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Yasmin Alibhai Brown: Don't forget how Britain betrayed the Palestinians


You've seen the pictures, read about the bloodshed, heard the accusations. The military head of Hamas in Gaza, pictured, was assassinated by Israel. Rockets fired in retaliation killed three Israelis and Israel then went into overkill. It is 95 years this month since the Balfour Declaration. Lord Balfour who was Foreign Secretary in 1917, informed Baron Rothschild that Britain would back a new Jewish state on Palestinian territory as demanded by Zionists, some of them terrorists.

Britain had no legal right to the land it breezily handed over and has never apologised for its disastrous decision. Palestinians paid for Europe's massive, anti-Semitic killing project.

Thousands of Muslim and Christian Palestinians were dispossessed and, since then, it's been a story of endless conflict. And so here again is another horrendous conflagration.

When Arab despots murder and torture their own people, their sins are not less heinous than those committed by outside adversaries. And the three recent victims of Hamas attacks weren't simply collateral damage. The anti-Semitic prejudice of millions of Arabs and Iranians is repellent. But I would put this question to Israeli apologists too: why can't they muster human sympathy for dead Palestinian babies and their howling parents? Don't they feel anything for these innocents? This time, Palestinians have paid tenfold for those three Israeli lives.

On the web is a photograph of an old man in Gaza holding a placard with this message: "You take my water, burn my olive trees, destroy my house, take my job, steal my land, imprison my father, kill my mother, bombard my country, starve us all, humiliate us all but I am to blame: I shot a rocket back."

You may or may not agree with his rocket retaliation, but all his other accusations are verifiably true as witnesses have been attesting for years. Even treacherous Balfour stipulated in that fateful letter of November 1917: "Nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine." That bit has never been honoured.

Remember, too, there was a time when Jews and Palestinians were not filled with poisonous odium for each other. Well all that is history now. Israel exists and must, as I have believed all my life. But it can't expect to do as it damn-well pleases. Oh yes it can! says Obama's administration. While Western leaders avert their eyes, there is, among millions of European citizens, growing sympathy for the Palestinian cause and dismay that Israel flouts international laws and conventions with impunity. A chasm is growing between Europe's ruling classes and the ruled. It can no longer be ignored.

For Israel's own sake, it must stop being so boneheaded and halt this inferno. Obama needs to step up and use his power to save the world. It is that serious.