Pal Expo was superb but are voices on Palestine really being heard?

Journalist Hafsa Kara-Mustapha looks back at Pal Expo which was held in London last weekend. She says that while the event was in many ways superb, she isn’t sure the message on Palestine is getting through.

Pal Expo was billed as the greatest Palestine event in Europe and it was, to a certain extent.

Organisers behind this impressive event hosted talks, art exhibits, live shows showcasing the Palestinian people’s rich culture and history and of course its ongoing suffering under a brutal occupying regime.

All demographics were catered for and every aspect of Palestinian life was highlighted for those curious to go beyond the headlines.

But sadly it appeared early on that the curious were few and far between. Though the venue was more than enough to accommodate huge crowds, PalExpo failed to draw in the numbers.

Like news from the overall region it appears that British audiences are now suffering from Palestine fatigue. So often dismissed as a complex conflict between two equally guilty parties – when in fact there is one occupier and one occupied people – Pal Expo could have served to educate those willing to delve deeper into this widening crisis for which there is no light yet to be seen at the end of the colonialist tunnel.

Dogs more important than Palestinians

Speakers at panel discussions were inspiring, interesting and passionate. Young Palestinians spoke of the difficulty of daily life under occupation. People in their early twenties recalled their fallen friends under the un-scrutinised hellfire from Israeli soldiers. Soldiers who enjoy god like-status amongst an Israeli population increasingly oblivious to the suffering it inflicts on millions of Palestinians, argued Israeli speakers.

Veteran Tel Aviv based journalist Gideon Levy shared an anecdote of how the death of two dogs killed during operation Cast Lead in Gaza made front page news across Israeli papers when on the very same day more than 10 Palestinian civilians had died from Israeli attacks.

The life of two dogs, it appeared, drew far greater sympathy from Israelis than scores of Palestinian humans.

This of course is now the case across all mainstream media. Countless Palestinian protesters but also medics and journalists have died in the past 12 months yet barely any of their deaths made it on the front or even middle pages of major publications. Compare this with a hypothetical killing of an Israeli and imagine the ensuing coverage followed by strong condemnation and offers of increased support.

Palestinians for their part can do no right. Should they resist, they are killed and dismissed as terrorists; when they opt for a more peaceful and seemingly innocuous form of resistance such as advocating the boycott of Israeli goods (BDS) their actions are deemed “anti-Semitic.” A word now so nonsensical that Levy himself recommends shrugging one’s shoulders when faced with that vacuous accusation.

Though the Isreali reporter insists resisting the tyranny of the word is important, and not just in the context of Palestine but when it comes to freedom of expression itself, he does not explain how to circumvent the consequences attached to this accusation however absurd. Yet it has to be said that in the past four years alone journalists, politicians, and activists have lost their jobs, income and reputations after being falsely accused of it.

Pro-Israel groups have successfully lobbied politicians and political parties into criminalising any criticism of Israel under the ever broadening definition of anti-Semitism. This in turn has given pro Israel advocates a sense of absolute impunity while limiting any freedom of Palestinian expression.

Sense of foreboding 

At Pal Expo there was a sense of foreboding; perhaps less palpable for the younger activists eager to capitalise on the event and express their commitment to the cause. For those who have been supporting Palestine for longer, however, that enthusiasm was hard to share.

The discussions once again focused on media bias, how difficult it was to overcome and how fewer people were willing to put their heads above the parapet in order to oppose the brutal injustice faced by Palestinians.

While many rightly compared the just cause of Palestine to the struggle against Apartheid South Africa, many still remembered that anti-Apartheid activists were never criminalised for their solidarity with their South African peers and brothers.

This is hardly the case when we know that politicians have been sacked, suspended and even kicked out of their political parties for doing what they had done thirty years before against the Pretoria regime of racial discrimination.

Ideas of political engagement were numerous, namely “Palambassador” which offers people the possibility to become spokespeople for the Palestinian cause wherever they are. This in itself is a laudable initiative but again boils down to that old journalistic adage: if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

The reality is if no one is prepared to listen to Palestinian voices will their screams be heard? The question mark remains on that point and Pal Expo did not offer an answer.

The land of sad oranges

Meanwhile, outside the venue some known pro-Israel advocates rallied discreetly. It is fair to say that an Israeli initiative in today’s climate would not drag large crowds unless attendees were paid. But perhaps in contrast to the Palestinian event, one imagines that London’s Zionist community would rally to attend.

London also boasts a sizeable Arab community that appeared to be conspicuously absent from the proceedings. Perhaps that is another issue that needs to be addressed.

What was impressively answered were questions on Palestine’s long and fascinating history. Woven quite literally into a series of rich tapestries the land’s history was narrated through stitched works of art starting from antiquity all the way up to the march of return.

Somewhere on the eve of the Balfour Declaration was a tapestry depicting vivid oranges with the touching words from a Palestinian poet aptly describing his tortured nation as the land of sad oranges.

While across Mediterranean countries oranges grow like bright sunshines hanging on trees and illuminating the winters, in Palestine these fruits stolen by settlers and terrorists have an altogether different meaning. At a time when the Palestinian cause is all but swept under the carpet, Ghassan Kanafani’s words resonated across the large hallways of Pal Expo and indeed reminded us that Palestine is the land of sad oranges.

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