Palestine 100 Initiative (P100I) Opening and Book Launch, 18:30-21:30, 16th December 2016 at the Friends Meeting House, Euston Road, London NW1 3BJ

Report Author: Julia Ana Katarina

​The launch of Palestine 100 Initiative took place on 16th December 2016 at the Friends House, Euston Road, London, and was the first event in the planned year of activities commemorating the centenary of the Balfour Declaration (1917). The launch of the Palestine 100 Initiative also appropriately introduced a launch of the book, ‘Testimonies on the First Century of Palestine’ – which was analogous to the purpose and vision of the Initiative ¾ by Palestinian journalist, Elias Nasrallah, published in July 2016 by Dar Al Farabi, Beirut.

As well as being autobiographical, this historical work includes important moments in the biographies of key figures as their stories intertwine with the biography of an entire country and its people, the majority of whom live outside the country’s borders, as refugees or in exile for up to three generations. This work, in Arabic, is therefore an impressive achievement and an important contribution to Palestinian literature and cultural heritage.

This was the first in a year of exciting events celebrating the history, culture and future of Palestine, as well as exploring different aspects of its current political situation and the international political thinking and maneuvers which have led to creating it. A very distinguished audience of about 200 people attended, from a multitude of backgrounds, speaking a mixture of Arabic and English, as many people do in urban areas and settings of Palestine, which was reflected in the programme, with a balance of Arabic and English content.

Palestinian identity, far from being nationalistic, has developed into a transnational movement, due to the scattered Palestinian diaspora, as well as the many members of the international community who identify and stand in solidarity with it on moral and ethical grounds.

Palestinian issues are still among the most discussed in political and academic arenas, in spite of an increasing number of other ‘hot topics’ taking over media attention and threatening to obscure the ever-worsening situation: the diminishing 1967 ‘Occupied Territories’; isolated the Palestinian communities in the first part of Palestine occupied in 1948, which is referred to as ‘Israel proper’, as well as the many permanent refugee camps in neighbouring countries.
The Palestine policy of many Western governments forms a significant and distinct part of their more general foreign policy, although, despite being supposedly democratic countries, these do not always reflect the views held by the majority of their population.

The panel of speakers came from a wide variety of professional backgrounds, including academia, diplomacy, journalism, law, mathematics, medicine, music, politics and science. Half of the speakers were Palestinian and half were from other backgrounds but with a strong connection to Palestine and an interest in Palestinian affairs.

The evening was presented by Moutassim Elharith Eldawi, a Sudanese British TV presenter and began with a rendition of the old Palestinian national anthem, ‘My Homeland’ by the poet Ibrahim Touqan (1905-1941) from Nablus, Palestine, given by English German mezzo-soprano, Julia Katarina, accompanying herself, and the members of the audience who sang along, on oud.

​Palestinian-British academic Dr Makram Khoury-Machool, the founder of Palestine 100 Initiative, recited the concept and core mission of the initiative, with dignity and energised, resolute strength of purpose, declaring that the core mission of the Palestine 100 Initiative (P100I) was to keep the candle of hope and the Palestinian flame of activism alive and proliferating. While seeking freedom and independence, it is intended to preserve the broader Palestinian cultural heritage both oral and physical, and to promote it to the wider public, including future generations. Moreover, it aims to act as an umbrella for a vast network of groups that wish to connect and collaborate in different spaces, regions and across various languages. 

The P100I is an independent, non-partisan, non-ethnic, non-religious and non-sectarian initiative seeking to serve the general rights of Palestinians and to unite and involve every human being who sincerely has the best interests of Palestinians at heart and in mind. These aims reflect the concept and vision of its founder Dr Makram Khoury-Machool to create a selfless, ego-less initiative focusing on delivering short-medium-long term programmes. 

Partnership and collaboration are at the heart of the ‘P100I’. It wishes to receive, discuss and produce ideas for plans where the person who suggests them, is expected to lead or take a leading part in realising them. This is to ensure that partners are involved in a proactive collective. It tackles various disciplines and sectors, including arts, theatre, film, politics, health, archaeology and law. Through its cooperative activities, P100I aims at educating different segments or new generations of the public who desire to learn about Palestine; to keep those already aware, interested and well-informed of continued developments and through the latter; improving the welfare of Palestinians, and empower them. 
Launching its first event in London in mid-December 2016, the P100I aims to encourage, facilitate and support the production of ideas into fully-fledged programmes. In the first instance, the initiative will last for one year (1 January–31 December 2017). However, it may continue in various forms after an assessment of the different outputs. We urge you to support and join us. The P100I is where you can make your idea for supporting Palestine come true in various meaningful, innovative, creative and peaceful shapes. We expect you to be with us – so that we can be together, for Palestine, and in principle, set an example for all oppressed peoples across the globe, to exemplify power in unity and the fundamental right to exist.
He included an anecdote of a recent enquiry on whether or not the event was still due to take place and whether there were likely to be more than 12 people present, implying that Palestine is off the agenda and no one is interested in discussing it any longer. The presence of such a diverse and distinguished crowd is adequate testimony to the contrary. The presenter invited Baroness Dr Jennifer Tonge to give her address.

Baroness Dr Jennifer Tonge cited the Balfour Declaration as one of the biggest mistakes in British history – not due to its authorising the establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people, but to the fact that it failed to honour the part of the declaration that promised to protect the people already residing in the country. Baroness Dr Tonge then went on to express her shame and to apologise, not on behalf of the British government, stating that she hasn’t the authority as she no longer belongs to a political party in this country, and indeed finds it easier that way, but on behalf of herself and her family and hundreds, thousands, if not millions of other British citizens who are sorry that this has happened to the Palestinian people. This attracted much admiration and applause from the attentive audience.

As the former Liberal Democrat MP for Richmond Park (1997-2005) and subsequent Independent in the House of Lords, Baroness Dr Tonge has been very outspoken in support of the Palestinian cause. In the past five weeks she had attended four different Palestine related events, three of which were to do with the Balfour Declaration centenary and the fourth a book reading in the House of Lords that week, regarding a book by historian and violinist Tom Suarez entitled ‘State of Terror’, on how the State of Israel came to be created in 1947, outlining events from the 19th century onward. Baroness Dr Tonge stated that it is a horrific story, many aspects of which are no longer discussed or known about. It is based entirely on newly released documents in the National Archive in Kew and is an authoritative document telling exactly what happened. She urged everyone to read it and demand their libraries acquire a copy.

Baroness Dr Jenny Tonge then urged unity of purpose, collaboration and cooperation, citing competition between different Palestine groups as unconstructive, and stressed the importance of organising and initiating as many events from as many quarters as possible and emphasised how delighted she was at the diversity of events internationally. Finally she stated that in the past decade and a half – briefly asking H.E Afif Safieh how long she’s been heavily involved with Palestine related issues – this was the first time she has ever heard the Palestinian national anthem being sung. Baroness Dr Tonge instructed the audience that one should always stand and face the front while singing one’s national anthem and pleaded with those present that they sing it thus, proudly and as loudly as they can at every event related to Palestine. The Baroness closed by saying it makes her proud to be associated with the Palestinian cause and that she knows that one day Palestine will be free.

​Mr Sami Ramadani was then introduced and said how honoured he felt to be present among so many Palestinian friends, many of whom he hadn’t seen for years. He thanked The Baroness for her comments on the anthem and said he remembered learning the anthem from his student days, in the Palestinian Students’ Union at the Iraqi Student Society, mentioning that he was born in Baghdad. He pointed out the ex-president of that very Palestinian Students’ Union in the audience, saying they used to sing it regularly and praised the amazing lyrics of the anthem, which express a yearning for liberty and independence and speak strongly against slavery. He seconded The Baroness’s pleas, saying it should be revived and sung at every occasion.
He went on to say the Balfour Declaration is still with us, even though it is 100 years old, and that Netanyahu said he was extremely angry that it has not been recognised by the Palestinian people – more than merely recognising Israel, but also acknowledging it as a Jewish state, thus legitimising its institutional practices of ethnic cleansing and the expulsion of the Palestinian people from their homeland. This is the Zionist dialogue this year in the international community. It represents a political battle and thus this initiative is very critical venture within the context. Israel is a unique state in that it officially and constitutionally practises ethnic cleansing and adopts a racist practice, deliberately trying to maintain a 70-30% demographic division. As well as being an apartheid state it is also a colonising state which, unlike South Africa, physically expels the indigenous population from its lands to replace it with a foreign one.

It has not only destroyed Palestine and made millions a Palestinians homeless, it is also the main source of wars and tensions in the Middle East and the main US political and military base in the region. Nothing that happens in Iraq, Syria or Egypt is divorced from Israeli politics. An Israeli minister said he would prefer IS on the Israeli border to Iranian influence in Syria. Israel’s military intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Hersi Halevi said ‘ISIS must not be defeated’. Mossad’s former chief Efraim Halevi admitted on TV that Israel helps AlQaeda by taking injured fighters to field hospitals in the Golan Heights and airlifting them to Israeli Hospitals in more serious cases. Netanyahu has even visited them. Caring for Human Rights is western propaganda. This is what Israel is doing in the region, destroying Iraq, Libya and Syria in the heart of the Arab world. Syria was already an occupied territory and Israeli tanks remain in the Golan Heights only an hour from Damascus. Destruction of cohesive Historic Syrian society is the actual aim, regime change is a smoke screen.

Mr Ramadani concluded by stating that Israel’s aims and ambitions do not stop at destroying Palestine and that we must proudly support the Palestinian cause, despite any intimidation here in Britain aimed at silencing anyone who dares to criticise Israel. Criticising Israel is a fundamental political principal, given that Israel is an apartheid state and a colonising state, and it is therefore the duty of any human being who cares for the independence and freedom of people to decide their own future.  The presenter, Mr Moutassim Elharith Eldawi, then thanked Mr Sami Ramadani for the digression for which he had apologised and introduced Mr Jeremy Teare.

Mr Jeremy Teare offered his reflections on Palestinian problems throughout his lifetime, which have usually enraged him. He described his education in science as a pursuit of truth, but stated that he never wanted to work in science and instead became a solicitor partner representing everyone from professors to bricklayers to obtain justice for them in situations deemed by the partners to be unfair. In an aside comment directed particularly at the senior lawyers present, he described how the search for justice, once state funded, has now been undermined by the government’s ‘triumphant trashing’ of legal aid and further by the appointment of the likes of Chris Grayling and Elisabeth Truss as Secretary of State for Justice, with no legal background whatsoever. He stated that they are totally inept and unworthy of their positions, which represents a massive cultural blow to the UK’s concept of justice.

At the age of 74 Mr Jeremy Teare is just about able to recollect radio news reports of the bombing of the King David Hotel. He also cited film and literary works on Exodus honed to reflect the Jewish push to invade Palestine. The English view was to applaud the Jews who had escaped the Holocaust and were lucky enough to be able to determine their fate. He seconded The Baroness’s statement that the Balfour Declaration was not followed in all aspects. Four people were involved in drafting the document, which was then sent by the Foreign Secretary, Lord Balfour, to Lord Rothschild, the leader of the Zionist movement in England. Later in his memoire, David Lloyd-George, the prime minister at the time, further elucidated his position, that the Declaration represented the convinced policy of all political parties in the country and also in America. The launching of it in 1917 was for propagandistic reasons.

Zionism was exceptionally strong in Russia and America, it was believed also that the declaration would have a potent influence upon Jewry outside Russia and secure for the Allies, the aid of Jewish financial interests. In America their aid would have special value when the allies had almost exhausted the gold and marketable securities available for American purchases. Such were the chief considerations which compelled the British government to make a contract with Jewry. Money. Just after the start of the First World War the British government had to spend £3 million per day on munitions. Mr Teare asked the audience to imagine what that would be worth today, and emphasised that it was just a daily ration of munitions. It is therefore unsurprising, he noted, that we were running out of money.

As Baroness Tonge has said it is a source of shame to the British government that, having the mandate of Palestine, they failed to protect the Palestinian people from the aggressive armed invasion of the Jews and it has been suggested in one film that they were ordered not to, which, if true is a dreadful indictment of our government’s policy. However, Mr Teare said, he did not think that either Balfour or Lloyd-George could have envisaged the mass immigration of armed Jewish settlers after the Second World War, who were determined to reclaim the Promised Land – that was 30 years after the declaration. They could not have had any idea that would happen!

The next episodes were the massacres between 16-18 September 1982 in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, engineered by Ariel Sharon with the connivance of the Lebanese Phalange. At that time an Orthodox Jewish Solicitor he was working with hung his head in shame, when asked about the subject, repeating ‘It is very bad’, clearly recognising that the Jews in Israel had been completely out of order. It is noteworthy that he did not say ‘we should not have done it’, although he clearly felt some personal responsibility. Ariel Sharon was demoted from his position as defence minister after his role in the affair, following a considerable cabinet dispute, but was immediately made a minister without portfolio and subsequently bounced back as Prime Minister. That did not seem like justice. Mr Teare also mentioned the assassinations of Tom Handel, James Miller and Rachel Corrie, all innocent victims of the Israeli Occupation Forces, as other examples of Israeli institutional injustice.
Mr Mohammad Barakeh gave his address in Arabic and without amplification, which he deemed unnecessary as he built it up to a climax. Master of ceremonies, Moutassim Elharith Eldawi translated Mr Barakeh, a Palestinian politician in the Palestinian territory occupied in 1948 and former leader of the DFPE (Democratic Front for Peace and Equality), as saying in all fairness and transparency that he is not impartial, nor does he claim to be, he is not critical and it is already too late to be and he is also not a spectator, neither has he the strength to be.

Focusing on the book by Me Elias Nasrallah, he describes it as a journey through time, utilising writing and research techniques of first hand inspection, exploration of events and revealing unknown facts so that the outlook is a lot clearer. However, the writer also employs other techniques, to highlight points that have not been cleared in history books or correct widely circulated misinformation, mistakes or errors. Elias Nasrallah is a writer and journalist with vast experience and an encyclopedic knowledge of his subject matter and therefore the reader is treated to a wealth of information as the writer dwells on his rich recollection of events, crisscrossing the countryside to meet eyewitnesses in order to create a full and vivid picture, worthy of the reader’s time.
Following this exhaustive legwork, the writer delves deeply into references and historical documents to compliment the structure. This book is not just a history book, it is not only an autobiography, it is also not a legal or human witness account and it is definitely not an educational resource, neither is it an attempt to encourage further research, nor is it merely an endeavour to unmask past events long ago forgotten. This book is all of these things together and all that stems from them, in a land mistakenly referred to as Palestine 48, as the Palestinians have not migrated from their country.  

I have marveled at how Elias Nasrallah transformed miniature events into a storm that blows away dust from a story yet to be written and reshapes them into ploughs that strike at the very foundation of the Zionists’ doctored and distorted versions. The writer’s portrayal of events reshapes them into artists’ brushes that magnificently redraw the playgrounds of his childhood, with all their innocence and poverty. It further roles them into papyrus papers on which a whole Palestinian century is engraved for future generations.

We realise that this is not only a Zionist project but in fact a partnership between the so-called Israel and the blindly American led Arabs. The writer assigns, unsurprisingly, a great emphasis on the Balfour Declaration which comprised the initial step for the Nakba. He believes that the Nakba was a product of sordid collaboration between Zionism, British imperialism, later international imperialism and reactionary Arabian forces.  He then commented on the Balfour declaration itself, that where it states ‘National Homeland for the Jewish people’ it is clear that Britain was condoning the very first principle of Zionism and was consequently an accomplice in the plight of the Palestinian Nation. Secondly, when it mentions ‘non-Jewish communities’ it is actually rejecting the very idea that a Palestinian nation exists. One could go so far as to say that this constitutes a stark anti-Semitic statement, given that the Palestinians are themselves a Semitic people.

The next remark is on civil and religious rights and the fact that the indigenous population are denied these rights on their own land, while false rights are given to Jewish communities scattered here and there. The Balfour Declaration, all 68 words of it, is unfounded, illegal and most of all unethical. Just a few days ago, precisely on the 11th of this month, UK Prime Minister Theresa May said that the Balfour Declaration was one of the most important letters in history.  This is partly right as it is one of the most atrocious and unjust in history, the promise of the one who does not own to the one who does not deserve. May went on to say that Israel is a thriving democracy and a beacon of tolerance. It might therefore be appropriate to extend an invitation to her to visit an Arabian village in so-called Israel, which is about to be demolished to make way for the building of yet another illegal kibbutz or settlement. Perhaps she should also visit a mosque where the call to prayer has been forbidden by the Zionist authorities, or a household in which the husband or wife is absent due to the lack of family reunification laws. In the same statement, May also attacked the BDS movement and should be reminded that boycott is a legal and non-violent means of expressing an opinion.

Under the leadership of Netanyahu, Israel works tirelessly to abort the two state solution and strives to affirm the Israeli State on the whole area of historic Palestine through advocating the Jewishness of the state as a prerequisite condition for continuing the negotiations. This aims to overlook and send into oblivion the issues of occupation and the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and attempts, in a crafty manner, to depict the whole conflict as a religious one. In this endeavour, Israel employs and exploits the augmenting Islamophobia in the West, in addition to the increasing influx of Islamists, most of whom are criminal and outlandish.

As we launch together the Palestine 100 Initiative a century since the Balfour Declaration, by celebrating the launch of our friend Elias Nasrallah’s book, there is a need to state clearly that the plight and misery of the Palestinian people has been ongoing for decades now, however the fate of the Israeli occupation will be no different to the fate of other occupations throughout history. Her Majesty’s Government should look back at the Balfour Declaration with a sense of shame and guilt and seek forgiveness from the Palestinian people and to formally and officially recognise the State of Palestine. These steps will not heal the wounds and will not rectify everything, however they do make a good starting point towards justice.
His Excellency Ambassador Afif Safieh gave a lively, witty and eloquent address, starting by saying that we owe a debt of gratitude to Dr Makram Khoury-Machool for taking the initiative of commemorating the centenary in this fashion, and that he believes that we should not resign ourselves to being an object of history but should become a subject of our own history. He said he does not believe in historical inevitability, that the oppressed people will rise as victorious, but that the oppressed are buried in time and have vanished into historical oblivion. In the Middle East today there is either one people too many or a state missing, yet to be created and the international community seems to have decided upon the latter, although he believes history is as yet undecided and that one of our tasks is to make sure that history makes the right choice. His Excellency described a depressing reality and gave a critique of the Palestinian condition, that Arabs are seen as a negligible quantity in that there is not much interest in alliance and little risk in enmity with them.

The Palestinians, his Excellency clarified, are a victim of history and are naturally very pessimistic, to a competitive degree, as one’s level of pessimism is almost seen as indicative of one’s patriotism. This is a politically castrating attitude, he noted, and emphasised that only credible optimists would and could make history.

(His Excellency then recounted an anecdote from when he was ambassador in London, where he met an unusually humorous Algerian ambassador who told a joke explaining Arab decadence, concluding that they need to do some soul searching as to why they, as a collective in the modern world, are the dispossessed, displaced, misfits and thus generally unhappy).

He went on to reflect on the fact that Arabs in the diaspora do not seem to have a political voice or established institutions with any weight in the political arena and questioned why that is. He stated that any political party would be only too happy to work with such a group of intelligent and educated people as those present among their membership.

He pointed out several upstanding members of the Jerusalem community in the audience who present a good example of successful Palestinians, proving that it is possible for the community to be achievers and make a difference in the world. His Excellency also further pointed to a debate in this country in which people say that Britain has lost an empire and is still looking for a role, and whether Britain is punching above its weight, below its weight, whether it is punching at all or if it is even still in the ring after Brexit. His Excellency Mr Safieh then defused these queries with a joke: Why did Britain once have an empire upon which the sun never set? Because God didn’t trust them in the dark! He concluded that if ever there were anyone who should not have trusted them in the dark or indeed in daylight, it would be the Palestinians.

His Excellency outlined an ongoing debate about the pro-Israeli lobby definition of antisemitism, which seems to have been widely adopted. This renewed pro-Zionist definitions holds that any criticism of Israeli policy or of Zionism is classed as antisemitism. He strongly rejected that idea and said it is an attack on freedom of speech and that he, as a Roman Catholic, is against the Spanish Inquisition, and that the Israeli Inquisition which is being inflicted upon the Palestinians is equally unacceptable. His Excellency passionately encouraged all present to stand against antisemitism – indeed against discrimination of any kind – as Universalists. It is in the enlightened collective national interest of Palestinians to be against it, as it was antisemitism and the rise of Hitler which pushed the Jewish communities to embrace Zionism, which until then had been a minority phenomenon. Therefore Palestinians are the indirect victims of Hitler, His Excellency asserted.

He went on to stress that an intellectual and political battle was taking place and that Elias’ book came at the right time to provide intellectual ammunition in that battle. For example, Michael Gove – what His Excellency would describe as another third rate British politician trying to get some media attention by making pro-Israeli statements – said that Israel was a shining example of democracy and that the Palestinians detest Israel, not for what it does but for what it is. As a democrat, in the classical sense, Ambassador Safieh commented that Israel is indeed democratic for its Jewish component. However, rather than being an endearing factor, it is an aggravating factor. It means that every four years the Israeli voter, soldier, citizen is asked to express its opinion and the continued oppression of the Palestinians has been continually supported by a comfortable majority of Israeli society. A New York Rabi in the 60s, during the Vietnam War, said that in a democracy if a few are guilty all are responsible. By the same logic, if Netanyahu is guilty, then the majority of Israeli society is responsible for the continued oppression of the Palestinian people.

His Excellency Afif Safieh then brought up the subject of denial, stating that he is against denials and that he is horrified when someone pretends that the Holocaust did not occur or questions its scale, but extended his point by claiming that the Palestinians have suffered at least three historical denials in the past century alone. Their very physical existence was denied – “a land with no people for a people with no land” – and again, he said, he heard the old theory of John Peters being regurgitated by one of this country’s leading Zionists recently, that there were no Palestinian people and that the Arabs were attracted by the wealth introduced by Jewish immigration. The second denial was their basic rights and the third was the denial of their suffering, often being told that, compared with the sufferings of others, their suffering is trivial and banal.

Ambassador Safieh stated that he is himself against comparative martyrology and that he does not like to compare Palestinian suffering with that of the Holocaust for example, for the obvious reason that each tragedy stands on its own. He elaborated that if he were a Jew or a gypsy, the Holocaust would be the worst atrocity in history; had he been a Native American, it would have been the arrival of the white European settlers, which resulted in their almost total extermination; if he were a Black African, it would be Apartheid South Africa of last century or the slave trade of previous centuries; if he had been an Armenian, then the genocide in Turkey would be, for him, the worst massacre in history, and thus as a Palestinian it is undeniably the Nakbah. He urged that all of humanity should consider all of the above as unacceptable, rather than looking at them in degrees of atrociousness, saying he knows of no way of measuring pain and quantifying suffering and that one should be against injustice regardless of who is the victim or the perpetrator.

He then presented the idea that the oppression of the Palestinians is in fact antisemitism, as Palestinians are themselves Semitic people, rather than the defensive Zionist theory of modern antisemitism manifesting in criticism of the Israeli state. He brought up the concept of the global tribe, citing the Jewish people as the global tribe par excellence, also the Irish, the Scots, the Armenians and now, as the Jews of the Jews, the Palestinians, 50% of whom are scattered around the world. That, Ambassador Safieh eloquently explains, is a symptom of the Palestinian tragedy as well as a potential source of their empowerment, if they played their cards correctly. He gave a few examples of high profile Palestinian politicians in Central America, to demonstrate how global this Palestinian tribe has become and how deeply entrenched these very politicians are in others countries and cultures across all continents.

Although His Excellency, Ambassador Afif Safieh mentioned that a lot of time was wasted on internal disputes and infighting, he nevertheless asserted that if Palestinians unify and develop a philosophy on what is expected from their vast diaspora, they can make and maintain a real difference and change the course of history. Jewish excellence and success, His Excellency indicated, has always intrigued politicians, historians and philosophers, some of whom theorised it was due to sharing a common religion which allowed the necessary cohesion and was thus the source of their success, but others pointed out that half of them did not believe in God. Others suggested it was because they are an ethnic group but that argument did not stand up as they are in fact multi-ethnic and many Palestinians have more Hebrew blood than the Ashkenazy Jews. The French philosopher, playwright and existentialist Jean-Paul Satre, came up with a theory of his own, His Excellency disclosed, that it was in fact antisemitism and persecution which maintains cohesion and was the driving force behind their collective success.

In that case the Palestinians, His Excellency pointed out, were behaving as if they are insufficiently persecuted and can therefore afford all these petty attitudes, bickering and small problems, preventing the proper cohesion needed to succeed. He suggested a soul-searching exercise must be administered in order to turn that page in their collective history. Finally he quoted Brecht from his play, Galileo, in which the protagonist, retracting his controversial, progressive theories, was told by a friend ‘Unhappy are those without heroes’, to which Galileo replied ‘No, unhappy are those who still have a need for heroes’. He concluded that although we may still have a need for heroes, it is time to revisit and redefine the concept of heroism, implying perhaps that the Palestinians and other atrocity survivors are potentially the heroes of the day.

Author Elias Nasrallah thanked all the honourable speakers and gave special thanks to Dr Makram Khoury-Machool for his tireless work and commitment in organising the launch of his book, ‘Testimonies on the First Century of Palestine’ and then set out the three main aims of his autobiographical historical work. These aims were firstly to document the story of the Palestinians that returned to and remained in Palestine after the Nakbah of 1948. Secondly, to tell the stories of certain key individuals and events relevant to the modern history of Palestine, including the murder of Yousif Nasri Nasir in Jerusalem, whose parting act was to appoint Nasrallah Editor of Israeli Affairs for AlFajr newspaper; as well as the murder of iconic cartoonist Naji El Ali while on his way to the author’s home in London. The third aim was to confront and challenge all attempts to suppress and hide the crimes of theft and aggression against the Palestinians by Israel and the Israelis and document the social, political and psychological effects of dispossession and tragedy originating from the Balfour Declaration and ensuing therefrom for almost 100 years.

The 700 page text took nearly six years to write and describes many events in Palestinian history which were experience by the author and his family first hand, as well as affecting the Palestinian population as a whole, both inside and outside the country. The main focus of the book is the 160,000 people, and their descendants, now reaching 1.6 million, who stayed on their land, or returned to it after the Nakbah of 1948, at considerable personal risk in the face of Israel’s internationally resourced army. These courageous and steadfast people continue to pose an existential challenge to the so called ‘Jewish State’ and thwart its ambitions of homogeneity and have many committed supporters of their just cause worldwide, including those here present, most notably the honourable Baroness Dr Jenny Tonge.

As a nine month old baby, Nasrallah was one of the 160,000 Palestinians – a significant minority which has now grown to around 1.6 million, despite adverse conditions – who miraculously managed to return to their villages and homes in 1948, after having fled to Lebanon for a few months during the worst of the Nakbah. Mr Nasrallah asserts, however that it is continuing to play out in the ever worsening situation for Palestinians inside Israel, in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the majority of the population living in the diaspora, dispossessed and disallowed from returning home. 680 villages have been destroyed and overbuilt by settlements housing Jewish immigrants.

An unnerving lack of guilt or remorse seems to enable the Israelis, Nasrallah asserts, to continue to devise new ways of oppressing the Palestinians, supressing their narrative and attempting to destroy their culture, history, national identity and any ambitions of statehood. As a Palestinian from inside Israel, speaking Hebrew, living, studying and working with Israeli Jews throughout his life, it is very clear to Elias Nasrallah that most Israelis actually feel proud of what they have done to the Palestinians. He then quoted retired Brigadier General Yitzhak Pundak (commander of the 53rd Battlion of Giva’ati Brigade in the war of 1948), who said in an Israeli Defence Force Radio interview on 13th June 2013 ‘My conscience is at ease with that, because if we hadn’t done so, then there would be no state by now. There would be a million more Arabs’. He was referring especially to the destruction of Palestinian towns and villages.

Israeli ‘New historian’ Benny Morris, whose well received books are published by Cambridge University Press and other prestigious academic institutions, laments Israeli failure to ethnically cleanse Palestine ‘fully’ in 1948, as had happened to the Native Americans whom he called ‘Red Indians’. In an interview with Israeli newspaper, Haaretz on 16th April 2004, Morris said, “Even the great American democracy could not have been created without the annihilation of the Indians”, a fate he wished had befallen the Palestinians. He spoke openly about the possibility of a further ‘transfer’, uprooting the Palestinians who remained in Israel after 1948, now comprising around 20% of Israel’s population. Morris spoke of expelling them to neighbouring Arab countries in future, saying “The Israeli Arabs are a time bomb. Their slide into complete Palestinisation has made them an emissary of the enemy that is among us. They are a potential fifth column. In both demographic and security terms they are liable to undermine the state. So that if Israel again finds itself in a situation of existential threat, as in 1948, it may be forced to act as it did then”. Then he added, “If the threat to Israel is existential, expulsion will be justified.”

To some Israeli people, Syrian Refugees queuing to escape the furnace of war represents an immediate hope that Israel may also someday expel those Palestinians who managed to return to or remain in their homeland. It also undoubtedly emboldens other colonial expansionist fantasies embodied by the idea of Greater Israel, which is still alive and kicking and not just on the Israeli right.  Protagonists of any transfer, who call for continued ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians are currently ruling in Israel. They simply wait for the right moment to carry out a further onslaught not only against the Palestinians in the territories occupied by Israel in 1948, but also in the West Bank and Gaza District. Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu insists that Israel is a Jewish state and the American Congress, former President Barak Obama and President Elect Donald Trump agreed to this, ignoring the United Nations Security Council decisions regarding the Palestinians right of return to their homeland.
Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman recently assured fellow Israelis that his next war on Gaza was going to be the last. The meaning is clear but has two possible interpretations. Firstly that Israel would pave over Gaza in its entirety with all its contents and 1.6 million inhabitants, quite likely without the strong objection of the international community; or secondly that the Israelis would empty the District of Gaza, expelling the Palestinians by sea, to some other ghettoised canton or possibly another Arab state. In light of this statement, increased efforts are necessary to enlighten new generations of Palestinians and world public opinion about the true danger of Israeli threat to the existence of Palestine and the future of the Palestinian people, posed by its extremist rulers and ministers. For Palestinians to confront any transfer attempt or new expulsion, new generations must be informed about their history.

A complete account of what happened to the Palestinian people is as yet unwritten even though 100 years have elapsed since the Balfour Declaration and almost 70 since the Palestinian Nakbah. David Hurst’s imperious ‘The Gun and The Olive Branch’, comes closest to telling the full story in Arabic, English or Hebrew. But alarmingly, the story of the Palestinians who stayed in their homeland has been all but glossed over by most historians, political commentators and other interested witnesses. This book is a primary attempt to document some of the events and experiences of Palestinians inside historic Palestine, from the last hundred years, who for the moment hold Israeli citizenship. Hopefully this book will one day be translated and published in English and other languages.

After these numerous pertinent observations and eloquent arguments on the chaotic fallout resulting from the partial implementation of the Balfour Declaration, a letter dated 2nd November 1917, excerpts of Mr Elias Nasrallah’s book, ‘Testimonies on the First Century of Palestine’, which we were gathered to celebrate, were read by Ms Julia Katarina. Although fluent in Arabic, these excerpts were in English translation, for the benefit of any non-Arabic speaking members of the audience. The passages, translated by Mohammed Qirem, included a tragic love story around the King David Hotel bombing of 22nd June 1946 and concluded with the assassination on 29th August 1987 in London of Palestinian cartoonist Naji al-Ali of Handala fame.

When the national anthem was repeated at the end, Baroness Dr Tonge’s insistence was granted and the audience and panel were brought to their feet by the musician, Julia Katarina, its Arabic speaking members and those familiar with the national anthem sang with great passion and beauty for the beloved homeland, with the non-Arabic speakers standing in solidarity. A wonderful beginning and ending to a fascinating evening. The event concluded with a reception during which Mr Elias Nasrallah signed copies of his book, which the audience had purchased at the beginning of the evening. Baklawa was served, the audience mingled and shared reflections and lively conversations ensued, and the press conducted interviews with the speakers. This memorable event was the first in a series of similar or related events which will span the whole year in the hope of closing one chapter for Palestine and opening a new much more positive one, reflecting on and understanding past errors in order to focus on building a viable future for the country and its people. You are urged to come forward with your ideas and plans so that we may collaborate in producing more events and supporting new initiatives towards these common goals.