Greenbelt report: appeal for justice in the Holy Land 11 September 2006

 Husam Zomlot, Deputy Palestinian General Delegate to the UK, has urged Christians in Europe to divest from companies supporting the Israeli occupation. Speaking on the subject: 'Palestine: where to?' at the Greenbelt Festival in Cheltenham over thee Bank Holiday, he emphasised the legitimacy of Palestinian claims to statehood. The event was sponsored by Rediscovering Palestine, a network of charities and organisations working towards peace with justice in Palestine and Israel.

Standing in for the General Delegate, Manuel Hassassian, Zomlot expressed his keenness to speak before a Christian audience. He referred to the Church of England General Synod's recent decision to divest from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation as a 'success', and hoped that Christians would build on that success despite the Ethical Investment Advisory Group's rejection of the Synod's decision.

There was no conflict, he stated, between resisting and negotiating: 'Resisting illegal occupation is legitimate'. Palestine called for Israel to go through a 'journey of self-searching': 'The only people who can issue the birth certificate of Israel are the Palestinians'. He went on to say that this 'shouldn't be issued at the same time as our death certificate', which would probably be printed on the other side of the same sheet of paper.

Zomlot traced the history of Palestine through personal memory of events in his adolescence that marked his growing sense of identity as a Palestinian: in December 1987 at the age of 13 he realised that the UN flag was not the flag of his own country; in November 1988 he gathered with neighbours to cheer Arafat's acceptance of the two-state solution; and in February 1992, just after the Madrid Peace Conference, he observed how quickly guns were lowered.

His outline of more recent events traced the same thread of Palestinian aspirations to statehood. During the period of the Oslo agreement (1991-2000), Palestine thought that Israel genuinely wanted to establish a Palestinian state. In 1998-2000, an economic boom in Israel coincided with a 'Swiss cheese-like' carving-up of the West Bank and Gaza with the growth of settlements and the establishment of checkpoints and bypass roads. On the subject of the 'myth' of Yasser Arafat as the obstacle to peace, he noted that the Palestinians saw the Oslo peace accord as a betrayal because it only secured them 22% of the land.

In his speech Zomlot called for international support for the cause of justice, and stressed that might and right were the true opposing poles in the conflict. Stressing solidarity between different faiths, he drew on the model of London, describing his experience of attending Notting Hill Carnival the day before, where he rubbed shoulders with Sikhs, Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Commenting on Israel's strategy to depopulate Bethlehem and to uproot Palestinian Christians in order to justify invasion, he said that special weight should be given to expressing solidarity with Christians in Palestine. He encouraged people to join Rediscovering Palestine, to travel to Palestine on one of the study tours such as that run by Linda Ramsden, proprietor of Experience Travel Tours, and to raise awareness in their home community by divesting from companies supporting the Israeli occupation.

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