Palestinian ambassador to UK wades into Balfour train advert row

Updated 31 October 2017
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Palestinian ambassador to UK wades into Balfour train advert row

LONDON: The Palestinian Ambassador to the UK has hit out at a move by London transport chiefs to block an advertising campaign pegged to the anniversary of the 1917 Balfour Declaration.
The campaign was intended to be featured on major metro stations across the capital to coincide with the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, the now infamous document announcing British support for a Jewish national homeland in Palestine in 1917.
Transport for London (TfL) rejected the posters, which showed life in Palestine before and after the establishment of Israel – contrasting peaceful street scenes with images of refugee camps and destroyed buildings. TfL said the images “did not comply fully with our advertising guidelines.”
Palestinian Ambassador to the UK Manuel Hassassian on Tuesday wrote to Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to express his concerns about the decision.
“This overtly rough-handed attempt by TfL to silence our voice has forced me to re-consider the attitudes of the Mayor’s office to the Palestinian Mission,” he wrote in extracts of the letter seen by Arab News.
“In fact, it demonstrates a deep lack of respect and understanding of our legitimate right as people to self-determination and to the freedom to tell our story in London, a global capital, which routinely gives a platform to all voices and to everybody’s story.”
The photographs show quotidian life in the streets of Palestine before the creation of Israel in 1948, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced to flee.
“100 years ago a developing, increasingly progressive society was stamped out at the stroke of 67 words. Today the legacy of the British government’s broken promise still continues,” the posters read.
The posters are part of a campaign called Make it Right, which seeks to educate British citizens about the Balfour Declaration and what is claimed to be the historical responsibilities the UK has to Palestinians.
While known as a seminal document in the history of the creation of the Israel, the letter Lord Arthur Balfour penned emphasized that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”
The stark images in the Make It Right campaign, however, aim to highlight the Palestinian case that the bargain has not been upheld equally.
Still, preventing open debate around the subject is not the answer according to Yossi Mekelberg, a professor of international relations at Regent’s University in London.
“We have to adhere to freedom of speech,” he said.
While he had not seen the images, Mekelberg said unless “there was good reason to think this would create a public disturbance and riots would start on the Underground (train network),” they should have been permitted.
Hassassian’s letter to Khan, however, stressed the images in the rejected advertisements were far from objectionable and said the move was a sign of bias at TfL.
“Our campaign is very simple and factual in content. Its images are neither disturbing nor controversial. The fact that a campaign such as this, which aims to give voice to the Palestinian narrative was summarily suppressed, demonstrates the ugly reality that there may be respect for diversity for all in the capital, under your stewardship, but not for the Palestinians,” he wrote.
The ambassador also raised the matter with Alistair Burt, the minister of state for the Middle East, on Monday.
At the time of publishing, the Palestinian Mission had not received a response from the mayor’s office.
Last November, another poster drawing attention to the Balfour Declaration was approved by the TfL and displayed at Westminster station.
It was not immediately clear why that one was permitted while this latest campaign was rejected. TfL said only that the former campaign had a “different” design.
While the new posters will not be appearing on the London Underground train network, they will be displayed on taxis in the capital.
A representative from the Palestinian Mission said the taxi advert campaign was set to launch on Monday.


Killings, abductions feed frustration in Idlib

Residents are falling victim to infighting between rival groups in Idlib. (FIle/AFP)
Updated 5 min 8 sec ago
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Killings, abductions feed frustration in Idlib

  • Activists and analysts blame most of the violence on two rival umbrella groups, also attributing some to the Daesh group and alleged regime collaborators
  • In June, doctors and pharmacists in Idlib city announced a three-day strike to protest against “chaos and a lack of security,” including the kidnapping of doctors for ransom

BEIRUT: Targeted killings and kidnappings for ransom have for months rattled Syria’s Idlib province, with angry residents blaming dominant opposition and terrorist forces for the chaos.
Even as the regime says it aims to retake the northwestern province on Turkey’s border, its inhabitants are falling victim to infighting between the rival groups controlling most of it.
Car bombings, roadside explosives and gunfire have targeted and killed more than 200 fighters, but have also cost the lives of dozens of civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.
These mostly unclaimed killings, as well as increasingly frequent abductions, have left inhabitants in constant fear of being caught up in the violence.
“Every time I want to take my car somewhere, I inspect it thoroughly... to make sure there’s no explosive device planted in it,” said a media activist in southern Idlib.
“Whenever I drive by a dustbin, I accelerate, afraid it’s going to blow up,” he said, asking to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.
At the mosque on Fridays, he sits at the front of the congregation, as far away as possible from the entrance, in case a car or motorbike blows up outside.
Since April, 270 people — including 55 civilians — have been killed in assassinations of rebels and commanders from all sides in Idlib, and adjacent parts of Hama and Aleppo provinces, the Britain-based Observatory says.
Activists and analysts blame most of the violence on two rival umbrella groups, also attributing some to the Daesh group and alleged regime collaborators.
The Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) alliance, which is led by terrorists from Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate, controls more than 60 percent of Idlib. Part of the rest is held by the National Liberation Front, a rival umbrella group backed by Turkey, while Daesh also has sleeper cells in the area.
The regime holds the southeastern tip of the province that is home to some 2.5 million people — more than half displaced by Syria’s seven-year war or bussed into Idlib under surrender deals.
As the rampant insecurity in opposition areas reaches all walks of life, residents have grown increasingly angry.
The media activist from southern Idlib said he mostly blamed the dominant force of HTS for the chaos.
“As the most powerful force on the ground, it is responsible for guaranteeing security,” the activist said.
Medical staff in the HTS-held provincial capital have also had enough.
In June, doctors and pharmacists in Idlib city announced a three-day strike to protest against “chaos and a lack of security,” including the kidnapping of doctors for ransom.
In one of the latest incidents, on Aug. 7, masked men abducted Khalil Agha, a hospital director in the southwest of the province, said district spokesman Mahmud Al-Sheikh.
He was only released a week later after payment of a $100,000 ransom, Sheikh said.
A second activist said that, in the street, residents changed their route if they saw men with scarves wrapped around their faces, fearing an attack.
In recent weeks, HTS as well as other combatants have arrested not only alleged Daesh members, but also dozens of people accused of collusion with the regime.
Rebels fear loyalists could help broker a surrender deal, but HTS official Khaled Al-Ali also accused regime forces of helping to foment instability.
President Bashar Assad on July 26 said regaining control of Idlib was a priority. But analysts say any offensive is likely to be limited to Idlib’s peripheries, to allow Turkey and regime ally Russia to eke out a deal for the rest of the province.
A report for the Turkey-based Omran Center for Strategic Studies said the chaos was due to “competition between a flurry of local forces,” as well as IS and regime sleeper cells.
The instability was affecting the popularity of all rebels, the report’s author Nawar Oliver told AFP, especially HTS.
“Many areas in Idlib hate HTS and are ready to revolt against them at any time,” said the analyst.
Popular anger “could help the regime if it tried to take back the province,” Oliver said.
But discontent over the violence could also “make civilians more favorable to an alternative” put forward by Ankara and Moscow, he said.