Auckland Conference Calls For Boycotts & Sanctions Against Israel
By Alastair Reith
Activists are travelling from around New Zealand to attend a pro-Palestine conference in Ponsonby this weekend.
The two day event, starting Saturday morning in Leys Institute Hall, features speakers from Israel and Gaza who are calling for New Zealand to break all ties with the Israeli state.
Event co-organiser Nadia Rhiannon says a growing number of New Zealanders support the Palestinian cause.
“It’s an opportunity for supporters of Palestine to start organising on a national level. From there we can consolidate a stronger movement in support of the fundamental rights to freedom, equality and justice, which Palestinians have been long denied by Israel.”
The conference will involve more than just speeches, with sessions on Saturday set to focus on planning action against Israeli interests in New Zealand.
On Sunday there will be a free screening of the Oscar-nominated documentary 5 Broken Cameras.
Ms Rhiannon says the event is about giving New Zealanders a chance to hear the Palestinian perspective.
“These stories are seldom heard in the mainstream media. We believe it’s really important for Gazans to tell their story.”
Best-selling Israeli author Miko Peled and Palestinian journalist Yousef Aljamal will speak alongside Springbok Tour protest leader John Minto, University of Auckland senior lecturer Nick Rowe and others.
Mr Peled, author of The General’s Son, is a former Israeli soldier and karate teacher. His father, Israeli general Mattityahu Peled, became a prominent peace activist after falling out with the Israeli military during the 1967 war.
Like his father, Mr Peled also served in Israel’s armed forces, and after witnessing the suffering caused by Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon he became disillusioned and retreated into studying and teaching karate.
This all changed when his 12 year old niece, Smadar, was killed in a Jerusalem suicide bombing. Mr Peled rejected simplistic narratives of revenge and instead became an outspoken advocate of peace with the Palestinians.
He argues that the widely accepted model of a two-state solution is both unrealistic and unethical, and instead calls for a single democratic state in which Israelis and Palestinians have equal rights.
Roger Fowler, long-standing peace activist and conference co-organiser, believes Mr Peled has a unique story to tell.
“Until there is peace in the Middle East, there can be no peace in the world,” he says. “Miko has become an international voice demolishing the myths of Zionism.”
Gazan journalist Yousef Aljamal comes from a refugee camp in Gaza, and works there as a journalist and translator.
He is a prominent blogger, using the internet to provide the outside world with information about daily life under Israel’s blockade.
He has received widespread attention on social media for a story written about his brother Omar, a Hamas fighter killed battling Israeli forces.
Mr Aljamal translated into English the stories of Palestinian prisoners, which have since been compiled into a book titled The Prisoners Diaries.
Ms Rhiannon says Mr Aljamal has been pivotal in challenging the misrepresenation of Gaza and its inhabitants.
“Yousef has lived through two deadly incursions; he lost both a brother and a sister despite being only 24. It’s stories like Yousef’s that everyone needs to hear.”
The conference highlights a growing level of coordination between regionally based pro-Palestine groups, with the recent Israeli bombardment of Gaza triggering nationwide demonstrations.
A subsequent speaking tour by journalist Harry Fear, who reported live from Gaza during the war, was organised jointly by activist networks.
“Harry Fear and I were on a fact-finding mission in Gaza when the Pillar of Cloud onslaught happened,” says Mr Fowler.
“Following on from the success of this tour, it seemed the time was right to bring people together to revive the solidarity movement here.”
Ms Rhiannon is herself Palestinian, and her family land in Palestine was stolen by Israeli settlers.
She says supporting the Palestinian struggle is an inseparable part of who she is.
“It’s really not about nationalism or religion; it’s about the fact that my cousins deserve not to be dehumanised and denied their basic rights. Until they’re free I need to be in solidarity with them. This isn’t just a cause for Palestinians, it’s like Dr King said: ‘an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’”