26th, October 2009
On October 24-25, Occupied Palestine and Golan Heights Advocacy Initiative (OPGAI)
and the Alternative Information Center hosted an international conference titled "United In Struggle Against Israeli Colonialism, Occupation, and Racism." More than 300 attendees met at the Paradise Hotel in Bethlehem for talks and seminars with 24 distinguished speakers. Discussion focused on Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) strategies and the practicalities of implementing them.
The conference began with addresses from Nassar Ibrahim, policy director of the AIC, and from Bethlehem Mayor Victor Batarseh, who emphasized that "this city stands for peace, this city stands for justice, this city stands for humanity." He also commented on the role of religion in the Palestinian Israeli conflict, saying "A state built on religion cannot be a democratic state […] we seek from our neighbor a secular, democratic state."
Father Jamal Khader, professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Bethlehem University, later spoke on the same subject, noting "We all know the conflict in the Middle East, Israel-Palestine, is not a religious conflict […] but many people use religion to justify injustice towards Palestinians. I am talking mainly about Christian unconditional support for Israel in the West […] we cannot, in the name of God, support occupation. We cannot, in the name of theology, support the oppression and colonization of any people."
In a session moderated by Taiser Mary, Naim Abu Teir, Shawan Jabarin, Jamal Juma'a, and Ameer Makhoul spoke on the popular struggle in Palestine and the importance of international solidarity in support of international law. Abu Teir began the session with an analysis of the current political situation. Jabarin noted that "We are demanding resolution to this crisis, and you can't do this simply through financial support. Human rights should move beyond making statements to finding formulas for action." Juma'a discussed Palestinian grassroots campaigns and public resistance. Makhoul, speaking on coalition building, also described the importance of "fighting normalization," saying that "this is to acquit Israel of its crimes."
Michael Warschawski of the Alternative Information Center moderated the second session. Martha Myers, Chair of the AIDA Executive Committee and Country Director of CARE West Bank and Gaza, joined Eileen Kuttab of Birzeit University and Israeli academic and activist Neve Gordonfor a discussion of aid and the economic dimensions of the occupation. "In Gaza, there is essentially no economy – it is an economy of aid," Myers remarked. She pointed out that "The occupying power should be taking responsibility" for the occupied territory, but that international aid relieves it of this burden and enables the occupation. Kuttab presented a talk on global neoliberalism and the occupation of Palestine. Gordon spoke on the contrast between Israel's benevolent economic policy immediately after 1967 (intended to soften resistance to the occupation and prevent social unrest) and the restrictions instituted in the 1980's, which created a Palestinian economy dependent on the occupying power. Gordon concluded "Israel's efforts to create a way for Palestinians to be part of normalization and thus reduce resistance failed."
Continuing the economic discussion in sessions III and IV (moderated by Shatha Odeh of the Union of Health Work Committees and Dr. Majed Nasar of Defence of Children International, Palestine Section) were Salwa Alinat of Kav Laoved (the Worker's Hotline), Hassan Ladadwah of Birzeit University, Dr. Dalit Baum of the Who Profits from the Occupation, and AIC economist Shir Hever. Alinat outlined the problems Palestinian and foreign workers face in West Bank factories and farms, where there is little regulation of working conditions. In settlement industries, Israeli labor law does apply, leading Alinat to ask whether these settlements are in fact already annexed. Ladadwah spoke on the economic structure of the occupation after the Second Intifada.
Baum continued the call for BDS in her talk, which detailed the ways in which individuals and corporations profit from the occupation. The means of profit include factories in settlements, unregulated industrial activity and the dumping of hazardous waste in the West Bank, appropriation of Palestinian natural resources, and using the occupation's repressive measures as an advertising tool. Hever analyzed the cost of the occupation to Israeli society, stating that even the Israeli government itself does not know exactly how much it spends on occupation. Heverconcluded that "the real cost" – a cost that seriously threatens Israeli public services – "comes from dealing with the Palestinian resistance." He explained that Israeli economists continue to ignore the situation because "Israel realized that Palestinians would not be bought off" and prefers to avoid this truth.
Saturday's last session, which focused on the BDS movement, was moderated by Hind Awwad from the Palestinian BDS National Committee and included Omar Barghouti of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and Ingrid Jaradat Gassner of the Palestinian Right of Return Coalition. The speakers emphasized the importance of developing a BDS movement initiated and led by Palestinians, rather than by the international solidarity movement.
Sunday's first session (moderated by Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh of Birzeit and Bethlehem Universities) featured Huwaida Arraf from the Free Gaza Movement, Colombian human rights activist Lilia Solano, Carmencita Karagdag of the Philippino organization Peace for Life, and Hanady Muhiar. Arraf discussed the successes, failures, and challenges of the international solidarity movement's work with Gaza. Solano shared her experiences working with international networks in Latin America. Karagdag commented on Peace for Life's experiences with advocacy, and Muhiar discussed opportunities and challenges in his experiences in the Spanish state.
Rifat Kassis of Defence of Children International moderated the second session, in which Solomuzi Mabuza of the Ujamaa Center for Community Development, Mieke Zagt of the Interchurch Organisation for Development Cooperation (ICCO), and Michael Warschawski further discussed international advocacy experiences. Mabuza shared his experiences as an anti-Apartheid activist in South Africa. "As South Africans, we do not come here to tell Palestinians how to lead your own struggle," Mabuza said, emphasizing instead the similarity of the occupation to Apartheid policies and South Africans' solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for rights. Continuing the discussion of BDS, Mabuza described the importance of international opposition in ending Apartheid, but also noted that the Palestinian people must themselves take action, saying that "You must never lose that pivotal calling, that you must shape the discourse."Mieke Zagt also spoke on the experience of ICCO with international development agencies and advocacy spaces.
Michael Warschawski, a founder and staff member of AIC, concluded the talks with an overview of the role of anti-colonial Jewish movements. "The resistance [to occupation] is gradually provoking an international reaction," Warschawski said. "When the public opposition on one hand and the international movement on the other hand say ‘enough is enough' […] the international factor is usually the factor provoking the change inside the occupying society." Warschawski also echoed Mabuza's emphasis on the crucial role of Palestinian leadership: "Who is taking the lead? Who is deciding the agenda? […] The Palestinian people are the ones to set the agenda, if you say you support self-determination."
Attendees ended the conference by brainstorming strategies in discussion groups focusing on BDS, coalition building, popular resistance, legal work, and the Occupied Syrian Golan Heights. The groups presented recommendations for future action, including: