Report by Ray Packham
On Saturday 8th July Nina Beaven and I emerged from the St James’ Park tube station and made our way to the Queen Elizabeth ll Centre, opposite the entrance to Westminster Abbey. We had noted the efforts of the Israeli lobby to have the event cancelled, culminating in Sajid Javid’s letter (he being the Tory’s “Communities Secretary”) to the organisers, expressing the fears ‘trumped-up’ by the Zionist opposition. Their efforts had made us doubly determined to attend what was billed as “The biggest Palestine event in Europe” and we expected to have to run the gauntlet of the usual vociferous pro-Israel demonstration. To our considerable surprise, the opposition appeared to be restricted to one lady with a loud-hailer, whose vitriolic denunciation appeared to be engendering more interest than opprobrium amongst the passing public . Certainly it didn’t seem to discourage the entry of ticket holders such as ourselves.
Owing to an unfortunate ‘cock-up on the organisation front’, by myself (over which details we will draw a discreet veil), we missed much of the opening event, but the rest of the day passed swiftly and informatively, with the speakers and the peripheral attractions living up to and in many cases exceeding their billing. We heard many of the listed speakers, including John Pilger and Ilan Pappe (to name but two) and spoke at length to the Burnat brothers from B’lin, Emad, the film maker and Iyad, the internationally acclaimed peace activist.
The event, spread over five floors, was undoubtedly a great success; the crowds were considerable, the speakers articulate and thought provoking and the food plentiful and enthusiastically received. Indeed, so many had attended on the first day, that the organisers decided that day two would be free…unfortunate perhaps for those who, like us, had purchased two-day-tickets, but indicative of what was a well deserved success. Whilst the second day was as informative and entertaining as the first, we returned for a second bite of what had been a very tasty cherry, the organisation did begin to creak a little toward the end of the second afternoon, no doubt under the strain of rerunning events or presentations that had been ‘sell-outs’ over the previous 36 hours.
All in all it was an excellent way to spend a weekend. The Friends of Al Aqsa deserve considerable praise for both organising such a well run, informative and peaceful gathering and for facing down the Zionist lobby and those that the lobby sought to influence. Far from being the “Festival of Hate”, apparently feared by some Jewish news outlets and their readership, the event was a celebration of Palestinian culture and aspirations. Whilst the ongoing, and illegal colonialism and its appurtenances were obviously part and parcel of any and all of the speeches from the various platforms, they could hardly be ignored. Anyone who missed the event is the poorer for it; I look forward to a similar gathering next year.