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History, heritage and occupation at Europe's largest Palestine event

MEE reports from Palestine Expo in London, where cultural events and exhibits run alongside discussions ranging from the 'deal of the century' to the Great March of Return
An exhibit from the event at London's Olympia conference centre on Gaza's overburdened al-Shifa hospital (MEE/Osha Mahmoud)
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Virtual reality tours of Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque and exhibits on the struggles of providing healthcare under Gaza's blockade are on show at the Palestine Expo in London this weekend, despite continuing Israeli opposition to the gathering. 

The largest event of its type in Europe, organisers have described it as a way to experience Palestinian culture at the same time as listening to thought-provoking discussions about the Israeli occupation. 

Middle East Eye live-streamed from the event at London's Olympia conference centre through Facebook. 

"We need to celebrate what the Palestinian people are, the plight, and we need to put them back on the map," Nadia, a volunteer at the event, told MEE.

"There are people from all walks of life coming through, those that are aware and those who aren't aware."

The programme includes discussions on US President Donald Trump's so-called deal of the century, Gaza's Great March of Return protests against the more than decade-long blockade of the Palestinian enclave, and Israel's Nation State law. 

"The last year has seen an overt USA colonialist interference in the Palestinian cause," wrote Ismail Patel, chair of Friends of al-Aqsa (FOA), who organised the event, in the programme.

"Palestine is a metaphor of the continuation of the struggle against Eurocentric colonial projects."

Samayyah Afzal, community engagement manager at the Muslim Council of Britain, said: "You see countless attacks building up to limit activism that happens on [university] campuses and around the UK.

"Our response to the attacks has to be to organise more, to do more," added Afzal, who spoke at a panel on the impact of the UK's counter-terrorism programme, Prevent, on Palestine activism.

UK Lawyers for Israel

The event has gone ahead despite opposition from Israel, angered that groups involved in the event advocate a boycott of Israeli goods and companies operating in the occupied Palestinian territories. 

In a statement on Tuesday, UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) said it had contacted the Olympia venue to ask to them cancel the event.

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When it refused to do so, UKLFI said it had written to Olympia's three German co-owner companies to raise its concerns.

It also said it had cited a motion passed in the German parliament in May which condemned the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as anti-Semitic.

But FOA said in a statement sent to Middle East Eye that it had not been contacted by any "institutes, authorities or companies" regarding the event. Nor had UKLFI contacted it directly, it said.

It also questioned why UKLFI had cited the German parliamentary motion, which it said was non-binding and had been criticised by Israeli academics, in a complaint about an event being held in the UK.