Billed as Europe’s biggest cultural festival on Palestine, thousands arrived expecting to partake in a celebration of the rich heritage of the holy land and to experience reality as it is endured by millions of Palestinians living under the brutal occupation of Israel.
The two-day festival of music, art, culture blended with sharp lectures and powerful poems opened at Olympia London Exhibition Centre yesterday to the delight of countless families determined not to miss out on the spectacle.
Organisers of Palestine Expo had fought back against attempts by a pro-Israeli group with close ties to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to have it closed down. Their efforts to muzzle free speech by blocking the two-day event threatened London’s reputation as one of the global centres of cosmopolitanism including the UK’s rich tradition of freedom of speech.
The UK lawyers for Israel, though, were not the only ones to hurl into desperate and frantic mudsling against the organisers, Friends of Al Aqsa (FOA) and the dozens of other co-partners who helped organise the event. Israeli Public Security Minister, Gilad Erdan, suffered a similar defeat and failed to block Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset, Yousef Jabareen, from taking part at the Palestine Expo where the Al-Jabha (Hadash) representative delivered a talk on the “deal of the century”.
Anti-Palestinians, like the Israeli security minister, accuse PalExpo organisers of anti-Semitism and promoting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Inside the vast exhibition hall visitors were greeted with a festival of art and music, as they immersed themselves into the Palestinain experience through the countless curations of work related to the past, present and future of Palestine. The Al Bayt stall appeared to visitors as though it were a space frozen in time. Neatly configured with ornate utensils for the simple joy of enjoying coffee, it displayed the art of Palestinain hospitality in its finest.
A few meters away, poets and storytellers were seated in an oriental space bespread with colourful cushions for children and parents to hear the tales of prophets of the three Abrahamic faiths and their travels through the holy land, shaping its history.
Echoing in the background were the sounds of traditional Palestinian dance and dabka choreographed by young artists and musicians. For aspiring chefs and those who fear burning all the cooking, MEMO’s resident chef Maha Salah hosted talks on the Palestinian Pantry with modern twists on traditional ingredients and easy to follow recipes.
Best selling Palestinian chef Joudie Kalla was also at MEMO’s stall signing copies of her latest cookbook “Baladi”.
Amongst the dozens of interactive installation was a model of a checkpoint. Though the oppression and humiliation endured by tens of thousands of Palestinians daily at Israeli checkpoint is impossible to replicate, the model posed an impressive sight. Other features of the occupation were also graphically portrayed, such as the impact of the occupation on Palestinian education and healthcare.
Visitors also got a glimpse of the cruelty of the siege and occupation through a visual display of the countless everyday objects that are banned from entering the besieged Gaza Strip. The reality of the subjugation of Palestinians is brought to life also through a model of Israel’s imposing eight metre high Separation Wall that cuts into the West Bank splitting Palestinain families and annexing their land. The wall has been deemed illegal under international law with the UN saying it should be demolished.
Young visitors to the Expo got the opportunity to knock down this “apartheid wall” through w game of “10 block bowling”.
Nearby a model of Gaza’s Shifa Hospital outlines how medical teams in the besieged enclave face many challenges completing their day to day activity. They outlined routine procedures carried out in the UK which become life threatening in Gaza.
Upstairs, journalists, politicians and activists selected from all over the world, including from Israel, gathered to speak of the political experience of Palestinians and the future of their struggle. Among the topics debated in the conference was the fate of Jerusalem; Israel’s Nation-State Bill which sets into law that Arab citizens are second class; the Gaza March of Return; BDS and the “deal of the century”.