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An iconic cause for the WSF: With no Free Palestine, there is no other possible world

May 23, 2022 at 6:48 pm

Palestinian delegation during the 2022 World Social Forum, between May 1st and 6th, in Mexico City [Muna Namura/Union of Palestinian Women]

The last session of the World Social Forum wrapped up on 6 May in Mexico City, reporting the silencing of two further Palestinian voices who should have been present at the event that promotes the slogan “Another world is possible”.  Along with other Palestinian delegates at the closing assembly, Yousef Habash, a member of the Philistia Association, confirmed: “Israeli and American authorities have banned our deputies from attending this conference.”

Sahar Francis, Director of the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, was prevented from boarding a plane to the United States. Ubai Aboudi, Director of the Bisan Centre for Research and Development, was detained at the border between Jordan and Israel. The Israeli occupation labelled these, and other civil rights organisations, as “terrorist groups”, enforcing several restrictions. The main reason to criminalise them is precisely their regular invitation to talk at international forums.

The criminalisation as a silencing weapon is quite common over the several sessions of the WSF, a civil society initiative launched in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2001. The conference represents a direct opposition to the neoliberal World Economic Forum, meeting annually in Davos, Switzerland. The idea is to discuss alternative paths for humankind. In 2005, a prominent debate was about to approach international struggles for rights, with the distinguished attendance of Jamal Juma, Director of the NGO, Stop the Wall. However, an incontestably exhausted Juma had to replace his presence with a video message — after hours and hours without sleep. Days before boarding, Israeli soldiers detained him without reason or explanation, releasing him just on the eve of his conference, when it was already impossible to travel.

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In 2012, a thematic forum dedicated its whole program to “A Free Palestine” in Porto Alegre, Brazil — the same city where the project was born. Those days of intense rallying and hope overlapped with the United Nations General Assembly approval, on November 29th, to change the Palestinian status from “observing body” to “observing Non-member State”, practically recognising the State of Palestine. The resolution is still controversial, as the General Assembly did not effectively change the occupation reality in the “observing State” — stripped from its lands and the Right of Return to its massive refugee population since the Nakba or “Catastrophe” in 1948. The declaration seemed to imply growing attention from the international community to the Palestinian cause. However, the passing years confirmed: consecutive UN resolutions just appeased and crystallised the enduring status of oppression and complicity with the occupation moves.

The Israeli occupation of Palestine is a recurring subject at the WSF meetings, representing a thorn in one’s side for everyone who dreams of a better world. The apartheid circumstances — vastly reported by renowned organisations, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International — challenge governments and forums to overcome a long-lasting era of colonial horrors, as promised by the UN, within a decade. Regardless, the situation in Palestine is seemingly irrelevant to ensue practical measures and legitimate sanctions.

“We cannot eradicate colonialism and approach its legacy as we allow an exception in the 21st century, at the expense of the Palestinian people and their self-determination rights,” emphasised the Palestinian delegation during the WSF closing moments. To these oppressed indigenous people, solidarity is an ongoing mission.

In 2014, another devastating Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip mobilised the World Social Forum attendees. Images of a deliberate massacre — even with a pile of baby bodies — took the internet by storm, exposing, once again, the occupation horrors. The Facebook algorithms, until that moment, could try but not hide the mounting crimes against the Palestinian people. Requested by the alternative media organisation, Ciranda, and the Palestinian Front in Defence of the Palestinian People in Brazil, the International Board gathered at the Tunisian city of Monastir and signed a call to organise a Humanitarian Mission to the Gaza Strip. The initiative took form at the 2015 WSF in Tunis. Some 15 volunteers, primarily journalists, departed to Jordan and then to Palestine. Israeli authorities denied entry to two civil activists with Arabic surnames: the Palestinian-Brazilian, Soraya Misleh, and the Lebanese-Brazilian, Mohamad Kadri. The “security reasons” for banning them remain unjustified and unexplained. The mission stayed in the West Bank, gathering first-hand testimonies and statements about the Israeli occupation, which the free and public media in Brazil later published and broadcast. However, the Humanitarian Mission could not enter Gaza to document the tragic living on the frequently bombed, practically devastated Palestinian coast.

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Since then, Israel has launched new offensives, including in May 2021, targeting civilians and media offices. “The occupation authorities target our work because they fear the reality we expose. They fear the truth revealed by our inquiries,” stressed Yousef Habash, later a co-organiser of the 2nd Free Palestinian Social Forum, accomplished within the 2022 WSF.

Muna Munara, a member of the Union of Palestinian Women, and Rita Natsheh, an activist from Jerusalem, corroborated Habash’s theory in Mexico City. During a video conference, Munara and Natsheh discussed the media role and narratives about the Israeli occupation with the journalist, Ahmad Jaradah, living in Hebron. The columnists, Soraya Misleh, and Bruno Beaklini, speaking from Brazil, were responsible for managing the panel organised by the Middle East Monitor (MEMO – Brazil).

On 6 May, the Palestinian women attending the last day of the World Social Forum  celebrated the release of their associate, Khitam Saafeen, after 19 months’ detention in an Israeli jail without trial or accusation. Five days later, they faced the shock of Shireen Abu Akleh’s brutal execution — a well-known Palestinian journalist shot in the head by occupation soldiers. Israel extended the criminal violence of the murder during her funeral, therefore, confirming the several denouncements outlined during the 2022 WSF, particularly about the self-preservation tactics and policies adopted by the occupation in Palestine.

Besides Addameer (Arabic word for “conscience”) and the Bisan Centre, Israel slandered four other Palestinian civil society organisations as “terrorists” a few months back, including attendees or former attendees of the World Social Forum. For this purpose, the occupation appealed to a 2016 piece of legislation applied against human rights associations, also targeting the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, the NGO Al-Haq (meaning “justice”), the Defence for Children International – Palestine and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees.

Portrait of Khitam Saageen, activist of the Union of Palestinian Women, released by Israel on May 6th, one day after the 2022 WSF in Mexico City [Union of Palestinian Women]

Portrait of Khitam Saageen, activist of the Union of Palestinian Women, released by Israel on May 6th, one day after the 2022 WSF in Mexico City [Union of Palestinian Women]

The Palestinian cause became an international issue a long time ago. The WSF delegation also reported the use of the Israeli spyware, Pegasus, to track journalists, activists and political opponents worldwide, particularly in Latin America. These hacking activities are tested on the Palestinian people and then exported to oppressive regimes. “The Israeli crackdown boosts and arms worldwide repression.”

Living with apartheid and condoning an unreasonable theory of “self-defence” means the road to a different international society, respecting the rights of the indigenous people, is still winding and lengthy. The circumstances again prove the importance of the Palestinian cause to the World Social Forum. However iconic, it is not alone. During this year’s edition, Saharawi delegates also reported the Moroccan occupation and colonisation, claiming their self-determination rights. The Palestinian case represents a microcosm of global injustices derived from neoliberalism, imperialism, colonialist policies, exploitative capitalism and transnational corporate actions.

The WSF delegations asked for material actions of solidarity, not just words, to end the occupation and hold Israel accountable for its crimes, like a shared, international challenge. Indeed, it is impossible to sustain a better world,  utopia — in development — if an uncontested apartheid situation, with worldly collaboration, cannot be faced and subdued.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.