Why are centenaries so important? Few remember what happened 100 years ago; some of us have difficulty recalling what we were doing 100 minutes ago, let alone 100 days or years. Even those who years exceed 100 were probably too young to notice much that was happening in 1917. So, why remember?
For every family, community, people; memory is important. Our relationships are constructed from memories – good or bad. Whether as a family, a nation or a faith group it is memories that form our history and it is our shared history that binds each to the other. Most written history has been that which the rich and powerful wish to be remembered. The weak and powerless have been ‘dust’ swept aside to make space for the strong.
Ours may be the first generation in which the voice of ordinary people has been heard and, to a limited degree, noted. It’s only a limited degree. Children are still abused, enslaved to provide cheap goods, or trafficked as cheap bodies. Women in too many places, even in supposedly modern civilised nations, are still regarded as second-class, subservient, available playthings. And those with disabilities are praised for a month and ignored for 47, until the next Olympics.
So, why remember 1917; why would the UK government want to ‘celebrate’; why count down to November 2nd; why focus attention on a letter of fewer than 70 words?
Alongside the ‘good’ memories, the bad ones we remember most easily are those that hurt us most: when we are lied to, made promises that are broken, when we are treated ‘like dirt’. The letter from Alfred James Balfour to Lord Rothschild (the ‘Balfour Declaration’), dated 2nd November 1917 broke promises already made in secret to Sharif Hussein and to the French. (Subsequently further incompatible promises were made to the US and to the League of Nations). Broken promises have a habit of coming back and hurting us. That is the case in the Middle East today. Ask why Britain and the US are not trusted by the nations of that region and you need look no further than the promise of democracy. One Hundred Years on from those broken promises, the only democracies we in the ‘moral West’ are prepared to tolerate are those who kow-tow to our commercial wishes. Whether in South America, Asia or the Orient, it is only acceptable if it fits our capitalist-militarist model.
So, Yes, I will be remembering, and I’ll be counting down to 2nd November; to the opportunities lost for peace with justice in Palestine and the Middle East. I will be mourning the moral failure of church and state in providing Zionism with a nation state at the expense of the people who were already there. I shall be sad at the ongoing persecution of a people whose only wrong-doing was to be at home, in the place where another, stronger and more violent people, wanted to be.
But, I shall also be celebrating. I will cheer for those Jews – some of whom I am privileged to count as friends – who stand up for the historic values of Judaism and who confront Zionism with passion and intellect. And I shall celebrate the Palestinian Church, the ‘Living Stones’, who refuse to be moved. I shall also hope. Hope that more and more Christians in UK and US will become aware of the evils that have been done in our name and in the name of our Lord, and who will stand up and speak out.