By Michael Bull
More than 150 people from across Australia and New Zealand attended the Palestine Solidarity Conference, January 27-29, in Melbourne.
They included First Nations, progressive Jews, unionists, students, Labor, Greens, socialists and independent and Palestinian activists. Encouragingly many young activists attended and, notably, young Palestinian women.
The conference, which included plenary sessions and activist workshops, was hosted by the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) and featured renowned Palestinian guests from Australia and around the world, speaking via video link.
Senator Lidia Thorpe, on the opening plenary “Organising for Palestine on Stolen Land” said both struggles are connected by “disempowerment, oppression, death, killings and grief” and the fight for land and justice is key.
Seeking to “build collective resistance across the movement”, the conference focussed on activism by linking up Palestine activist movements here and across the globe.
Discussions centred on how to raise public awareness about Palestinian human rights and oppression, rather than be derailed by endless discussions on differences between internal Palestinian political forces or what a final Palestine/Israel state will look like.
United States-Palestinian comedian and activist Amer Zahr (wearing a T-shirt that said “Will trade racists for refugees”) said in “The Palestinian narrative, demands and non-negotiables” panel, via video link, that the Zionist lobby aimed to lure activists into complicated debates about ancestry, revisionist history and contested indigeneity to the land.
Zahr encouraged activists to “keep it simple: they [Israel] kicked us out; they stole our land; and they won’t let us back”.
Others gave harrowing examples of Israel’s apartheid rule and ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their own lands. It was noted that Israel and US proposals for “negotiations” are now based around Palestinians trading off their basic human rights in exchange for next to nothing.
The plenary “Lessons from solidarity movements from around the world: UK, US, Palestine” was particularly interesting. Khalida Jarrar, Palestinian feminist, human rights advocate and former MP, spoke about the current challenges for Palestinian activists, particularly the Palestinian prisoners’ movement. She urged the conference not to forget the struggle of those Palestinian prisoners held without charge in administrative detention, often for years.
US activist Huwaida Arraf said that while “Trump’s white supremacy arguments have allowed some people to ‘understand’ and draw parallels with Zionist supremacy in Israel, the Palestinian movement has been able to successfully link up with the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM)”. Arraf said that working with the BLM has broadened the understanding and support for Palestine in the US.
Professor Kamel Hawwash, chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) in Britain, reported that the membership-based PSC now had “70 branches that are activist-led and 14 unions affiliated around the country”.
The PSC has focussed much of its work on the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) campaign in Britain, including a successful joint campaign, with British trade unions seeking to get the Local Government Pension Funds to divest from Israel.
After winning a court battle against the campaign, which claimed that it was “not legal to boycott countries unless governments officially boycott them”, Hawwash reported that the British government has since said its next move will be to change the law. He expects this will mobilise a strong pro-Palestinian counter-response.
The plenary panel on the BDS movement provided an excellent overview of BDS actions around Australia over more than a decade.
We heard about efforts at academic boycott in the universities. Particularly impressive are the Brisbane campaigns against Puma, which has organised creative actions in shopping malls and on the street. In Adelaide, the weekly actions have now been held for more than 800 weeks — more than 15 years — educating the public about the BDS campaign.
On the final day, participants broke into state-based campaign workshops to begin work on a national strategy of activities for the 75th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe) in May.
Participants took to the streets at the end of the conference to protest the Israeli military’s invasion of the Jenin refugee camp on January 26, in which 10 Palestinians were killed.
[Amer Zahr is performing in Sydney on February 25, Auckland February 28, Adelaide March 3 and Melbourne March 4. Lidia Thorpe is speaking in Melbourne at 6.30pm on February 20 at 506 Elizabeth St, Melbourne. Join a Study Tour to Palestine in July–August.]