Solidarity

with the people of Palestine by Eddie Whyte

Major Boycott Victory in Oslo

The international boycott movement celebrated yet another major victory against Israeli apartheid this week. Pro-Israeli social media sites in Norway are at boiling point following the decision by the country’s largest trade union to support the BDS Movement and call for the Norwegian government to support the recognition of Palestine.

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Workers Day in Oslo – “Recognise Palestine”

Pro-zionist trolls were vociferous in their condemnation of the historic decision taken at Fagforbundets national congress held this week. Accusations of anti-semitism were rife and the Israeli embassy accused Norway’s largest union with its 360,000 members of  “not understanding the conflict”. The arrogance of the statement is par for the course from the Israeli government and its long track record of ignoring the international community.

This week’s decision follows the vote earlier this year by the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) to work “to achieve an international economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel.”  Norwegian and Irish unions have been key players in the international trade union movement which is raising the pressure on Israel and demanding an end to the occupation that undermines the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.

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Patricia McKeown from the Irish trade union movement

Stein Guldbrandsen, who is a key figure in Fagforbundet’s solidarity work nationally and internationally told the union magazine that the illegal occupation is getting worse and whilst international resolutions and condemnation have little effect, applying economic pressure does actually produce results. “Boycott, de-investment and sanctions are peaceful measures that actually work,” he told Fagbladet.

The BDS movement has welcomed the decision and describes the Norwegian trade union movement as one of its most important partners in the Palestinian solidarity struggle.

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Viva Palestine! Viva Norway Cup! Viva Celtic!

Thousands of young football players will gather in Oslo at the end of July. Some 2,000 teams will play around 6,000 matches during the tournament week, making the Norway Cup the world’s largest football tournament for children. Over the years, participants from 126 nations have taken part – not bad for a small country so far to the north in Europe?

Palestinian participation in Norway Cup started as far back as 1990 when Norwegian-Palestinian Fuad Timraz won the national lottery and generously used part of the windfall to cover the cost of bringing a Palestinian children’s team for the competition.

In more recent years, an independent voluntary group of dedicated volunteers from the trade union movement has been working hard every year to give these young Palestinians what they themselves have previously described as the “greatest experience” of their lives.

Arthur Timraz, the son of the man who started it all, is one of the steadfast trade union activists who work to ensure that the children’s stay is a memorable one. “I started off helping my father and have seen the pure joy experienced by the children during their stay in Norway,” he says. “Children are the key to peace. The trip to Norway helps show them that there is another world outside the refugee camps where their only experience is war and poverty.”

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Arthur Timraz says children are the key to peace

Three teams have been invited this year – 2 girls’ teams and 1 boys’ team – all 12 year olds. The girls are from Jerusalem and the Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon whilst the boy’s team is made up of a group of orphaned youngsters from Gaza.

The Norway Cup has proven to be an invaluable experience for Palestinian children – transporting them, albeit temporarily, from the trials and tribulations of living under occupation. Their contribution to the friendly atmosphere of the tournament has not gone unnoticed. In previous years, the Palestinian teams have invited the opposition to dance with them after each match – regardless of whether they win, lose or draw.

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Last year’s team from Sabra and Shatila refugee camp

Thanks to a close collaboration between Celtic’s own charity organization Celtic FC Foundation and Celtic Supporters Club Norway (CSCNorway), the Palestinian children will play some of their games in the world famous green and white Hoops. Solidarity projects are an integral part of CSC Norway’s activities. Celtic has its own Social Charter, contributing to the benefit of the community and wider society. Naturally enough, the Norwegian CSC set up their own charity fund when the supporter’s club was founded in 1991.

Celtic supporters’ long tradition of supporting the Palestinian people is widely known. There are historical parallels between Ireland and Palestine – colonization, occupation, oppression and a small nation fighting for liberation against a greater military power. A fundraising campaign by Celtic fans last year made international headlines after UEFA fined the club for flying Palestinian flags during the Champions League match in Glasgow against Israeli team Hapoel Be’er Sheva.

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Representatives from CSC Norway hand over the Hoops

The supporters’ original £ 15,000 target was reached in a few hours. The funds were donated to Medical Aid for Palestinians and Lajee Cultural Center in the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, which Celtic supporters have worked with for several years.

In the end, the amount raised was more than 10 times the original target. It consisted of small amounts from over 9,000 contributors – it says something about Celtic supporters’ sense of solidarity with Palestine.

Preparations for the Norway Cup are well under way, and the organizers are hoping that all the children are given the necessary permits that will guarantee them a summer break in the peace and quiet of Norway. The teams are due to arrive on July 27 – 2 days before the tournament starts and leave again when the tournament ends on August 8th.

If you are in the Oslo area, take a trip up to Ekebergsletta and cheer on the teams from Palestine. Feel free to bring a Palestinian scarf – or a Celtic shirt. You will find the match schedule here (boys) and here (girls). Viva Palestine! Viva Celtic! Viva Norway Cup!

Stand up for Palestinian Rights

Every so often in life you meet people who leave a real and lasting impression. Last year, I travelled to the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon with Norway’s largest trade union – Fagforbundet – and Norwegian Peoples Aid. There we met Ahed Baar.

Ahed’s first memories are from the narrow alleyways of Shatila refugee camp in Beirut. He was born and raised there. In 1948, his parents and 750,000 other Palestinians were forced to flee their homes in Palestine by the Israeli war machine. They were told it would only be temporary. The family has lived in exile since. 70 years in exile.

In 1982, when Ahed was 16 years old, Israel invaded Lebanon. The aim was to destabilize the country and crush the Palestinian resistance movement. Beirut and the refugee camps were the main target and the civilian population was considered collateral damage.

Under massive military pressure, the Palestinian guerillas were forced to withdraw. Ahed and other teenagers moved with them, ending up in the Bekaa valley. The Israeli offensive forced Yassir Arafat and the Palestinian leadership out of Lebanon.

Who can forget the dramatic footage as ships loaded with young guerrillas sailed for Tunisia? Most of Lebanon including the refugee camps were now under Israeli control – unguarded and defenseless.

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PLO ships leaving port of Beirut              Photo:Ahmad Barclay & Hana Sleiman

That’s when it happened. Pro-Israeli forces stormed Shatila and slaughtered 2,000 Palestinians in what Robert Fisk called “the forgotten massacre”. Norwegian journalist Odd Karsten Tveit was among the first to enter the camp. Armed with only a tape recorder, his sound-only report was to become historic.

The photographs taken by other journalists afterwards show what Tveit described with words – countless dead bodies, Palestinian refugees, slaughtered without mercy. In some places the bodies lay in piles, where people had been mowed down in cold blood. Men, women and children – whole families were wiped out. The guilty were never punished.

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The Slaughter in Shatila          Photo: Robin Moyer

Our delegation and Norwegian People’s Aid visited the memorial to the victims along with Ahed. It took quite some time to get through the camp. We stopped continually along the way for a chat – he knows people here and they know him.  It brought back personal memories of walking through Ballymurphy in Belfast with Fr Des Wilson and Gerry Adams in the 1990s.

Palestinians in Lebanon are struggling to survive. Although born and raised in the country, they have few rights. They have no vote, no right to own property and no right to citizenship. They are subject to open discrimination especially in the labor market where they are banned from many professions. Nor are they entitled to use public schools and health services.

The conditions in the camps are appalling. People we met asked the delegation to tell the world about what we saw. UNRWA, the United Nations agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, led by Irish woman Gwyn Lewis, is in serious crisis due to lack of funding – something which has been well documented for a number of years. The Palestinians are the world’s forgotten refugees.

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Visiting Shatila: people have a quiet and determined dignity  Photo: Fagforbundet

And European nations have a particular responsibility here – our five largest pension funds have €7.5 billion invested in companies with business activities in and around illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. Something which is in total contradiction of  United Nations guidelines and totally undermines Palestinian human rights and a potential end to the occupation.

People in the refugee camps in Lebanon are suffering – high unemployment, lack of facilities, outdated water and sewage systems, poor diet and crushing poverty. Children and young people are a particularly vulnerable group – one of the reasons Ahed and others started the Al Walaa Center in 2015. Their goal is an ambitious one – they are determined to save the next generation of Palestinian youth.

Seventy years after Palestinians were forced to flee their homes, they are still in exile and dependent on international goodwill to survive. The election of Trump in the United States means that positive forces in Israel and Palestine who want to build bridges and create peace are now under even greater pressure.

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Ahed Baar – Not charity but rights!

The message Ahed wanted us to bring home was simple and communicated with quiet and determined dignity:

“We do not need charity. We only need the same rights as all other world citizens have. And we need more people in the international community who will stand up for Palestinian rights.

We must work together to safeguard the youth and give them a future they deserve. ”

Surely that is a goal the international community should be supporting?

 

 

 

Rod Stewart: Respect Palestinian Rights

An new online petition from fans of Celtic football club appealing to Scottish rockstar Rod Stewart to respect Palestinian rights and cancel his planned concert in Tel Aviv in June, has passed 2,000 supporters after only twenty four hours.

Celtic fans have an affinity with oppressed peoples and a long tradition of supporting the Palestinian liberation struggle. Stewart is world renowned as a fervent “Celtic man” who even includes the team logo on his band’s drumkit and uses  film footage of the team as part of the backdrop to his concerts.

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Celtic fans have an affinity with oppressed peoples 

Many Celtic supporters are descendants of the Irish Diaspora in Scotland and relate readily to the historical parallels between Ireland and Palestine – colonization, occupation, oppression and a small nation struggling for its freedom against one of the world’s major military powers.

Just as South African anti-apartheid activists called for an international boycott which led to the downfall of the apartheid regime, Palestinians have been campaigning for a boycott of Israel as part of the international Boycott Divestment Sanctions campaign (BDS) which has been gaining considerable support in the last few years.

2016 was a year which saw several major successes for the BDS-campaign including the launch of a new trade union initiative, representing twenty nine unions and three million members from all over Europe, intent on ensuring an end to Israel’s illegal occupation and the denial of Palestinian rights.

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Israeli apartheid walls dominate the Palestinian landscape

The news of the Celtic fans’ appeal has now reached both the Scottish and Israeli mainstream media who are apparently waiting for an official comment from the legendary rockstar. Much loved by Celtic fans for his passionate support of the team, the decision to breach the international cultural boycott is putting the relationship under considerable strain.

The organisers of the campaign are asking Stewart to reconsider his position and respect Palestinian rights:

“As Celtic fans we support the Palestinian-led BDS movement for freedom, justice and equality. Thousands of artists across the world now refuse to perform in Israel. We are asking you to add your name to that list. Please cancel your concert!”

Is it too much to expect that the ageing, but ever popular, millionaire rockstar will show some solidarity with the fans of the team he loves and the Palestinian people? You can add your name to the petition here.

 

Ignoring the World Community

Christmas is approaching and as Christians all over the world prepare to celebrate one of the most important days in their religious calendar, the Palestinian town of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, stands surrounded by Israel’s menacing apartheid wall.

The International Court of Justice has stated numerous times that the barrier is a clear violation of international law and yet still it stands. The Israeli state has become well-versed in ignoring the protests of the world community.

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Banksy – Christmas 2005

The protests have been numerous and ongoing since the manifest abandonment of the so-called Oslo Agreement of 1993 which was hailed as the breakthrough that was needed to secure peace in the Middle East and guarantee an independent Palestine. Over twenty years later, Palestine is still occupied and the recent election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, does not bode well for the future.

President-elect Trump recently nominated David Friedman as the next US ambassador to Israel. It is a disgracefully inflammatory choice from Trump, who, only last year, said that he would be “neutral” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He has since become increasingly bellicose and pro-Israeli in his public statements.

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A Small Part of The Apartheid Wall                          Photo: Eddie Whyte

The nomination of Friedman should set alarm bells ringing for everyone working for a peaceful and just solution to the problems in the Middle East. The proposed new ambassador is well known for his extremist views with regards to Palestine.

He is an open supporter of the aggressive colonization policies by the so-called “settlers” that are in breach of international law – those same policies which have very little support among many Jewish organizations in the United States and indeed face increasingly greater opposition from many people in Israel.

Friedman is known as an ardent supporter of the Beit El-organization and others groups who fund the illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory. Recently, it was also revealed that Trump himself has contributed financially to this organization which is firmly placed to the extreme right in the Israeli political map.

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Occupation is a Crime                Photo: Eddie Whyte 

The New York Times has been highly critical of the proposed appointment.  Friedman is a regular contributor to a right-wing Israeli news site where he has criticized US reconciliation talks with Iran, accused Obama of anti-Semitism and compared liberal American Jews who support peace talks with the Palestinians to Jews who collaborated with the Nazis during the war.

The approach currently prevailing in the Trump camp represents a clear break with previous US foreign policy which was concerned with maintaining at least a pretense of neutrality and poses a real threat to future peace negotiations.

In the run up to the election, Friedman declared himself an open opponent of the two-state solution and more recently has publically floated the idea of annexing the entire West Bank and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – a clear threat to Palestinian rights and clearly in violation of international law.

Wasel Abu Yousif, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) executive committee,  told The Jerusalem Post recently that “Such a move would be very dangerous, as it would entrench the occupation and violate all international legitimacy and laws.”

In the United States, Jewish groups are mobilizing and will urge the Senate to reject Friedman’s nomination. Should the appointment be approved, it is a sure sign that the Oslo Agreement and the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is dead and buried.

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Another Part of the Apartheid Wall             Photo: Eddie Whyte

The positive forces in Israel and Palestine who have been working to build bridges and create the circumstances for a peaceful solution are now under even greater pressure. If they are to prosper in a country where extreme nationalism dominates and where the dehumanization of Palestinians is approved government policy they will need the assistance of the international community.

Even more so now, given that the world’s greatest superpower is apparently abandoning all previous pretense of neutrality and is clearly, and very publically, taking the side of the occupying power and flying in the face of both international law and world public opinion.

A few weeks ago over 100 trade union delegates, representing twenty nine unions and three million members from all over Europe, gathered in a historic first meeting in Brussels to challenge their governments’ complicity with the Israeli occupation and establish a cross European platform in solidarity with the people of Palestine. International trade union solidarity is now more important than ever.

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The New European Trade Union Initiative for Palestine             Photo: Eddie Whyte

A full twenty three years after the Oslo Agreement, none of the basic rights of the Palestinian people have been met and the recent turn of affairs in the USA would seem to indicate that a fair and peaceful solution which includes the Palestinians is becoming increasingly more distant.

International trade unionists need to raise the pressure on Israel and the USA and lobby our own governments to demand an end to the Israeli oppression and occupation that undermines the Palestinians’ right to self-determination. Israelis and Palestinians have the right to live in peace and prosperity. The latest developments show that the trade union movement must renew its efforts and remind the USA, along with the rest of the world, that it is the illegal occupying forces of the state of Israel that must be called to account if we are ever to ensure a just solution for all.

At the Brussels conference, an appeal was issued to more trade unions to get involved in Palestine – if your union is interested in affiliating to the campaign, please contact the organizers here.

New Trade Union Network for Palestine

Recently over 100 trade union delegates, representing twenty nine unions and three million members from all over Europe, gathered in a historic first meeting in Brussels to challenge European governments’ complicity with Israel and establish a cross European platform in solidarity with the people of Palestine.

Israel’s blatant disregard for international law is well documented. Perhaps less well known, is its co-operation agreement with the European Union providing it with access to trade and allowing more participation in EU programs and projects than any other non-European country.

The European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP) has recorded that whilst the Israeli government contributed €535 million to the EU’s research programs over a 6 year period, Israeli firms and institutions actually received even more funding in return –  €840 million worth. Israel is expected to benefit similarly from the new Horizon 2020 research funding program unless the repeated appeals from the international Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Movement are heeded.

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The very existence of this 16 year old Agreement is all the more remarkable given that Article 2 emphasises that it is based on a “mutual respect for human rights and democratic principles”(!) Not something one immediately associates with a state which continues to illegally occupy Palestinian land in contravention of international law and in defiance of countless statements of condemnation from international governments and organizations, including many from the EU itself.

The two day long trade union gathering heard calls for an end to the occupation of Palestine and the repeal of the much criticized agreement, seen by many as a legitimization of the illegal occupation in contravention of international law and UN Conventions.

The new initiative has been taken by a cross-European group of trade union organisations intent on developing a network strengthening ties between workers organisations in Europe whilst also reaching out to all sections of the Palestinian trade union movement. Indeed the PGFTU, the Arab Workers Union band the New Unions were all active participants in the discussions.

The campaign focus is on raising awareness on their respective governments’ complicity in Israeli human rights abuses and war crimes, and the culpability of corporations that support and benefit economically from the illegal occupation.

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The organising committee’s scathing criticism of the EU accuses it of failing to hold Israel accountable for its grave violations of international law, failing to address the illegality of the occupation of Palestine, failing to tackle the rampant discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel and numerous human rights abuses – including the denial of the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homelands as adopted by the UN in resolution 194, almost a full seventy years ago.

The formation of this network is a major breakthrough for solidarity work within the European trade union movement, which has been consistent in its call for a just solution for the Palestinian people.

The EU has previously had no hesitation in applying various forms of sanctions against Russia when it annexed Ukrainian territory and has acted similarly towards about forty other states at various times over recent years. The shameful double standards being applied in the Israeli case are unacceptable and are interpreted by many as tacit support for Israel’s continued violations of international law.

Under massive international pressure, the EU ruled in 2015 that products from the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, should be clearly labelled as such. This month, almost a full year later, France became the third member state, after the UK and Belgium to enforce the decision.

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Delegates supporting the establishment of a new trade union network

Ironically, the original ruling led to the Netanyahu government threatening to boycott co-operation with the EU whilst The Independent reported an Israeli minister calling the decision “disguised anti-Semitism” – the usual red herring reserved for censoring open debate on Israel’s brutal occupation policies.

The same news report refers to European diplomats admitting “in private that the strength of the Israeli response made many member states wary of issuing their own specific guidelines.” The Israeli propaganda machines concerted efforts to stamp anything and anyone critical of their government policies as antisemites is clearly bearing fruit in some circles. Indeed, one of the issues raised at the Brussels meeting was the need to effectively challenge the misleading campaign by the Israeli government to redefine antisemitism to suit its own distorted political agenda.

However, the French government has now joined the ranke og major European nations that have broken through that self-imposed barrier and the remaining European governments should immediately follow suit. The European trade union movement will be doing their utmost to ensure that this happens sooner rather than later.

The global BDS movement has been under increasing attack from the Israeli propaganda machine in the last year and yet 2016 has heralded a series of major victories for human rights in Palestine. Prominent multinational companies such as Orange, CRH and G4S have followed Veolia’s lead in withdrawing their business from projects that infringe on Palestinian rights.

Also this year, an increasing number of European municipalities or city councils in countries as diverse as Norway, Spain and Ireland have declared their opposition to the Israeli occupation whilst major churches in the US have been divesting from Israeli banks and international companies who support the occupation.

The BDS Movement is expanding and its round up for 2016 points to major successes for the right to boycott Israel in support of Palestinian rights under international law from the European Union, the governments of Sweden, Netherlands and Ireland, as well as from Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union and the International Federation of Human Rights, as well as “hundreds of political parties, trade unions and social movements across the globe”.

Another major victory came in March of this year when the UN Human Rights Council, voted to create a database of Israeli and international corporations that are complicit in and profiting from Israel’s occupation – a development that will expose even further business interests who are complicit in Israel’s numerous and continuous violations of international law.

This latest coordinated trade union mobilisation in Brussels in support of the Palestinian people is certain to exert even more pressure on European governments to fulfil their moral and legal duty to ensure an end to Israel’s illegal occupation and the denial of Palestinian rights.

At the conference in Brussels, an appeal was issued to more trade unions to get involved – if your union is interested in affiliating to the campaign please contact the organizers here.

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The following unions are already affiliated to the network:

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), Fagforbundet (Norway), Union Syndicale Solidaires (France), La Centrale Générale-FGTB (Belgium), ACV/CSC Brussels (Belgium), UNISON (UK), The Norwegian Trade Union Federation LO in Trondheim, (Norway) Unison N. Ireland Region (Ireland), Derry Trades Union Council (Ireland), Belfast&District Trades Union Council (Ireland), Workmates – trade union section of Norwegian Palestine Committee (Norway), Trade Union Friends of Palestine (Ireland), Communications Workers Union (Ireland), Confederacion Intersindical Galega (Spain), Mandate Trade Union (Ireland), ELABasque Workers Solidarity (Euskadi), IRW-CGSP (Belgium), LBC-NVK (Belgium), Palestinawerkgroep-FNV (The Netherlands), CNE (Belgium), IAC (Spain), Civil Public and Services Union – CPSU (Ireland), Intersindical Valenciana (Spain), Irish National Teachers’ Organisation – Branches: Derry City, Newry, Dungannon, Armagh, Belfast West (Ireland), The Palestine Committee of Norway, Union section (Union of railway workers), IMPACT (Ireland), CGT France – 66, The Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA).

Palestine’s Forgotten Refugees

The week after our delegation from Fagforbundet and Norwegian People’s Aid arrived home from Beirut, Lebanon finally got a new President – after a full two years of negotiations. Lebanon is a politically complicated society dependent on a division of power between the three major religious groups – Christians, Sunni and Shia Muslims. The necessary compromises can often take time.

The religious-political situation in the country has its roots in the imperialism of the First World War, the colonial politics of European superpowers and, not least, the relationship to Israeli neighbours further south. There has been a significant presence of Palestinian refugees since 1948 when nearly one million people were forced to flee what the Israeli scholar Ilan Pappé has called the ethnic cleansing of Palestine – the establishment of the state of Israel.

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An artist’s  portrayal of the forced scattering of Palestinans all over the world

Almost seventy years later in 2016, Lebanon is the country with most refugees per capita in the world. Nearly one-third of a total of six million inhabitants are displaced people or refugees. Over a million of the “new” refugees fled Syria after the war broke out in 2011, and before Lebanon’s Minister of Social Affairs closed the border declaring that the country was on the brink of political and economic collapse.

Among the newly arrived victims of the war are tens of thousands of the half a million Palestinians who have been living in Syria since their families were forced to flee from their original homeland by the Israeli war machine. Having lived in Syria for several generations, many of the Palestinians had become well integrated, gaining some basic economic and social rights but without achieving what would be called full civil or political equality.

Those hard earned rights disappeared when they were forced to cross the border into Lebanon. Lebanon is not Syria. The sectarian division of power is to be maintained at all costs, and citizens rights for Palestinians – who are mainly Sunni Muslim – are seen as a threat to the fragile political status quo.

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Ibrahim Shawaheen and Family at Rashidieh Camp. Foto: Geirmund Jor

The situation for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is nothings short of shameful. They have few rights as such and are openly discriminated against, especially in the labor market and housing. They have no automatic access to public schools and health care, have no voting rights, no right to own property, no right to citizenship and are barred from many professions.

Palestinian refugees do not fall under the remit of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). They “belong” rather to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) which was created in 1949, one year before the UNHCR. UNRWA was originally intended to be a temporary measure, but now, almost seventy years later, Palestinians are still in the same refugee camps and, even more worrying, totally dependent on the international goodwill of a few nations. UNRWA does not receive regular funding through the United Nations – it is dependent on annual allocations from so-called donor countries, who contribute on a voluntary basis.

The new wave of refugees from the war in Syria has put heavy pressure on Lebanon’s limited public services and has been further exacerbated by the inaction of the world community. A decline in international assistance to Lebanon in 2015 has meant that non-governmental aid agencies have been forced to cut back on relief efforts, whilst UNRWA in particular finds itself in a very difficult situation.

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Gwyn Lewis from UNRWA paints a rather grim picture (Photo: Ingunn Eriksen)

Gwyn Lewis is a native of Dublin and a representative for UNRWA in Lebanon. She  recently took over the role after several years in Gaza and the West Bank and admits she was shaken by the conditions of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

Sitting in her office, behind the security walls of UNWRAs headquarters in Beirut, she is open and honest about concerns for the future. UNRWA faces enormous challenges when it comes to covering Palestinian refugees’ basic needs. She paints a rather grim picture of reality and her emotion and commitment are evident when she says that the organization’s financial crisis is putting refugees lives at risk.

Families are not receiving enough aid to make ends meet and essential services such as health programs, emergency relief, social services and sanitation in the 12 UNRWA camps are about to collapse. The sanitation system in the camps is in a destitute state. The garbage trucks cannot be repaired and yet there are no funds to replace them. The health risk is increasing almost daily.

UNRWA is facing a financial crisis at a time when the area is reeling under the effects of multiple armed conflicts and a massive displacement of people on a scale not seen since the Second World War. The demands now being made on the organization charged by the international community with the welfare and human development of Palestinian refugees have increased dramatically. Indeed, the situation for 5.3 million Palestinian refugees in the Middle East is in many ways worse than at any time since 1948.

The Norwegian government must unfortunately be included among the culprits responsible for this untenable situation. Previously one of UNWRA’s main partners, with a prominent role among donor countries, the situation changed dramatically when Conservatives and the rightwing Progress Party formed a new coalition government in 2013. Since then the Norwegian contribution to humanitarian aid abroad has been reduced dramatically by the same government that prides itself on having Europe’s toughest asylum and immigration laws.

Our current government seems content to accept yet another generation of Palestinians growing up in the horrendous conditions of the cramped refugee camps of Jordan, Syria and Lebanon and Palestine. For those of us who are Norway-based, it gives us yet another incentive to support the campaign for a new government in the national elections due to take place in September next year.

We need political leaders in Norway who will re-establish the policy of international solidarity that until recently has been the hallmark of Norwegian foreign policy. And we need the political leaders in the world community to step up and take responsibility for ensuring a just solution for Palestine and its people. Palestinian refugees have been forgotten for far too long.

Solidarity in Brussels

This weekend over one hundred trade union delegates, representing twenty nine unions and three million members from all over Europe, are gathering in Brussels in a show of solidarity with the people of Palestine.

It is a historic first meeting aimed at building a cross European platform for trade unionists calling for an end to the occupation of Palestine and challenging European complicity with the Israeli government’s continued violations of international law.

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Scottish Trade Unionists at Congress

The two day seminar will discuss concrete steps to strengthen ties between European and Palestinian workers unions and the establishment of a campaign highlighting  corporate complicity in the illegal occupation, including the controversial Association Agreement between the European Union and Israel.

The international trade union mobilization echoes previous calls from MEPs and human rights organizations for the suspension of the much criticized agreement, seen by many as a legitimization of the illegal occupation of Palestine in contravention of International Law and UN Conventions.

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Irish Solidarity with Palestine

The international trade unionists are also inviting people to express their solidarity with the Palestinian people at the steps of La Bourse, in Brussels city Centre on Friday the 18th of November at 17:00. Are you in Brussels? See you there?

 

 

Time to Return to Palestine

“Have you been to Nablus yet?” she asked. “I am from there myself but I have never been. One day, I will go there, Inshallah.” Tania Naboulsi is a 30 year old voluntary youth worker in the Beddawi Camp for Palestinian refugees in Tripoli, the second largest city in Lebanon. Nablus is just a few hours drive away in the (Israeli) occupied West Bank in Palestine.  The devotion of younger Palestinians and their sense of belonging to towns, villages and indeed a country they have never been to, is perhaps the strongest trait of the Palestinian national character.

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The Right to Return 

The ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 and the Israeli war of attrition in 1967 has resulted in over five million Palestinian refugees, many of whom live enclosed in cramped refugee camps in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Occupied Palestine. A staggering seven decades after being forced off their land, they are still confined and in exile with no solution in sight. As the world looks on in cold indifference, the Israeli government continues to deny displaced Palestinians the right to return to their hometowns that was originally enshrined in the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194. The resolution has never been acted upon – much to the shame of the United Nations and the international community that approved it.

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Beddawi Camp 

The Beddawi camp sprang up around the port of Tripoli in 1955 a few years after the first major wave of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians that led to the foundation of the state of Israel. It is one of 12 camps in Lebanon alone where almost half a million Palestinians live in dire conditions and without basic human rights.  Palestinian refugees, even those who are born in Lebanon, have no voting rights, no right to own property and are prohibited from employment in many areas – even if they are qualified for the positions available – and no right to Lebanese citizenship.

With the return home to Palestine being barred by Israeli aggression, the possible integration into the host society is made unworkable by the enforced restrictions that discriminate against them in Lebanon. Several generations after being forced to flee their homes they are still in exile and future prospects look bleak without a major international intervention.

Tania Naboulsi represents the new generation of Palestinians intent on generating hope in the most difficult of circumstances. She is an ardent member of the youth group in the Beddawi camp, the Palestinian Arabic Cultural Club (PACC) and uses her wall art to promote Palestinian unity. She is intelligent, articulate and clearly has a burning love for her people and her country.

“Art has always been used in the struggle for the Palestinian cause”, she says. “Tamam Al-Akhal would use the hairs of her head to paint because she had no money to buy brushes. Creative art gives us the opportunity to portray our Palestine – the people, the land, the trees and the seas. It is in our soul and our blood. Palestine is everything to us.”

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Tania Naboulsi at Work 

The PACC currently organizes youth projects in three camps and aims to expand to all twelve in Lebanon. They believe in the empowerment of youth and are working for a caring society based on equality, regularly collecting and distributing food for people struggling to make ends meet. They coordinate training courses for young people making them aware of their rights and challenging the camp’s bureaucratic steering committees to think anew – they want more youth representation and more women on the committees. In a situation dominated by a history of hopelessness, it is not difficult to feel inspired by their vision of the new world.

When asked about her own personal vision of the future Tania replies straightaway that she would like to be a better artist but, more than that, a better person. She has a disability as a result of a childhood illness and poor medical treatment that led to one leg being shorter than the other. She is determined that it will not hinder her work. “My main focus is for the world to recognize Palestinian rights. Our work gives our young people hope and that is something everyone needs given the conditions here in Lebanon. Everything we do is for Palestine and its people. God willing, I will also soon be able to climb more scaffolds and paint more murals. I want to be an example to our young Palestinians. We must never give up the struggle. I want people to look beyond my disability and see me as Tania the artist.”

Her appeal to the world community is straightforward and full of expectancy. “If you believe in human rights and especially the rights of women and children, then you need to take a stand for us Palestinians.  Please open your eyes to the truth and what is really happening in Palestine. Look at who is being oppressed and who is doing the oppressing. Help our people to get their rights. The right to return needs to be more than just words on paper and it has to happen – sooner rather than later. “

“One day we will all go home to Palestine. Everyone will go to his village or city. I’m going first to my Mother’s and Grandmother’s village – Tantoura in Haifa and after that to Nablus – my city.”

I wish Tania well on her journey.

UEFAs Discrimination of Palestine

UEFA’s discriminatory treatment of the Palestinian national flag was once again in focus last week when Glasgow giants Celtic met Hapoel Be’er Sheva in the Champions League in front of 60,000 spectators. The Israeli team was met with a veritable sea of Palestinian flags.   The home team is now being threatened with yet another fine from European football’s governing body.

UEFA’s Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body meets on September 22nd to weigh up their options and decide a suitable punishment for Celtic FC. According to the UEFA football authorities, waving the Palestinian national flag is apparently a crime and a breach of Article 16 (2) of UEFA’s disciplinary rules which prohibits “the use of gestures, words, objects or any other means to transmit any message that is not fit for a sports event, particularly messages that are of a political, ideological, religious, offensive or provocative nature.”

So how come the European football association chooses to define Palestine’s national flag as an “illicit banner”. The question really does need to be asked: why is it only the Palestinian national flag that is perceived by UEFA as offensive or provocative?

This is the same flag that flies proudly outside the UN building in New York, and was recently carried during the opening ceremony at the Olympics. The UEFA attitude smacks of discrimination and an attempt to criminalize Palestinian national symbols.

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It is not the first time Celtic fans have been at odds with UEFA in demonstrating their solidarity for the Palestinian cause. The club was penalized with a £16,000 fine in 2014 when fans used banners and flags at the match against KR Reykjavik to show their solidarity with Palestinians during Israel’s bloody attack on civilians in Gaza.

Ahead of this latest match against Hapoel Be’er Sheva, supporters and Celtic FC were bombarded with not so subtle threats and the media were willing participants in the Israeli propaganda campaign.

The Israeli embassy in London warned against any demonstrations of support for Palestine and reminded the fans that there was a second leg to be played a week later in Be’er Sheva. Scottish police quoted Europe’s most idiotic law against “offensive behavior” at football matches and threatened to imprison people who came to the match with Palestinian flags. Newspaper headlines joined in, whipping up the frenzy reminding readers that Celtic had previously had to pay hefty fines for showing solidarity with the Palestinians.

Celtic supporters are not easily intimidated and have a long tradition of supporting the Palestinian liberation struggle. They relate readily to the historical parallels between Ireland and Palestine – colonization, occupation, oppression and a small nation struggling for its freedom against a major military power.

celtic latuffThe fans response to the intimidation campaign that preceded the match came in the form of a huge wave of Palestinian flags during the match. Social media ensured that the images spread quickly around the world, forcing the so-called “mainstream media” to cover it. A separate hashtag #ThanksCelticFans began trending on several continents and video footage from the Palestinian refugee camps showed banners in green and white and enthused Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, grateful for the solidarity being shown in Glasgow.

When UEFA released its statement warning that the club was facing a disciplinary hearing, Celtic supporters responded by starting a fundraising campaign with the hashtag #matchthefineforpalestine.

The aim was not to pay the threatened fine against the club – which many think the club should fight –  but to raise funds for the organizations Medical Aid for Palestinians and the Lajee Cultural Centre at the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, which Celtic supporters have worked closely with for several years.

The supporter’s initial target of £15,000 was passed after only a few hours as the number of contributors continued to rise. The campaign ends in a few days, and so far it has raised over 10 times as much as expected – £160,000 pounds – mostly small amounts from over 9,000 individuals.

The overwhelming support for the fundraising campaign is now being interpreted by many as the necessary moral support the club needs to fight any fine imposed by UEFA.  Some supporter groups have already begun investigating pursuing a court case against UEFA for discriminating against the Palestinian national flag.

Out on the football field an impressive 5-2 home win for Celtic and a nerve wracking 2-0 loss in Israel ensured advancement to the group stage of the Champions League. Hapoel Be’er Sheva had to be satisfied with a place in the Europa League alongside another Israeli team, Macabbi Tel Aviv. The two Israeli teams will now be playing in 6 different European countries. The Israeli propaganda machine, its foreign office  and embassies around the world are no doubt working feverishly to prevent supporters in other clubs from following Celtic’s inspirational example. It is probably already too late.

Two days after the Celtic game, the Israeli team Beitar Jerusalem, known for its anti-Palestinian racism, were confronted with dozens of Palestinian flags during their match against St Etienne in France. The Israeli occupation and UEFA authorities have yet another headache to deal with.

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You can still contribute to the fund here

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