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Documentary makers prepare to tackle the Balfour story

An Arab anti-Zionist demonstration outside the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem on March 8, 1920. (Shutterstock)
LONDON: With the 100-year anniversary of the signing of the Balfour Declaration approaching, tensions are already rising around how the centenary of the controversial document should be marked.
The declaration — which saw the British government support a ‘national home’ for Jews in Palestine without prejudicing the rights of “non-Jewish communities” — is seen as the first step toward the creation of Israel in 1948.
Just this week, Manchester University faced criticism for allowing an event to take place later this month that is seen to ‘celebrate’ the declaration. The planned Balfour 100 event has been seen by some as offensive to students of Palestinian origin whose families lost land in the eventual creation of Israel and continue to suffer today from the fallout from the agreement.
The 1917 document is also the subject of a number of TV programs, documentaries and film screenings planned ahead of the Nov. 2 anniversary.
The BBC is planning to air a documentary presented by reporter Jane Corbin where she examines her personal connection to the story through one of her own ancestors, Leo Amery.
Amery was a British politician who played a key role in drafting the document and oversaw British rule in Palestine during the 1920s. The documentary — The Balfour Declaration: Britain’s Broken Promise — is to be aired on BBC 2 on Oct 31.
“This documentary reflects a wide range of voices, but it is also a personal story about Jane’s own connections to the Balfour Declaration and career reporting from the Middle East,” a BBC spokesperson told Arab News.
There are also a number of independently-produced documentaries to be screened in the coming weeks. A film called “From Balfour to Banksy: Divisions and Visions in Palestine” is a not-for-profit film being previewed later this month in London, with an official launch taking place in November.
The documentary has been produced by political activist, Miranda Pinch and directed by Martin Buckley, who has worked as a BBC producer. It traces the story of Palestinians following the Balfour agreement covering issues such as poverty, lack of opportunity for young Arabs and continued dispossession, according to the film’s website.
A UK-based organization Independent Jewish Voices has also released a short film called 100 Years After Balfour, which aims to challenge the notion that the centenary is a time for celebration.
‘This autumn, many in the Jewish community as well as the UK government are celebrating this centenary. This new film by Independent Jewish Voices shows that a significant minority of Jews in Britain take a different view, seeing this as a time to reflect on the profoundly negative consequences of the Balfour Declaration, especially for the Palestinians,” said the historian Avi Shlaim on the network’s website.
The film is being screened at a number of London locations in the coming weeks as well as at an event to be held by the Balfour Project in late October. The Balfour Project is an organization that aims to recognize and learn from the mistakes in British foreign policy and work to protect the rights of Palestinian people.
“Our focus is on Britain,” said John Bond, spokesperson at the Balfour Project. “Our challenge is you can’t go back over the past, you’ve got to face the situation as it is now.
“But we did make a hell of a mess of it back in the time when we were ruling through a fair amount of duplicity. The situation Britain is now in is ‘let’s see what we can do now to improve the situation’, and that is mainly strengthening the capacity of the Palestinian side, because that is what we haven’t done and there is a lot that Britain could help with,” he said.
Filmmaker Karl Sabbagh — who has previously produced documentaries for BBC and Channel 4 among others — is also in the process of completing a documentary on the fallout from the Balfour agreement.
He said the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is an area than mainstream media fail to properly address due to fears of being accused of bias, as well as being overwhelmed by too much Middle East-focused content.
“The usual reply you get (from mainstream TV channels) is that they are up to their ears in Middle East stuff and they don’t want anymore,” he said. “The other reason is that they are terrified of being accused of anti-semitism if they put on anything near to what I consider to be the ‘truth’ about the situation,” he said.
In response to such comments, the BBC spokesperson said: “The BBC has a long history of reporting from the region and is committed to covering all aspects of a very complex conflict in a fair, balanced and impartial way without fear or favor.”