Two Palestine Action activists were yesterday acquitted unanimously by a Jury in Southwark Crown Court, having been charged with criminal damage against a memorial after they doused the House of Commons’ Arthur Balfour statue in red last year.
Marking the 105th anniversary of Balfour’s signing of his imperialist Declaration, which handed over the land of Palestine to Zionists, the pair snuck into Parliament last year to challenge his glorification. Swapping out Palestine Action’s red paint for ketchup to evade Commons’ security, the pair defaced the statue in the private members’ lobby with a blood red mark before unveiling the Palestinian flag and glueing themselves to the plinth.
Following the verdict, Gamze stated that “we wanted to show that this is not a far away geopolitical conflict; we’re talking about apartheid and settler colonialism, violations of the human rights of a whole people, and we need to see that through the lens of British complicity.”
Sal added that it was about the “colonial legacy of what Balfour did and the fact that our government is complicit in that still complicit in that violence, continuing to arm Israel through companies like Elbit Systems.”
Issued in 1917, Balfour’s Declaration promised “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” It paved the way for the violent colonisation of Palestine by Zionist settlers – and their violence intensified following the signing of the Declaration. Balfour promised Britain’s “best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object.” Up until 1948, Britain provided that: It facilitated Zionist violence through the British army’s mass arrests and violence, including sexual violence, against male and female Palestinian detainees, its training of Zionist militias, and its numerous atrocities against Palestinians, including massacres and burning of entire villages. Balfour’s Zionism was also tied up with his deep-rooted anti-semitism, having passed as Prime Minister in 1905 the ‘Aliens Act’, which expressly sought to restrict Jewish migration to Britain.
The Balfour Two were the first to be charged under new provisions relating to accused ‘damage to memorials’, brought in under the ‘Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act’ (s50), for which charges now carry a maximum 10 years imprisonment – up from three months. The Act received Royal Assent at the end of April 2022, following the Colston Four acquittal by jury at the start of that year.
The Two were deprived by the judge of other defences, including their Assembly and Expression rights of the European Convention, arguing instead based on consent: that the British public would agree with the action if they understood who Balfour was and the British role in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.