Palestine Expo event goes ahead in London, despite 'smear' campaign

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'This event is about saying that Palestine has not been and never will be forgotten'

The al-Fursan group of British Palestinian dabka dancers performs for attendees (MEE/Arwa Ibrahim)
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Monday 10 July 2017 14:06 UTC
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Thousands of people gathered in London on Sunday for the second day of Europe's largest pro-Palestine event, despite a fierce campaign to cancel the event by pro-Israel lobby groups. 

The event, over five floors of the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in London, included art galleries, exhibitions, food and art stalls and various lectures which aimed at raising awareness about the plight of Palestinians. 

Speakers at the event included acclaimed academics and journalists such as Illan Pappe, professor for Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter, and professor of Islamic studies at the University of Oxford, Tariq Ramadan. 

For David Miller, a professor of sociology at the University of Bath, the event has been a visible show of public support for the Palestinian cause. 

"The significance of this conference is that it brings the issue of Palestine on to the agenda," Miller told MEE. 

'This event is about saying that Palestine has not been and never will be forgotten. It is about showing our presence and raising awareness about Palestinian culture no matter'

- Mohamed Abu Dayyah, president of Olive organisation

"People see that there are thousands and thousands of people who are interested in Palestine and human rights," added Miller, who delivered a talk on the role of UK-funded charities that support Zionist organisations in the establishment of illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. 

According to the organisers, at least 10,000 people attended the conference over two days. 

For Mohamed Abu Dayyah, president of Olive, a British-Palestinian youth organisation that aims to highlight the right of return for Palestinians, Palestine Expo is about promoting Palestinian culture and heritage.

"This event is about saying that Palestine has not been and never will be forgotten. It is about showing our presence and raising awareness about Palestinian culture no matter."

Smear attempts

Until last week however, it was uncertain whether Palestine Expo, which bills itself as a celebration of Palestinian culture, history and food, would go ahead, as the British government considered complaints by pro-Israel supporters that the event promoted anti-Semitic and extremist views. 

On 6 July, a group of Conservative MPs and ex-servicemen called on UK Prime Minister Theresa May to intervene in order to prevent government buildings being used by "groups which oppose our values and ideals".

Event organisers and participants said these allegations were entirely unfounded. 

Ismail Adam Patel, chair of the event organiser Friend of Al-Aqsa (FOA), said ahead of the event: "It is clear to anyone who looks at the Palestine Expo schedule of events that this is a diverse event, supported by many with speakers who are Israeli, Palestinian and British, and of Muslim, Jewish and Christian beliefs.

"We are witnessing a desperate and underhanded tactic being used to undermine Palestine Expo," he added, accusing opponents of the event of running a "deliberate smear campaign".



Haneen Obeidat, a volunteer with event organisers FOA (MEE/Arwa Ibrahim)

"Unlike what some Zionist propaganda has said, this [event] is not about anti-Semitism, this is about human rights. They [lobby groups] try to sabotage reputations and smear ... sometimes they are successful, but by and large they are on the back foot," said Miller.

Glyn Secker, executive committee member of the Jews for Justice for Palestinians, a group of Jews which sees itself as "committed to justice and freedom and the human rights of Palestinians," agreed.

"We see it as crucial to call them [lobby groups] out and hold them to the truth," he told MEE.

"It is just the right-wing of the Israeli lobby that is trying to define Palestinians as anti-Semitic and they are doing that because they are losing the arguments about the way the Israeli national project is going."

'It is just the right-wing of the Israeli lobby that is trying to define Palestinians as anti-Semitic and they are doing that because they are losing the arguments about the way the Israeli national project is going'

- Glyn Secker, member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians

"Their response is to weaponise anti-Semitism by trying to use these allegations as a weapon against Palestinians human rights," said Secker. 

For Canadian human rights activist Asoomii Jay, the event has been particularly inspiring because many of the speakers are Jewish. 

"It has been great to see people come to together to recognise the identity of the Palestinian people because Israel has been trying to wipe that out. It has been particularly wonderful that many of the speakers are Jews rather than just Muslims or Palestinians. 

"This sends a strong message of solidarity to Palestinians around the world, telling them that we stand with them," Jay told MEE.