Tuesday, June 21, 2005
By Sara Khorshid
LONDON - Activists, intellectuals, and interested lay people from all over the world reiterated the legacy of the Palestinians’ right of return in a conference hosted by the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.
Entitled “Towards a New Liberation Theology: Reflections on Palestine” and organized by the UK-based Islamic Human Rights Commission, the conference – which kicked off Sunday, June 12 -- included speakers from both faith and non-faith backgrounds.
Neturei Karta spokesperson Rabbi Yisroel Weiss, Reverend Stephen Sizer, Father Joe McVeigh, Dr. Ilan Pappe from Haifa University, Imam Muhammed Al-Asi from Washington, and Rima Fakhry from Hizbollah’s political council were among the speakers. Also Archmadrite Attallah Hanna and Israeli lawyer Leah Tsemel sent messages to the conference attendees over the phone from Occupied Jerusalem.
Zionism Not Jewish
Remarkable was the presence of a number of Neturei Karta members in their long black coats, black hats, and ringlets. Neturei Karta is a group of orthodox Jews fiercely critical of Zionism and the state of Israel.
Zionists are “heretics” who “transform[ed] the concept of Judaism into a nationality, something that is void of godliness,” said Rabbi Yisroel Weiss in his speech, which was widely hailed by the conference attendees.
“The land is forbidden to us… it belongs to the people of Palestine. It belongs to the indigenous people, the Arab people,” he asserted.
Both Rabbi Weiss and UK-based Rabbi Ahron Cohen, who also spoke at the conference, asserted that Zionism’s principles are not Jewish. “The whole concept of taking over a land is strange to the Jewish belief,” Weiss said.
He added that Neturei Karta campaigns for the Palestinians’ right to return to their homeland, and he criticized the Zionist claim to a "right to return to Palestine".
“[How come] Jews not born in the land have the right to return while Palestinians who were born there and have the keys to their homes [in Palestine] don’t have the right to return?” Weiss asked.
Commenting on the Zionists’ anti-Semitism accusations directed at the group from their critics, Weiss said that they (critics) “count on the Jewish people’s ignorance, on the non-Jewish people’s ignorance” in order to achieve their goals and implement their political agenda. “Don’t fear the allegations of anti-Semitism. Don’t try to confuse the subject with religions. It has nothing to do with religions.”
On the other hand, another Jewish speaker delivered a speech but from a rather secularist perspective. Professor Ilan Pappe from Haifa University in Israel criticized his country’s denial of the Palestinians’ right of return.
"The right to return is an admission by Israel of expelling Palestinians from their homeland,” he said, explaining Israel’s position. “They need to continue as a state ... with a denial of what Israel has done in 1948," which he labelled “ethnic cleansing."
Pappe stated that Israel should not only acknowledge the fact that they have expelled Palestinians but should also take responsibility for what they did and grant Palestinians their right to return.
He added that Israel aims at securing “ethnic supremacy” by maintaining a “solid Jewish majority in Palestine.”
Pappe’s presence in the conference resulted, however, in the absence of two Palestinian speakers. As university professors in Palestinian universities, they apologized for their absence and explained that they hold on to the Palestinian academics’ position of boycotting Israeli universities.
Last month, the third Convention for Palestinians in Europe has strongly defended the inalienable right of millions of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland.
The final statement of the Convention held in Austria, a copy of which was sent to IOL May 8, urged all Palestinian organizations championing the right of return to act in unison to make the dream of millions of Palestinians come true.
Form of Resistance
The conference’s speakers, meanwhile, disagreed over the form of resistance the Palestinians should adopt in their quest for liberation.
Whereas Imam Muhammad Al-Asi, elected Imam of the Islamic Center in Washington, noted that peace negotiations have failed so far in leading to the liberation of Palestine, and that justice is a condition for peace, Father Joe McVeigh from Ireland, who was been active in his opposition to British involvement in Irish affairs, and Reverend Stephen Sizer, author of a book on Christian Zionism, stressed the importance of peaceful means of resistance to occupation.
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