• Emma Louise Alvarez

How the World has Failed the People of Palestine


© Illustration by INJECTION - Matthew Rawlinson


The Paradox of the UNESCO International Day of Solidarity with the Palistinian People - Understanding the History


Colonial Britain and France, as well as the UN have failed the Palestinian people. In truth, the whole world has failed them.


But with so many fires to fight, who is fighting for the Palestinian people?


In April 2021, the Human Rights Watch released a 213 page report titled “A Threshold Crossed,” and outlines the extent of Israeli crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.


However, in order to understand the reality of Israeli apartheid, we must first revisit the turbulent history that led to the modern-day establishment of Israel and the escalation of violence in Palestine.


The Origin of ‘Palestine’


The word Palestine derives from Philistia, where in the 12th century B.C.E., the Philistines, an Aegan people, settled on the southern coast of Palestine. After World War I, following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the name ‘Palestine’ was again used to reference one of the regions mandated to Great Britain.


Below is an overview of the suggested partitioning of the Ottoman Empire by Britain and France.


© Illustration by Flickr


The Hussein-McMahon Correspondence

In 1915, Hussein bin Ali, the Sharif and Emir of Mecca, exchanged a series of letters with the British High Commissioner in Egypt, Sir Henry McMahon, discussing the terms of Arab assistance in the opposition of the Ottoman Empire in exchange for British support for an independent Arab State.

While not a formal treaty, the Hussein-McMahon correspondence outlined a fragile agreement that would soon be broken by Britain, for in 1915, the British, French and Russian empires began negotiations to partition the Ottoman Empire. One of the terms not clearly expressed in the letters was that certain independent Arab states would still be subjected to British governance and that any treaties between Britain and the Arab states within France’s sphere of influence could be disregarded without consequence.

Kept in the dark about these secret negotiations happening between the Triple Entente, Hussein proclaimed the Great Arab Revolt in 1916 against the Ottoman Empire.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement

While the negotiations started in 1915, it was not until 1916 that the Sykes-Picot agreement was brought to fruition. The agreement led to the division of Turkish-held Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine into various French- and British-administered areas. The Sykes-Picot agreement is named after French delegate Georges-Picot and his British counterpart Mark Sykes and was established out of a need to coordinate British and French interest in the area.


One of the main issues of the agreement was that both Britain and France were laying claims to Palestine. Eventually, it was decided that Palestine would remain a protectorate under an international committee due to the importance of the holy sites located in Jerusalem.


The Balfour Declaration

In 1917, Lord Balfour, a British foreign secretary, sent a letter to Lord Rothschild, a prominent Zionist, pledging British support for the Jewish claim to their ancestral homeland. The British government had hoped that, through the declaration, they could rally the support of Jewish communities in the United States, encouraging American support against the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire) in World War I. Further ignorance demonstrates that the British had also hoped that the establishment of a pro-British Jewish population in Palestine would help secure their economic interests in the Suez Canal.


Below is a timeline of the Jewish and Arab kingdoms and their claims to the land known as Palestine.

© Illustration by Slide To Doc


The importance of Jerusalem to Judaism, Christianity & Islam can be outlined as follows:

  • In Judaism, Jerusalem was first conquered by King David in 1000 B.C., who made it the capital of the Jewish kingdom. About 40 years later, his son, Solomon, built the first holy Temple there.

  • In Christianity, Jesus was crucified in the city of Jerusalem around 30 A.D.

  • In Islam, the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, died in 632 A.D. and was said to have ascended to heaven from Jerusalem.

The 1929 Palestine Riots

The 1929 Palestine riots were triggered by disputes over the custody and access to the Western Wall / al-Buraq of the Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem. While Zionists had been challenging the Muslim control since the establishment of the British Mandate for Palestine in 1923, the tensions boiled over when demonstrations and riots were launched in 1929.

Britain attempted to offer a temporary solution by inhibiting the flow of Jewish immigrants, but this became impossible after the Holocaust of World War II when many Jewish survivors sought to resettle in Palestine. The situation escalated further until Britain referred the problem to the United Nations.

UN involvement

  • In 1947 the United Nations voted to partition Palestine into an Arab and Jewish state. The Jewish population was to possess the majority of Palestine, despite being in the minority compared to the Palestinian Arab population.

  • In 1948 conflict broke out when Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria attacked Israel in what is now known as the Arab-Israeli War. Israel declares independence as the British mandate ends.

  • In 1949 the UN managed to broker a cease-fire that left Israel in control of all its conquered areas and led to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fleeing the country, leaving the Jewish population in the majority.

  • In 1967 the Six Day War took place, where Israel’s victory included the capture of the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip, West Bank, Old City of Jerusalem, and Golan Heights. Following this, there was a unanimous decision to adopt the United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, calling for the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from the occupied territories.

  • In 2012, UNESCO finally admitted Palestine as a member of the UN.

For a full timeline of events, please refer to the BBC for a chronology of key events or the United Nations for their commentary on the ‘history of the question of Palestine’.


The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has condemned the State of Israel in 45 resolutions, but with insufficient implementation or enforcement, the UNHRC has failed to protect the people of Palestine. The decades of inaction has created a dangerous precedent for impunity: Israel has continuously violated international law and human rights.


Therefore, UNESCO “celebrating” the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people, almost feels insensitive. And while the UN provides education, health, relief and social services to Palestinian refugees, not enough is being done to protect the Palestinian people and to condemn Israeli apartheid.


Let every day be a day to stand with the people of Palestine.


Let every day be a day to educate yourself on your privilege.


Let every day be a day to stand up for change.


For a further commentary of the extent of the UN’s failure to the Palestinian people, refer to HERE