for example, one time I got a letter from a teacher in a school in Tel Aviv who said that she always assigns my books in Hebrew, and there are several of them, to her students and she gets the most interesting essays written. And I asked her to send me some of these essays and she did.

And she said, “It’s very important to speak to them before they go to the army, because the army brainwashes them, and after that, it’s impossible to do anything.”

So yes, but since 2009 and since the Palestinian wall, I haven’t had any books published. I haven’t had offers for books to be published in Hebrew and none have been. But then my books sell very well in Jerusalem and there are many Israeli who read English, of course, and they read them in English. So I feel that my books reach the Israeli public by and large, through their English version.

Diana:

Well, speaking of Jerusalem, we’ve got Michael Pritchard in the audience and he says, ‘do you ever get a chance to walk in Jerusalem? And if so, what is your experience of the city?’ He says, ‘I’m doing a PhD on walking in Jerusalem.’

Raja:

Well, there are some nice walks in Jerusalem on the Western side. They also have nice paths and  tracks for walking in and yet when you walk in these places, and these usually are parks, nature reserves, you always encounter remnants of destroyed villages. And this breaks your heart because here you are walking and you see remnants of villages and the sign says an ancient site or something like that. They never recognise that it was inhabited only 53 years ago.

As to the city itself, I think it has been greatly destroyed by the Israeli developments and Israeli arrogance because they have built settlements to the East of the city and the settlements to the East of the city are very well-populated. And so almost everyone in the Eastern settlements have to commute to the center of the city, to West Jerusalem. And so there are huge highways that have been built across and the city has become clogged, like the arteries of the heart, clogged with all these roads that have destroyed the beauty of the city.

And it’s all because of the colonial aspects that Israeli pursue and their demographic interest in making sure that there are more Israeli Jews on the Eastern side of Jerusalem than there are Palestinians. And so these have destroyed the beauty of the city that used to be very attractive but to my mind  has now stopped being attractive altogether.

Diana:

You mentioned these ancient sites that you come across in your walks. We’ve got a question from Martin Kemp. He’s a documentary filmmaker, not the one from Spandau Ballet. ‘You speak very eloquently in your books about the vanishing landscape of Palestine and of how, when you first walked there, every feature carried a name, also how maps produced by the Palestinian Exploration Fund in the 1870s, 1880s, began a process that continues to this day of seeing Palestine through a prism of its biblical past. The PEF’s work is celebrated in Israeli history, but those maps also recorded Palestinian names that have since been lost. Do you think that the maps could now help Palestinians bring that vanishing landscape back to life?’

Raja:

Since then, the Israelis have renamed most of these places with Israeli Hebrew names. And so we have to struggle against this process as well. But yes, some of the work that was done for colonial purposes by the British, at that time on the archeological sites and the  naming of  of plants and all kinds of other details at all levels is of  great value.

Diana:

We have a comment from Najia Said, ‘can we organise an international symposium on Jerusalem, fact, faith and future?’

I’m really pleased to say that we did that last year in October. So if you missed our Jerusalem conference, we have all the recordings, transcripts, audio and video recording on our website. So please do check that out. We are really proud of that. We produced a brochure with the summary of the excerpts from our main speakers. So if you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, it was an all day event, then please do check out the excerpt.

I’m also pleased to say that in May, we’ve got another conference coming up on the rule of law. This one will be a two-day event over two consecutive afternoons. Here is a link to our upcoming events.

I’ve got two questions for you, Raja, that are kind of on the same topic. So if you don’t mind, I’m going to read both of them to you. One is from Bishop Michael Doe, one of our Balfour Project executive committee members. ‘Do you have any up to date information on what’s happening to the families being faced with eviction and forced transfer in East Jerusalem?’

And then the follow-on question is from Jane de Rennes. ‘Does it help if we support financially the rebuilding of demolished houses in Palestine when the same houses remain target for disruption, time and time again? What is the best thing we can do?’

Raja:

Well, I don’t have updated information except to say that some of the efforts by the EU now to try to pressure Israel to stop these might  be bearing some fruit because Israel is susceptible to pressure when it is applied  in a serious way. And so far, especially under Trump’s America, they felt they had a free hand and everything increased and became worse and worse. So it’s still going on at a very fast pace, but pressure can help.

As to house demolitions. Yes, I think giving money to rebuild is an act of solidarity that shows Israel that there is determination to stay put and not to give into this policy. But I think the most important thing is to fight the policy itself because it’s an illegal policy and it should be stopped. And at one point the high court in Israel said it should be stopped, but then they reneged on this. And I think it’s most severe and unfair collective punishment that is wrong and unjust at all levels.

Diana:

I’m coming thick and fast with the questions because we’ve had so many. We’ve got one from Carol Morton. ‘Are you optimistic that any real resolution and/or sanctions will come from the investigation into war crimes by the ICC?’

Raja:

I am, because I think the mere fact that the ICC is beginning to move on this question is in itself very important. And the significance of this can be seen by the fact that Israel is so worried about this and has started lobbying and preparing and taking action and pressuring the ICC and its staff and putting all its diplomatic pressure to stop the process. The point is that if the Israelis begin to feel that they will be accountable for their actions, then they will think twice. So far, they have killed in cold blood, done atrocious things without any fear or thought that they would ever be held accountable, and this can stop with the ICC. Even the threat of that is in itself important and can be productive.

Diana:

And we will be touching on this topic quite a bit in our conference on the 25th-26th of May. So please do come along to that. We’ve got some amazing speakers lined up and more information to follow. I’ve got one from Ahmed Ullah Farrahat, ‘to build a roadmap for liberation there are important points which need consensus between the Palestinian factions. What points do you see are possible now and what points need pressure over time to achieve?’

Raja:

Well, it’s very unfortunate that there are so many divisions between the Palestinian factions, but I think the fact that we have a common enemy keeps us together. However, there are divisions and the process now of the elections is hopeful to bring people together.

The problem is that all the factions now have not united on a policy of how to stop the occupation and how to move forward in the future. And without a unified policy there cannot be movement and there cannot be hope. And I hope that they would find a way, maybe through the elections, to formulate a common strategy and pursue it. And then there will be much more strength and possibilities for the future. But so far, it is very damning and very destructive that there are so many factions that they cannot get together and fight together, the common enemy that we all have.

Diana:

Thank you for that very clear answer. I like this comment from Colin Oxenforth, ‘I’m not often shocked, but the details about all the financial chicanery are completely new to me. It’s an example of cynicism and duplicity that should be more widely known.’

And you mentioned that you were going to be talking about it in more detail in your book. So do you have any more information, the name, a possible release date?

Raja:

Well, the book has just been written and I’m in the final stages of finalising it. And the contract is about to be signed with Profile Books. So I think they will want to publish next year because it’s too late for this year. And there is no name yet, unfortunately, but it will be published by Profile Books and that is all I can say at this point.

It will have a whole section on the blocked accounts case and on other questions relating to the right of return of the refugees and the work that was done on that. It’s based on my father’s papers and I must confess that for the longest time I had hesitated and been reluctant to look into these papers because I did not want to get entangled in my father’s affairs and life and problems and issues.

And I put them all in the cabinet in my office. And finally I opened the cabinet and found a treasure of huge, amazing documents about all kinds of things, the Lausanne  Conference  of  1949 and the efforts that the refugees had done to return to Palestine, which are tremendous and which I’ve not known at all about. I write about all these things, and I think it would be a very great revelation to many people who’ll read about things that they cannot find anywhere else and have unfortunately not been written about, and are unknown by the Palestinians themselves.

Diana:

Well, we look forward to that and we will keep everyone posted about when the book comes out, because it sounds like we’ve got a lot of interest here. I’ve got a comment from Claire Walford. ‘Diana, please invite Phillippe Sands to your conference to give a clear account of the ICC investigation and international law.’

I am really pleased to say that he’s already confirmed as one of our speakers, and we’ve also got Jack Straw. We’ve got a few other people, Michaels Sfrad, Professor Michael Lynk and we’ve got quite a few more people in the mix. So I’m really going to be pleased to say that we have already secured him. So hopefully you can all join us for that.

And we are sort of wrapping up now, but Raja, the final question I have for you from Magan Singodia, another executive committee member of the Balfour Project, who always comes up with insightful questions. Bearing in mind that the Balfour Project is very much about the historic responsibility of Britain in Israel and Palestine. He asks, ‘what are your thoughts on what Britain should do now?’

I’m extending the question, What should we as British residents, citizens, et cetera, be petitioning our MPs for?

Raja:

Well, I think that the recognition of Palestine as a state is the foremost thing to be lobbying for. I think that is extremely important and would make a huge difference and would pass a real message and push forward the peace in the region very strongly. But I also think that, as I said in my talk, the British government have never been held accountable for their failures. For example, until May 14 1948, they were responsible for law and order in the cities that were under their control. And some of these cities were part of the Arab state, according to the ‘47 partition scheme. But they did not help the people stay. In fact, they encouraged sometimes people to leave and they have never been held accountable for this criminal negligence, which is contrary to law and I think it’d be a good case to pursue, which has important possibility of succeeding for at least an apology for all these people who lost their properties and were forced by Israel to leave under terror by the Jewish organisations, Irgun and others. So sometimes specific things like that are important, but then of course the most important is the recognition  of Palestine as a state.

Diana:

Well, thank you so much for that, Raja. I just want to take this moment to thank you all for attending. All of those that came along, like I said, we sort of had about 330 at the max. So really pleased that you’re all coming along regularly and appreciating these as much as we were enjoying hosting them. And Raja, I want to thank you on behalf of everyone who came along as well as the Balfour Project for speaking with us. And we really appreciate it. It’s been a pleasure. Well thank you all. And we’ll see you at the next one.

Raja:

Thanks.

Raja Shehadeh is a lawyer and writer and the founder of the pioneering Palestinian human rights organisation Al Haq. Shehadeh is the author of several acclaimed books published by Profile Books including the Orwell Prize-winning Palestinian Walks, as well as Strangers in the House; Occupation Diaries; Language of War, Language of Peace; A Rift in time; Where the Line is Drawn and his most recent book Going Home A Walk Through Fifty Years of Occupation. He lives in Ramallah Palestine.

Raja’s books can be found at www.waterstones.com or www.bookshop.org

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