Halifax Symposium on Palestine, 2003 – Opening Remarks

TONY SEED, March 15, 2003

Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

ON BEHALF of the different sponsoring groups*, we are convening this morning the HALIFAX SYMPOSIUM ON PALESTINE – A LAND, A PEOPLE – A HISTORY, A FUTURE. It will deal with one of the most pressing issues confronting the world today – Palestine and the right of the Palestinian people to self determination, the ceaseless striving of the Palestinian people to exercise control over their own lives which lies at the epicentre of the entire resistance of humanity to imperialist war and subjugation.

This Symposium is open to everyone who wishes to address their concerns or hear the views of others, regardless of their ideological opinions, political affiliation, national origin or any other consideration. Designated speakers who are knowledgeable in their field have been invited to address central issues through presentations or a panel and to provide information for discussion. Several Palestinian student youth have also come forward to come and speak about the problems they are facing as students in defence of their rights.

Discussion is geared in such a manner that all the participants will be able to discuss the ways and means which are being developed to oppose the study and learning of the history of the Palestinian people, the marginalization of the Palestinian people and their organizations, and the destruction of the principle that it is the right of every nation to determine their own affairs and take responsibility for the well-being of its citizens. The principle resource on which the entire Symposium is organized is the Dossier on Palestine, published recently in October, 2002 by the editors of Shunpiking magazine, and the theses elaborated by this publication.

We initially took the decision in the summer of 2001 to publish a professional and authoritative resource on the experience of the Palestinian people on the basis of the principle of the defence of the rights of all. The Dossier on Palestine is a major initiative and accomplishment in this direction. It is a deed of the Canadian people and not some academics and journalists. The issue of rights, the issue of having mechanisms for the exercise of these rights, and a line of march are at the heart of nation building, both in the Middle East and Canada. To do this we found it necessary to build a citadel, a collective force which can mount an effective defence of Palestinian rights. Thus the Symposium is not a matter of academic discussion but at the heart of the ongoing struggle in Palestine and the world scale.

Issues we will be addressing include the need to defend, renew and build the nation, the mythology and disinformation around the creation and development of the state of Israel, the denial of basic human rights both to the members of that society as well as to the indigenous, pre-Zionist Arabic population, the role of the imperialist powers in the Middle East, the strategy and tactics of Zionism in collusion with these powers against both the Jewish, Palestinian and Arab masses, the question of terrorism, the rule of law, and the defence of the rights of all. The Closing Session of the Sunday Discussion will be aimed at mobilizing people to fight the attacks against the Palestinian people and to reject the use of war to settle conflicts internationally, both between and within nations.

This Symposium is being inaugurated on an important international day of protest against the US led war of aggression against Iraq. Those who are suggesting that by convening this forum on Palestine we are splitting the movement or diverting people from action are being silly. When the provincial council of the NDP scheduled a meeting on the same day as the preceding day of international protest, did anyone complain? Now someone from that party is complaining about us! This forum is necessarily an anti-war forum and a contribution to the movement. It was initiated well before the first plans for today’s demonstration. People who want to participate in both are quite free to do so and we have scheduled the lunch on this basis.

It is said that the road to Baghdad proceeds through Jenin. The United States and its allies are  unleashing their anti-social offensive internally against their own peoples, preparing to unleash a destructive war against Iraq, perpetuating the genocide against the Palestinian people, provoking Iran, encircling China, and embroiling the entire world in anarchy and chaos. Most salient in the so-called “debate” over the plans of the Bush administration to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iraq is the disregard for the rule of international law and the principles on which it is based, including the opposition to the use of force to settle conflicts within nations and between nations. This is the substantive issue on Palestine.

The character of the present period is one both pregnant with opportunities and full of great dangers for the peoples. It is clear that there are great difficulties and complexities; we must be very vigilant. Even before the events of January 18 and February 15, the greatest pan-Arabian upsurge has being taken place throughout the Middle East over the past two years since the Second Intifida. Over one million people demonstrated in Rabat, Morocco ten months ago. This is the “smoking gun”, the “weapon of mass destruction” that Bush and his ilk fear.

Anti-terrorist laws like the Public Safety Act in Canada and the Patriot Act in the USA are aimed at suppressing growing opposition to the globalisation agenda of neoliberalism of the most powerful imperialist and reactionary forces. The biggest assault on rights had been unleashed by these forces and measures are being unleashed to crush the revolt of the peoples.

An entire campaign of disinformation on the question of war, the aim and role of the big powers, the Middle East and Palestine that does not reflect even a particle of truth about the reality and its needs, has been unleashed. The entire coverage of Iraq, Palestine and the anti-war movement reveals this. The main aim of the disinformation is to split and divide peoples on the world scale according to the “clash of civilizations” on national and religious grounds, to ignore, target and criminalize all those fighting for justice, present those who are hellbent on destruction in righteous colours, and present the Arabic peoples as a people without history, culture and their own thought material. Eurocentric “values” and “democracy” is presented as the acme of human civilization to which the entire world must adhere under pain of extinction. While the media has focused on Iraq with the logic “innocent until proven guilty”, they have conveniently dropped Palestine off the map at the very moment that the killing rate has increased. The Question of Palestine is presented as something trivial. Those concerned about Palestine are presented as trivial and marginal. The aim is to so mystify the issues such that after this or that protest or acion people go home, do not think about the questions, and get discouraged from participating in politics and arriving at the solutions warranted by the time: the necessity to defend the rights of all and on the basis of our own forces. This is the essence of the disinformation campaign since 9-11 and the so-called “war against terrorism.”

Our aim is to clarify and develop two days of serious discussion on the issues of concern. We aim to educate and train ourselves so that we can become a collective and authoritative voice both on the questions of Palestine, the Middle East and nation building and participate fully in presenting cogent solutions. Over the years the flag of Palestine has been kept flying in our city by Dr Ismail Zayid, one of the most authoritative historians and commentators on Palestine in Canada. We need to build a collective force in Halifax of from five to twenty Dr Zayids to mount the citadel, staff its defences, and fire and fire again at the enemy until victory. Thus this Symposium is not a matter of some academic discussion but at the heart of the ongoing struggle in Palestine and the world scale. We encourage everyone to participate in the Forum. We call upon everyone to vigorously contribute to the development of a unified vision of Palestinian and democratic rights – both rights of individuals and rights of collectives.

All views which address the defence of rights, the struggle for political renewal and the direction of Palestine, its society and economy, will be permitted. The Steering Committee will not permit criticisms of a personal nature against any individual or organization. The Symposium is founded on the principle that the cause of the Palestinian people is a just cause. On this basis, it reserves the right to disallow an individual presentation or rule a speaker out of order. These democratic norms of discussion include everyone will have the opportunity to speak once before any participant can speak a second time.

The presentations this weekend will range from 30 minutes to one hour followed by discussion. Comments will be limited to five minutes. Those who wish to present interventions of a longer nature in the forthcoming sessions are invited and should contact us so as to be included. Those who may wish to submit papers or interventions after the Symposium are also welcomed to do so, and they will be included in the proceedings. If we have the forces to transcribe everything, we would like to publish all the proceedings on the Internet if possible. We have already received one valuable paper by Professor Michael Welton on Christian Zionism which, though not properly part of the purview of the Symposium, will be of great assistance on clarifying the ideology and role of those forces in the USA and Canada.

This Saturday evening, everyone is invited to participate in the social and cultural program which will include a film, food, cultural performances and an art exhibition by the distinguished Palestinian artist and resident of Halifax, Amin Shammout. His realistic work, especially his portraits of women, poignantly reflects the great strength of the Palestinian people.

Given the significance of this Symposium for all Canadians, we urge you to participate actively, inform your friends and families of the proceedings either during this weekend or afterwards. Together, let us take a bold step in defence of the rights of all! Let us together pose the important problems facing mankind so as to enlighten ourselves and provide solutions. This is how we also express our opposition to the US led war against Iraq, while manifesting our support for the right of the Palestinian people of self-determination.

We are gratified that Dr Ismail Zayid has agreed to act as honourary chairman of the Halifax Symposium on Palestine. I call on Dr Zayid to open this discussion by presenting on the topic, “The Origins of Zionism and the Historical Creation of the State of Israel.”

Programme, Halifax Symposium on Palestine

Saturday, March 15, 2003

WELCOMING REMARKS: Tony Seed, on behalf of the Steering Committee

OPENING SESSION: Dr. Ismail Zayid; President, Canada Palestine Association, author of Palestine: A Stolen Heritage and Zionism: The Myth and the Reality, on The Origins of Zionism and the Historical Creation of the State of Israel.

SECOND SESSION: Gary Zatzman; Research Associate, Dalhousie University and co-editor, Dossier on Palestine, Zionist Theories and Practice Regarding Nationality.

THIRD SESSION: Professor Labeeb B’soul; Professor of Middle East History, Saint Mary’s University and Assistant Professor of Comparative Religion, Dalhousie University, The Situation of the Arab Israeli: 1948 to the present.

Saturday, March 15 – AN EVENING WITH PALESTINE

Film: The feature documentary Call of The Roots. CIBC Auditorium, Computer Science Bldg. 7 pm. Free

Social Function. Palestinian Music, Culture. Atrium (adjacent to Auditorium). 8:15 pm

Art Exhibition by acclaimed Palestinian artist Amin Shammout. Atrium

Sunday, March 16, 2003

FOURTH SESSION: Raj Kourri, president, Canadian Arab Federation, remarks on Defending the Rights of All: Racial Profiling and Marginalization of Canadians of Arabic origin.

FIFTH SESSION  (10 am-12 noon): Professor Isaac Saney; on faculty, Dalhousie and St. Mary’s University and specialist in international political economy; author Cuba: Revolution & Development (forthcoming, Zed/Fernwood Books, fall 2003) Palestine and International Law: “Transfer” and Right.

SIXTH SESSION  (1-3 pm): Tony Seed; Editor/Publisher, The Dossier on Palestine and Editor/Publisher, Shunpiking magazine, delivered a paper on Terrorism versus National Liberation: 1921-2003.

SEVENTH SESSION : The Task of Student Youth. Students address the Symposium.

CLOSING SESSION (4 pm-5:30 pm): Nation-Building, The Right of Return and the Contemporary Situation: A Panel Discussion. Panel discussion featuring Dr. Ismail Zayid and Dr. Labeeb B’soul

Resolutions.

Shunpiking magazine; Canada Palestine Association; People’s Front/Halifax; Nova Scotia Public Interest Research Group; Canadians, Arabs & Jews for a Just Peace; Fernwood Books; The Energy-Environment-Communications Research Group (Dal Tech)

For further information, please e-mail: shunpike@shunpiking.com

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