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SMALL SCREEN, BIG SCREEN
50 years of TV in Pakistan, 1967-2017

Javed Jabbar

With round-the-clock, rush-to-screen images and sounds which invigorate the public sphere but also often mesh information and entertainment into discordance, TV in Pakistan completes half a century in 2017 with some stellar accomplishments and abject failures.
In an era when socio-economic fissures intensify and technologies make rapid advances, new media economics hint that the next half century will bring radical changes to how the TV medium will distribute its message.
Viewing on smart-phones has already leaped up.
TV intrusively determines content —- because news TV has become the big gallery to which the aggrieved public, politicians, lawyers, judiciary, armed forces and the private sector play and posture.

The two-part evolution
Social media frequently overtake TV. While the TV medium —- and the media —- virtually become the message, the media themselves accept no responsibility for framing messages.
By inane, prolonged repetition of images and words, news TV devalues its inherent capacity to enrich public knowledge. It magnifies and promotes the trivial to a scale undeserved by the subject. Fortunately, the non-news channels, global, national and local, state and private, periodically offer material that richly educates and entertains.
The evolution of TV in Pakistan over a 50-year period, 1967-2017, can be divided in two parts.
Part I: 1967-2002 when Pakistan Television Corporation was the principal state monopoly. Prior to Part I, there was a 5-year period when pre-PTV entities provided limited signals.
Part II: 2002-2017, when privately-owned channels came into operation under PEMRA-issued licenses. Currently, there are 88 channels, including about 40 news channels.
Within Part I, there was sub-division. The first ten years, 1967-1977 were so distinctive that even PTV could not match them in the next forty. With dynamic mobilization of a wide range of talent, imparting training and skills development to hundreds, introducing innovative programmes, presenting for the first time a vivid daily portrait of the country’s varied and vibrant people, PTV’s first decade is aptly deemed the golden decade.
1990 onwards up to 2002, the original monopoly was partly diluted. Shalimar Recording Company, in which the Government of Pakistan holds 56 per cent shares, was permitted to install terrestrial transmitters and re-telecast CNN to Pakistani audiences, Shalimar was also allowed to sell its non-news/current affairs time to a private party, NTM, ignoring conflict-of-interest dimensions as NTM was aligned with an advertising agency. The SRC system is now leased to ATN.

Monopoly to cacophony
The 2002-2017 phase represents a dramatic shift from one extreme of pure state monopoly to another extreme of private excess. The past 15 years have seen a phenomenal growth of private investment in TV and FM radio channels; creation of thousands of new job opportunities; training of manpower (with some noticeable exceptions!); provision of multiple choices to audiences; increased range of language options; expansion of political and public discourse to become far more inclusive of diverse partisan viewpoints than it had generally been during PTV’s news monopoly; exposes of bad governance; improved presentation; occasionally well-written, directed and acted teleplays and serials; audacious caricature and satire.
Yet breadth of choice is not accompanied by a proportionate depth in substance. There is proliferation without purpose, abundance without nuance, articulation without introspection.
If the state channel has a pro-government bias, many private channels, subtly or crudely manipulate their content, project their own biases and imbalance.
An obsession with events and incidents prevents examination of themes and trajectories, legitimizes sheer laziness under the mask of chasing the “news”. Perhaps worst of all is the willful neglect of aspects of culture such as literature, classical music, painting, sculpture, theatre while fashion shows, pop music and cricket become more sponsorable content.
Based on a flawed revenue model of total reliance on income from advertising, private channels are infested by the virus of commercialism and cut-throat competition for ratings. This has led to a dumbing-down of the standards of debate and decorum in talk-shows. The valuable content-form of the carefully-researched, thoughtfully reflective film or TV documentary has almost disappeared. To be replaced by snappy “sorts “, “sound-bites” or “capsules” which are mostly superficial or sensationalist.
Audiences are being brain-washed and conditioned with a surplus of conjecture, invective, mid-breaks, breaking news and futile frenzy. Attention Deficit Disorder is now a new ailment, compounded by channels, and by cell/smart- phones.

Pioneerism and acrimony
Thus, over-all, evolution has proved to a mixture of trail-blazing pioneerism (by both PTV and Private channels at different times) as also merely imitative me-tooism, of a purposeful state role both at the outset in 1967 and in creating a turning point in 2002 when the state voluntarily ended its monopoly.
There is also an unseemly, unpleasant acrimony between some private channels.
This conflict further falsifies the myth of self-regulation which is actually a mask for self-interest.
For a sector that speaks loudest about transparency and accountability, there is little or nothing of either about the financial aspects of TV channels, about actual revenue, sources of advertising incomes and rates (except for the sole publicly - listed Eye TV/Hum TV). While, as private limited companies, all are obliged to file annual data with SECP and/or PEMRA, the public at large remains completely uninformed about possible conflicts-of-interest, questionable practices, et al.
Official regulation of private channels through the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) is marked by some creditable work in difficult conditions;indiscriminate issuance of licenses with financial elements of eligibility receiving far more weightage than the professional credentials of applicants; using license and renewal fees to unduly accumulate income; attempts at strict enforcement of codes and rules often paralyzed by High Courts too ready to grant stay orders that stay in place for years, instead of weeks; anarchy in the sub-sector of religious channels that commenced without licenses and have become untouchable for the wrong reasons; an inordinately large number of channels created by the blunder of permitting each of the 3500 or so cable distributors to operate 5 of their own content channels resulting in about 16,500 channels (?!) — with rampant piracy of Hollywood/Bollywood content, and fragmentation of audiences; and lack of true independence as a regulatory body from state and government.

PTV’s path-breaking role
But when the present is too much with us, we owe the past a visit. And in PTV’s case, the past is still present. PTV’s first fifty years are a panorama of progressive change and regressive stagnation, of some promises fulfilled and enormous potential still unrealized.   As the electronic visual gazette of the Pakistani state, PTV is a significant part of the country’s media history. From official documentarist to formal witness of public events to the promoter of an aspirational national singularity, PTV is a day-to-day recordist as well as an unrivalled decade-to-decade archivist of the country’s evolution over half a century.
Several individuals made outstanding contributions to the evolution of TV in Pakistan. Headed by Aslam Azhar, whose exceptional gift for leadership this writer calls “createlevity”, this list includes several others who rarely appeared on-screen and were in some cases, also well-known but highly deserve being named here.
Exclusions are only due to space limitations or inadvertence.
(Dozens of already well-known, on-screen persons are deliberately excluded. Programme concepts, production, direction: Agha Nasir, Zaman Ali Khan, Fazal Kamal, Akhtar Waqar Azim,Kunwar Aftab Ahmed, Ishrat Ansari, Mohsin Ali, M. Nisar Hussain, Zaheer Khan, Shirin Khan, Schahzad Khalil, Muneeza Hashmi, Sultana Siddiqui, Yawar Hayat, Shoaib Mansoor, Amir Imam, Khawaja Najmul Hasan, Farooq Qaiser. News, current affairs, sports: Burhanuddin Hasan, Zubair Ali, Muslehuddin, Farhad Zaidi, Athar Waqar Azim,Zaheer Bhatti, Tashbihul Hasan, Iftikhar Ahmed.Engineering: Nazir Warraich. Set design: Jamil Afridi, Shahbaz Ahmed. Finance: Muteer-ur-Rahman Mirza. Marketing, sales: Shanul Haq Haqqee, Ziauddin Jeddy).
In 2017 PTV remains a sober, tonally-balanced broadcaster compared to the hysterical, screeching approach of private news TV channels. Succumbing to the breaking news option only when state and government events so require, but that too in a comparatively staid fashion, the country’s first channel is, to this day, its most well-behaved one.

Stultifying strait-jacket
The pre-dominance of governmental intrusion into internal management is evident in the fact that, of about 30 tenures of Managing Directors in about 50 years, only 6 individuals from within the specialized cadre of TV professionals were appointed as chief executives. Chairmen, with only a few exceptions, have almost always been Secretaries of the Information Ministry.
This facet keeps PTV in the strait-jacket of a state entity. In being unable to ensure balance and fairness in news content and analysis, state ownership and governmental control are lethal. PTV is prevented from being seen as credible, to the extent that when it does attempt balance, a strong pre-determined perception obstructs a fair evaluation of its unconventional content.
PTV continues to enjoy the unfair monopoly of being the sole recipient of TV license fees. Automatically added to electricity bills, the license fees subsidy contributes between 65 to 70 per cent of total revenue. The corporation also receives annual allocations under the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP), not always fully utilized. But it likes to have its cake, and eat it too. Benefiting exclusively from the license fees, PTV also competes with private channels for commercial advertising revenue (unlike BBC within the UK which is the sole recipient of license fees but does not accept advertising).
This writer began his relationship with TV as a sceptic who soon converted willingly into a free-lance contributor. In the different contexts of association for over 50 years, as viewer, independent content-provider, advertising practitioner, legislative monitor, public- interest litigator, cabinet minister-cum-media policy-maker in 3 governments and drafter of the EMRA (1997),RAMBO (2000,which became PEMRA in 2002) ordinances, media critic, Supreme Court-appointed mediator, and Member of the SC-appointed Media Commission, one has had the privilege of a close, continuous nexus with this mass medium from several perspectives.

Four conclusions
One: That in the swelling crowd of channels there is still not a single authentic public service broadcaster, independent of government and undependent on advertising.
Two: That substantial, long overdue reforms for PEMRA, PTV, private channels and advertising should be conducted by Parliament, Judiciary, Government, advertisers, civil society and media/TV channels themselves. Many such proposed reforms await action through the Media Commission’s Recommendations pending with the SC since 2013.
Three: That the basic policy changes one introduced as a cabinet minister in 1988-89, 1996-97, 2000 became as transient as personal tenures or governments because most could not be made structural and institutional, often due to reluctance at the highest level. (Except for the eventual enforcement of PEMRA in 2002 but, alas, with mis-steps. Such as permitting unchecked cross-media ownership, etc.)
Four: the more one studies the ambivalent role of TV, the more one returns to the scepticism about this medium which one began with. In other words —- when the more things change, do they remain even more the same?

Comment

Javed Jabbar

With round-the-clock, rush-to-screen images and sounds which invigorate the public sphere but also often mesh information and entertainment into discordance, TV in Pakistan completes half a century in 2017 with some stellar accomplishments and abject failures.
In an era when socio-economic fissures intensify and technologies make rapid advances, new media economics hint that the next half century will bring radical changes to how the TV medium will distribute its message.
Viewing on smart-phones has already leaped up.
TV intrusively determines content —- because news TV has become the big gallery to which the aggrieved public, politicians, lawyers, judiciary, armed forces and the private sector play and posture.

The two-part evolution
Social media frequently overtake TV. While the TV medium —- and the media —- virtually become the message, the media themselves accept no responsibility for framing messages.
By inane, prolonged repetition of images and words, news TV devalues its inherent capacity to enrich public knowledge. It magnifies and promotes the trivial to a scale undeserved by the subject. Fortunately, the non-news channels, global, national and local, state and private, periodically offer material that richly educates and entertains.
The evolution of TV in Pakistan over a 50-year period, 1967-2017, can be divided in two parts.
Part I: 1967-2002 when Pakistan Television Corporation was the principal state monopoly. Prior to Part I, there was a 5-year period when pre-PTV entities provided limited signals.
Part II: 2002-2017, when privately-owned channels came into operation under PEMRA-issued licenses. Currently, there are 88 channels, including about 40 news channels.
Within Part I, there was sub-division. The first ten years, 1967-1977 were so distinctive that even PTV could not match them in the next forty. With dynamic mobilization of a wide range of talent, imparting training and skills development to hundreds, introducing innovative programmes, presenting for the first time a vivid daily portrait of the country’s varied and vibrant people, PTV’s first decade is aptly deemed the golden decade.
1990 onwards up to 2002, the original monopoly was partly diluted. Shalimar Recording Company, in which the Government of Pakistan holds 56 per cent shares, was permitted to install terrestrial transmitters and re-telecast CNN to Pakistani audiences, Shalimar was also allowed to sell its non-news/current affairs time to a private party, NTM, ignoring conflict-of-interest dimensions as NTM was aligned with an advertising agency. The SRC system is now leased to ATN.

Monopoly to cacophony
The 2002-2017 phase represents a dramatic shift from one extreme of pure state monopoly to another extreme of private excess. The past 15 years have seen a phenomenal growth of private investment in TV and FM radio channels; creation of thousands of new job opportunities; training of manpower (with some noticeable exceptions!); provision of multiple choices to audiences; increased range of language options; expansion of political and public discourse to become far more inclusive of diverse partisan viewpoints than it had generally been during PTV’s news monopoly; exposes of bad governance; improved presentation; occasionally well-written, directed and acted teleplays and serials; audacious caricature and satire.
Yet breadth of choice is not accompanied by a proportionate depth in substance. There is proliferation without purpose, abundance without nuance, articulation without introspection.
If the state channel has a pro-government bias, many private channels, subtly or crudely manipulate their content, project their own biases and imbalance.
An obsession with events and incidents prevents examination of themes and trajectories, legitimizes sheer laziness under the mask of chasing the “news”. Perhaps worst of all is the willful neglect of aspects of culture such as literature, classical music, painting, sculpture, theatre while fashion shows, pop music and cricket become more sponsorable content.
Based on a flawed revenue model of total reliance on income from advertising, private channels are infested by the virus of commercialism and cut-throat competition for ratings. This has led to a dumbing-down of the standards of debate and decorum in talk-shows. The valuable content-form of the carefully-researched, thoughtfully reflective film or TV documentary has almost disappeared. To be replaced by snappy “sorts “, “sound-bites” or “capsules” which are mostly superficial or sensationalist.
Audiences are being brain-washed and conditioned with a surplus of conjecture, invective, mid-breaks, breaking news and futile frenzy. Attention Deficit Disorder is now a new ailment, compounded by channels, and by cell/smart- phones.

Pioneerism and acrimony
Thus, over-all, evolution has proved to a mixture of trail-blazing pioneerism (by both PTV and Private channels at different times) as also merely imitative me-tooism, of a purposeful state role both at the outset in 1967 and in creating a turning point in 2002 when the state voluntarily ended its monopoly.
There is also an unseemly, unpleasant acrimony between some private channels.
This conflict further falsifies the myth of self-regulation which is actually a mask for self-interest.
For a sector that speaks loudest about transparency and accountability, there is little or nothing of either about the financial aspects of TV channels, about actual revenue, sources of advertising incomes and rates (except for the sole publicly - listed Eye TV/Hum TV). While, as private limited companies, all are obliged to file annual data with SECP and/or PEMRA, the public at large remains completely uninformed about possible conflicts-of-interest, questionable practices, et al.
Official regulation of private channels through the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) is marked by some creditable work in difficult conditions;indiscriminate issuance of licenses with financial elements of eligibility receiving far more weightage than the professional credentials of applicants; using license and renewal fees to unduly accumulate income; attempts at strict enforcement of codes and rules often paralyzed by High Courts too ready to grant stay orders that stay in place for years, instead of weeks; anarchy in the sub-sector of religious channels that commenced without licenses and have become untouchable for the wrong reasons; an inordinately large number of channels created by the blunder of permitting each of the 3500 or so cable distributors to operate 5 of their own content channels resulting in about 16,500 channels (?!) — with rampant piracy of Hollywood/Bollywood content, and fragmentation of audiences; and lack of true independence as a regulatory body from state and government.

PTV’s path-breaking role
But when the present is too much with us, we owe the past a visit. And in PTV’s case, the past is still present. PTV’s first fifty years are a panorama of progressive change and regressive stagnation, of some promises fulfilled and enormous potential still unrealized.   As the electronic visual gazette of the Pakistani state, PTV is a significant part of the country’s media history. From official documentarist to formal witness of public events to the promoter of an aspirational national singularity, PTV is a day-to-day recordist as well as an unrivalled decade-to-decade archivist of the country’s evolution over half a century.
Several individuals made outstanding contributions to the evolution of TV in Pakistan. Headed by Aslam Azhar, whose exceptional gift for leadership this writer calls “createlevity”, this list includes several others who rarely appeared on-screen and were in some cases, also well-known but highly deserve being named here.
Exclusions are only due to space limitations or inadvertence.
(Dozens of already well-known, on-screen persons are deliberately excluded. Programme concepts, production, direction: Agha Nasir, Zaman Ali Khan, Fazal Kamal, Akhtar Waqar Azim,Kunwar Aftab Ahmed, Ishrat Ansari, Mohsin Ali, M. Nisar Hussain, Zaheer Khan, Shirin Khan, Schahzad Khalil, Muneeza Hashmi, Sultana Siddiqui, Yawar Hayat, Shoaib Mansoor, Amir Imam, Khawaja Najmul Hasan, Farooq Qaiser. News, current affairs, sports: Burhanuddin Hasan, Zubair Ali, Muslehuddin, Farhad Zaidi, Athar Waqar Azim,Zaheer Bhatti, Tashbihul Hasan, Iftikhar Ahmed.Engineering: Nazir Warraich. Set design: Jamil Afridi, Shahbaz Ahmed. Finance: Muteer-ur-Rahman Mirza. Marketing, sales: Shanul Haq Haqqee, Ziauddin Jeddy).
In 2017 PTV remains a sober, tonally-balanced broadcaster compared to the hysterical, screeching approach of private news TV channels. Succumbing to the breaking news option only when state and government events so require, but that too in a comparatively staid fashion, the country’s first channel is, to this day, its most well-behaved one.

Stultifying strait-jacket
The pre-dominance of governmental intrusion into internal management is evident in the fact that, of about 30 tenures of Managing Directors in about 50 years, only 6 individuals from within the specialized cadre of TV professionals were appointed as chief executives. Chairmen, with only a few exceptions, have almost always been Secretaries of the Information Ministry.
This facet keeps PTV in the strait-jacket of a state entity. In being unable to ensure balance and fairness in news content and analysis, state ownership and governmental control are lethal. PTV is prevented from being seen as credible, to the extent that when it does attempt balance, a strong pre-determined perception obstructs a fair evaluation of its unconventional content.
PTV continues to enjoy the unfair monopoly of being the sole recipient of TV license fees. Automatically added to electricity bills, the license fees subsidy contributes between 65 to 70 per cent of total revenue. The corporation also receives annual allocations under the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP), not always fully utilized. But it likes to have its cake, and eat it too. Benefiting exclusively from the license fees, PTV also competes with private channels for commercial advertising revenue (unlike BBC within the UK which is the sole recipient of license fees but does not accept advertising).
This writer began his relationship with TV as a sceptic who soon converted willingly into a free-lance contributor. In the different contexts of association for over 50 years, as viewer, independent content-provider, advertising practitioner, legislative monitor, public- interest litigator, cabinet minister-cum-media policy-maker in 3 governments and drafter of the EMRA (1997),RAMBO (2000,which became PEMRA in 2002) ordinances, media critic, Supreme Court-appointed mediator, and Member of the SC-appointed Media Commission, one has had the privilege of a close, continuous nexus with this mass medium from several perspectives.

Four conclusions
One: That in the swelling crowd of channels there is still not a single authentic public service broadcaster, independent of government and undependent on advertising.
Two: That substantial, long overdue reforms for PEMRA, PTV, private channels and advertising should be conducted by Parliament, Judiciary, Government, advertisers, civil society and media/TV channels themselves. Many such proposed reforms await action through the Media Commission’s Recommendations pending with the SC since 2013.
Three: That the basic policy changes one introduced as a cabinet minister in 1988-89, 1996-97, 2000 became as transient as personal tenures or governments because most could not be made structural and institutional, often due to reluctance at the highest level. (Except for the eventual enforcement of PEMRA in 2002 but, alas, with mis-steps. Such as permitting unchecked cross-media ownership, etc.)
Four: the more one studies the ambivalent role of TV, the more one returns to the scepticism about this medium which one began with. In other words —- when the more things change, do they remain even more the same?


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The Balfour Declaration destroyed Palestine, not the Palestinian people

Dr Ramzy Baroud

Some promises are made and kept; others disavowed. But the ‘promise’ made by Arthur James Balfour in what became known as the ‘Balfour Declaration’ to the leaders of the Zionist Jewish community in Britain one hundred years ago, was only honoured in part: it established a state for the Jews and attempted to destroy the Palestinian nation.
In fact, Balfour, the foreign Secretary of Britain at the time his declaration of 84 words was pronounced on November 2, 1917, was, like many of his peers, anti-Semitic. He cared little about the fate of Jewish communities. His commitment to establishing a Jewish state in a land that was already populated by a thriving and historically-rooted nation was only meant to enlist the support of wealthy Zionist leaders in Britain’s massive military buildup during World War I.

Ruthless colonial edict
Whether Balfour knew it or not, the extent to which his short statement to the leader of the Jewish community in Britain, Walter Rothschild, would uproot a whole nation from their ancestral homes and continue to devastate several generations of Palestinians decades later, is moot. In fact, judging by the strong support his descendants continue to exhibit towards Israel, one would guess that he, too, would have been ‘proud’ of Israel, oblivious to the tragic fate of the Palestinians.
This is what he penned down a century ago:
“His Majesty’s government views with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country. I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.”
Speaking recently at New York University, Palestinian professor Rashid Khalidi described the British commitment, then, as an event that “marked the beginning of a century-long colonial war in Palestine, supported by an array of outside powers which continues to this day.”
But oftentimes, generalized, academic language and refined political analysis, even if accurate, masks the true extent of tragedies as expressed in the lives of ordinary people.
As Balfour finished writing down his infamous words, he must have been consumed with how effective his political tactic would be in enlisting Zionists to join Britain’s military adventures, in exchange for a piece of land that was still under the control of the Ottoman Empire.
Yet, he clearly had no genuine regard for the millions of Palestinian Arabs – Muslims and Christians alike – who were to suffer the cruelty of war, ethnic cleansing, racism and humiliation over the course of a century.

A call for annihilation of Palestinians
The Balfour Declaration was equivalent to a decree calling for the annihilation of the Palestinian people. Not one Palestinian, anywhere, remained completely immune from the harm invited by Balfour and his government.
Tamam Nassar, now 75 years old, was one of millions of Palestinians whose life Balfour scarred forever. She was uprooted from her village of Joulis in southern Palestine, in 1948. She was only five.
Tamam, now lives with her children and grandchildren in the Nuseirat Refugee Camp in Gaza. Ailing under the weight of harsh years, and weary by a never-ending episode of war, siege and poverty, she holds on to a few hazy memories of a past that can never be redeemed.
Little does she know that a man by the name of Arthur James Balfour had sealed the fate of the Nassar family for many generations, condemning them to a life of perpetual desolation.
I spoke to Tamam, also known as Umm Marwan (mother of Marwan), as part of an attempt to document the Palestinian past through the personal memories of ordinary people.
By the time she was born, the British had already colonized Palestine for decades, starting only months after Balfour signed his declaration.
The few memories peeking through the naïveté of her innocence were largely about racing after British military convoys, pleading for candy.
Back then, Tamam did not encounter Jews or, perhaps, she did. But since many Palestinian Jews looked just like Palestinian Arabs, she could not tell the difference or even care to make the distinction.  People were just people. Jews were their neighbors in Joulis, and that was all that mattered.
Although the Palestinian Jews lived behind walls, fences and trenches, for a while they walked freely among the fellahin (peasants), shopped in their markets and sought their help, for only the fellahin knew how to speak the language of the land and decode the signs of the seasons.

Jewish militants massacre Palestinians
Tamam’s house was made of hardened mud, and had a small front yard, where the little girl and her brothers were often confined when the military convoys roamed their village. Soon, this would happen more and more frequently and the candy that once sweetened the lives of the children, was no longer offered.
Then, there was the war that changed everything. That was in 1948. The battle around Joulis crept up all too quickly and showed little mercy.  Some of the fellahin, who ventured out beyond the borders of the village, were never seen again.
The battle of Joulis was short-lived. Poor peasants with kitchen knives and a few old rifles were no match for advanced armies. British soldiers pulled out from the outskirts of Joulis to allow Zionist militias to stage their attack, and the villagers were chased out after a brief but bloody battle.
Tamam, her brothers and parents were chased out of Joulis, as well, never to see their beloved village again. They moved about in refugee camps around Gaza, before settling permanently in Nuseirat. Their tent was eventually replaced by a mud house.
In Gaza, Tamam experienced many wars, bombing campaigns, sieges and every warfare tactic Israel could possibly muster. Her resolve is only weakened by the frailty of her aging body, and the entrenched sadness over the untimely deaths of her brother, Salim, and her young son, Kamal.
Salim was killed by the Israeli army as he attempted to escape Gaza following the war and brief Israeli invasion of the Strip in 1956, and Kamal died as a result of health complications resulting from torture in Israeli prisons.

British duplicity continues
If Balfour was keen to ensure “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine,” why is it, then, that the British government remains committed to Israel after all of these years?
Isn’t a century since that declaration was made, 70 years of Palestinian exile, 50 years of Israeli military occupation all sufficient proof that Israel has no respect for international law and Palestinian human, civil and religious rights?
As she grew older, Tamam began returning to Joulis in her mind, more often seeking a fleetingly happy memory, and a moment of solace. Life under siege in Gaza is too hard, especially for old people like her, struggling with multiple ailments and broken hearts.
The attitude of the current British government, which is gearing up for a massive celebration to commemorate the centennial of the Balfour Declaration suggests that nothing has changed and that no lessons were ever learned in the 100 years since Balfour made his ominous promise to establish a Jewish state at the expense of Palestinians.
But this also rings true for the Palestinian people. Their commitment to fight for freedom, also remains unchanged and, neither Balfour nor all of Britain’s foreign secretaries since then, have managed to break the will of the Palestinian nation.
That, too, is worth pondering upon.

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His forthcoming book is ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto Press, London). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.

Comment

Dr Ramzy Baroud

Some promises are made and kept; others disavowed. But the ‘promise’ made by Arthur James Balfour in what became known as the ‘Balfour Declaration’ to the leaders of the Zionist Jewish community in Britain one hundred years ago, was only honoured in part: it established a state for the Jews and attempted to destroy the Palestinian nation.
In fact, Balfour, the foreign Secretary of Britain at the time his declaration of 84 words was pronounced on November 2, 1917, was, like many of his peers, anti-Semitic. He cared little about the fate of Jewish communities. His commitment to establishing a Jewish state in a land that was already populated by a thriving and historically-rooted nation was only meant to enlist the support of wealthy Zionist leaders in Britain’s massive military buildup during World War I.

Ruthless colonial edict
Whether Balfour knew it or not, the extent to which his short statement to the leader of the Jewish community in Britain, Walter Rothschild, would uproot a whole nation from their ancestral homes and continue to devastate several generations of Palestinians decades later, is moot. In fact, judging by the strong support his descendants continue to exhibit towards Israel, one would guess that he, too, would have been ‘proud’ of Israel, oblivious to the tragic fate of the Palestinians.
This is what he penned down a century ago:
“His Majesty’s government views with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country. I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.”
Speaking recently at New York University, Palestinian professor Rashid Khalidi described the British commitment, then, as an event that “marked the beginning of a century-long colonial war in Palestine, supported by an array of outside powers which continues to this day.”
But oftentimes, generalized, academic language and refined political analysis, even if accurate, masks the true extent of tragedies as expressed in the lives of ordinary people.
As Balfour finished writing down his infamous words, he must have been consumed with how effective his political tactic would be in enlisting Zionists to join Britain’s military adventures, in exchange for a piece of land that was still under the control of the Ottoman Empire.
Yet, he clearly had no genuine regard for the millions of Palestinian Arabs – Muslims and Christians alike – who were to suffer the cruelty of war, ethnic cleansing, racism and humiliation over the course of a century.

A call for annihilation of Palestinians
The Balfour Declaration was equivalent to a decree calling for the annihilation of the Palestinian people. Not one Palestinian, anywhere, remained completely immune from the harm invited by Balfour and his government.
Tamam Nassar, now 75 years old, was one of millions of Palestinians whose life Balfour scarred forever. She was uprooted from her village of Joulis in southern Palestine, in 1948. She was only five.
Tamam, now lives with her children and grandchildren in the Nuseirat Refugee Camp in Gaza. Ailing under the weight of harsh years, and weary by a never-ending episode of war, siege and poverty, she holds on to a few hazy memories of a past that can never be redeemed.
Little does she know that a man by the name of Arthur James Balfour had sealed the fate of the Nassar family for many generations, condemning them to a life of perpetual desolation.
I spoke to Tamam, also known as Umm Marwan (mother of Marwan), as part of an attempt to document the Palestinian past through the personal memories of ordinary people.
By the time she was born, the British had already colonized Palestine for decades, starting only months after Balfour signed his declaration.
The few memories peeking through the naïveté of her innocence were largely about racing after British military convoys, pleading for candy.
Back then, Tamam did not encounter Jews or, perhaps, she did. But since many Palestinian Jews looked just like Palestinian Arabs, she could not tell the difference or even care to make the distinction.  People were just people. Jews were their neighbors in Joulis, and that was all that mattered.
Although the Palestinian Jews lived behind walls, fences and trenches, for a while they walked freely among the fellahin (peasants), shopped in their markets and sought their help, for only the fellahin knew how to speak the language of the land and decode the signs of the seasons.

Jewish militants massacre Palestinians
Tamam’s house was made of hardened mud, and had a small front yard, where the little girl and her brothers were often confined when the military convoys roamed their village. Soon, this would happen more and more frequently and the candy that once sweetened the lives of the children, was no longer offered.
Then, there was the war that changed everything. That was in 1948. The battle around Joulis crept up all too quickly and showed little mercy.  Some of the fellahin, who ventured out beyond the borders of the village, were never seen again.
The battle of Joulis was short-lived. Poor peasants with kitchen knives and a few old rifles were no match for advanced armies. British soldiers pulled out from the outskirts of Joulis to allow Zionist militias to stage their attack, and the villagers were chased out after a brief but bloody battle.
Tamam, her brothers and parents were chased out of Joulis, as well, never to see their beloved village again. They moved about in refugee camps around Gaza, before settling permanently in Nuseirat. Their tent was eventually replaced by a mud house.
In Gaza, Tamam experienced many wars, bombing campaigns, sieges and every warfare tactic Israel could possibly muster. Her resolve is only weakened by the frailty of her aging body, and the entrenched sadness over the untimely deaths of her brother, Salim, and her young son, Kamal.
Salim was killed by the Israeli army as he attempted to escape Gaza following the war and brief Israeli invasion of the Strip in 1956, and Kamal died as a result of health complications resulting from torture in Israeli prisons.

British duplicity continues
If Balfour was keen to ensure “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine,” why is it, then, that the British government remains committed to Israel after all of these years?
Isn’t a century since that declaration was made, 70 years of Palestinian exile, 50 years of Israeli military occupation all sufficient proof that Israel has no respect for international law and Palestinian human, civil and religious rights?
As she grew older, Tamam began returning to Joulis in her mind, more often seeking a fleetingly happy memory, and a moment of solace. Life under siege in Gaza is too hard, especially for old people like her, struggling with multiple ailments and broken hearts.
The attitude of the current British government, which is gearing up for a massive celebration to commemorate the centennial of the Balfour Declaration suggests that nothing has changed and that no lessons were ever learned in the 100 years since Balfour made his ominous promise to establish a Jewish state at the expense of Palestinians.
But this also rings true for the Palestinian people. Their commitment to fight for freedom, also remains unchanged and, neither Balfour nor all of Britain’s foreign secretaries since then, have managed to break the will of the Palestinian nation.
That, too, is worth pondering upon.

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His forthcoming book is ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto Press, London). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.


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