By Diana Safieh
Dr Peter Shambrook signing copies of his book, Policy of Deceit at the event.
The evening began with a warm welcome as guests arrived to enjoy tea and nibbles, setting the tone for an evening of respectful dialogue. Mike Kane, Labour MP and IofC trustee, then opened the event. As a figure deeply invested in the themes of the evening, Kane’s Catholic faith and political background added depth to his role as host.
Peter Shambrook took the stage to discuss “Policy of Deceit.” He shared his experience growing up as an English Catholic near Manchester and his reflections on universal human nature and behaviour.
Shambrook laid out the complex historical promises made by the British to the French, Arabs, and the global Jewish community regarding the Ottoman Palestine region. He scrutinised the conflicting agreements made during World War I, notably the Hussein-McMahon promise and the British government’s role in shaping the fate of the region. Shambrook argued that the British government’s duplicity and strategic manoeuvres significantly contributed to the ongoing conflict.
Shambrook dedicated countless hours at the National Archives in Kew, and examined over 1.5 million words from Hansard, the official report of all debates in Parliament, to understand the public discourse surrounding these two nations. This comprehensive approach aimed to uncover the contrast and contradictions between what was said in the public eye and what was discussed behind closed doors.
The appointment of Herbert Samuel in 1920 as the first High Commissioner, a Zionist, was a pivotal moment. Samuel’s policies, including the promotion of Jewish immigration and establishment of Hebrew as a national language, were highlighted as instrumental in laying the groundwork for a Jewish national entity in Palestine.
Guests enjoyed networking and refreshments before the evenings event began.
Dr Peter Shambrook
The escalation of Jewish immigration in the 1930s, facilitated by the British, and their legal policies in Palestine, which included mass arrests and house demolitions, were pointed out as critical factors leading to the eventual loss of Palestine to the Arabs before WWII and before the Holocaust.
The departure of the British from Palestine, wearied by the relentless demands of the war effort, provided an opening for Zionist militias to attempt to assert control over the territory. At that time, Arabs still owned 93% of the land. The Jewish community, which comprised 32% of the population, contrasted sharply with the earlier years of the First World War, when Jews made up only 7% of the population and owned a mere 2% of the land.
There has been no formal apology from the British government for their actions. Furthermore, since the critical year of 1967, no British government has taken steps to hold Israel accountable for its actions on the occasions when it has overstepped international law, allowing it to operate without facing significant consequences.
Shambrook expressed a strong stance on the current situation in Gaza, describing it as a legacy of British actions. He made three key observations:
Shambrook believes our current leaders are complicit in these war crimes, genocide and morally indefensible policies.
Mike Scott Baumann, a historian and chair of the Balfour Project Executive Committee, offered his perspective on the conflict and chaired the thought-provoking Question & Answer session.
Then, Sir Vincent Fean took the stage. A former member of the British Diplomatic Service, including former Consul General of Jerusalem, he is currently a trustee of the Balfour Project and Secretary of the Israel/Palestine Cross Party Group. He discussed the current crisis and future prospects, advocating for equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians and the recognition of the state of Palestine alongside Israel on pre-June 1967 lines, all aims of the Balfour Project.
He gave a current situational update.
October 7th saw 1,200 Israelis killed and 132 taken as hostages. Since then, the toll on Palestinian lives has been harrowing, with 25,000 deaths, probably much more, and predominantly women and children. This figure roughly translates to 250 fatalities per day. The violence has not spared journalists and UN workers either, with 72 journalists and 142 UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) workers killed in the conflict. The impact on infrastructure has been devastating as well: 104 schools have been destroyed, and a staggering 70% of schools have suffered damage. In terms of healthcare facilities, many hospitals are now unusable.
In the West Bank, there has been a worrying escalation in the number of Palestinians arrested. This includes 355 individuals under the age of 18. Additionally, over 300 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank. In Gaza, health organisations like the World Health Organization are raising alarms about the potential outbreaks of infectious diseases and the risk of starvation among the population.
The need to reunify Gaza and the West Bank is more pressing than ever. However, this objective seems unattainable under Israel’s current policy of divide and rule. As Vincent poignantly states, “There has to be sticks as well as carrots. Israel has had many carrots.”
The evening concluded with a call for action and reflection. Sir Vincent emphasised the importance of public discourse and political action in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The audience was urged to support the Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP). This appeal was coupled with a strong push for an immediate ceasefire, emphasising the principle that no entity or nation is above the law.
Sir Vincent also encouraged attendees to elevate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a key issue in the upcoming elections. The discourse should centre around themes of equality and the recognition of Palestine as a state. A significant forthcoming event is the International Court of Justice’s decision later this year, which will determine the legality of the prolonged occupation. Sir Vincent suggested that 56 years is excessively long for what was supposed to be a temporary situation, thereby implying its illegality.
Peter Shambrook echoed these sentiments, encouraging individual contributions to the cause.
This event at Initiatives of Change UK was more than just a discussion; it was a call to acknowledge past mistakes and work towards a future where peaceful coexistence in the Middle East is not just a dream, but a possibility. Through historical analysis, personal stories, and a focus on current realities, the speakers shed light on the complexities of a conflict deeply rooted in history and the ongoing struggle for peace and justice.
To quote Sir Vincent, “This issue is too important to let go.”
Diana Safieh is a writer, podcaster and coordinator of the Balfour Project.
Sir Vincent Fean
A Q&A was hosted, allowing guests to ask questions and reflect on what they had heard and learned throughout the evening.
Mike Kane MP opened the evenings event.