MAKE it Right for Palestine Campaign Year 2017 was launched on Saturday at the National Union of Teachers (NUT) HQ near Euston, north west London on Saturday afternoon.
Meeting chair Anna Saif said: ‘November 2016-2017 is a very important year for the people of Palestine. It marks 100 years since the Balfour Declaration, 70 years since the partition plan, 50 of years occupation and 10 years since the siege of Gaza.’
First to speak, ex-NUT president Philipa Harvey outlined the NUT’s long relationship with the General Union of Palestinian Teachers. She referred to a NUT book ‘starting with the aftermath of the massacres of Sabra and Shatila’.
Harvey said: ‘In 2006, one of our own members was shot in Gaza, we have set up a fund in her name.’ She went on to describe NUT delegations’ visits to the West Bank and introduced clips from NUT films featuring Palestinian schoolchildren that paid tribute to their indomitable spirit of defiance.
Kiri Tunks, NUT junior vice-president, told the meeting: ‘We see solidarity as not one way. We have learned from the Palestinians to sustain ourselves. We are struggling with an education model that is test-driven, not centred on the interest of the child.
‘We’ve seen the work Hanan AlHroub does, she really puts the children first. We see our support for Palestine as our duty as teachers and internationalists.’
She introduced a clip from a film ‘Our Land’ featuring two teenage schoolchildren, one of the girls explains what spent Israeli tear gas and noise bomb casings are for, saying ‘we make things for us from the things that make us die’. Tunks concluded: ‘This shows it’s important fighting for what we believe in.’
Palestinian ambassador to the UK Manuel Hassassian declared: ‘I’ve a message to the British government. It’s a badge of dishonour to boast about marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration. That infamous declaration led to the destitution of the Palestinian people. The British government today is continuing to deny Palestine its right to statehood.
‘I can see the oxymoron of the attitude when it comes to the Palestinians or the Israelis. This is one of the longest occupations in history. Why is the right to self-determination denied the Palestinians when 150 nations have full-scale independence?
‘The two-state solution recognises the state of Israel but not the state of Palestine. This is a contradiction. I say to the British government “You talk the talk, but you don’t walk the walk”.’
Hassassian slammed the ‘allegations of anti-Semitism when talking of anti-Zionism’.
Addressing the NUT, he continued: ‘Thank you for highlighting the plight of Palestinians, especially children. This is why we are here today, to make it right for children, for education, for the future.
‘I salute Hanan Alhroub who teaches Palestinian children, I’m a teacher too.
‘Education is a key aim of our campaign to inform people here in the UK how the occupation of Palestine came about. Education for Palestinians is the ticket out of the ghetto, to stand steadfast and to fight until we end the occupation – one of the biggest social injustices of our time.
‘Balfour signed away the inheritance of our people, his declaration is a short, vague and ambiguous letter – only the Brits can succeed in that! It was never debated in parliament but it changed the course of history in Palestine. It urged there be a home for Jewish people in Palestine while protecting the religious and civil rights of the minority, not political rights. We, the majority, were referred to as the minority. What an insult!’
He condemned the 50 years of occupation since 1967 with its ‘arrests, jailings, demolition of homes, expropriation of our land to build more settlements,’ noting: ‘It’s ten years since the occupation of Gaza and two wars that’s left it devastated.’
He said: ‘Occupation and siege are part of our suffering, this is why we are here today to mark this campaign for the anniversary. Our campaign aims to mobilise people, put pressure on the government to end the occupation and give hope to the future generation where every Palestinian child will be free to fulfil their potential.
‘We’ll have a rally in Trafalgar Square, July events and on the 2nd November 2017 we will inaugurate an alteration to the Balfour Declaration to be put in parliament and voted upon. Mark my lips: This occupation is ending.’
Global Teacher Prize winner Hanan AlHroub told the meeting: ‘The Balfour Declaration is painful for Palestinians – it has been for 100 years. Since the Jews were promised a state we have suffered for years. Because of this I opened my eyes in a refugee camp.
‘Despite this painful life we always live in hope. For the past years we’ve heard stories in Palestine of peace but this has never been translated into real life. We’ve had enough of slogans.’
She went on to say: ‘The strongest Israeli weapon has been to make us illiterate, closing schools and universities. Education helps people to get rid of occupation and increase their knowledge, it helps to remove pain and instill hope. During the Second Intifada my children were shot when they came back from school.
‘The shock remains with the family today even though the event is past. It made my children afraid of going to school alone. It’s a pain they have suffered all that time. The lack of psychological help has influenced the way I teach. I decided to teach the children at home, playing games to encourage education.
‘Gradually, they managed to change and go to school in the (refugee) camp. I tried as a teacher to teach all children, not just my own. We should not offer our children on a plate to the occupation and be arrested. Our job as teachers is to protect our children. Everyone knows how the occupation treats our children, they have been deprived of their hopes and future.
‘The youngest Palestinian child in jail is eight years old – that is a crime against humanity! Our children are suffering from violence, whether directly or indirectly aimed at them. You see the effect in schools. My curriculum is to make the child feel safe and protected. I work on giving the child to deal with the world better. I teach them they shouldn’t have a border.’ She concluded: ‘Regardless of difficulties, giving them hope is the main thing to give.’
Leanne Mohamad, regional winner of the Jack Petchey Speak Out Challenge, said: ‘I’m a 16-year-old British Palestinian. I spoke about a subject I really have a passion for – Palestine. After winning the speak out competition, I was really punished, trolls attacked me on Twitter. But I rose to the challenge. I was determined not to fall and that they would not win. No one will silence me and I will shout loudly against the plight of Palestinians. That does no make me anti-Semitic or against Israel.’
Slamming the Balfour Declaration, she asked: ‘What right does Britain have to give away my land? Palestine is my country and my home, their pain is my pain. The condition of Palestine has left thousands in exile. Britain had no right to destroy people’s lives. Balfour is an insult to Palestinians. But Palestine exists despite being wiped off the map by mainstream media.
‘We deserve better than that. We demand recognition, we demand our state. Every child has a right to a chance. We will not be silenced, together we will make this right and together raise our voices for a free Palestine!’
Playwright Justin Butcher recalled his plays inspired by his experience in attempting to visit Gaza and in Bethlehem where he encountered the Separation Wall which inspired his ‘beautiful resistance’ project in London ‘Bethlehem Unwrapped’.
He told of meeting and being welcomed by a Palestinian family whose home had been demolished. He said that family head Ali Saleem said: ‘Three times they demolished our home and three times we build again.
‘I asked the commander what ill have we done, he said: “It is against the security of Israel.” They want us to give up but it is my land. I will not leave. I’m talking about Zionism and the occupation, I’m not talking about Jews. We are the last occupied people in the world. We want peace.’
Butcher concluded it was said: ‘The Balfour Declaration is the most improbable document in which one nation promised to a second nation, the nation of a third.’ He announced plans for ‘a reverse walk to Jerusalem, a 2,000-mile walk.’
Ben Jamal of Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) said: ‘We exist in a political world where there are systematic efforts to stifle Palestinian voices and those sympathetic to Palestine. It’s a form of bullying. I salute Leanne for saying “they will not silence my voice”.
Stressing ‘Britain’s complicity’, he added that Balfour ‘appears to be even-handed but the essence was made clear in a memo Balfour wrote two years later, that four great powers are committed to Zionism. This meant one group was superior to another. Politicians decided about Palestine without the participation of the Palestinian people.
‘Last Wednesday there was a debate led by a Tory MP that called on the government to celebrate the Balfour Declaration saying that to refuse to celebrate it denies the rights of the Jewish people. The rights of the Palestinians are not recognised. Our commitment as PSC is to continue to drive forward our campaign for justice for Palestine.’