Tuesday 18 July 2017

Palestine Expo 2017

I attended the Palestine Expo, an event organised by Friends of Al-Aqsa, this year with Shutterbug SisterHarlequin Sister and Little Lady.  The situation in Palestine is something that affects Muslims across the Ummah (global Muslim community).  My first memory of what has happened there, as a seven or eight year old, was a news report with an accompanying video of a young Palestinian boy with curly dark hair flanked by soldiers and with blood pouring down his face.  The image haunted me and for years after and I used to wonder what happened to him.  Did he go to jail?  Did he get married and have a family? Was he still alive? 

Over the years, we have followed what has happened in Palestine (1 , 2 and 3), with the siege of Gaza leaving us feeling helpless, ineffective and devastated.  So when the opportunity came to learn more about the situation and also about the culture and heritage of Palestine, we were keen to take the opportunity.

The event took place over five floors of the Queen Elizabeth II Centre close to Parliament and included lectures, film and documentary viewings and a market place celebrating Palestinian culture.

The first lecture was from Dr Inas Abbad, a political science researcher, lecturer and a political activist from Jerusalem.  She described how the education system of the Palestinians had been dismantled following the Ottoman period during British and then Israeli rule, with decreased number of schools, changed curriculum and children coming through checkpoints to cramped and unsuitable classrooms.  Something that really stood out for me was how she described the way a rich and beautiful Palestinian culture and heritage was being wiped from history and school books to support a narrative that said that there was nothing before the Israeli’s came and that they had turned the barren and empty desert land green.

The second talk was from Ronnie Barkan, an Israeli human rights activist and conscientious objector (he refused to complete his compulsory military service in Israel).  He spoke about the political element of the struggle, with even "liberal" Israeli politicians begrudging Palestinians their rights.  

The third talk we managed to listen to was from Soheir Asad, a Palestinian activist and Human Rights lawyer.  She broke down the way the Palestinian had been discriminated against using the law, in particularly how land laws had been used in different ways to confiscate the lands they owned.

We made a few trips through the floor with stalls selling ceramics, embroidered outfits, shawls, dates and oil, perfume, calligraphy, books, charities and about half a dozen stalls laden with halal sweets.

There was an area for children's activities including storytelling on the theme of Prophets of Palestine by well-known storytellers Hassen Rasool and Elizabeth Lymer

We took a break for lunch, with the girls queuing up for ages for a falafel wrap, I didn't want to wait around, so went for the shortest queue which was for a chicken biryani.  Then we went to listen to a lecture by John Pilger, a journalist whose work I have admired since I first came across his writings online and in book form.  I didn't expect how full the lecture hall would be and he received a standing ovation.  He spoke about his experiences reporting on Palestine, moving, devastating and infuriating by turn. He also spoke about the change he was seeing with people unwilling to ignore the injustices in the world whether Palestine, Grenfell Tower or the Occupy Wall Street movement.

It was a day well spent learning and trying to understand what we can do to help.  I am very glad I took my daughter along and I would take my two sons along in future, particularly as they were so moved by what was happening during the seize of Gaza.

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