Several thousand pro-Palestinians marched through the streets of London on Saturday to protest the centenary of the historic Balfour Declaration that helped lead to the creation of the Jewish state and to denounce Israel.
The marchers held signs reading “Free Palestine” and Justice for Palestine,” while they chanted “Free, Free Palestine” and “Occupation no more.” There were several ultra-Orthodox Jews spotted marching in the crowd, presumably from extremist anti-Zionist sects.
The protest came with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting the United Kingdom to celebrate the 100th anniversary of then-foreign UK secretary Arthur Balfour’s promise of London’s support in the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Mandate Palestine.
Several people in the crowd called for Israel’s destruction, Israel’s Channel 10 reported, with some chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
Israeli TV reports said there were some 3,000 marchers, and that two hours after the protests started, several hundred pro-Israel counter-protesters arrived and waved Israeli flags nearby.
On Friday, Netanyahu called on the Palestinians to come to terms with Israel’s existence as the nation-state of the Jewish people. A Palestinian acknowledgement of that fact, he said at the start of a meeting with his British counterpart, Theresa May, would be a big step toward peace.
May said the UK was “proud” of its role in Israel’s creation but added that London is approaching the Balfour centennial with sensitivity due to Palestinian grievances, noting Israeli settlements were a “barrier” to peace.
“A hundred years ago, the Balfour Declaration helped pave the way for the reestablishment of an independent state for the Jewish people in our ancestral homeland,” Netanyahu told May, calling the document a “great” event in world history.
In recent weeks, the Palestinians have vehemently protested the British government’s decision to mark the Balfour Declaration with pride, calling on London to apologize for the document and recognize a Palestinian state.
May said it was a “great pleasure” to host Netanyahu at 10 Downing Street to commemorate the Balfour Declaration.
“The United Kingdom is proud of the role that we played in the establishment of the State of Israel and we’re approaching this commemoration with respect and honor,” she said.
“I obviously, as we commemorate the Balfour Declaration, recognize the sensitivities that this raises. We, obviously, want to see a resolution of the issue for the Israelis and Palestinians. And we remain committed to a two-state solution.”
In discussing the Middle East peace process, Israeli settlements need to be discussed, the British leader added, arguing that they constitute “some of the barriers and some of the difficulties” toward reaching an agreement.
Britain’s opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said the government should mark the Balfour Centenary by unilaterally recognizing Palestine.