By: Jo Siedlecka
More than 1.200 people queued to get into Central Hall Westminster, opposite the Houses of Parliament last night, for an historic meeting in which faith leaders and politicians from all parties called on the British Government to recognise Palestine as a sovereign state, and heard the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, say that a Labour Government would do this.
The theme of the meeting, hosted by the Balfour Project on the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, was 'Britain's Broken Promise: Time for a New Approach'. The Declaration stated Britain's support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine as long as the rights of the people already there were not undermined. Now Israel exists, but the commitment to the Palestinians has been ignored. Vast numbers have been dispossessed, and more than five million live in refugee camps.
Former Foreign Secretary Lord Owen said: "I have no doubt that we did break our promise to the Palestinians.' He believed that the promise could still be fulfilled. It would mean British Government recognition of Palestinian statehood. And, he said, "we must allow Gaza to breathe." "Saudi Arabia's plan to build a new city, Neom, offered an important economic opportunity," he said. "This is being built in close cooperation with Egypt and Jordan. Hamas and Gaza should be part of that opportunity."
He hoped that the Government would approach both these issues within the next year. But "time is not on our side," he warned. "There is a very real risk of another war in southern Lebanon, and this would set back the whole peace process, reinforcing suspicions and fears."
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC from the House of Lords said: "What we want is equal rights for both people. We have a sacred duty to them."
Other Parliamentarians included MPs from the four largest parties - Crispin Blunt (Conservative), who until recently chaired the House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs; Richard Burden (Labour), Chair of the Palestine All-Party Parliamentary Group; Dr Philippa Whitford (SNP), who visits Palestine regularly during Parliamentary recesses to train doctors; Rt Hon Tom Brake (Lib Dem); and Layla Moran (Lib Dem), who said she was proud to be the first Palestinian elected to the British Parliament. Her mother is Palestinian.
The two-hour meeting also heard from British religious leaders - Christopher Chessun, Anglican Bishop of Southwark; Declan Lang, Roman Catholic Bishop of Clifton; Rabbi Danny Rich, the Senior Rabbi of Liberal Judaism; and Iman Ajmal Masroor, well-known as a presenter on British television. Also speaking were historian Dr Peter Shambrook, Sir Vincent Fean, former UK Consul-General in Jerusalem; and Dr Imad Karam, award-winning film-maker from Britain and Palestine.
Most of these speakers called for the British Government to recognise Palestinian statehood, and at each call, the audience responded with vigorous applause.
The meeting has attracted widespread media coverage, especially in the Middle East.
To read Bishop Declan Lang's address: see: www.catholic-ew.org.uk/Home/News/Balfour-Declaration2
Find out more about the Balfour Project here: www.balfourproject.org