BEIRUT: Rene Gonzalez, one of the Cuban 5, who served more than 13 years in a U.S. jail, spoke in solidarity with hunger striking Palestinian prisoners here on May 14. His comments were warmly received at the Third Arab-International Forum on Justice for Palestine. Maan Bashour, a convener of the event, said that the two-day forum is part of international efforts to support Palestine isolate Israel internationally.
Gonzalez expressed support for the 1,300 Palestinian prisoners on an indefinite hunger strike in Israeli jails for basic human rights. He urged participants to increase their solidarity efforts with Palestine, and said Cuba and its people will always support the cause of the Palestinian people for sovereignty and independence.
The forum was attended by 400 people from 35 countries. Most came from the Arab countries, with many delegations containing prominent individuals and long-time fighters for Palestine. All of the major Palestinian resistance groups were there, many with high-level representatives. Among those greeting the conference from Lebanon, the host country, were a spokesperson from Hezbollah, the Shia Mufti of Lebanon, a representative of the Lebanese Prime Minister, and a leader of the Greek Catholic community.
Also attending were solidarity activists, progressive attorneys, and refugee and human rights advocates from Greece, Ireland, Spain, Canada and the U.S.
Participants discussed ways to confront Israel’s Apartheid system, how best to fight administrative detention in Israeli prisons, the status and prospects of boycott initiatives and how groups can build solidarity with Palestine.
Solidarity with hunger strikers
At the May 14 plenum, a message of solidarity was delivered to the conference from Tommy McKearney, an Irish political prisoner held by Britain for 15 years, who participated in the 1980 hunger strike with Bobby Sands for 55 days. Sands and nine other Irish liberation fighters died in that strike due to British intransigence.
In the course of the conference it was announced that more than a dozen prominent South Africans, including cabinet members and anti-apartheid activists formerly imprisoned on Robben Island had begun a 24-hour fast in solidarity with the Palestinian hunger strikers. African National Congress
Chairperson Baleka Mbete had previously called Israeli apartheid “far worse” than apartheid in South Africa.
Reviewing gains, planning future strategies
John Thomas Lyone, the Irish activist who introduced the successful Dublin City Council resolution to fly the Palestinian flag over Dublin City Hall for a month, called for everyone to increase their efforts in solidarity with Palestine.
An attorney from Spain said that 100 municipatities in that country have voted to end complicity with Israeli occupation and illegal settlements, including Barcelona, the country’s second largest municipality.
The speaker from the U.S. was Richard Becker, of the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), who described the United States as “the main funder, armor and protector of the Zionist state.” He recounted solidarity actions that ANSWER and other organizations have carried out, including the stopping the Israeli Zim line ships docking in on the West Coast, and protests at the annual AIPAC-American-Israel Public Affairs Committee conferences.
An attorney from Montreal offered strategies on how activists might best utilize the recent report issued by the report issued by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia on Israeli apartheid. This report details within the context of international law how the Israeli regime is guilty of apartheid in its treatment of all Palestinian people. Apartheid is considered a crime against humanity, second only to genocide.
The conference broke down into workshops, with this reporter attending one on ending administrative detention, focused on reaching people in the U.S. and Europe. The workshop was attended by Middle Eastern experts on this question and by solidarity activists from Lebanon, Ireland, and Greece and
the U.S. In addition to this reporter other U.S. participants were Vicente Contreras from the Party for Socialism and Liberation and Richard Becker from ANSWER Coalition.
An expert on administrative detention explained that the laws which Israel uses are inherited from British colonialism. Britian used these laws all over the world—in India. South Africa, Palestine. Tens of millions have suffered from this, he said .These laws are racist, and illegal from a human rights perspective. These laws have been used to disrupt the Palestinian intifada, as Israel arrests and detains leaders and activists at will.
Suggestions raised in the workshop discussion included establishing a web site where resources could be downloaded and shared, and calling an international conference in the next year as part of a campaign to end administrative detention.
The conference ended with participants going to the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp and joining residents in a solidarity rally for the prisoners on hunger strike.
The International Forum for Justice in Palestine will meet in a year, to assess progress, and strategize for future actions.