Halifax Symposium on Palestine, 2003

HALIFAX (March 24, 2003) – The first HALIFAX SYMPOSIUM ON PALESTINE – A LAND, A PEOPLE – A HISTORY, A FUTURE was successfully held on the weekend of March 15-16 at Dalhousie University. Over 30 people registered for the Symposium and, including the social function “An Evening with Palestine,” more than 60 people participated from four areas of Nova Scotia in all the proceedings and events.

The atmosphere at the venue of the Conference was warm and lively. Everyone listened with rapt attention as representatives, from eminent historians to student youth, shared their knowledge and experience with the participants. There was a feeling amongst that something new, something very positive, was beginning to take shape, and they are participating in the creation of this new.

The Symposium, initiated by Shunpiking Magazine with the support of six other political and educational organizations including the Canada Palestine Association, was held to broaden the understanding of Palestine at this critical period on the basis of elaborating and discussing themes from the recently-published, book-length Dossier on Palestine.

Until recently, a Zionist narrative has dominated much of the people’s and region’s historiography. Israel’s immunity from truthful criticism has been guaranteed by the monopoly media, and a cordon sanitaire has been established around the nation. The Symposium was founded on the principle that the Palestinian people are a sovereign people and their cause is a just cause.

Six scientific papers were then presented in three working sessions held each day, followed by discussion and debate. Two shorter special sessions were added on Sunday.

On behalf of the steering committee, Tony Seed, editor of Shunpiking Magazine, delivered the welcoming remarks on Saturday to inaugurate the Symposium. In his thought provoking speech, he brought out the character of the present period as one both pregnant with opportunities and full of great dangers for the peoples.

Referring to the decision of Shunpiking taken in the summer of 2001 to publish a professional and authoritative resource for the Canadian people on the experience of the Palestinian people on the basis of the principle of the defence of the rights of all, he pointed out that the Dossier on Palestine was a major initiative in this direction. The issue of rights and the issue of having mechanisms for the exercise of these rights are at the heart of nation building. Secondly, it is 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. He called upon the participants to vigorously contribute to the development of a unified vision of Palestinian and democratic rights – both rights of individuals and rights of collectives. He then called upon Dr. Ismail Zayid as honourary chairman of the symposium to make the inaugural address.

Dr. Ismail Zayid

Dr. Ismail Zayid, president of the Canada Palestine Association, delivered an important address to the Symposium, “Origins of Zionism and the Historical Creation of the State of Israel,” setting the stage for its deliberations.  He provided abundant information as to the land ownership and settlements of the inhabitants of Historic Palestine, such that by 1948 the Zionists had actually lost the battle to appropriate their land under the mandate maintained by British colonialism. Turning to the U.S. and armed with UN Resolution 148 as legal cover they launched a terror campaign to drive the indigenous people out of Historic Palestine and seize and occupy their lands, five months before May 15 al-Nabka and the illegitimate creation of the state of Israel. This realized a long-standing strategy proclaimed in the Balfour Doctrine in 1917 wherein the British government simply gave the land belonging to one people which they had taken by force from Ottoman Turkey to another, and then by the Zionist delegation to the Treaty of Versailles peace negotiations following WWI at which they formally demanded an area from the Litani River in Lebanon to the Nile and the Euphrates River in the East for Ersatz Israel, Greater Israel. The rights that the Palestinians have been demanding since WWI are elementary; land, justice, the right of return and self-determination.

Halifax researcher Gary Zatzman presented the paper entitled “Zionist Theories and Practics Regarding Nationality.” Viewed historically, the fable of the “Jewish nation” – the transformation of the Jewish people from a group with a cultural identity and religious faith segregated in the Pale of Tsarist Russia into a vanquished “people” – is a relatively recent invention, hatched in the 19th century by Zionist scholars and advanced by the Israeli academic establishment. While they spoke of rights in words, the fraudulent “Jewish nation” thesis was an ideological and political mechanism to deny the rights of all and to split the polity, first in Europe, second in the Middle East. This is a particular conundrum for conscientious Jews, and the Israeli and Christian Zionists are worried that they are losing this struggle.

Dr. Labeeb B’soul

Professor Labeeb B’soul of the History Department, St Mary’s University, then delivered a major paper, “Divide and Conquer: Government Policy Regarding the ‘1948 Arabs’, the Druze and other Original Pre-Zionist, Non-Jewish Communities with Israeli Citizenship Rights.”

With overwhelming historical and legal detail illustrated by first hand experience, he elaborated the political and legal mechanisms through which the Palestinian, Druze and Christian communities had been systemically stripped of their land, water and all rights. The “Israeli Arabs” were left with no recourse to secure their rights and were forced to affirm them through mass popular resistance in such initiatives as Land Day. Several graduate students from St Mary’s remarked appreciatively that they had never heard Prof B’soul speak with such passion, eloquence and range.

“An Evening with Palestine”

On Saturday evening, a very cultured and lively social function “An Evening with Palestine” was held, featuring the film Call of The Roots. This documentary reveals the systematic destruction of the ancient material culture of the Palestinian people by the Israeli Zionist regime and portrays their efforts to maintain and develop their oral and folkloric culture, so essential to nation-building, especially in the spheres of music, dance and visual arts.

Setting Off by Amin Shammout

Participants also viewed with great interest an art exhibition of some 30 oil paintings by the acclaimed Palestinian artist Amin Shammout of Halifax. In opening the exhibit, Tony Seed commented how this modest artist has brought to life the strength and vibrancy of the people, especially his portraits of women and children. His subtle weaving of patriotic themes and symbols and his depictions of great moments in the life and history of the Palestinians such as al-Nakba (The Catastrophe-the 1948 expulsions) and the Intifada (the resistance) were evident in a style that is realistic, romantic and explicitly patriotic. His art is appealing, and of great value to all, especially Canadians, because his themes are universal, inspiring all those struggling to affirm and defend their national cultures and languages against imperialist modernism and cosmopolitanism. A buffet was beautifully prepared and served by Palestinian students and families amidst lively informal discussions which lasted well into the evening.

Second Session

Rachel Corrie

The Symposium began the Sunday discussion on March 16 by solemnly saluting the heroic resistance of the courageous Palestinian people and honouring the sacrifice and struggle of all the victims of Israel’s terrorism, including the young American solidarity activist, Rachel Corrie, 23, who earlier that morning had been cold-bloodedly murdered by a bulldozer of the occupation forces while defending a Palestinian family’s home from demolition.

Several sessions, including a special session early Sunday morning addressed by Raja Khouri, president of the Canadian Arab Federation, addressed the racial profiling and marginalization of Canadians of Arab origin since the terrorist attacks of September 11, such as at the U.S. border. These accompany disinformation about “security,” organized provocations and McCarthyite “Campus Watches” against Canadian students and university faculty of conscience as the favoured means to suppress a growing anti-war and Palestinian solidarity movements.

Prof Isaac Saney, in his lecture “Palestine and International Law: ‘Transfer’ and the Right of Return,” explained that international law, born as it were out of a violation of Palestinian rights, obliges Israel and all those responsible for the expulsion to restore the status quo ante. For this reason, the General Assembly reaffirmed in Resolution No. 3236, the inalienable right of the Palestinians to return to their homes and property from which they have been displaced and uprooted, and calls for their return. In equally strong and explicit language, the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People upheld that the Palestinian Right of return should be absolute for every Palestinian and must have priority over any other form of substitute arrangements, such as compensation.

The forced expulsion of the Palestinians, he said, was a crime so fundamental and unjust that it is doubtful that any political compromise could amend its damage. Apart from being a violation of the human rights of the Palestinians, it also constituted a breach of international humanitarian law as well as the law of nationality. In the first instance, mass expulsion is so irreconcilable with respect for human rights that the Nuremberg Tribunal viewed it as a crime against humanity. A lasting solution must be based on the rule of law that secure their fundamental rights and delivers justice. In reality, the return of the dispersed Palestinians to their homes and property is not a privilege or favour that is subject to Israeli or American goodwill. Neither is it a matter that depends upon Israel’s demographic security needs as Netanyahu suggests. Whether Israel is inconvenienced or disturbed is irrelevant in this matter. Justice must be done and seen to be done.

Third Session

On Sunday afternoon, Tony Seed delivered the paper, “Terrorism versus National Liberation, 1921-2003,” and then invited Dr Zayid and Prof B’soul to join him to speak from their direct experience. The national liberation movement whose origins date back to the 1830s and the struggle against Ottoman Turkey is an independent political movement of the indigenous people, and not merely a reaction or a mere resistance to the infiltration of European Zionism as the revisionist and liberal historians advocate. Historically, terrorism refers to the use of terror as a means to undermine just struggles. It is a political method of struggle, not a military strategy. Today the “war on terrorism” has become the political banner to attack these struggles by presenting the victimizer as the victim. Under this flag, Israel carries its “defence” of Zionist liberation. “Liberation” meant seizing bountiful land from the Arabs: Begin stated in 1967, “the term the West Bank means nothing…this is liberated land.” The Zionist cause was opposite to national liberation – a call to expand a ghetto. The Zionist outpost of “civilization against barbarism” (Herzl) was a European ghetto of this kind. Driving out the indigenous population was justified as a liberating and redeeming act. The aims and methods of Zionist ‘liberation’ had nothing in common with the national liberation struggle just as Judaism, a religion, is not a national ideology. Zionism celebrated individual acts of terrorism, regardless of the innocence of the people or their rights, always with a political-psychological aim of suppression. Terrorism was introduced by the British as a main feature of colonial rule. The British were the first to use collective punishment and home demolitions, well before the Nazis, against the Great Arab Revolt in the mid-1930s. For their part, the Zionists abjured politics, constituted themselves as a faction in the imperialist courts, recruited the dregs of European reaction such as Jabotinksy, a police socialist for Tsarist Russia, organized gangs trained by the British, and then in the 1940s began to present themselves in the mask of the “Hebrew Liberation Movement” as a pragmatic maneouvre to cash in on the new arrangements which came into being with the victory of the anti-fascist struggle in World War II.

In-depth discussion emphasized the escalation of Israeli state terror, especially demolition of homes and illegal colonization of the Occupied Territories and the bankruptcy of the U.S.-Israeli “road map to peace.”

Different participants documented the history and reality of the genocidal campaign of the Israeli Zionists under various pretexts against the Palestinian people – who for years on end have been subjugated to occupation and reaction in violation of international law and innumerable United Nations resolutions – together with the people of South Lebanon and the Golan Heights. It is international Zionism, the Israeli government and the Bush administration who are “anti-Semitic” with their thesis that the Palestinian people are a sub-human species, a historical mistake and without any right, even those holding citizenship within Israel proper.

Speaking of regional concerns, they also provided abundant historical information documenting that it is the British who introduced weapons of mass destruction against the Arab peoples in 1921; it is the Israeli government which has used chemical and biological weapons against the Palestinian people since 1948; it is Israel which today constitutes the fifth largest nuclear power in the world, and it is the Bush administration which is preparing to use them against the peoples of the world, not just Iraq.

Several students also addressed the symposium. A graduate student from St Mary’s – a former sergeant who had done three tours of duty as a member of Canadian peacekeeping forces – brought out the transformation of NATO since the Washington Conference in 1998 at the height of the illegal war against Yugoslavia, which adopted the NATO “strategic concept.” This signified the end of any “traditional” role of Canada in deploying troops abroad as peacekeepers and acting as a force for genuine peace. He said Canada was playing with the lives of Canadian soldiers it had already seconded to the U.S. Central Command for intervention in the Middle East, and challenged Defence Minister McCallum to publish their “rules of engagement.”

Closing Session

The Closing Session – entitled “Nation-Building, The Right of Return and the Contemporary Situation” – emphasized that a just solution to the enduring “Palestinian-Israeli Conflict” must be based on the inalienable principle of the right of the Palestinian people to freedom and independence, including the fundamental right to return to their homeland. These goals of the Palestinian national movement, which began to concretely form in the late 1800s, can never be eradicated or signed away.

In a lively debate of the “two state” and “one state” solution, Dr. Ismail Zayid, president of the Canada Palestine Association, and history Professor Labeeb B’soul of St. Mary’s University stressed the necessity of ending the illegal occupation by Israel of Palestinian and Arab territories and to establish a secular and democratic state, free of any foreign dictate, which guarantees the rights of all regardless of national origins or religious affiliation. Therefore, such a state cannot be established on the basis of Eurocentric political norms which formed the basis of the Oslo Accords, the truncated “independence” of the Palestine National Authority, and the pressure to abandon the defence of the right of return, nor on the other hand can it be a liberal reformed “one nation” Israeli state based on “one man, one vote.” They exhorted the people of Historic Palestine – her workers, peasants, women and youth – to fulfil their duty to become the real masters of this land and shape its economic and political destiny in accordance with the interests of the peoples and the future generations. In the debate over the “two state” or “one state” one of the central theses to emerge was that if the people of Palestine can accomplish the former, then they can certainly accomplish the latter.

Such was the strength of argument, historical fact, dispassionate logic and democratic form that the feeble attempts of some Zionist youth organized by the Atlantic Jewish Council (AJC) to infiltrate and divert the proceedings collapsed in no more than a few moments. There is no other significance than another experience of the standard modus operandi of Zionists. To illustrate: on Saturday afternoon, without registering their organizational affiliation, they posed as confused “individuals” and attempted to change the form of the Symposium by demanding “dialogue” and “understanding” with the Palestinian students who put them in their place. Each attempt to speak out of turn, dominate the discussion and thus change the agenda on a religious and racial basis was rendered pathetic as the chair and participants defended the democratic norms of discussion. On Sunday, at the direction of the AJC (Jeffrey Goldberg), and with the collaboration of the Halifax Daily News, which hysterically attacked the Symposium in its Sunday edition, the Zionists returned and vainly tried to provoke and divide the participants in order to have an incident publicized by a Daily News in their tow to prove that both the Symposium and those defending the cause of Palestine are so-called “anti-Semitic” and “intolerant” censors of the poor and oppressed Zionists. Two Jewish youth later returned and apologized for the uncouth behaviour, saying they had been misinformed and misled by the AJC as to the nature of the Symposium and the character of those involved.

In closing, Dr. David Doake, a distinguished retired political scientist from Acadia University, spoke movingly. Though he was married to a Palestinian, he had never learned and understood so much about Palestine as he had in these two days, he said. He warmly thanked all the presenters for their clear expositions and hard work and urged the youth, whatever their origin or religious affiliation, to deepen and broaden their study and understanding of Palestine, and see through the Zionist mythology. His heartfelt comments touched everyone present.

The Symposium unanimously adopted the following resolution:

  • The Halifax Symposium on Palestine entrusts the steering committee with the task of convening the Second Halifax Symposium on Palestine in the fall of 2003. Preparatory work will include:
  • Transcribing and publishing the proceedings of the Symposium on the Internet;
  • Holding different forums, seminars and workshops in different locales of Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada, wherever possible; and
  • Broadening the steering committee itself to include all those wishing to participate to ensure the realization of that goal.

The first initiative in this direction will be to commemorate the 27th anniversary of Palestinian Land Day on Monday, March 31 at Dalhousie University with the showing of Palestine Is Still the Issue, a film by John Pilger broadcast on ITV in England in September 2002. Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, whose works are taught in universities all over the world, describes Pilger’s film as “balanced [and] faultless in its historical description.” The evening will include a report on the Symposium and discussion. Land Day, an international day of solidarity, marks the anniversary of massive demonstrations held by Palestinians inside Israel on March 30, 1976 to defend their land against confiscation by the Israeli government.

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