The Legacy of Balfour: 100 years since the Declaration

This piece was originally published by MCC Palestine, November 2, 2017.

“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”[1]

Today, November 2, 2017, marks 100 years since the Balfour Declaration. For many observers of the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, this declaration by the British government is ground zero. Issued towards the end of the First World War, the British foreign secretary Arthur Balfour promised to support the establishment of a “national home” for the Jewish people in the land of Palestine. The Zionists, who sought such a homeland for the Jews, hailed this as a major victory. On the other hand, the declaration would spell catastrophe for the native inhabitants of Palestine.

At the time of the Balfour Declaration, “more than 600,000 Arabs and a good 55,000 Jews were living in Palestine, so more than 90% were Arabs.”[2] Increased Jewish immigration, facilitated by the British, led these demographics to shift towards the time of the infamous United Nations partition plan in 1947, which gave over 50% of the land to Jews who comprised only a third of the population of Historic Palestine.[3] Following the adoption of the resolution, armed conflict in Palestine erupted. As the State of Israel was established in 1948, Jewish militias carried out expulsion campaigns that displaced between 700,000 and 900,000 native Palestinians from their homes and lands. Palestinians call this time in their history “the Nakba,” which translates into English as “the Catastrophe.”

Violette Khoury, a Palestinian Christian woman who helps run the Nazareth chapter of Sabeel, an MCC partner organization, talks about what it is like to be a dispossessed people. She explains that the common Zionist expression of Palestine being “a land without a people for a people without a land,” is simply not true. “There is denial of us being a people and having a heritage,” she exclaims, “But we do exist; we have roots; we are here!” The Balfour Declaration was a denial of the Palestinians and their existence on the land. The declaration was “one nation solemnly promising to a second nation the country of the third.”[4]

Violette Khoury

Violette Khoury shows traditional Palestinian embroidery to MCC visitors from Canada. Khoury is the director of Sabeel Nazareth, the Nazareth office of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre, an MCC partner that provides a theological and spiritual resource for the Palestinian church. Violette leads a program that brings together local people, particularly women, of different faith traditions, to share and preserve their common Palestinian heritage with activities like embroidery. (MCC photo/Elizabeth Kessler)

We must never forget that Zionism is a response to rampant European-Christian anti-Semitism, the greatest expression of which was the Holocaust where about 6 million European Jews perished. To deny the ugly history of anti-Jewish sentiment is a moral wrong deserving of profound repentance. However, to deny the suffering and dispossession of the Palestinian people, starting with the Balfour Declaration a hundred years ago, is also morally reprehensible. We must acknowledge both, holding them together at the same time. At this very moment, Palestinians are being forced off of their lands, their houses are being demolished, and their children are being sent to prisons. The displacement and dispossession of the Palestinian people continues a hundred years on from the Balfour Declaration. What will we do about it?

As Violette so powerful puts it: “When you discover the truth you cannot remain indifferent.”

So what will we do with the truth?

[1] Zochrot, The Nakba: Flight and Expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Salman H. Abu Sitta, Atlas of Palestine 1948, Palestine Land Society, London, 2004, p. 1 (quoting Arthur Koestler, Promise and Fulfilment: Palestine 1917-1949) as seen in Zochrot, The Nakba: Flight and Expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948

Persons Day

October 18 is Persons Day in Canada. It is a time to remember and celebrate the historic 1929 decision of what was then Canada’s highest court of appeal – the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of Great Britain – to include women in the legal definition of “persons”.

The idea that women would not be considered persons seems absurd today and even more ridiculous to think that this was the case less than 100 years ago. Aren’t all human beings persons? Apparently not in Canadian law before 1929 when the definition was still based on a section of the British North America Act of 1867 which stated only “qualified persons” could be given rights such as owning property, voting, and sitting in the House of Commons and the Senate.  Of course, the Canadian government chose to interpret this phrase as meaning men only.

The notion was only challenged when five (now famous) women sought change and on October 18, 1929, the Privy Council of Great Britain announced “the exclusion of women from all public offices is a relic of days more barbarous than ours. And to those who would ask why the word ‘person’ should include females, the obvious answer is, why should it not?”

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Why not indeed. Women have proven themselves very capable in public office.

Emily (Ferguson) Murphy was the first woman in the British Empire to be appointed a police magistrate in 1916. However, a lawyer repeatedly challenged her rulings, claiming that she was not legally a “person.” In 1927 she led the legal challenge now known as the Persons Case.

She was joined by four other courageous determined women: Louise McKinney, Irene Parlby, Nellie McClung, and Henrietta Muir Edwards. Together they implemented an obscure provision in the Supreme Court of Canada Act that said any five persons acting as a unit could petition the Supreme Court for an interpretation of any part of the constitution or at that time the British North America Act.

When Louise McKinney was sworn in to the Alberta Legislature in 1917, she became the first woman to sit in any legislature in the British Empire.

Appointed as Minister without a Portfolio in Alberta in 1921 Irene Parlby became only the second woman to serve as a cabinet minister in the British Empire and represented Canada at the League of Nations in 1930.

Nellie McClung was the first woman on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)’s Board of Governors, and a delegate to the League of Nations in 1939.

Henrietta Muir Edwards was active in prison reform and published and financed the first Canadian magazine for working women.

Today each of these amazing “persons” has a statue on Parliament Hill.

with the famous five (May 2015)

MCC Ottawa Office staff Rebekah Sears, Esther Epp-Tiessen, Monica Scheifele, and Jennifer Wiebe with Famous Five statues on Parliament Hill. Photo by Alison Ralph, MCC

As four women who have benefitted from their trail blazing, MCC Ottawa Office staff often visit these statues to remember their commitment to change. If not for their efforts there couldn’t be 41 (out of 105) female Senators and 89 of the current Members of Parliament might not be women. There wouldn’t be a gender balanced cabinet or a Feminist International Assistance Policy.

Unfortunately, there are still times and places even in Canada when women aren’t truly seen as “persons”.  When their voices aren’t heard or their contributions and accomplishments properly recognized.

On this Person’s Day may we remember that we are all created in God’s image. Every human being is a person with rights. We all have a role to play in bringing about positive change for a more a just world. Let us learn from the impressive examples of the many women before us who refused to give up and kept advocating for change until they were heard.

By Monica Scheifele, Program Assistant for the Ottawa Office

The settler within me

What does it mean to ally oneself with people victimized by colonization when one is a settler? This is a question that has confronted me repeatedly in recent months.

MCC in Canada has just launched a major multi-year education and advocacy campaign on Palestine and Israel called A Cry for Home. The campaign highlights the cry of MCC’s Palestinian and Israeli partners for a just peace – a peace characterized by justice, equality, dignity and respect for international law. It is a project that I and MCC colleagues have helped to shape..

One of the issues that the campaign highlights is the colonization of Palestinian land for illegal Jewish-only settlements. As of June 2017, there were 196 settlements and 232 outposts (smaller clusters of Jewish settlers) in occupied Palestine. Nearly 800,000 Jewish Israelis – 10 percent of the Israeli population – live in these colonies. According to international law, these colonies are illegal.

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An Israeli settlement under construction near Bethlehem. Photo/Esther Epp-Tiessen

As I learn about these settlements and their impact on Palestinian people and Palestinian land, I grow angry.  And then I remember that I am a settler too. I am a settler on the Indigenous land of Turtle Island (North America).

Both my maternal and paternal grandparents came to Canada in the 1920s as Mennonite refugees fleeing violence, famine and social upheaval in the wake of the Russian Revolution. My father’s parents settled in southwestern Manitoba (Treaty 2) and my mother’s on Pelee Island, Ontario, the traditional home of Caldwell First Nation.

My grandparents all arrived in Canada with very few resources, and the first decades in the new land were very difficult. Both my parents grew up in poverty. But as a 2nd generation Canadian, I have been blessed with privilege:  a good education, meaningful work, a comfortable home, clean and abundant water, many opportunities — and so much more. Only recently have I begun to recognize how my privilege is rooted in the losses of the Indigenous peoples of this land.

What do I do with the recognition that I live – very well – because I live on stolen land?  And how do I reconcile my own story with my critique of Israeli settlements in Palestine?

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Lia Tarachansky near the settlement in which she grew up. Photo/Palestinedocs

Not long ago I met Lia Tarachansky, a Russian-born Israeli Jew who grew up in the illegal Israeli settlement of Ariel in the West Bank.  Lia is my teacher in uncovering what it means to be a settler who has benefitted from the losses of others. She is a brilliant thinker and a compassionate human being.

As a journalist, filmmaker and activist, Lia has committed herself to telling the story of Israel’s past, and to shattering the myths around the founding of the State of Israel. She fearlessly documents the story of the Nakba and how the founding of Israel meant the displacement and dispossession of 750,000 to 900,000 Palestinians between 1947 and 1949. She unveils the ongoing process of colonization at work through settlements, home demolitions, barriers to movement and military occupation.

Paulette Regan is another hero of mine. In her profound book about Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Unsettling the Settler Within¸ Regan invites settler Canadians to do the same. True reconciliation in Canada, Regan insists, can only happen when non-Indigenous Canadians decolonize themselves. That includes shattering the myth about Canada’s own “peaceful” relationship with Indigenous peoples. And it means acknowledging and coming to terms with our privilege.

Of course, reconciliation means much more than that for Regan.  But for settler people, she insists, our efforts to be allies must begin with dealing with our own “stuff.” She writes,

“… what is our particular role and responsibility? Is it to ‘help’ Indigenous people recover from the devastating impacts of prescriptive policies and programs that we claimed were supposed to help them? Given our dismal track record, this seems a dubious goal. Or is it to determine what we who carry the identity of the colonizer and have reaped the benefits and privileges of colonialism must do to help ourselves recover from its detrimental legacy?”

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Mennonites walking for reconciliation at the closing event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Ottawa, June 2015. Photo/Alison Ralph

It is clear where Regan stands.  And it is clear where Tarachansky stands as well.

Settlers seeking to be allies of the colonized must do the hard and painful work of examining and coming to terms with the ways in which we have benefited from the colonial project and how we replicate and maintain colonial relationships today.  We must be prepared to be “deeply unsettled” in that process. Regan assures us that the unsettling will be a good thing.

Jesus once said, “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye” (Matthew 7:5).  Before I am too critical of Israeli settlers, I need to come to terms with the settler within me.

By Esther Epp-Tiessen, Public Engagement Coordinator for the MCC Ottawa Office

A prayer for peace for Syria

Every September MCC provides a Peace Sunday Packet to Anabaptist-Mennonite congregations across Canada to assist them in marking Peace Sunday. This year’s packet consists of a collection of prayers for peace, submitted by MCC workers and partner organizations around the world. In anticipation of the International Day of Peace on Sept. 21, we share one of the prayers as our blog post this week. The full Peace Sunday Packet is available here.

War has been raging in Syria since 2011. Over 13.5 million people are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance, with 6.3 million internally displaced. Additionally, 5.5 million Syrian refugees have fled the country for safety in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. Indiscriminate violence and airstrikes have killed thousands of civilians, with an estimated 400,000 people killed since the start of the conflict. MCC has been providing food assistance, blankets, hygiene and relief kits, cash vouchers and training for social cohesion and inter-faith dialogue to local Syrian partners throughout the war.

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This prayer, shared with MCC in 2015, is from the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC). Founded in 1974, MECC is a fellowship of Evangelical/Protestant, Oriental Orthodox, Greek Orthodox and Catholic Church families. MCC has partnered with MECC in Syria for many years.

Prayer:

God of life,
Who cares for all creation and calls us to justice and peace,
May our security not come from arms, but from respect.
May our force not be of violence, but of love.
May our wealth not be in money, but in sharing.
May our path not be of ambition, but of justice.
May our victory not be from vengeance, but in forgiveness.
May our unity not be in the quest of power, but in vulnerable witness to do your will.
Open and confident, may we defend the dignity of all creation, sharing today and forever the bread of solidarity, justice and peace.
This we ask in the name of Jesus, your holy Son, our brother, who, as a victim of our violence, even from the heights of the cross, gave forgiveness to us all.
Amen

A Cry for Home — Why now?

Everyone needs a home — where families are safe and secure, where their basic needs are met, where they can come and go freely, and where they can imagine a future of justice and peace. But that is not the reality for Palestinians — or even for some Israelis.

This month MCC in Canada launches a special campaign on Palestine and Israel called “A Cry for Home.”

A Cry for Home logoIt is a multi-year initiative inviting MCC supporters to learn about, engage with and advocate for a just peace for Palestinians and Israelis. It is a call to respond to the cry of Palestinians and Israelis for a safe, secure, just and peaceful home.

Why this campaign at this time? After all, hasn’t MCC been addressing issues related to Palestine and Israel for years? There are several reasons we are embarking on this initiative now:

  • Because of the cry of our partners. We are responding because of the urgent plea of our partners — especially Palestinian Christian partners — for solidarity and for advocacy. MCC partners have for years been urging a bolder stance in calling for an end to occupation, oppression and injustice. Indeed, in the past six months, Palestinian Christian organizations have urged “costly solidarity” on the part of the global Christian church, insisting, “This is no time for shallow diplomacy Christians.”
  • Because of the increasingly desperate situation of Palestinians under Israeli occupation. The theft of land and the building of illegal settlements for Israeli Jews in the occupied West Bank continues apace, despite insistence from the international community that such activity stop. The demolition of Palestinian homes, schools and orchards goes on with impunity. The situation in Gaza is catastrophic, with the UN declaring that it will be unlivable by 2020 and perhaps even sooner. In the meantime, Palestinians and others who resist are increasingly bullied, silenced, imprisoned.
  • Because we care also about Israeli Jews. While the Palestinians suffer most in the current reality, we know that Israeli Jews are also harmed by the words, walls, and weapons that divide them from Palestinians. Like Palestinians, they long for homes and a homeland that is safe and secure. Like Palestinians, they suffer violence. Yet many of them live with a deep sense of fear and foreboding. We acknowledge that for many people, the fear is rooted in Christian persecution of Jews over the centuries. Yet, like many Israeli peacemakers, we believe that a peaceful future for both Israeli Jews and Palestinians will result from an end to the occupation, from the practice of justice, and from respect for international law.housesand_farm_0
  • Because of MCC’s long history. MCC has been active in Palestine and Israel since 1949, when the creation of the State of Israel made hundreds of thousands of Palestinians refugees in their own home. Our history and continuous presence, as well as partnership with Palestinians (since 1949) and with Israelis (since 1967), has given us insights into the ongoing conflict, as well as a special burden to help in supporting a resolution to the conflict. Throughout that history, partners have urged MCC not only to meet immediate needs with relief assistance and community development support, but to engage in advocacy to address the root causes of the current reality.
  • Because the topic is challenging. Over many decades, MCC’s work in Palestine and Israel — particularly, our advocacy for a just peace — has generated a diversity of opinions from our supporters and constituents. While many of MCC’s supporters resonate with our work and approach, some of them disagree with us when we critique the policies of the State of Israel and its actions toward Palestinians. With this campaign, we want to engage with these diverse perspectives — exploring questions together, dialoguing constructively, and building understanding.
  • Last, but definitely not least, because of our faith. Our Christian faith — and our commitment to Jesus — compels us to stand with the oppressed, lovingly speak truth to power, and actively seek a just peace in the land where Jesus walked. Jesus himself denounced injustice and proclaimed good news of liberation to those living under a yoke of oppression; we can do no less. More than that, our faith gives us hope that transformation and reconciliation are truly possible. We are inspired by the vision of the Holy Land as a place where all people — Israelis and Palestinians; Jews, Christians and Muslims — live with peace, justice and security, a land where “everyone sits under their own vine and fig tree and no one makes them afraid” (Micah 4:4).

Please join us in responding to the cry of Palestinians and Israelis for home.
Visit our campaign page for information on how to learn, engage, advocate, pray and give. And please sign up for regular campaign updates.

 By Esther Epp-Tiessen, Public Engagement Coordinator for the MCC Ottawa Office

A prayer for peace for Myanmar

Every September MCC provides a Peace Sunday Packet to Anabaptist-Mennonite congregations across Canada to assist them in marking Peace Sunday. This year’s packet consists of a collection of prayers for peace, submitted by MCC workers and partner organizations around the world. We share one of the prayers as our blog post this week. The full Peace Sunday Packet is available here.

Located in Southeast Asia, near both India and China, Myanmar’s (Burma’s) modern history is marked by violence and colonialism. Myanmar gained independence in 1947, but colonization left the many ethnic groups and hill tribes within the country at odds with each other and the government, resulting in considerable ethnic tension which has fuelled protests and separatist rebellions. The MCC program in Myanmar focuses specifically on peacebuilding and trauma awareness through three local partner organizations who concentrate on grassroots peacebuilding initiatives.

PSP 2017Monica Scheifele, program assistant in the MCC Ottawa Office, wrote this prayer based on a prayer request list from Maung Maung Yin. Yin is the Director of the Peace Studies Centre at the Myanmar Institute of Theology, which has been an MCC partner since 2009. Director Yin worried his list of prayer requests was too long, but stated he was “greedy when it comes to peace.” He also used the phrase “in this very moment,” evoking a deep sense of longing and urgency.

 

 

Prayer:

In this very moment
We share Myanmar’s “greediness” for peace
with “too long lists” requiring a multitude of prayers.

In this very moment
When the people of Myanmar deeply desire peace,
We pray with them for the lasting peace they seek.

In this very moment
May they find genuine forgiveness among diverse religious and ethnic groups,
Leading to reconciliation between ethnic armed groups and the state military.

In this very moment
May there be peace and healing for those who have suffered 50 years of civil war,
In addition to the devastation of annual floods, fires, landslides and droughts.

In this very moment
We echo Myanmar’s prayers for their government, and the determined efforts of those working for a nationwide ceasefire agreement.

In this very moment
We pray for strength and wisdom for the continuing work of the Peace Studies Centre within Myanmar, and for all efforts for peace in the world.

In this very moment
We pray for peace.
Amen.

 

New policies galore

By Ottawa Office staff

In 2016 the Canadian government launched public consultations as part of a process for policy reviews of multiple government departments, including those dealing with foreign policy, International Assistance, and National Defence. Almost a year after closing these various consultations, the government released its general foreign policy direction via a speech made by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Chrystia Freeland, in the House of Commons on June 6, 2017.  In the days that followed Minister Freeland’s speech, Defence Minister Hon. Harjit Sajjin released Canada’s new defence policy on June 7, and International Development Minister Hon. Marie-Claude Bibeau held an event On June 9 where she released more specific details on Canada’s international assistance policy.

Chrystia FreelandMinister Freeland’s speech promised Canada will be a global leader in a time of uncertainty by working with partners and allies through multilateral institutions such as the UN and focusing on three priorities.

  • First, Canadian foreign policy will be shaped by Canadian values such as feminism, diversity and pluralism.
  • Second, Canadian foreign policy will be characterized by significant investments in the military in order that Canada can play a leadership role and provide assistance around the world.
  • Third, Canada is a trading nation and trade is crucial for supporting the Canadian private sector and building up the economy of other countries as one way to development.

Though highlighting Canadian global successes of the past Freeland offered few, if any, concrete details of how Canada would move forward, leading the world with Canadian values. Canada’s declared commitment to the Paris Climate Accord is one way to distinguish it from the current U.S. administration, but how does Canada’s commitment to building new pipelines line up with this stance? If Canada is indeed going to reach out through trade relationships, how does Canada uphold human rights in all of our relationships with China and Saudi Arabia? Freeland declared more funding and investment in the military as a way to lead. But what are the factors that would justify the involvement of the Canadian military overseas?

defence_minister_apology_20170429 photo by Justin Tang for Canadian Press

The Defence Minister Sajjin’s 113-page defence review was entitled “Strong, Secure, Engaged: Canada’s Defence Policy”. It included a promise that over the next twenty years the Canadian government will pour billions of dollars it did not budget for into defence spending. By shifting military spending policy, and promising to increase NATO contributions, the Liberal defence plan appears to be in-line with one of the loudest demands of the current U.S. administration. Indeed, in their speeches, the Canadian Foreign Affairs and Defence Ministers contended that given the apparent shifts happening in U.S. policies, Canada is only doing what it must in order to step up and be a leader on the global stage.

It is worth recognizing that the defence policy does acknowledge the multifaceted, changing nature of conflict; the importance of regulating small-arms; the impacts of climate change and economic inequality on conflict; the importance of women’s participation in peacebuilding; and the need to address the root causes of conflict. But despite acknowledging the range of potential mandates for our military, overall the policy seems to pivot further towards combat than towards humanitarian, disaster relief, or even peacekeeping missions.

web-po-foreign-aid-0609 by Chris Waittie for Reuters (2)

The 3rd policy – “Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy” – was highly anticipated by Canadian civil society and development organizations since the close of public consultations almost a year ago. Overall, there are few surprises, if any, in Canada’s new international assistance policy. Buzzwords and phrases like feminist, women and girls, reproductive health, grassroots organizations, climate change, SDGs, supporting the most vulnerable, and evidence-based policy showed up frequently in Bibeau’s presentation and within the policy itself. For now, what civil society groups will be watching in the coming months and years is how this policy will be implemented – i.e. what is the roadmap and where is the money?! No new budget money was allocated for international assistance in the 2017-18 Federal Budget, which means organizations like MCC and our coalition partners will continue to call for increases in ODA to reach Canada’s assistance and development goals, especially as we approach Budget 2018-19.

The Ottawa Office will continue to monitor announcements and watch the government’s actions as plans unfold. In particular, MCC will watch developments in foreign policy, defence and international assistance as they relate to areas where MCC has programming.