The first World Social Forum Free Palestine was held in Porto Alegre, Brazil from the 27th November – 1st December and brought together popular social movements from around the world to demonstrate their solidarity with the struggle of Palestinians for Sovereignty , human rights and justice under International Law.
The Quebec delegation represented by the Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine participated in an historic event which provided an opening in the wall of silence which the international community has imposed on the Palestinian people. The Quebec delegation denounced the unilateral pro-Israeli politics of the Canadian Conservative government and the Canadian position at the United Nations in opposing the Palestinian bid for Statehood.
The Forum provided a unique opportunity to meet Palestinians who were well represented and to hear their concerns. In addition there were self-directed workshops from the International community which encompassed the solidarity efforts and BDS campaigns in support of the Palestinian cause. The opening Plenary session focused on International law, human rights and the prosecution of war criminals. This session corresponded with the admission of Palestine as an Observer state to the United Nations and will provide Palestinians access to the International Criminal Court.
The workshops reflected a rich range of experience, research and analysis on the realities of the Occupation, the sharing of ideas and strategies over furthering the Palestinian cause and the 2005 request from Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment. The major themes discussed by the U.S. and Canada Joint Struggle delegations were: Israel’s military strategies in population control, arms manufacture, and link with international governments and academic institutions with respect to research, and marketing of high tech weapons. Israel’s use of drones in targeted killings of Palestinians is now the weapon of choice by the US government in its ‘war’ against the Taliban.
Political imprisonment and the incarceration and torture of child prisoners was a major theme. Addameer the Palestinian prisoner rights organization detailed the use of unlimited detention, torture, isolation that is a common Israeli practice in pacification and intimidation. Palestinians do not have access to a just judicial process through military tribunals and the courts are biased. The U.S. delegation demonstrated the parallel with the practice of mass incarceration and political imprisonment in the United States. In both Palestine and the U.S. there has been resistance and protest demanding justice and liberation of political prisoners. The hunger strikes by Palestinian prisoners, and the intolerable practice of imprisonment of children has mobilized actions by pro-Palestinian groups in Scotland, England and Europe.
Other themes related to environmental injustice, land and resource theft; Israel’s destruction of Palestinian farm land and millions of olive trees, acquisition of land through illegal settlements and the Wall; control of water resources and restriction of water to the Palestinian territories and diversion of water for Israeli use; in Gaza through the destruction of infrastructure.
There were workshops on the oral history of the Nakba generation and the documentation of interviews with individuals whose families had been expelled from their villages in 1948, and subject to brutality, murder and rape. These refugees now living in Lebanon have been interviewed and their experience recorded and archived at Oxford and Harvard Universities. The oral histories document the war crimes that took place in 1948 and complement the work by Israeli historians, Benny Morris and Ilan Pappe whose research into the IDF archives describe the deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing by the Jewish forces led by Ben Gurion. This oral history is of vital importance as many of those interviewed are elderly and have since died, and Palestinians can now access the International Criminal Court in relation to war crimes committed by the Israeli military. It is pertinent to note that Israel has made discussion of the Nakba an illegal act in Israel and mention of the 1948 expulsion of Palestinians is banned from textbooks.
Workshops given by gay (queer) activists in support of Palestine and BDS detailed how Israel has attempted to appropriate the ‘the gay rights and equality’ agenda’. Israeli propaganda lauds Israeli culture as ‘gay friendly’, in comparison to the rest of Middle East and this strategy to obfuscate the reality of the Occupation is referred to as ‘Pinkwashing’. In addition pro-Israeli and Zionist groups work to silence and intimidate international gay rights movements in support of Palestine. Panel members included Angela Davis, distinguished Civil Rights activist and academic who shared her critical analysis.
A major theme permeating discussion was the powerful role of Zionist groups globally in silencing any criticism of Israel, and the use of legal strategies and application of the label of ‘anti-Semitism’. Canada has been in the forefront of cutting funding to groups supporting Palestinians, and promoting Islamaphobic policies. The 2012 Omnibus Crime Bill provides a provision that the government can prosecute any organization deemed to have links to ‘terrorists’ and the Harper government has deliberated labeled support for Palestinian human rights as support for ‘terrorism’. Pro-Palestinian organizations internationally, and Jews against Zionism identified the efforts to counteract Israeli propaganda and develop strategic responses. The struggle is ongoing but progress is being made.
Academic Boycott campaigns have gained momentum internationally. Workshops focused on the politics, experience, challenges and successes. South African academics have been particularly successful because of the history of apartheid. The participation of students from Brazil contributed greatly to the discussion and reflected their solidarity with the Palestinian cause.
The World Social Forum Free Palestine was an enormously important and successful event that demonstrated international support and solidarity for Palestinian legal rights under International Law, identified the efforts of global social movements working on BDS campaigns and strengthened organizational alliances. Most importantly, the Forum provided the opportunity for Palestinian participation and voice in their determination to continue the struggle for Justice, Sovereignty, and self-determination.