World Social Forum – Free Palestine

Rafeef Ziadah reports from the World Social Forum on Palestine held at the end of last year:

The first World Social Forum (WSF-FP) designated specifically for the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality was held in Porto Allegre, Brazil from November 27 – December 1 and brought together activists and social movements from around the world. Held on the international day in solidarity with the Palestinian people, the forum brought together trade-unionists, refugee and migrant rights activists, prison abolitionist and indigenous self-determination activists to discuss and strategize ways forward for the Palestine solidarity movement.

Interestingly, exactly sixty-five years after Brazil presided over the UN General Assembly session that agreed upon the partition of Palestine, the same country was host to a forum working to rectify the ongoing injustices perpetuated against the Palestinian people since that partition. The forum was billed as a historic opportunity for people from all over the world to stand up where governments have failed.

The forum was attended by delegations from 38 countries and included over 125 workshops on various subjects like the Palestinian right of return, boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns, the struggles of Palestinian political prisoners, Palestinian women’s organizing, solidarity with Palestinian fishers and farmers, and the growing anti-pinkwashing movement initiated by LGBT activists.

The forum was gathering only one week after Israel’s latest military assault on Gaza, this made discussions of the internationalization of Israel’s militarism even more urgent. Speakers from the Palestinian BDS National committee emphasized the need for a military embargo on Israel, especially in light of the growing trade in arms between Brazil and Israel; where Israel is using Brazil and Colombia as an entry point for its weapons to the rest of Latin America. In 2011 Brazil signed a major security and military cooperation agreement with Israel.

Members of the Palestinian delegation explained how weapons and surveillance techniques tested on the Palestinian people are being exported to the rest of the world, and the ways Israel boasts its ‘field testing’ in marketing its military technologies.

The opening plenary session focused on international law, human rights and the prosecution of Israeli war criminals. This session corresponded with the admission of Palestine as an observer state to the United Nations. There was a clear tension right from this starting session about the emphasis on the statehood bid.

Many of the Palestinian organizations attending and Palestinian activists in the diaspora did not want the entire forum to portrayed as a celebration of the statehood bid and insisted that fundamental issues such as the right of return remain central to all discussions. This unspoken tension remained throughout the forum, until the closing plenary where a group of Palestinian youth took to the stage to specifically highlight the limitations of the statehood bid and the narrowing of the Palestinian struggle to the West Bank only.

WSF-FP workshops reflected a rich range of in depth analytical discussions and campaigns ideas and strategies, a major emphasis was on the 2005 Palestinian civil society call for Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions and coordinating the various international BDS initiatives. Sessions on corporate complicity in Israel’s military occupation were very well attended and helped to develop the ongoing work around companies like Veolia and G4S.

The academic and cultural boycott of Israel were discussed in two separate sessions and gave activists the opportunity to both understand the nuances of the guidelines for these types of boycotts and mechanisms to get involved. It was especially important for the Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott Initiative to connect with students from Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador to support their work with research from the ground in Palestine.

Some of the most impressive workshops throughout the forum were presented in a stream titled Queer Visions. Workshops detailed how Israel has attempted to appropriate “the gay rights” agenda by marketing itself as the “only gay friendly” state in the region in an attempt to obfuscate the reality of the occupation, or what activists have dubbed pinkwashing.

One of the most inspirational aspects of the forum was the number of Palestinian youth (from inside and outside Palestine) in attendance. The Palestinian Youth Delegation, part of the delegation from Palestine, brought 5 youth from the West Bank, 5 youth from Gaza and 5 youth from Palestine ’48 (Palestinian citizens of Israel). For many of the young Palestinians it was the first time they were meeting face to face, after collaborating together for years and connecting in online forums. This was a stark depiction of Israel’s policy to fragment the Palestinian people into isolated enclaves.

As with most big gatherings it was hard to escape the small logistical glitches. Coordinated by a Brazilian committee, an international committee and a Palestinian committee, the forum was inevitably drawn in different directions according to the priorities and political makeup of each committee. The fact that the forum was scattered over several buildings meant that it was difficult to get from one session to the next and often room cancellations were not announced in advance.

Although, some of the strongest contributions to workshops came from Palestinian women and Palestinian feminist organisations, on the big plenaries and in the main rally women’s voices were marginalized. These are all important matters to note and remedy in future solidarity gatherings. However, this did not deter from the overall enthusiasm and commitment of all present to intensify their efforts in the struggle for Palestinian rights.


  1. We all want peace, and yet, after more than a century of conflict, the struggle between these two related nations remains more intractable than ever. Why?

    Because each side is entrenched in its own narrative, to the exclusion of the other’s.

    Its faults notwithstanding, one must admit that Israel has taken some steps since the Oslo Accords toward acknowledging the Palestinian suffering. These steps are reflected in school books, in the media, and through other informational outlets. The Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza, for instance, are now referred to as “Palestinians,” and most Israelis would like to see a Palestinian state emerge. The fact that Israeli voters don’t reflect these wishes has to do with fears of surface-to-air missiles two miles from Ben-Gurion International Airport, and scarred memories of blown-up buses and pizzerias.

    The Palestinians, unfortunately, have done little to allay Israeli fears. While Palestinians clamor for the removal of onerous checkpoints and barriers, militant attempts to penetrate these barriers and attack Israeli civilians have not ceased at all since the second Intifada. Similarly, school books and speeches, in Arabic, have grown radical, to the point of portraying Israel’s very existence as a crime. Little has been done to acknowledge the Jewish roots in Palestine.

    The fact is that the Jewish presence in Palestine goes much farther back than most Palestinians, as well as Arabs and Muslims in general, would be willing to admit.

    Before 1948, Palestine was ruled by a series of empires. Before that Palestine was Judaea—a Jewish country. Jews have lived in Palestine continuously for more than 3,300 years. “Palestine” was the name given to the Jewish homeland in the second century by the Romans, in an attempt to break the Jewish adherence to the land. This was a century after the Jewish temple was destroyed and more than a million Jews were massacred.

    The Jews stopped fighting the Romans only after they had no more fighting men standing. As Evangelist William Eugene Blackstone put it in 1891, “The Jews never gave up their title to Palestine… They never abandoned the land. They made no treaty, they did not even surrender. They simply succumbed, after the most desperate conflict, to the overwhelming power of the Romans.”

    The Jews persisted through the centuries under the various empires, after the Arab invasion of 635AD (which they fought alongside the Byzantines), and after the Crusade massacres of the 11th Century, which decimated much of their population. They never stopped returning, and their numbers recovered. In the 19th century, before the Zionist immigration, Jews constituted the largest religious group in Jerusalem.

    Few Palestinians realize that Jewish customs, religion, prayers, poetry, holidays, and virtually every walk of life, documented for thousands of years—all revolve around Judaea/Palestine/Israel. For thousands of years Jews have been praying for Jerusalem in every prayer, after every meal, in every holiday, at every wedding, in every celebration. The whole Jewish religion is about Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. Western expressions such as “The Promised Land,” and “The Holy Land,” did not pop out of void. They have been part of Western knowledge and tradition dating back to the beginning of Christianity and earlier.

    After the Crusades, the Jews—including many who have returned over the centuries—lived peacefully with Arabs, often in the very same villages, as in Pki’in, in the Galilee, until the Zionist immigration of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Article 6 of the PLO Charter specifically calls for the acceptance of all Jews present in Palestine prior to the Zionist immigration. These Jews were simply another ethnic group in a region composed of Sunnis, Shiites, Jews, Druz, Greek Orthodox, Catholics, Circassians, Samarians, and more. Some of these groups, like the Druz, Circassians, Samarians, and an increasing number of Christians, are actually loyal to the Jewish State.

    Incidentally, genetic studies consistently show that Zionist immigrants (a.k.a., Ashkenazi Jews) are closely related to groups that predate the Arab conquest, like the Samarians, who have lived in Palestine for thousands of year.

    Palestinian denial of these facts may lead to events such as the ones brilliantly depicted in Jonathan Bloomfield’s award-winning book, “Palestine,” in which actual history and predicted events are thinly veiled as fiction.

    If, as the current Palestinian narrative goes, the Jews are not a people indigenous to Palestine but rather an invading foreign colonialist body, then they must be fought until they are removed from this land. Anything short of that, by any standard, would be injustice.

    Thus, war and bloodshed will continue until the Palestinians start acknowledging the Jewish narrative, and the fact that Jewish roots in Palestine date back thousands of years, long before the Arab invasion.

  2. I don’t know who “Prof. Taheri” is, but his academic speciality is clearly not Middle East history. His posting here is just a rehash of all of the tired old Zionist propaganda clichés, with little connection to the reality of the situation in Palestine.

    The children’s history offered above is in fact a fiction, concocted in order to justify Zionist claims to Palestine. As Professor Shlomo Sand has clearly demonstrated in his acclaimed book The Invention of the Jewish People, the origins of the Jews are far more complex than Taheri pretends, but the history books, which used to portray this complexity, have been thoroughly rewritten over the past sixty years in order to exclude all but Taheri’s myths.

    The reality, which Taheri completely ignores, is that over the past 130 years a European colonial settler society has been established in Palestine, based on the exclusion and elimination of the original, Palestinian, residents. As a result of this colonisation, all Palestinians are oppressed and dispossessed, whether as third-class (at best) citizens in the state of Israel, as subjects in the militarily occupied (though partly comprador governed) West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza, or as exiles demanding their right to return.

    The ostensible justification for the Zionist colonisation of Palestine was the suffering of Jews elsewhere. It is of course true that, particularly in Europe,m Jews had been subjected to decades of antisemitic outrages, culminating in the Nazi attempt to systematically eliminate them. This antisemitic oppression was carried out by Europeans, who were at the same time colonising much of the rest of the world. The Palestinians, and other Arabs, were not the perpetrators of these crimes, and they should not be required to pay the price for them.

    Despite Taheri’s repeated admonitions, this conflict is not about competing “narratives”; it is about real oppression and resistance, about the struggle of the Palestinian people against a colonial settler movement. His reference to “the Arab invasion” would be comical if it were not so offensive.

    The precondition for an end to the war and bloodshed is not, as Taheri insists, an Arab acceptance of Israel and Zionism. It is, rather, an unconditional and complete end to Israel’s military occupation of territories occupied in 1967; the implementation of the right of Palestinian exiles to return and to compensation; and the dismantlement of the racist and discriminatory Zionist structure of the state of Israel.

    • Roland,
      The Arabs invaded Palestine in 635. It was part of a 90-year conquest whereby they spread from Arabia to what we know today as the Arab world, plus Spain and southern France. Offensive or comical, that’s what happened.

      As for your harangues about oppression, Israel is the safest place in the Middle East for a Muslim (Sunni, Shiite or other) to worship, and for a Christian and a gay person to exist. There is scant evidence to suggest that this would have been the case had there been no Israel.

      One of these oppressed, an Israeli Arab, is sitting on the Israeli Supreme Court: Justice Salim Joubran, a former lecturer at the Law Faculty at the University of Haifa

      Justice Joubran was preceded by another oppressed Arab, Justice Abdel Rahman Zuabi.

      At the end of 2011, Justice Joubran was one of three justices who upheld the conviction of Israel’s former president, Moshe Katzav.

      Regarding dispossession, The Arabs of Palestine fled at the urging and fear mongering of their own leaders, who promised that after the Jews were wiped out they could return. You can listen to their testimonies—their very own words—on youtube: watch?v=FuGqpFxogRg ; watch?v=cn4r7ZjG9Nc .

      In contrast, no Jewish leader told the 850,000 Jews in Arab countries to move out temporarily so the Arabs in their lands can be exterminated, and then they can return. And in many of these lands, e.g., Mesopotamia, the Jews predated the Arabs by more than 1,200 years.

      These Jewish refugees were absorbed by Israel, unlike their 750,000 Arab counterparts who fled Palestine and were refused settlement and rights among their very own Arab brethren.

      By 1950, “Saturday” was largely complete. The Jews were gone. Today “Sunday” is taking place, and Christians are fleeing Arab lands in droves. As the current Arab saying goes, “After Saturday comes Sunday.”

      Palestinians could have stayed if they had not listened to the exaggerated scare stories of Hazam Nusseibeh and Hussayn Khalidi of the Higher Arab Executive, who had actually intended with their horror stories to draw in more Arabs to the fight.

      The Jews in the Arab countries could NOT have stayed. It was either fleeing as refugees (and losing an untold fortune that had been built over many generations) or facing death.

      They fled.

      They lost all their land, business and property, and became penniless refugees in Israel.

  3. Prof Taheri, the starting point for the people who contribute articles to this site on Palestine is that the Israeli state is a racist, apartheid one.

    Now, while we admire your willingness to engage with the opposition you are very unlikely to change anyone’s mind and you might be better off seeking out an audience which is less well informed and more likely to be persuaded by standard pro-apartheid propaganda.

  4. Remind me, professor, these Palestinians who “fled”… From what were they fleeing? And how safe is it to be a Palestinian, versus being a Jew, in the West Bank and in Gaza?

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