Ilan Pappe described how the two state solution devised within the United Nations amounts to a Zionist concept and results from the reality that made it unfeasible to ethnically cleans Palestinians in the West Bank & Gaza as was done during the earlier acquisition of Palestinian territory. By giving Palestinians a semblance of authority over a fraction of their original land, the UN in effect voted for an open prison disguised as a project of a state.
When asked about the entitlement of 3rd generation Israelis born in Israel, Pappe called for a practical solution: settlers who identify with the invader's politics become invaders themselves. Hence, the land of Palestine should be open to those who acknowledge an equal entitlement of all to the land. Highlighting the counter-productivity of the prevalent language of parity between Israelis and Palestinians, Pappe also stressed the need for a change in paradigm through the use of the language of imbalance, which entails addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in terms of a relationship of colonizer versus colonized.
In his speech “The last of the Semites” pointing to the disconnect between Jewish culture and that of the land of historic Palestine, Joseph Massaad drew an engaging historical account of European Jews who in the eighteenth century were driven through the Haskalah (“enlightenment”) movement to assimilate into the “secular and modern European culture” and grow out of their “medieval Jewish culture”. He noted how the Holocaust killed 90% of European Jews, among which also laid those who refused to head Herzl's call to emigrate to Palestine. As a reminder, Massad stressed the fact that it was the same Western countries that refused the 1947 UN resolution calling European countries to take in the surviving Jews, who acquiesced the partition of Palestine that same year.
As a result, during 1939 and 1941 there were groups of German Jews who, forced to immigrate to Palestine, refused to learn Hebrew and were attacked and their magazines closed down. Joseph Massad in effect showed how Jews who immigrated to Palestine were entirely European and, logically so, their culture having no commonality with Arab-Palestinian culture. It is to be noted that the state of Israel has since worked hard to create an Israeli culture, a task that proved to be difficult in having to bring together Jews from Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Morocco. It has striven to do so by appropriating the native culture and exporting it: indeed now you can watch an Israeli belly-dancer and eat an “Israeli breakfast” made of Labneh and Za’atar at Viennese restaurants.
A third speaker, Haneen Naamnih, showed how through settler colonialism Israel is able to legally confiscate Palestinians' historical right. By inventing Israeli citizenships awarded to Palestinians, authorities were able to include but also exclude them from their authority. As an illustration, the example of Bedouins from the Naqab was used: forced displacement and applying the law of “empty lands” was an effective tactic. This process was embellished with a policy of afforestation: planting trees on destroyed villages to disguise destruction and any semblance of earlier life.
In his talk, the author of the Angryarab blogspot, As'ad AbuKhalil drew the audience's attention to the increasing gap between European public opinion, which he deemed anti-Israeli, and the public policies of the EU. In his view, this represents a failure of capitalism and democratic institutions. Half-jokingly, he added that this differs from the situation of the United States, where both public policy and public opinion are strong supporters of the state of Israel. AbuKhalil also cared to precise that Israel is increasingly isolated internationally, as is the case at the General Assembly where the US and Israel are on one side facing the rest of the world (with the exception of the Marshal Islands and a few others). In this sense, something not in the advantage of Israel is brewing internationally. Accordingly, AbuKhalil emphasized the potential of the BDS movement to take on stronger stances against Israel, drawing a parallel with the international movement boycotting the apartheid state of South Africa which accelerated its demise.
A very engaging conference, while attended by many, few were the young faces to be seen. This was a somewhat saddening aspect of the conference where a significant part of the audience was leftists, communists and anti-imperialists of a certain age. I'd like to think this is due to a lack of advertising by the organizers at schools & universities and the necessary participation fee which might have deterred younger participants, as opposed to their lack of interest in the Palestinian cause.
One final note on the presence among the audience of an elderly man who lived through the Nakba: upon a short discussion with him, he was quite touched by the mobilization of so many people for the Palestinian cause, but was seemingly as moved by the tragedy that is taking place in neighboring Syria. It is quite telling that someone who has lived through the catastrophe of 1948 is as distressed by the developments of the Syrian conflict. May we prevent another “catastrophe” and retain Jerusalem as our compass.