In the first of three events with the Middle East Monitor (MEMO) Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian American journalist and a leading proponent of the Palestinian cause spoke at Imperial College about his new book The Battle for Justice in Palestine which has been shortlisted in MEMO's Palestine Book Awards.
Speaking to a packed audience, Abunimah made a moving and powerful appraisal of the long battle for justice in Palestine which he described as going through a moment of paradox where things have never been better and worse at the same time.
From Gaza to Jerusalem to Palestinians in the diaspora, there is relentless bad news and suffering. Since the August ceasefire, very little has been done for Gaza, no mobilisation of international systems to support the people in Gaza and thousands of Palestinians are still living in the rubble and destruction left by Israel.
Instead of an effort to rebuild Gaza, UN agencies are now complicit in their subjugation by acquiescing to unrealistic Israeli demands for Gaza's reconstruction. Echoing concerns raised by others that Gaza's reconstruction effort is more like a regime that oversees the construction of a suspicious nuclear facility and less like a desperately needed humanitarian project.
The UN monitoring system, that carries out a need assessment then purchases the goods from Israel and monitors its usage, is like an Orwellian state that shamefully mirrors the UN aid for food programme in Iraq in the 90s which the UN enforced on behalf of the West. Worryingly, the saddest part of it is how some civil society aid organisations have remained silent and become imbedded in the siege.
Abunimah catalogued the challenges facing Palestinians across the region. Palestinians in the Negev are faced with the Jewish National Fund which is carrying out ethnic cleansing. In Israel, it is the same story of Palestinians being removed through various measures in order to make room for Jews.
Incitement of violence in Jerusalem is routine and not a recent phenomenon. In June, Israeli mobs were going through the streets of Jerusalem calling for "death to Arab". Now it's the soldiers and police doing it. Palestinian children are killed without any consequences. The situation in Jerusalem is grim with Palestinians facing institutionalised violence.
After speaking of his dislike to elevating religious elements in politics while stressing the importance of understanding the Zionist religious narrative which is hijacking this conflict, Abunimah alarmingly raised the destructive goal of extreme Jewish settlers who want to turn this conflict into a messianic war by destroying Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Moving his attention to the global arena he pointed to the fact that settlement construction is on the rise and no one is able to do anything about it including the US. His observation that this is not a project of Israelis alone highlighted the need for international solidarity. As there are a number of partners in the campaign to destroy Palestine, likewise there must be global partners in the campaign to protect of Palestine.
The growing solidarity movement provides many reasons for optimism and is the other part of the paradox. Israel, at least in civil society, is far more isolated than ever before. Even in the US there is growing realisation amongst American elites that the US' relationship with Israel is harming America. A number of politicians including US Secretary of State John Kerry accidently spoke about their frustration and what they really think about Israel only to then recant following a backlash. Israeli security officials have also spoken about this incredible solidarity movement which they believe is an existential threat to Israel. BDS is becoming larger and larger.
In his ending remarks, Abunimah highlighted his vision for the future and what he believes should be the principals underlying Palestinian solidarity: all the rights for all the Palestinians, no Palestinian should be comprised for Israeli privilege. It's not one state, two states or any kind of statism it's about decolonisation, ending racism and occupation.
Photographs by Ihsan Abdullah