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.