The Centenary of the 1917 Balfour Declaration: Britain, Palestine and Israel

By Jane Harries, Cymdeithas y Cymod peace activist, human rights observer and Wales for Peace Learning Coordinator.

Balfour Declaration WCIA Debate Leaflet Oct 2017

The Marble Hall of the Temple of Peace and Health in Cardiff was packed to overflowing on the evening of 18th October 2017, the air thick with expectation. The Cardiff Branch of the United Nations Association (UNA) had brought together two eminent speakers to talk about the historical context and present consequences of the Balfour Declaration – a document whose centenary is marked today, 2nd November.  It was clear we were in for an interesting evening.

So what was the Balfour Declaration, and why should we remember it today?  Does it have any significance for us in Wales?

The Balfour Declaration is in fact in the form of a letter written by Arthur James Balfour, Foreign Secretary in David Lloyd George’s wartime coalition government, to Lord Rothschild, a leader of the Jewish community in Britain.  The key words are as follows:

‘His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours 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.’

Balfour_portrait_and_declaration

The first speaker, Avi Shlaim – Jewish historian, Emeritus Professor of International Relations at the University of Oxford and married to the grand-daughter of Lloyd George – started off the evening with a historical analysis.  He defined the Declaration as a typical colonialist act. The British had no moral or legal right to give a ‘national home’ to Jewish people in Palestine, having consulted neither with the Arab leaders, nor the Jews nor the British population. Nor was Palestine theirs to give.

Behind the scenes there were political motives. David Lloyd George wanted Palestine for the British in order to gain influence over the French and because of access to the Suez Canal.  He also wanted to dismember the Ottoman Empire and was willing to engage in double dealing to do so. Overtures were made both to Arab leaders and also to the Zionists, whom Lloyd George regarded as powerful and influential.

Jews had lived scattered across the globe before the First World war but at the end of the 19th century a nationalist Jewish campaign grew up in the form of Zionism, whose aim was to establish a national home for the Jews. Zionism particularly appealed to Lloyd George, steeped as he was in the Biblical passages and hymns of his chapel upbringing. This deep emotional connection may have been one reason why he became influenced by Dr Chaim Weizmann, Zionist Leader in the UK and later first President of Israel. And so Lloyd George’s government bowed to Zionist pressure and issued the Declaration, ignoring other Anglo-Jewish voices at the time, including Edwin Montagu, the only Jew in the cabinet.

Balfour_Declaration_War_Cabinet_minutes_appendix_17_October_1917

The second part of the Declaration is often forgotten – that is that the civil and religious rights of ‘existing non-Jewish communities’ in Palestine (over 90% of the population at the time) should be respected.  The British Mandate in Palestine, issued by the League of Nations in 1923, included a responsibility to implement the Balfour Declaration.  The Mandate was, however, essentially pro-Zionist and led inevitably to the series of events we are familiar with today: the Arab revolt of 1936 – 39, the rise of Zionist terrorist activity against the British and Palestinians, British withdrawal from the region, and the foundation of the State of Israel mirrored by the Palestinian Nakba (= catastrophe, mass migration) in 1948.  The Israeli- Palestinian conflict is one of the most entrenched in the world and continues to blight lives today.  This is particularly true for the Palestinians, who have seen their homeland shrink and their human rights whittled away under a now 50-year military occupation.  Even the area which the British government recognises as a future state for the Palestinian people is now occupied by 700,000 Israeli settlers.

The second speaker, Professor Kamel Hawwash of Birmingham University, Palestinian commentator on the Middle East, explained the consequences of Balfour today.  He outlined the effects of the Israeli Occupation for those living on the West Bank, including loss of land, freedom of movement and livelihood, difficult access to education and health care, and subjugation to continuous harassment and violence.  In the Gaza Strip the population essentially lives in an open prison, deprived of many resources we take for granted, including clean water and proper sewage systems.  He then turned his talk to address an unusual question.  The state of Israel is more or less exactly the same size as Wales.  What would be the situation today if the Balfour Declaration had promised a homeland for the Jewish people in Wales, not in Palestine?  Using parallel maps, he brought this supposition to life, with swathes of Welsh land having been taken up into the State of Israel and Cardiff a divided city.  This helped us to see the Declaration from a different perspective.

As the evening wore on, there was strong feeling from one young member of the audience that the speakers were one-sided; she pleaded to hear the other side.  A student of Atlantic College, it appeared that she had spent a lot of time listening to the arguments of Palestinian and Israeli students living in her house. So what can we say about the Balfour Declaration that is more balanced and even positive?

The Balfour Declaration was of its time – as Avi Shlaim said essentially a colonialist document – so perhaps it should be judged as such.  It feels obvious from the wording of the document that the author was trying to balance what was felt to be a justified case for the Jewish people to have a homeland with the rights of the indigenous population. The problem is that this double-dealing didn’t work out in practice, with both sides seeing the British as compromising their cause.  And are we really justified in thinking that such a declaration or deal couldn’t be made today – for oil, or influence, or post-Brexit trade deals?

Balfour Palestine Mandate

It is true that Jews have been persecuted over centuries, including in pogroms in the late 19th and early 20th century. In a humanitarian global society, we surely would applaud the attempt to offer a safe haven for the persecuted, and the Balfour Declaration can be seen as such. What wasn’t foreseen, however, was that those persecuted may turn persecutors in their turn and deprive the indigenous population of their rights. What would the authors of the Declaration today say to the descendants of the 750,000 Palestinians forced to flee their homes in 1948 – and some again in 1967 –  many still living in refugee camps across the Middle East?

Balfour - West_Bank_&_Gaza_Map_2007_(Settlements)

Theresa May has talked about her ‘pride’ in the Balfour Declaration and in the creation of the State of Israel, a key ally for Britain in the Middle East.  Whilst rejoicing that persecuted Jews, including Holocaust survivors, found a homeland in Palestine, what do we feel about the plight of the dispossessed? Theresa May’s current government supports a 2-state solution in principle. What does the perpetuation of a military occupation do to the soul and psyche of the Occupier? Surely a conflict that is allowed to go on for so long cannot bring good for either side.

The Balfour Declaration is not a document that people know much about in the UK.  In Palestine it is part of everyone’s awareness – generally recognised as the starting point from which everything began to unravel, leading to a continuous process of dispossession which continues today.  To illustrate this point let me take you back to an August evening in East Jerusalem in 2012. At the time I was serving as a human rights observer on the West Bank and that evening we were called to an incident in Silwan. When we arrived we realised that the cause of the problem was seemingly small: an Israeli settler had parked his car in the middle of the road, preventing people from moving up or down. It was however Ramadan, and just before the breaking of the fast, and tempers get frayed. As we started talking to local residents and the Israeli armed police who had inevitably arrived, the expected question came: “Where are you from?” “Britain”, we said. “Ah, Balfour!” the local resident retorted – and went off into a tirade. The good thing was that once this had blown over he started joking with us, and the tension was released. The settler moved the car, and the incident passed off without any repercussions. This was not a lone incident, however. I have lost count how many times I have had to apologise for Balfour on the West Bank.

Bearing everything in mind how do we, the present generation, view the Balfour Declaration?  On the positive side, we can see it as an attempt to be balanced and to provide safety and security for persecuted Jews. It certainly was instrumental in the events leading to the creation of the modern State of Israel.  It can also be seen as an essentially political deal – an attempt to favour those who were believed to have influence whilst paying lip-service to the Arab leaders. It is hard to avoid the reality however, that the Declaration set off a string of events in the region which still have repercussions today, resulting in one of the world’s most intransigent conflicts and spelling death, dispossession and poverty for thousands.

Balfour-Israel-Palestine_peace.svg

The Israeli Palestinian Peace Process

Some sources:

The Balfour Declaration – Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balfour_Declaration

The Balfour Declaration – New Statesman, a more critical view: https://www.newstatesman.com/books/2010/08/arab-palestine-jewish-rights

The Balfour Project  – Lloyd George –  critical view of Lloyd George’s part in the Declaration: http://www.balfourproject.org/lloyd-george/

Avi Schlaim: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avi_Shlaim

What is Wales had been offered as a Jewish Homeland – Middle East eye> http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/what-if-wales-had-been-offered-jews-homeland-palestine-zionist-israel-526573400

Article on Theresa May’s stance – Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/balfour-declaration-israel-palestine-theresa-may-government-centenary-arabs-jewish-settlements-a7607491.html

Chaim Weizmann: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaim_Weizmann

Palestine – Israel: Effects of Occupation – an educational pack (from the US): http://www.palestineinformation.org/dig_deep

Jane Harries’ blog from Palestine: https://janeharries.wordpress.com 

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Welsh among the ANZACs: WW1 in Palestine on the Centenary of Beersheeba, 31st Oct 1917

Hidden Histories of Welsh Fallen in Israel

By Eli Lichtenstein, North Wales

    

The Battle of Beersheba, British Palestine – now Israel

The story starts exactly 100 years ago (31st October 2017). In the Battle of Beersheba, the British army was taking what used to be my hometown, Beer Sheba from the Turkish army. The city was conquered mainly by Anzac cavalry. However, it would be impossible to take the town (whose main importance was, and still is, as a junction point) without heavy infantry involvement to the west of the parochial town. From there the joint British Anzac forces, split in a fanlike movement to Gaza in the west, and Hebron and Jerusalem in the north east and all  the way to the north. And what was until then part of the Damascus province became Palestine (and later part of Israel).

But as time passed something odd happened. We, the locals, remembered only the Anzac cavalry battle and somehow completely forgot all the rest i.e.  the Infantry and even two pilots (English, and Australian) who took part in the battle in the area, and were buried there. It is hard to say why. Is it somehow the romantic notion of a bygone era versus brutal and unglamorous modern warfare that makes us remember the cavalry and forget the rest? If so one might assume that it was, in hindsight, the last battle of its kind.  Furthermore it took place in the ‘Holy-Land’ at the town of Abraham against the ‘infidel’ and the ‘Bosch’.  One might assume that it struck a chord with the general public and could be used for propaganda purposes. On the other hand, could it be more a reflection of the Israeli attitudes following the War of Independence and the resentment created during the British rule of the area?

Either way, the results were the same. We all believed that the WWI cemetery near the old Ottoman Turkish station was solely occupied only by Anzac soldiers. I think I would still believe it to be so to this day,  if I hadn’t moved to North Wales and met several locals who told me that their great-great uncles are buried in Beer Sheba Israel.

When I finally visited the cemetery, I found that, contrary to popular belief, most of the graves are not of Anzacs – of 1179 graves at least one third are graves of Welsh soldiers. Furthermore approximately 80% of those who killed on the day of 31st October 1917, did not belong to the Light Horse Brigade, ie.  80% of the casualties were British. Which, again begs the question of how and why we choose to remember historical events.

It would be interesting therefore to find letters and photographs of those Welsh soldiers who died and are buried in the Beer Sheba Cemetery so that after a century in which they were forgotten we could bring their memories, thoughts and experiences back to life. By doing so I hope we could learn something about how the lives of their families and communities were affected, and a bit more about the consequences of war.

Pvt Percy Chandler – one of many Welsh Fusiliers who died and have memorials in Beersheba, British Southern Palestine (now Israel). Also recorded in the Welsh WW1 Book of Remembrance:   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When it comes to the Welsh Fusiliers in Beersheba Cemetery, many came from the local North Wales area – like Private Ifor Jones, who lived in York Villa Llandudno:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And some Welsh soldiers came from South Wales like Private D.E. Matthews from Merthyr Tydfil, of the Civil Service Riflemen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then finally it was the first time that I noticed that some of the tombstones are not only engraved in English, but in Welsh: Cwsg Milwr, Cwsg (“Rest Soldier, Rest) – T Roberts:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then and Now

Above the WW1 cemetery shortly after the capture of Beer Sheva. See the train station master’s house (mid building) and the train in background and possibly a convoy of camels between the two buildings.

Below, the cemetery at 2017

   

A week as Caernarfon Poppies Volunteers

img_0101By Megan & Dani

A week of volunteering as a Poppy Ambassadors at Caernarfon Castle was a brilliant choice for us as it appeared to offer a range of opportunities, not only in allowing us to gain experience that will aid us in the world of work, but also facilitated us in completing a part of our gold Duke of Edinburgh award.

Conversing with such a diverse group of volunteers has provided us with a real insight into what the installation evokes within each individual; whether it acts as an artistic muse or as a commemorative exhibition (especially poignant with regards to the centenary of the First World War).

We first read about the poppies’ move to Caernarfon in our local newspaper and this sounded like something both of us would be motivated to get involved with, especially as we are both currently studying A-Level history and are considering taking this to degree level.  We believe that it is important for people of all ages to be involved with history and to remember and reflect upon our past, as well as learn from it – particularly in lieu of recent world events such as the American presidential election and the Syrian refugee crisis.

A highlight of our volunteering has most definitely been a guided tour of the exhibition with a group of blind veterans as The Last Post was played.

A Personal Reflection on Loss and Connection post-Brexit

Wendy Tapper, Bridgend

It seems deeply ironic and, to many of us, achingly sad that we are willing to turn away from our European neighbours just as we commemorate the centenary of the battles of the Somme, Mametz Wood, and all our shared experience of the horrors of war. At such times I remember being told stories about my great uncle – the baby of his family, the only boy in a houseful of big sisters – who was interned in a German prisoner-of-war camp in northern France towards the end of the Great War. After the Armistice of 1918, his family waited in vain for his return and neither the British military authorities nor his old comrades could account for his disappearance. At length they, a south Wales miner’s family, wrote to the German authorities for help and got a courteous and kind response. Their boy had been one of thousands of victims of the influenza epidemic that rolled across the devastated continent and he had died in the camp.

Our great uncle remained vivid in our family memory; we have picture postcards he sent home from France and my mother, who died just a few years ago, would recall her childhood adoration of a lively and indulgent young uncle. Decades later a relative traced his grave – not in one of the great memorial sites but in the communal cemetery of a small French town. There, records show that allied soldiers of several nationalities were buried alongside German soldiers, Chinese labourers, and a solitary Russian. They had all suffered and died far from home and the people who loved them.

Now, a century after the carnage of the Somme, my family – like so many others – reflects a more peaceful Europe, a more inter-connected world. We have spun outwards from that Welsh mining village. I have French and German grandchildren and through their heritage I connect with families whose memories are of living under tyranny and foreign occupation. The stories of my new, wider family include: migration to escape poverty and discrimination; the experience of living in caves and foraging for food in Italy as one of the most terrible battles of World War II raged overhead; flight across Germany in 1945 ahead of the advancing Soviet army; and the desperate journey of ‘boat people’ from communist China. They are all our family, our people; their histories have melded with ours to become our common story.

Greenham Common; a significant protest seldom acknowledged

By Lydia Edwards

Greenham Common could have been an insignificant point in Berkshire if it were not for the Greenham Common Women’s peace camp that was established in 1981 to protest against nuclear weapons being sited at the RAF base.

Source: Welling, C. (2016). Towing friends Greenham Common. [online] Carywelling.co.uk. Available at: http://www.carywelling.co.uk/towingfriendsgre.html [Accessed 21 Jul. 2016].

Source: Welling, C. (2016). Towing friends Greenham Common. [online] Carywelling.co.uk. Available at: http://www.carywelling.co.uk/towingfriendsgre.html [Accessed 21 Jul. 2016].

In 1979, NATO decided the airbase located on the common was to be used as the site for the deployment of American cruise missiles, the missiles would arrive at Greenham in 1983. However even before the arrival of the nuclear weapons a remarkable protest had gathered with the notorious women’s peace camp at its center.

The camps origins began in a march organized from Cardiff to Greenham Common under the banner of “Women for Life on Earth”[1]. The march left Cardiff on the 27th of August 1981 and arrived at Greenham on the 5th of September. The original 36 women, 4 men and 3 children were there to protest on the arrival of American cruise missiles[2]. Upon arrival, the protesters decided that four women should chain themselves to the fence of Greenham and subsequently the press would be notified. Later on, the women wrote a letter to the base commander. The commander replied to this by stating “As far as I’m concerned, you can stay here for as long as you like”. This statement is one he would regret[3].

By the end of the week the women took part in chaining action on a rota basis, more and more women became a part of the movement and a peace camp came into fruition – by November it was firmly established and by March 1982, it became a women’s only peace protest.

The support for Greenham women became widespread. Many women across Britain became members of Greenham support groups. The camp also attracted women from other countries and inspired the development of further women’s peace camps “at least thirty on three continents by 1983”[4]. The slogan “Greenham Women Everywhere” formed a wider web of protest across Britain and beyond.

It accumulated further support throughout 1982 when Newbury Council were determined to evict the women from the common along with a series of activities by Greenham Women which ultimately led to arrests, court cases and prison sentences for some[5]. These activities included the first blockade of the base by 250 women in March, a symbolic die-in at the London stock exchange in June. A die-in is a type of protest whereby participants pretend to be dead. Furthermore there was an occupation inside the base in August as well as an encirclement of the base. This was known to many as “embrace the base”[6].

Many of the characteristic features of the campaign were taking shape during 1982. Women were learning techniques of passive resistance and how to plan and execute large actions within the principles of non-hierarchical organisation. They were challenging the legal framework and court procedures in ways reminiscent of the Suffragettes. It is argued that up to 50,000 women engaged with the camp by December 1983[7].

One of the women that engaged in the protests over the years was called Helen Thomas, who came from Newcastle Emlyn, Carmarthenshire. A woman who was inspired by the women of Greenham Common paid the ultimate price for peace. According to the sources, Helen went to the peace camp at the beginning of 1989 when the camp had a decline in media interest and they were short of women who wanted to be involved. Her mother once wrote to her asking her to come home, get a decent job and be involved at Greenham part-time. However, Helen was determined and argued that “peace and justice was not a part-time job”[8].

This decision was to be a significant and ill-fated. Helen was hit by a police car on August 5th, 1989 which proved to be fatal. Helen was 22 when she passed away, she was only at the camp for two months prior to the accident. Her death was ruled to be an accident although it is still contested by Helens family and friends who argue the verdict is questionable as standard procedures were not followed[9].

Source: Dicken, Paul. "Wales, Greenham Common And Occupy | Hiraeth". Hiraeth.wales. N.p., 2011. Web. 19 July 2016.

Source: Dicken, Paul. “Wales, Greenham Common And Occupy | Hiraeth”. Hiraeth.wales. N.p., 2011. Web. 19 July 2016.

Wales for Peace have a commemorative plaque for Helen, located within the garden of peace behind the Temple of Peace and Health in Cardiff and is available for the public to visit.

Although Greenham Common has been disbanded, and it seems we live in a society that seems to have more violence as time passes, the fight for peace continues. Helen Thomas along with the other women of Greenham played an active role in moving the struggle onward.

[1] Liddington, J. (1989) The Long Road to Greenham: Feminism and anti-militarism in Britain since 1820. United Kingdom: Trafalgar Square.

[2] Shaw, M (1993) “Women in Protest and Beyond: Greenham Common and Mining Support Groups.” PhD Thesis. Durham University. Print.

[3] Harford, B and Hopkins (1984) S. Greenham Common. London: Women’s Press. Print.

[4] We Are Ordinary Women (1985) Seattle: Seal Press. Print.

[5] Liddington, J. (1989) The Long Road to Greenham: Feminism and anti-militarism in Britain since 1820. United Kingdom: Trafalgar Square.

[6] Roseneil, Sasha. Common Women, Uncommon Practices. London: Cassell, 2000. Print.

[7] Harford, Barbara and Sarah Hopkins. Greenham Common. London: Women’s Press, 1984. Print.

[8] “The Woman Who Paid The Ultimate Price For Peace”. walesonline. N.p., 2011. Web. 13 July 2016.

[9] “Greenham Common Campaigner Helen Thomas Honoured | Women’s Views On News”. Womensviewsonnews.org. N.p., 2016. Web. 19 July 2016.

Mametz Wood; A Legacy

By Lydia Edwards

Over eight million men were killed in the conflict of the First World War and 37 million wounded, nowhere was the slaughter more extreme than on Somme in 1916. One of the battles that has left a legacy within conflict was Mametz Wood.

The battle of Somme itself was between 1 July and 18 November 1916 on both sides of the upper reaches of the River Somme in France. It was the largest battle of the First World War on the Western Front and over one million men died[1]. Mametz wood was, indeed, the largest wood on the Somme Battlefront[2]. It was the objective of the 38th (Welsh) Division during the First Battle of Somme.

The aim was to seize the forest leading to a takeover of the German front within a few hours. But that’s not what happened. Although the Welsh succeeded the intended hours turned into 5 days of battle, between the 7th of July 1916 and 12th of July, which led to many dead or injured. Certainly, it was a sight where 46 officers and 556 other ranks were killed along with a total number of 3993 casualties[3]. These casualties came from the 20,000 volunteers who came together to fight for the Division. It is regarded as a momentous and gory battle fought by Welsh soldiers during the First World War.

Robert Graves, who fought in the battle, and is since a poet, wrote:

“It was full of dead Prussian Guards, big men, and dead Royal Welch Fusiliers and South Wales Borderers, little men. Not a single tree in the wood remained unbroken.”[4]

The Legacy of Mametz is something quite striking and significant. The Battle still resonates today with many families and veterans, and people who were not alive at the time of the battle are now drawn to it. The legacy of Mametz Wood on Wales is as important as the battle itself. In the words of Robin Barlow (2014) “The Name of Mametz Wood, perhaps like those of Aberfan or Senghenydd, is embedded deep in the Welsh psyche, immediately conjuring up images of the needless loss of life, bravery, chaos and self-sacrifice[5]

Lloyd George was enthusiastic to mark what he saw as the primary achievement of the Welsh battalion he had placed together. He commissioned the Welsh artist Christopher Williams to paint a huge work. The Charge of the Welsh Division at Mametz Wood, to commemorate the battle. It hung in 10 Downing Street and later was donated to the National Museum of Wales.

In Owen Sheers’ poem ‘Mametz Wood’ this is also emphasised in the first lines of the poem in the words “For years afterword”[6]. Another who has used creativity to emphasise the horror of Mametz Wood is David Jones, a soldier who fought at Mametz Wood, who wrote the epic poem “In Parenthesis” in 1937. The poem has recently been turned into an opera by Iain Bell which has recently been performed by The Welsh National Opera and performances have happened across Britain. In Parenthesis beautifully emphasises the morning after the first day of battle, in which over 400 Welshmen died. David Jones writes “But how intolerable bright the morning is where we who are alive and remain, walk lifted up, carried forward by an effective word.[7]

In 1987 the battle of Mametz was once again in focus when the 38th Welsh Division Memorial at Mametz Wood was erected. The Welsh Government contributed a significant amount of funds to establish the Monument of the battle in France.

Indeed, when one utters the words of “Mametz Wood” one imagines scenes of bloodshed, fortitude and the deceased. The National Museum of Wales is currently holding an exhibition on the battle named “’War’ Hell!’ The Battle of Mametz Wood in Art” as 2016 marks the centenary of the Battle. It is on display until the 4th of September 2016 and admission is free.

[1] Hirst, A. (2016) Battle of the Somme was probably worst ever military disaster. Available at: http://www.examiner.co.uk/news/west-yorkshire-news/battle-somme-probably-worst-ever-11551583 (Accessed: 5 August 2016).

[2] Carradice, Phil (2010) “The Battle of Mametz Wood”. Wales. Web. 19 July 2016.

[3] [3] Carradice, Phil (2010) “The Battle of Mametz Wood”. Wales. Web. 19 July 2016.

[4] Poet Robert Graves on Mametz wood (2014) Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-one/inside-first-world-war/part-eight/10741960/robert-graves-dead-boche.html (Accessed: 29 July 2016).

[5]Administrator, w. (2012). Welsh History Month: Mametz Wood. [online] wales online. Available at: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/welsh-history-month-mametz-wood-2047333 [Accessed 21 Jul. 2016].

[6] Sheers, O. (2005). Skirrid Hill. Bridgend: Seren.

[7] Jones, D. (1937) In Parenthesis.

Jenan’s story

By Zuzana Nevolová

Jenan has been living in Cardiff for ten years now. Being half British, half Iraqi, she has never had problems speaking both Arabic and English. But even though Arabic is – quite understandably – much closer to her heart since she has lived in Iraq most of her life, she feels very privileged to live in Cardiff. Many members of her family are forced to stay in the isolated city of Mosul, which is currently held by the so called Islamic state.

And so, despite being very much fluent in the English language, Jenan likes to speak with most of the family in her mother tongue, Arabic. Completely normal, isn’t it? But then her neighbour abused her for speaking Arabic in her own house!

A lady living just next door to Jenan’s house repeatedly demanded Jenan, and even her visitors to only speak English. Without any further explanation she shouted at Jenan and her little grandchildren when they were playing Arabic word games on Jenan’s porch. The neighbour said that as UK citizens, they should only speak English and basically tried to forbid them to speak another language on their own property.

This happened many times, and the neighbour made it clear that she resents the idea of being neighbours with an Iraqi.

Until then, Jenan had never had someone complain about the culture of her origin in Cardiff. She considers the people of Cardiff to be lovely and her neighbourhood to be exceptionally friendly. But as an exception to prove the rule, one of her neighbours did not share this friendly attitude.

The acts of intolerance coming from the neighbour have made Jenan feel unsafe. Unsafe to speak the language in her own home, unsafe in her own skin.

The repeated insults and utterly absurd demands forced Jenan to approach the hate-crime department of the Cardiff police. The officers reacted extremely quickly, inspected the situation and talked to the people who were involved. Despite the limited resolution possibilities, the police have gone out of their way to help and to prevent other incidents from happening not only by making a record of the incidents, but by repeatedly checking on the situation at Jenan’s house though phone-calls and general reassurance.

In fact, even the positive response from Jenan’s other neighbours was heart-warming and overwhelming supportive. Many of the residents expressed their consternation, brought Jenan and her family flowers to reassure her and a few of them even started studying Arabic with Jenan!

And therefore, thanks to her Cardiff community, Jenan feels supported and trusts that the police don’t overlook such incidents.

Because they shouldn’t ever be overlooked or underestimated.

 

This blog was written as part of a UNA Exchange / Wales for Peace project: A group of international volunteers from across Europe spent two weeks volunteering with a group of women  from Women Connect First based in Riverside, Cardiff. As they volunteered together, they shared peace stories.