The theme of this yearas very well-attended and successful ICAHD AGM and Day Conference was _Hope from the Ruins_. This apparently paradoxical title acknowledges the shattered reality of Israel/Palestine but refuses to accept despair. Only by acknowledging the full bleakness of the situation can we then look beyond it to a new future for both people-groups.
After Linda Ramsdenas introduction, the day began with a slideshow of photographs by the acclaimed American/Israeli photojournalist Judah Passow, from his recent book _Shattered Dreams_, which brings together photographs he has taken in Israel/Palestine over a 25 year period, on assignments for many different newspapers and magazines all over the world. These photographs show how ordinary people on both sides are affected by the fear and conflict in which they live. We look at the reality of their shattered dreams, but there is hope in the recognition of the humanity on each side of the divide. See www.judahpassow.com
Unfortunately Professor Avi Shlaim, who was meant to be speaking on the subject of _Shattered History_, was prevented by volcanic ash from being with us (as was one of the nominees for the ICAHD UK Board, Roger Higginson). But his absence, though very much regretted, was very much made up for by Prof Colin Green, one of the founders of Medical Aid for Palestine (MAP) and Al Quds Medical School. Colin spoke graphically of the terrible effects of the recent brutal onslaught by Israel on Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, of torture of Palestinians by Israel, and of the way the Israeli Medical Association hides abuses. He called for doctors to become more politically active with their work framed around human rights. Despite all this, Colin expressed optimism, saying that all colonialism and occupation eventually come to an end, because they contain in themselves the seeds of their own destruction.
Mohammed Mukhaimar, a Palestinian psychologist from Gaza, spoke equally movingly and graphically about the shattered minds of families in Gaza, particularly after Operation Cast Lead. He outlined how, despite the amazing historical resilience which the people have shown to continuous trauma, thanks in large strong family, social and religious cohesion, an increasing number, male heads of family particularly, are succumbing to a numbed helplessness. He ended with a plea for involvement by the West, quoting Archbishop Desmond Tutu: _if you are neutral in a situation of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.
After lunch – provided by the Palestinian catering company Maramia _ the ICAHD UK AGM was held, with three new executive members to the Board proposed and elected – Roger Higginson, Linda Hoffman and Prof David Turner. An emergency resolution was proposed by Ian McDonald and Brian Robinson. It noted the draconian new legislation that came into force in the West Bank on April 13th, putting thousands of Palestinians, plus foreign nationals (particularly activists and NGO workers), without suitable residence permits at risk of mass deportation. The legislation has attracted minimal media coverage. The motion commits ICAHD UK to work with all relevant agencies for the reversal of this law. The motion was passed unanimously. .
After the AGM, the afternoon concentrated on tools and actions to build our work. Martine Miel, Mike Cushman, Jo Rose and Stephen Leah gave very useful explanations and advice about Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. Clare Short gave an inspiring talk about lobbying parliamentarians and preparing for the General Election. She challenged activists for failing to bring real change; that ministers absorbed much of the lobbying with responses of easy policies implemented; that we must be tough and specific about our demands and make clear that all parliamentarians’ responses, or lack of them, will be broadcast.
The day finished with entertainment. The renowned comedian Mark Thomas (www.markthomasinfo.com told us about his walk along the entire length of the separation barrier _ an extremely funny account, but with a serious message. He too looked at the full bleak reality of the situation, but he saw hope in the Palestiniansa embracing of non-violent resistance and in the green shoots of cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians against the Occupation in places such as Bilain and Nilin. And the singer-songwriter Mary HD ended the day on a note of optimism, with her latest recording: A Better Day_ (listen to her on www.maryhd.co.uk).
Linda thanked everyone and said we must all continue with the struggle, so we can see the end of the Occupation and hasten in a better day.
Links to recordings of conference speakers (with thanks to Brian Robinson)