Palestine and the Netherlands Social Forum 2004

From Friday 26 to Sunday 28 the first Netherlands Social Forum was held in Amsterdam. The forum was a marathon of debates and cultural expression on a number of today’s central global issues: War & peace; the environment; neo-liberalism; democracy, social rights and justice; racism, gender and migration; and media, culture and education.

That Palestine and Israel would be at the heart of the debates was forecasted by the musical “Shouting Fence” which was performed as the formal opening of the Forum. This performance by the British composer Orlando Gough was about the Apartheid Wall built by Israel on Palestinian land. In a spine-chilling performance more than a thousand singers on either sides of the public made the listeners experience what it means when communities are separated from one another by a wall.

On Saturday and Sunday at least eight events addressed the occupation of Palestine. The workshop “Palestine and the “New War”, a Common U.S. and Israeli strategy” discussed the strategic and military cooperation between Israel and the U.S. in order to achieve their respective goals in the Middle East. The Palestinian writer Salman Abu Sitta defined Israel’s real security needs as “the need to defend the land it has misappropriated, and the need to maintain its so-called democratic face to the outside world”. In the seminar “No Peace without Justice” the Israeli researcher Tanya Reinhart analysed the recent Israeli Cabinet decision concerning the “revised disengagement plan” from Gaza, which in fact states that “the decision does not allow for the dismantling of settlements”. The only thing the Israeli government and the Knesset have approved is to have a discussion of the idea of dismantling Gaza settlements some time next year. It was also decided that in the meanwhile, building and development in the Gaza settlements may continue. However, the massive Israeli propaganda has succeeded in making the world believe that Israel is finally led by a man of peace, with a respectable determination to carry out painful decisions.
Adah Kay and Khaled Quzmar from Defense for Children International in Palestine spoke of the appalling conditions under which hundreds of Palestinians minors are currently kept in Israeli detention centres, often without charges. The farmer from Jayyus Sharif Omar informed the public on the difficulties of farming while the wall separates his home from his land. Israeli is now planning to establish a military camp on his land at the other side of the wall.
Rima Awad from the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC) discussed the psychological impact the occupation has on Palestinian citizens, and conveyed her aorganisation’s call for sanctions against Israel. Palestinian Agricultural relief Committees (PARC)
In the seminar “The EU, us and Israel” Martin Broek from the Dutch Campaign against Arms Trade stressed the responsibility of the Dutch government to stop supporting Israel by halting the import of arms from Israel and end its facilitation of arms transfer to Israel through its ports. According to Jeff Handmaker, expert in international law from South Africa, the EU should finally freeze the Association Agreement with Israel, until Israel abides by its obligations under International Law. Tanya Reinhart calls upon academic institutions to end their formal relations with academic institutions in Israel, and encourages individual scholars to make a statement against apartheid by not visiting Israel in the context of academic exchange. Hajo Meijer from Another Jewish Voice spoke about the huge responsibility of Israeli citizens as a result of their being part of a democratic system (“but for Jews only”) and thus having all opportunity to protest against the actions of their government. Isabelle Avran from the French Plate Forme Palestine spoke about the need for Europe to support free and fair elections in Palestine.
During the resulting discussion the audience asked for a formal statement in support of sanctions against Israel.

Last but not least, two documentary films were shown, “The Wall” by Benny Brunner as well and the eminent documentary “Women In Struggle” by Butheina Canaan Khoury. Viewers of “Women in Struggle” leave the room visibly touched by this genuine human document on four women who took part in the Palestinian resistance movement. This film is a must, and everyone should see it.

Sonja Zimmermann
Netherlands Palestine Committee

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