A UK charity focused on highlighting Britain’s record in Palestine is set to expand its Peace Advocacy Fellowship programme to universities across the country, two years after launching it as a pilot scheme.
The Balfour Project works to raise awareness of Britain's early role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Fellows will participate in numerous university debates and undertake a research project during the nine-month programme.
John McHugo, a trustee of the charity and supervisor of the fellowship initiative, said the organisation wanted the UK government to campaign for peace in the Middle East, as well as the principles of human rights and equality.
“People need to be aware of Britain’s obligations towards the Palestinian people because of the British Mandate, and today Britain has a particular responsibility to help to establish peace between Israel and Palestine on the basis of the rights of each party,” Mr McHugo told The National.
The Balfour Project wants to increase public awareness of the significant effect the British Empire had on the Middle East, particularly in the first half of the 20th century.
During the First World War, Britain and France agreed to slice up and share the territories that had been under the control of the Ottoman Empire.
The 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement delineated arbitrary borders and fragmented the ethnic and religious make-up of the region.
In a bid to further weaken Ottoman rule, Britain promised to give Jews a homeland in Palestine under the 1917 Balfour Declaration.
The document reneged on the promise made in 1915 to Arabs that they would be granted independence after the war.
In the post-war spoils, Britain governed Mandatory Palestine until 1946, before the territory was partitioned and Israel was created in 1948.
Britain’s actions are regarded by some to have laid the foundations for Palestinian dispossession and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
From October 2021, the fellowship programme will have up to 20 fellows to "oxygenate debate" on the issue.
“There are so many people with entrenched positions who really need to listen to the other side and be aware of their rights and their pain," Mr McHugo said.
Martha Scott-Cracknell, a former fellow who is now programmes assistant for the charity, said the programme helped "fill in the gaps" in her knowledge and allowed her to meet people directly affected by the conflict.
“I had studied the conflict before but mainly through the lens of religion, and I was keen to get more knowledge on the subject,” said Ms Scott-Cracknell, who took part in the programme last year.
“The other fellows I met and engaged with made me see things from a new perspectives. It was fascinating because I was in a bubble before and hadn’t gotten to meet people whose histories had been shaped by the conflict."