London’s police force has imposed bizarre restrictions on a woman who spoke out against Britain’s role in the colonization of Palestine.
On 12 November, two protesters glued themselves to the plinth of a statue dedicated to Arthur James Balfour in Britain’s Parliament. One also doused the statue in tomato ketchup.
Attracting widespread media coverage, the protest drew attention to the 1917 Balfour Declaration.
In that document, Balfour, then Britain’s foreign secretary, expressed support for the Zionist movement and its goal of establishing a Jewish state – euphemistically described as a “national home for the Jewish people” – in Palestine. By so doing, Britain paved the way for the mass expulsion of Indigenous Palestinians three decades later.
The protesters were trying to educate the British people about imperialism and its consequences. In a video circulated following their action, one of the protesters can be heard accusing Britain of profiting from colonial crimes for more than a century.Despite performing a public service, the women now face criminal charges.
Even though they have been released after their initial arrest, at least one of the women is subject to onerous bail conditions.
She is banned from carrying “any adhesive substance” in a public place and from possessing “any condiment or liquid that can be used for defacing property.” She is also not allowed to enter Westminster – the part of London where the Parliament is located – “unless for medical, educational and legal reasons with a pre-arranged appointment.”
The women are scheduled to appear in court on 2 December.
They are being charged under a draconian new law called the Police, Crimes, Sentencing and Courts Act.
Section 50 of that law concerns the damaging of “memorials.” Through this provision, a court may impose stiff penalties even if the damage caused to a monument is small.
In this case, the police appear to have exaggerated the scale of the damage caused to Balfour’s statue.
They have put a very precise figure of £5,535 (approximately $6,600) on the damage caused by the ketchup. Though ketchup is usually easily removed from stone structures.
The stains of shame left by imperialism are, of course, far harder to remove and arguably indelible.
That may explain why the London authorities are so determined to punish activists who highlight crimes omitted from the version of history taught in Britain’s schools.
Section 50 was introduced following the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. During one London demonstration, the words “was a racist” were written on the plinth of a statue dedicated to the wartime leader Winston Churchill.
Like Churchill, Arthur Balfour was a white supremacist. Balfour once contended that Europeans should enjoy greater privileges than Blacks in South Africa by claiming that “men are not born equal.”
His eponymous declaration of November 1917 was inherently racist. It granted greater rights to incoming settlers than to Indigenous Palestinians.
Balfour even insisted that Palestinians would not be consulted about the Zionist colonization project.
The declaration was later enshrined in the League of Nations mandate, through which Britain administered Palestine between the 1920s and 1940s.
Britain introduced a series of ordinances enabling Jewish settlers to seize land which Palestinians had farmed for generations.
The British would not tolerate any resistance. A major Palestinian uprising in the 1930s was crushed with great brutality.
British forces mentored and were frequently aided by the Haganah, the largest Zionist militia in Palestine. The Haganah and some other armed groups later drove up to 800,000 Palestinians from their homes during the Nakba, the wave of ethnic cleansing before, during and after Israel’s establishment in 1948.
The recent protest against Balfour’s statue was organized by Palestine Action, which is best known for breaking into factories and offices owned by the Israeli weapons maker Elbit Systems.
Confronting the Israeli arms industry and its investments in Britain has proven effective. Elbit capitulated to sustained pressure from Palestine Action this year by closing its London office and selling a plant it owned near Manchester.
A Palestine Action representative, who asked not to be named, pointed out that the British government is constantly developing stronger political and economic relations with Israel.
“There might not be British troops on the ground in Palestine today, but the country still sustains violent colonialism there today, in different forms,” the representative said.
“Elbit factories across the country [Britain] create weaponry daily that is fundamental to Zionist ethnic cleansing. This horror could not continue without London’s active acquiescence.”
Kit Klarenberg is an investigative journalist exploring the role of intelligence services in shaping politics and perceptions. Twitter: @KitKlarenberg.
David Cronin is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada. His books include Balfour’s Shadow: A Century of British Support for Zionism and Israel (Pluto Press).