The Palestinian Return Centre organised and hosted a panel discussion entitled ‘105 Years of Balfour: Britain in Palestine & Ireland’ to mark 105th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration on the Friday 4th November at the Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich in Belfast, Ireland.
The panel discussion was chaired by James McCarthy, a journalist with the Andersontown News, who introduced the first speaker, Farrah Koutteineh. Ms Koutteineh spoke on behalf of the Palestinian Return Centre, engaging the audience with the role the British mandate undertook during their mandate era between 1918-1948, from assisting zionist militant groups with forced expulsions of Palestinian cities and towns, to the British actively attempting to crush Palestinian dissent to the mandate and partition. Ms Koutteineh mentioned how the Balfour Declaration marked the beginning of 105 years of British collusion in the colonisation of Palestine, and how Britain was complicit in its ethnic cleansing from its brutal mandate era to the Balfour declaration itself. She wrapped up her speech emphasising the urgency of the Palestinian right of return, as Palestinian refugees continue to languish in refugee camps unfit for human habitation.
The panel discussion then heard from Pat Torley, currently the Vice Chairman of the Belfast branch of the Communist Party of Ireland, after spending several years organising in Trade Unions, he has sat on the Irish regional committee and chaired the Belfast Workers District Committee for NI Water.
Mr Torley opened his speech with talking on the parallels between British forge inflicted on both Ireland & Palestine. From the actions of the British ‘Black and Tans’ to the partition of both countries. He then mentioned the ‘Criminal Law and Procedure (Ireland) Act’ 1887, which was passed by Balfour to have more power in Ireland and to be able to crush any dissent or resistant to British rule of the island. Mr Torley closed on highlighting how Balfour because the ‘Chief Secretary for Ireland’ where he is known to have orchestrated the Mitchelstown Massacre against Irish civilians, giving him the name ‘Bloody Balfour’.
The conference then heard from Latifa Abouchakra, a Palestinian refugee who came to the UK during her primary school years. She resides in London, where she has completed her Law degree at Kingston University and went on to complete her PGCE at UCL. She is now a secondary Citizenship and PSHE teacher, investigative Reporter and a Trade Unionist. She has used her platform in the Nation Education Union to stand up against racist policies in the UK; most notably within education against the hijab ban attempted via Ofsted and Prevent.
Ms Abouchakra began her speech with mentioning how the Balfour Declaration symbolised to Palestinians the beginning of the destruction of their homeland. She condemned the British governments repeated celebrations of the Balfour Declarations at the taxpayers expense, and demanded the British government formally apologise for the declaration. Ms Abouchakra then spoke on the stances of all three British prime ministers who have taken power this year, and how their unwavering support of Israel and self identification as zionists is morally reprehensible.
The final speaker of the evening was Tommy McKearney, a former Irish political prisoner, hunger striker spending 53 days on hunger strike, and today is an active trade unionist, author and activist.
Mr McKearney opened up the final speech of the evening delving into the history of Palestine before Balfour, the actions of Sykes Picot and their role in the Middle East and how the impacts of British imperialism where felt all around the world from Ireland to Palestine. He spoke on the British colonial and imperialist strategy that fuelled Britain’s violence in Ireland and Palestine in the early 20th century, as Britain wanted its influence spread far and wide. He then delved into the connections of oppression between Britain and America when it comes to the oppression of Palestinians.