Amnesty International and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign organised a joint event on the Israeli occupation on Monday evening, featuring activists from the West Bank Issa Amro and Farid Al-Atrash. The event marked the start of a new campaign initiated by Amnesty, in which it has called the UK government to ban sales of products from companies based in the occupied West Bank.
Baroness Tessa Blackstone, a British peer and academic, chaired the four speaker panel event and welcomed the full house of attendees. She also briefly spoke of her experience in the occupied territories, during which she witnessed Amro being arrested by Israeli occupying authorities, and emphasised the importance of events like this for Palestinian activists to be able to make their voices heard. She then handed over to Amro himself for the first speech.
World renowned activist based in Hebron and founder of Youth Against Settlements, Amro deliberated on the way Palestinians are represented in the British media. He protested the stereotype of his countrymen and women as violent, citing himself as an example to the contrary, having peacefully resisted occupation for 15 years.
He went on to outline Israel’s 2020 plan to revoke the residency of 20,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the occupied territories in order to create a Jewish majority. He also referenced his work at the Israeli NGO B’Tselem, accusing Israel of committing war crimes in the Jordan Valley and trying to divide the West Bank further, such that any proposed two-state solution would not be physically feasible. He evidenced his claim further by quoting Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who last year called for all Jews to give up their lives to annex the West Bank.
The activist said the occupation’s policies had made Hebron a ghost town as a result of the closure of 1,800 Palestinian shops and the installation of more checkpoints.
Amro contrasted the state of the Palestinians with the blatant Israeli aggression; from changing the name of the street he was born in, to settlers establishing their own municipal authority in Hebron. He also spoke of the numerous times he has been attacked by settlers, who were never charged despite him having video and medical evidence. He criticised the Israeli narrative about Palestinians as aggressors.
We are the people who are stateless, we are the people without rights, we are the people without water. End the occupation and then judge us.
The founder of Youth Against Settlements said he became an activist after his university was closed by the occupation. He said he began organising rallies until the institution was reopened. Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King inspired him to protest the Palestinian cause without violence.
As his speech came to an end, he called on attendees to do all they can by joining pro-Palestinian campaigns. He noted that the majority of Britons support the Palestinian cause, but stressed that he wanted to transform that public opinion into political change. His speech was met with long and rapturous applause.
Lawyer and activist from occupied Bethlehem Farid Al-Atrash spoke of how his hometown knows no peace, and how Palestinians live in fear of abuse from Israeli authorities. He spoke of how the UN had failed to protect the people from the occupation and how the responsibility now fell to the public.
“In light of all of this, we come out and say, no to settlements, no to occupation.”
Al-Atrash described his own experience with Israeli authorities, detailing how he was shot in the leg during a peaceful protest in 2013, an injury which almost cost him his limb. He related another occasion when he was assaulted by Israeli soldiers, arrested and put in the boot of a car. When in prison, he was refused water and at one point, spent five days in a small metal box.
He ended by highlighting his refugee status; his family fled to Bethlehem in the war of 1967, but had already been displaced in 1948.
Hugh Lanning, chairman of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, said the occupation was a matter of “an army keeping a civil population under forced control, with the threat of military force.”
He highlighted the contradiction in Israeli discourse; that while it claims to be the only democracy in the Middle East, it shuts down all internal and external criticism of its policies.