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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.

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