The Palestine Expo this weekend in London went ahead as a huge success despite pushback from ‘UK lawyers for Israel’ who tried to get it shutdown citing its support for BDS. Organised by non-profit NGO Friends of Al-Aqsa, internationally renowned speakers were gathered from across the world together with artists, business owners and peace activists’ organisations over several floors and conference rooms in Olympia to speak about the injustices in Palestine. The aim to keep the occupation on the global agenda and raise awareness of the violations of international laws and human rights abuses in Palestine to influence change for a better future.
The event saw several discussion panels taking place on topics ranging from the importance of the cultural boycott, to understanding the apartheid and the role of Donald Trump in accelerating the occupation. Many of the speakers dissidents of Israel bravely spoke about their support for the equal rights of Palestine. Among the many discussions the fallacy of Donald Trump’s, ‘Deal of the Century’, the discussion panel including Gideon Levy a prominent Israeli activist. He noted that struggling for justice is becoming criminalized. Renowned writer Professor Ilan Pappe was also on the discussion panels pointing out that the main newspapers do not mention what goes on in Gaza Strip. “It is our duty every week in this city to make sure that people know, because if you rely on the media or the politicians in this country to tell the people what goes on in Gaza, we should understand they are silent either because they are timid or because they have been bought or because they are ignorant about the tragedy that occurs there.
Nelson Mandela’s grandson Chief Zwelivelile Mandela from the South African Parliament joined various panel discussions to discuss parallels with the South African apartheid and continue the work of his grandfather in campaigning for the end of racial segregation in Palestine. Chief Mandela spoke about South Africans unable to imagine freedom in their lifetimes, but it did happen and Palestinians must also believe it will happen for them. He said, “Today South Africa is free, tomorrow Palestine will be free”. Yousef Jabareen a Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset was also in attendance and has been asked to step down by far right wing Israeli activists as a result. He opened his speech with, “As I sat in this auditorium, I see peace activists not terrorists”. He reminded us this is not a Palestinian / Arab struggle but an international one. One of the most moving talks for me personally was from Majd Masharawi the CEO of GreenCake a start up based in Gaza creating bricks from recycled local material to help Gazans rebuild their homes. An inspiring business woman despite living under siege and having her home destroyed several times she spoke about her determination to continue her work. Majd spoke about her difficulties getting out of Gaza and being able to travel freely. She has now gone on to develop her company SunBox as a non-profit to create greater access to electricity for Gazans.
Palestinian culture and heritage was celebrated with Palestinian goods on sale, olive oil, soaps, ethically sourced dates and clothing. The queue for Falafels ran around the corner and there were a few Palestinian independent skin care companies showcasing their products. There were also Twenty interactive installations to show members of the public what daily life is like for Palestinians under occupation and offer a virtual walk through Jerusalem. There were many activities for children and creative corners where you could watch Palestinian poets, comedians and musicians. A family friendly event with something for everyone. There was a makeshift checkpoint and apartheid wall as well as a model of Al Shifa hospital in Gaza and Masjid Al Aqsa. Reminding me of my time in Jerusalem. Stalls from Stop the War, Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and Interpal some of the organisations campaigning for equal rights.
As one of the Largest and most important conferences in Europe to support Palestinian rights, I hope it will return next year, even bigger and stronger.