Notes from Palestine Place first public meeting – Thursday 24th May 7-9pm
Introduced by Ewa Jasiewicz, activist, journalist and Gaza flotilla organiser, and Frank Barat, Russell Tribunal on Palestine coordinator, and Abdel Razzaq Takriti, Palestinian activist and political historian.
Abdel Razzaq Takriti – A Brief History of Modern Palestine
Israeli independence is for Palestinians the Nakba – the catastrophe. The humanitarian Nakba began, as most know, in 1948, but the political Nakba began in 1917 when the British government issued the Balfour Declaration, promising a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Britain, like the rest of Europe at the time, was still very anti-semitic at home, so it was very much an attempt to get rid of the ‘Jewish problem’. Palestine contained large refugee populations already from all over the middle east. The Balfour Declaration promised the new homeland should not infringe civil & political rights of existing inhabitants, but colonialism had destroyed much of the actual and potential Palestinian infrastructure before the biggest waves of European settlers arrived. Britain and France led the colonial scramble for the Middle East around WWI. There was strong resistance from Palestinians against colonialism, with the greatest Palestinian revolt lasting from 1936-1939. Thousands died, tens of thousands were injured, homes and farms of resistance supporters were demolished. It is interesting and chilling to see similar colonial tactics and patterns re-emerge today. British colonialism dealt great damage to Palestinian agriculture, homes and to its domestic political institutions, opening the way for the native population to be more easily defeated by the coming European settlers, who were backed both by the European powers and also by the Soviet Union, who had hopes for a socialist Zionist state. Arab armies made only half-hearted attempts to protect Palestinians during the Nakba, as they had their own agendas. After the Nakba, the West Bank was put under Jordanian administration, and Gaza was controlled by Egypt. What occurred was the removal of Palestine from the map, the creation of the world’s largest refugee population, and the destruction of Palestinian political institutions. Armed resistance has since been attempted, during the Intifadas, with some small successes, but this tactic is ultimately unviable against overwhelming force. The world powers have since always shown support for the expansionist Zionist project.
The Palestinian cause today could be said to be about these main issues:
1) Right of return – this is dismissed daily as unrealistic by the mainstream, but the Palestinians are the only refugee group to be denied this fundamental human right.
2) Palestinian prisoners – the recent hunger strike (ongoing) has achieved small gains such as parental visits, but still Israel continues to imprison many without trial and in violation of basic rights.
3) International Solidarity Movement – this is highly important, to increase pressure on the coloniser, to raise the morale of the colonised, and to change supportive Western policies toward the Middle East, such as trade in weapons and goods. Change is starting to come on this front with South Africa leading a move to boycott Israeli products from the illegally occupied territories. Because Israel does not label these products as such, it is a de facto boycott on Israeli products in general.
Frank Barat – Why is Palestine Place Important?
Abdel talked a lot about ‘them’, the powerful, the oppressors. Now let us focus not on ‘them’, but on the ‘we’, where real change comes from. Why is Palestine Place important? It is democratic. We don’t live in a democracy. The rules are written for us even, or especially, in the democratic farce that is an election, to avoid us having the chance of taking any real power. But Palestine Place is completely democratic and organic. One of the most common reactions to Palestine Place is ‘what organisations are behind it?’. None! Just people who think solidarity with Palestinian people is important. We are all Palestinians. We are all under threat from oppressive political, economic, legal and paramilitary state action. This is an unashamedly radical initiative, because we live in a situation so radically wrong that we need to be all the more radical in turn. People are being radicalised, but this can go in both directions. The National Front in France got 18% of the vote recently, in Greece the Golden Dawn neo-Nazis got 7%, the BNP are still active in the UK. We must turn this pattern around. Palestine Place is the first of its kind. It is organic, it belongs to all of us. We’ve contacted speakers. Occupying the building is crucial. [Frank lists potential speakers/participants]. Forget about ‘them’, let’s focus on ‘us’.
Ewa Jasiewicz – Roots and Branches of Palestine Place.
Ewa was not behind the concept itself, but got involved immediately. To look at the roots of Palestine Place, we need to look to a place in England that’s experienced a kind of ethnic cleansing – Dale Farm. There has been a long campaign, over several years, to protect the land owned by the travellers. The eviction was an infringement of human rights and the UN special rapporteur on human rights even visited. The actions, camping, resistance, etc, at Dale Farm radicalised a lot of activists who were also aware/involved with Palestine. This kind of collective solidarity action goes directly the mainstream message, which is always individualist – stay in your bubble, don’t concern yourself. This is capitalist individualism, Thatcher’s wet dream. Many people involved in Palestine solidarity campaigns are young, energetic, involved in other movements – this is growing fast. But now squatting is under threat from the government. Palestine Place is reminiscent of Manchester’s ‘Occasional Cafe’, another great initiative. We need to defend squatting, this powerful activist tool and potently symbolic political act (to reclaim buildings which are allowed to go unused when homelessness remains such a massive problem). During the consultation on the criminalisation of squatting the police didn’t even want squatting criminalised, it is in many ways a cynical political crack down on activism.
We are aiming for mainstream media coverage of Palestine Place. It is a project of resistance, of expressing solidarity, of culture jamming. We can use it to push the normalisation of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign. We’ll run a workshop on how to shut down Carmel Agrexco, etc. It will be a shining hub of resistance in solidarity with Palestine and to continue the fight to protect squatting and squatters.
Question from the floor – How much space for ‘us’ to put on our own events?
Answer from the front – Lots – it should be a big space with several rooms – we can have multiple events simultaneously. There’s an excel sheet.
Q – How can we see who is confirmed so as not to clash?
A – No slots actually confirmed yet, lots of space for new things.
Q – We need to make sure it’s not just people who know about Palestine talking to people who know about Palestine.
A – We will try to make it look amenable, not the usual anarchist squat look. We will/should have a welcome desk and maybe a welcome team/rota. Introduction to the issues every day so non experts can always come and not feel out of their depth.
Direct point – we need to think about what kind of events will draw in specifically people who might not otherwise be interested.
Direct point – we should focus on drawing in passers by.
More direct points on outreach – Good to target art school and college students
“” – Also university Palestine groups; and we could have meetings on the logistics of travelling to Palestine.
“” – Fly posting teams in areas where we can reach target audiences. Also build BDS in Trade Unions.
“” – We must prepare to be able to defend squatting to the media and defend against accusations that it’s in any way similar to Israeli occupation. E.g. use term ‘reclaimed space’ rather than ‘occupation’.
“” – leafleting is a huge part, to get to ordinary people, so we need a lot of boots on the ground for leafleting etc. We could organise a Street Team.
Q – Is 2 weeks long enough?
A – This is in part to prove that we can do it, to really bring Palestinian issues to life in Britain. If we do it well it could be the beginning of a new kind of movement and protest in this country, how to take back space and show solidarity with one of the most oppressed people in the world.
Back to outreach – Agree with last point. Also agree with coalition building around BDS. As well as TUs, faith groups are good to approach.
“” – Action at US embassy? US media loves the queen and they’re all here, vulnerable, watching double decker buses, ready to be coopted by us.
Q – What about big institutions and NGOs that work on Palestine? Could organisers talk about how more formalised groups work compared to this kind of democratic space?
A – NGOs are very important.
Q – What WGs exist and how do we contact them?
A – There is already ‘outreach & publicity’, ‘media’, ‘spaces’, and once we have a space we will then need to create ‘security/site’, ‘sleeping’, ‘finance’ (do we need a bank account?), ‘props & tat’, maybe ‘catering’ and a ‘Street team’. To get in touch with specific working groups at present best just to email the group (email@example.com) to find out what state particular WGs are in and how to get involved. The thing is that we will need a different set of WGs before and after the taking of the space. Much more work will be done on WGs on Monday 28th.
Next meeting then organised for Monday 28th, meeting outside SOAS at 7pm.
Prose reconstructed from rough notes – apologies and please let us know if there are any glaring inaccuracies/omissions!