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Was Defacing the Balfour Painting an Effective Form of Activism for the Pro-Palestine Movement?

By Dea Fejzullahu

Recent events have reignited discussions surrounding the enduring legacy of the Balfour Declaration, prompting reflection on its historical significance and contemporary implications.

The Balfour Declaration, issued in 1917 by British politician Arthur Balfour, remains a pivotal moment in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At its core, the declaration expressed British support for the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine, with the aim of garnering Jewish backing for Britain's wartime efforts.

Arthur Balfour, a British politician, promised the establishment of a Jewish national home in Ottoman-controlled Palestine to win Jewish support for Britain's First World War effort. The British declaration stated: "with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people."

For many, the Balfour Declaration symbolizes a historic commitment to the Jewish people's aspirations for self-determination and statehood. It is viewed as a catalyst for the Zionist movement and the eventual creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

Conversely, critics of the declaration argue that it disregarded the rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people, setting the stage for decades of displacement, conflict, and human suffering. The promise of a Jewish national home in Palestine, they contend, led to the marginalization and dispossession of the indigenous Palestinian population.

Against this backdrop, recent protests and acts of defiance have underscored the enduring resonance of the Balfour Declaration. Pro-Palestinian activists, galvanized by their opposition to Israeli policies and actions, have targeted symbols associated with Arthur Balfour, including defacing his portrait at Trinity College in Cambridge.

These demonstrations reflect a deep-seated frustration with the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, as well as a broader sense of solidarity with the Palestinian cause. Activists argue that the Balfour Declaration laid the groundwork for a system of oppression and discrimination that persists to this day.

Palestine Action shared the video of the unique protest on social media, claiming that the declaration "paved the way for ethnic cleansing".

Protesters have criticized the British government for their opinions on the genocide, claiming that "...the continued colonization of Palestine hasn't wavered since 1917".

British politicians have been divided in their responses to the protests. While some have condemned the defacement of historical artifacts as unlawful acts of vandalism, others have emphasized the importance of protecting the right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression.

Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden believes that the defacing was a "moronic act of wanton vandalism" and claims that protesters should face the full force of the law.

The government's adviser, Lord Walney claims: "We must not tolerate protestors thinking they can get away with senseless damage because they think the importance of the cause gives them the moral high ground to cause mayhem".

While politicians' beliefs and statements are clear, the protestors have not faced criminal charges or been arrested yet.

War in Gaza

  • Since 7th of October 2023, at least 33,175 people have been killed and 75,886 people have been injured in Gaza. Meanwhile, at least 1,139 have been killed in Israel, and at least 8,730 people injured (Al Jazeera).

  • 7 World Central Kitchen (WCK) workers have been killed by Israeli drones. Two officers have been dismissed due to the attack, and the IDF called the killing of staff a "grave incident". The WCK responded to Israel's military apology, calling it "cold comfort" for the families and friends of the aid workers. (BBC)

  • Over 1 Million children in Gaza have been been forcibly displaced from their homes, and the risk of famine, diseases, and malnutrition continues to ravage North-Gaza (Unicef)

  • In the US, Democrats are urging Biden to halt weapons transfer to Isreael (Al Jazeera)

  • The UN body has adopted a resolution on Israel's war crimes accountability, and demands a halt to arms sales to the state (UN)

  • Gaza's food shortage is described as "catastrophic", with 70% of people in Northern Gaza suffering from food scarcity (Reuters)

Amid these debates and disagreements against the genocide in Gaza, it is crucial to maintain a commitment to dialogue, understanding, and reconciliation. Perhaps books - or priceless art - need to stay on the shelves in order to be studied by future generations, not to necessarily excuse the mistakes of the past but to learn from them. Rather than resorting to acts of violence or destruction, constructive engagement offers the best path forward toward resolving the ongoing war and addressing the lingering legacies of history. Yet, as we move forward, is it right to portray and perhaps even glorify figures who are directly or indirectly responsible for the suffering of others?

As we confront the complexities of this enduring conflict, let us strive to listen to all voices, respect differing perspectives, and work together toward a future characterized by peace, justice, and mutual respect. Only through genuine dialogue and cooperation can we hope to build a brighter and more inclusive tomorrow for all the people affected by the conflict, but in particular the men, women, children and animals trapped in Gaza.

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