On Tuesday, January 26, 2010, I visited the glorious city of Lyon in east-central France, to attend a conference held in support of the Palestinian struggle, commemorating the end of last year’s criminal assault on Gaza. It was a freezing day. Bellow freezing. But boy it was worth it!
I met some outstanding people but most of all I learned some great lessons on non violent front-line activism.
The meeting was organized by a young local association called Resistance Palestine. An impressive panel of distinguished speakers and activists like British MP George Galloway, broadcaster and writer René Naba, University Professor and writer Jean Bricmont, international lawyer Gilles Devers and Palestinian minister Ahmad Al Kourde (via telephone from Gaza), among others, greeted the audience with some outstanding interventions.
Here are in a nutshell some thoughts and ideas heard in the conference, I wanted to share. Notes I scribbled down during my 4 hours train trip back home.
Taking the struggle into the political arena
At the very start of the conference, Abdelaziz Chaambi, co-organizer of the meeting, insisted on the fact that protests, which are at the moment operating mainly on an ad-hoc basis, should be coupled with a sustainable and more proactive effort of lobbying and institutional penetration. He deplored some short-lived experiences that sprung up during the Gaza massacre only to vanish right after the end of the assault, calling for a more concerted effort between pro-Palestinian organizations and for less selfish and self-destructive competition.
Small Steps politics and BDS
Jean Bricmont is a renowned Belgian progressive writer. He explained how in his view a “simple citizen,” enable or unwilling to take to the streets or to take major risks and go, like some chose to do, right to the front-line, right to Palestine, how this “simple citizen” who still wants to do something can still play a role in the bigger effort. Citing former American Senator James Abourezk, he explains the nature of the relationship Western politicians are having with Israel: a quid pro quo relationship pertaining more to fear of losing elections than any other proclaimed “special bond.” Based on this observation, Bricmont asserts that it is perfectly reasonable to see this relation reversed if only supporters of justice in Palestine could pressure their representatives, each one at his/her own level, to make it politically costly for legislators and decision makers to continue blindingly supporting the racist policies of Israel. A kind of micro-lobbying movement that, put together, would constitute a force to be reckoned with. It is applicable in the US, in Europe and in every Western-style democracy Bricmont says. (In this regard, I would recommend P. E. Blanrue’s very detailed and courageous book [Fr], Sarkozy, Israel et les juifs.) Brincmont then calls for the promotion of a double approach which he says is easy to apply, unrisky and effective. It involves:
First: BDS (Boycott, Divest & Sanctions)
Israel tries to ridicule the global BDS movement which it dismisses as ineffective, but Bricmont says that whatever the real impact of the movement it has an undeniable symbolic significance: it helps people emancipate from the psychological deadlock they’ve been driven into out of intimidation and fear of being labeled antisemitic, and gives them the opportunity to speak up.
Second: Small Steps
Bricmont explains that his experience shows how most of Western intellectuals and politicians from across the spectrum are fed up with Israel, -how they privately confess their helplessness in face of aggressive pressures from Israel apologists and how it is vital that steps made in the right direction should be supported and hailed, whatever small the steps might appear to be. The author deplores the lack of public support for actions in favor of the Palestinian cause often dismissed as insignificant. Don’t expect politicians to make any move, Bricmont adds, unless you guaranty them some kind of reward in return; any reward; be it symbolic.
The Legal fight
International lawyer Gilles Devers explains how unlike in Spain and the UK, the French Law doesn’t allow for an automatic issuing of an international arrest warrant following a complaint against Israeli war criminals who might be visiting the country. A complicated procedure makes the process futile. However, French or citizens from other democracies with similar jurisdictions, have the opportunity to file their complaints before the International Criminal Court (ICC). The lawyer then goes on giving a brief reminder of the history of the treaty behind the ICC that was signed but never ratified by Israel. He explains that the ICC at the end of the day “represents the will of the ratifying state parties who constitute its board.” Devers says that unless more countries supportive of the Palestinian cause ratify the ICC treaty, little can be expected from the court. Which goes to say that undemocratic Arab countries, unwilling to sign are in a way part and parcel of the impunity Israeli officials are enjoying, travelling around undisturbed.
Another field to explore is relating to BDS. Devers explains that legal actions systematically directed against companies sponsoring the occupation or investing in settlements or linked in a way or another to Israeli Apartheid, are very effective and can easily be filed before a French court (or any Western court for that matter), with a much enduring impact both politically and economically. But before going to the court, the lawyer explains that corporate targeting should always start (as a precautionary measure) by a written letter, warning the company that it is complicit of a war crime. Finally Devers says that the European Court of Justice is expected to issue in the days to come a decision on whether or not exports and imports to and from settlements built on the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967, should be made unlawful.
Viva Palestina Continues
George Galloway never loses his sense of humor. The British MP says that if Egypt has decided to ban all land convoys to Gaza, it is because the Egyptian regime learned that Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez was to lead the next convoy. Galloway says that “Mubarak would have never allowed Chavez, the greatest Arab leader since Nasser, to come to Egypt because Mubarak would have been overthrown in a heartbeat.” (Smile.) Galloway says that Viva Palestina will challenge the ban decision in the Egyptian courts. He also announces that over the next months Viva Palestina will lead more convoys to Gaza, and this time by… sea! He says that there will be ships from South Africa, Turkey, Malaysia, Venezuela, France. “We need as many ships as we can from as many countries as we can, protected by as many flags as we can. We will unload the aids in Gaza. We will fill the ships with Gazan exports. We will establish an emergency line for Gaza” says Galloway. The British MP also announces the future creation of Viva Paletina Arabia that will be based in Lebanon.
Watch parts of Galloway’s intervention in the video bellow: