Justice for Palestine

A protest took place during the celebrations to mark the 100th anniversary of the Balfour declaration, a letter written on November 2nd, 1917 and signed by the
United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community, for transmission to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland:

“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”.

The protest which marched from a rally outside the US Embassy, then still in Grosvenor Square, was to point out that although the state of Israel had been established, the second half of the declaration had sadly never been taken seriously, and both the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine have virtually entirely neglected.

Equal Rights & Justice for Palestine

Back when I first became aware of politics in the 1950s, attending Labour and Cooperative party youth events (mainly for the girls and the free cigarettes) I think we all regarded Israel in a very positive light, a country which was providing a new home for many survivors of the holocaust and had shaken off the colonial yoke. Several people I knew went to work on a kibbutz, which were seen as the forerunners of a new society, a socialist utopia “dedicated to mutual aid and social justice; a socioeconomic system based on the principle of joint ownership of property, equality and cooperation of production, consumption and education; the fulfillment of the idea “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs“.

Things have changed since then. Both in Israel and here, and now almost all of those on the left, both Jewish and non-Jews feel the need to support the rights of Palestinians against the actions of the Israeli state. That in no way implies we are being anti-Semitic, though does mean we will be accused of being so.

I was born shortly before the state of Israel and still remember people talking about  terrorists, who then were mainly Israeli,  with the Irgun led by Menachem Begin, notable for blowing up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem killing 91 people of various nationalities, with one of their members also dying. There was also Haganah, but it was the Stern Gang who made the greatest impression on us kids, probably because of their name. Dissolved in 1948-9 they are often said to be the last terrorist group to proudly describe themselves as “terrorists”. To many of us they seemed heroes.

We now know rather more about their exploits following the release of various classified documents over the years, some of which are discussed in an article on Haaretz last December (though you may need to subscribe to read it.) One of the favoured devices of both Irgun and the Stern Gang was the sending of letter bombs, one of which Sir Anthony Eden carried around all day in his briefcase but, fortunately for him, was retrieved by security before he opened it. Other targets included Winston Churchill, and most other senior British politicians and cabinet members including Prime Minister Clement Attlee, Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin and Chancellor of the Exchequer Stafford, Cripps.

Stern also attempted to blow up Dover House, the headquarters of the Colonial Office in Whitehall, London, managing to successfully plant a powerful bomb with 10 sticks of explosives.  Had it gone off there might have been an even larger death toll than at the King David Hotel, but the fuse was incorrectly fitted and it failed to explode.

The Stern Gang got its name from Avraham (“Yair”) Stern, its founder in 1940, though it was officially named Lehi. In 1941, as the Jerusalem Post controversially reminded its readers, Stern “with the Final Solution already under way in all but name, sought out German cooperation in the setting up here of a Jewish state on a national and totalitarian basis.” It twice offered the Nazis an alliance to oppose British rule in Palestine in exchange for the release of Jews from Nazi hands. The Germans turned them down.

Stern continued after Stern’s death under the leadership of Yitzhak Shamir, who around 40 years later became Prime Minister of Israel, to move closer to Stalinist Russia, a move which lost them many followers. (See Wikipedia and The Los Angeles Times archive.)

History is history – and the sources of this history are incontrovertible. It isn’t because what Ken Livingstone said was false that got him attacked, but because it was at least largely true.  I cite this history not to be thrown out of the Labour Party – I don’t belong – but simply to expand a little on my own very mixed feelings about the state of Israel and the Balfour declaration.  But whatever you think about Israel, it seems blindingly obvious that today Palestinians are being treated abysmally by the Israeli state and its army, and that the international community should be actively trying to improve their situation.

My problems at the embassy rally were rather different. The weather with the odd bit of rain didn’t help, but the real problem was red light. Most of the light falling on the speakers was coming through the red roof under which they were speaking, producing a red cast on their faces that seemed beyond correction.

I should perhaps have used flash, but it would still have been a problem, and though I could perhaps have turned up the flash to overwhelm the red light, the results would have had a  brutal flattening.  So I stuck with the red, hoping I would be able to make it acceptable in post-processing, by tinting the faces with some blue and green.

This did help a bit, but was time-consuming and doesn’t quite work as shadow and highlight areas were more or less affected by the red. In the end I gave up and as you see converted them to black and white.

I don’t like doing this. I take things now almost exclusively in colour and work for colour, and things taken in colour and converted seldom look quite right to me. It often annoys me greatly when others convert their digital images to black and white, thinking it somehow makes them look more ‘authentic’ or more documentary. Though of course if they really think in black and white I wouldn’t notice.

Equal Rights & Justice for Palestine

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