Unity was in evidence during a major meeting in Tunisia, reports JEREMY CORBYN
October 1 is a poignant day in Palestinian history and is commemorated in Tunisia. This year was no exception as a group of us gathered at the hillside cemetery overlooking the villages and walked down to the town and the beautiful blue
Mediterranean where in 1986 Israeli jets screamed in to bomb the relocated headquarters of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, causing many deaths.
The offices and buildings were destroyed and once again Palestinians, in exile, became the victims.
The PLO had relocated after the massacres at Sabra and Shatilla in 1982 when Israeli troops oversaw massacres by Phalangist militias at the huge refugee camps in Lebanon, home to Palestinians driven from their homes in 1948.
After wreaths were laid at the graves of those who died on that day and on the graves of others killed by Mossad agents in Paris in 1991, we moved to the poignant statue in the main avenue of the coastal town of Ben Arous, which was festooned with Palestinian and Tunisian flags.
Palestine has a special place in Tunisian hearts. In the first days of the revolution in 2011 when long-term detainees were released and a huge welcoming rally was held in a sports centre, the first thing many did was to raise the Palestinian flag.
This year was another special event. A one-day conference was held under the auspices of the Centre for Strategic Studies for North Africa, just north of Tunis, near Carthage, attended by all Palestinian groups.
Held on the back of the ceasefire following Israel’s most recent bloody military attack on the Palestinians, once again the issue of reconstruction of Gaza was on the agenda, as it was after the destruction in 2009 following Operation Cast Lead.
Ever since the elections of 2005 and 2006 which saw Fatah gaining most support in the West Bank and Hamas winning in Gaza, the strategy of the West and Israel has been to divide them and continue the occupation.
The formation of the unity government between Hamas and Fatah in April, following the collapse of talks with Israel over settlements in December, seems to have been the main catalyst for recent Israeli actions.
Part of the justification for the onslaught was the allegation that Hamas had abducted and killed three Israeli students in Hebron. After a period of collective punishment came the appalling death toll of 2,100 Palestinian dead and 100 Israeli casualties during the so-called Protective Edge assault.
As once again the world is asked to help with reconstruction of Gaza, the people there — shell-shocked and bereaved — face an environmental and medical disaster in the face of the shortages of clean water and materials for rebuilding.
The UN Human Rights Council has already established an investigation into war crimes, despite opposition from the US and a European-wide abstention. There is also the question of whether and if the International Criminal Court will bring a case against Israel.
While Palestine is recognised by the UN following the General Assembly vote, it has not signed the Rome Statute or the Fourth Geneva Convention (which deals with war crimes and collective punishment) which would empower it, as a state, to take Israel on legally.
The conference was welcomed by the President of Tunisia Dr Moncef Marzouki and heard opening speeches from Palestinian groups including Fatah, Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine as well as solidarity from the Turkish parliament and international support.
A very poignant and much appreciated speech came from Ramsey Clarke, a long-term campaigner for international justice and former US attorney general under Jimmy Carter’s presidency.
An intense discussion followed with strong views being put that Palestine should join the International Criminal Court and Geneva conventions.
Renowned barrister Toby Cadman gave a masterful demonstration of the role international law can play in supporting the victims of occupation and the siege of Gaza.
A 14-point summary was agreed which included joining the ICC process, asking for real and practical support from the Arab League, international support to end the siege of Gaza, seeking a special UN court to try war criminals, an International Court opinion on the legality of the siege and legal responsibility on Israel for the destruction of Gaza.
Crucially it also called for the development of sea and airports.
The last point made was that foreign nationals serving in the Israeli Defence Force could become the subject of war crimes accusations following the bombing of civilian targets.
The significance of the conference was obviously the outcome of a shared agenda and endeavour, but also the unity between all Palestinian factions and parties.
Britain has a very special role in Palestine from the secretive Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 which planned the sharing of the whole region between Britain and France on the break-up of the Ottoman Empire and, of course, the Balfour
Declaration which simultaneously offered a Jewish state — which became Israel 31 years later — while at the same time claiming to protect the lives of the existing Palestinian inhabitants.
In my own speech to the conference there was great enthusiasm for the prospects of a British parliamentary vote on October 13 on Palestinian statehood. Grahame Morris MP, the chairman of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East has proposed a motion to the House of Commons recognising the state of Palestine.
Already Israeli supporters are saying no motion should be debated until the long-stalled peace talks reach a conclusion.
However Palestine supporters, who demonstrated in such huge numbers in August, are flooding MPs with emails supporting the call for Palestine to be given the full recognition it has been denied ever since the end of the Ottoman Empire.
October 13 gives a chance for Britain to finally break with US policy on the Middle East and give full political recognition to Palestine.