Laura Stuart: Cafe Palestine Conference Freiburg - The Boundaries of Discourse- A Review
Ibrahim el Zayat, Sameh Habeeb, Samir Abed-Rabbo, Alan Hart, Gilad Atzmon, Dr Makram Khoury-Machool, Ken O'Keefe, organisers Annie Sauerland and Dr Gabi Weber
"Nothing will change until that which was taken from the Palestinians by force is taken back by force"
I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to attend the Cafe Palestine conference at the weekend. The topic being The Boundaries of Discourse. Being primarily a woman of action, I do not generally get the chance to listen to so many intellectuals speak on a wide range of subjects, I am more familiar with activism at the "sharp end" having participated in land convoys and the flotilla aboard the Mavi Marmara.
No sooner had Gilad invited me to accompany himself and some of the other speakers from the U.K. to travel with them to the conference, than I started to receive dark sinister and mildly threatening e.mails from unknown person or persons warning me about the people whom I was accompanying. Despite these nasty e.mails which included reference to my middle name, where I lived and the fact that I have children, I decided that I have never turned back when faced by adversity and I wasn't about to start now. Although the "pen is mightier than the sword" I have already faced the guns of the I.D.F. and the sticks of the Egyptian riot police and am not about to run from the venom produced anonymously from what must by now be a very sticky keyboard probably from somewhere in Brighton. There is, evidently, a small cell of haters who sit monitoring Gilad Atmon's movements 24/7 and who's only aim appears to be destroying the solidarity of the Palestine movement from within and trying to control the discourse, they do this by hounding and threatening by e.mail or phone, anyone who doesn't toe their "party line". Who the murky people behind the main ring leaders are we don't know for sure since they operate anonymously but their actions are purely destructive and there is no way to see how they could be actually trying to help Palestinians. The most prolific and visable writer of this cell Tony Greenstein recently wrote "Laura Stewart is a combination of a complete political idiot and ignoramus (or both)", actually Tony I am neither, in fact I understand the political system rather better than you which is why I don't engage in it nor do I look to it to provide a real solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict.
Gilad Atzmon, myself and Ken O'Keefe
On a beautiful morning in Freiburg the conference began. The venue was large and airy, translators and headphones were available for simultaneous translation, books, Palestinian products, political art and various items were available for sale there was plentiful food and refreshments, in fact every detail to ensure the conference would be a success had been carefully considered and taken care of.
Just before the starting time a small group of Zionists turned up outside to wave Israeli flags and banners. They claimed issues with Gilad Atzmon as their reason for being there. Gilad was noble enough to come out and ask them exactly why they were protesting against him. Their reply was that he had said that the State of Israel is worse than the German Nazi State, Gilad confirmed to them that he had indeed said that and that he stood by his statement because Israel is supposed to be a democratic state. After that they didn't seem to have anything to say which probably accounts for why they didn't just simply buy a ticket and air their views in an open discussion with the panellists.
This is not intended to be a review of the conference as such but I will just mention a few points that I felt benefited me in so much as listening to the experts on various subjects consolidated the views that I hold myself in conclusion of what I have myself witnessed on my travels and my own understanding of the picture gleaned from years of reading articles and watching youtube videos on the internet. Mainstream media as we know does not represent a balanced view of the situation in the Middle East and so we turn to social media coming to us on Twitter and Facebook straight from the front lines in the region.
Alan Hart is a wonderful and precise speaker on the history of the conflict and listening to him is very important so that we learn the facts we need to put a coherent and factual argument across when discussing the Middle East and Palestine with people who have been mislead by decades of hasbara. Right at the end of his talk he managed to spoil it rather for me by giving two possible scenarios for the future, the first being that we have to wait until the President of the U.S.A. does a 180 degree turn on Israel, or second until Israel commits all out genocide on the Palestinians. In fact I would offer a small personal item of feed back on the conference by saying that when we gather people together who are interested in human rights and freedom we should offer a way forward in "and this is how we can help" scenarios for future actions.
Samir Abed-Rabbo gave a detailed talk on how civil liberties are being eroded in the U.S.A. in the name of the phoney "War on Terror" even astoundingly showing us how the American constitution is broken in practice and how the President has rewritten parts of it, which in itself is totally unconstitutional. Extra ordinary rendition and torture something that we muslims are only to painfully aware of, are just one example that goes totally against the United States own constitution.
Throughout the day everything I heard only confirmed by own conclusions, that in reality no government or International body is going to hold Israel to account when it repeatedly breaks International law, the laws are already in place, they exist, the point is that the bodies such as the United Nations, the European Union etc have become totally ineffectual when it comes to Israel. No government is likely to change their pro Israel policies any time soon, N.A.T.O. is not going to impose a "no fly zone" over Gaza in the name or moral interventionism, and in the meantime every week more Palestinians are killed or imprisoned and a miserable life under occupation and siege goes on.
The two state solution is obviously no solution at all and most of us support the one state solution with the full right of return into some kind of democratic state. But the question remains how is one state going to be formed and by whom? Israel is not going to agree to that voluntarily. The conflict in Palestine is not an issue of Palestinians alone it is only one part of the bigger picture of the Middle East. Various western backed and funded dictators, despots and Pharaohs were essential to keep the muslim populations across North Africa and the Middle East in place. Suddenly the picture is changing rapidly and the United States is having to run to catch up with events rolling across the region. I cheered along with the Tunisians and the Egyptians as Bin Ali fled and Mubarak resigned, but what brought tears to my eyes was when the Tunisians and Egyptians within minutes of cheering about their own freedom, they were chanting " we will free Palestine next" !
For Muslims it is not only the issue of years of oppression and the humiliation of it's people, it is also that Al Quds is deep in the heart of each one of us as the third most revered mosque in Islam. The liberation of Al Quds is an obligation on each and every one of us, we only had to realise that we can over come oppression even without weapons when there is real solidarity and if any issue can united muslims to overcome the man made boundaries of national borders imposed on us by colonial powers, it will be Al Quds and Palestine. We do not need the armies such as Egypt's who are on the Payroll of the United States, people power will overcome.
Perhaps no single action has done more to bring change in international opinion than what happened on the Mavi Marmara, but for this to be such a situation changing event blood had to be shed. The men who died on the Mavi Marmara did not set out to die but they were prepared, as most of us were prepared to meet the I.D.F. and defend their taking over the ship, even as it was clearly said before we left "with bare chests and sticks".
Gilad playing to the pro zionist counter protest.
For the situation to change in Palestine it seems more blood will have to be shed, in reality blood is already being shed on a regular basis but for some reason Palestinian blood being shed has just become a weekly set of statistics on various human rights reports with no end in sight.
Whilst listening to experts and intellectuals talking on Palestine, in my opinion intellectualising the conflict can only go so far in the end there is only one reality and that is "what was taken from the Palestinians by force, can only be taken back by force".