Friday, July 18, 2008
Tel Aviv University Academics among those demanding Israel's Extermination at Conference
in the "Haifa Conference for the Right of Return
And the Secular Democratic State in Palestine"
'In the second part of the opening session, there were three speeches in
Hebrew: Yehuda Kupferman (Tel Aviv University) from the "Committee for a
secular and democratic state in the whole of Palestine," and Dr Uri Davis
from "the movement against Israeli Apartheid in Palestine" - both from
the initiating committee, and Dr Anat Matar (Tel Aviv University) , a
leading activists in support of the rights of Palestinian prisoners and
for the rights of Israeli youth to refuse serving in the Israeli
army....(Among the demands were to) Strip the Jewish presence in Palestine
of its colonialist nature, which is connected to the racist Zionist
project, as a tool of imperialism and global capitalism.'
Report on the Haifa Conference for the Right of Return
And the Secular Democratic State in Palestine
By: Yoav Bar (*)
Sort of Apology
Friday and Saturday, 20-21 of June, 2008 . after a year of dreaming and
working for it to happen . the Haifa conference was such a great success
that we hardly believed it was real. But on Saturday night, as we made the
5 minutes drive from elMidan back home to Hallisa, a poor, mostly Arab,
neighborhood in east Haifa, the racist and Un-Democratic state of Israel
was clearly and vigorously there . the streets were filled with police and
special .anti riot. units, stopping people and beating them at random. We
spent the next week collecting evidence and organizing a demonstration
against police violence.
All of you who tried to follow the preparations to the conference, or who
are concerned to see the results, might have been frustrated with the
chaotic performance of the initiating committee. Others have criticized us
for diverting effort from the urgent struggle against the occupation to
pipe dreaming a remote future. One thing special about the Haifa
conference was that it was initiated and organized by grassroots political
activists, in the middle of an intense period of struggles, without
budget. It was our moment to raise our heads from the exhausting daily
struggle and promise ourselves and the world that the suffering of the
Palestinian people may be brought to an end and there can be a bright
future for everybody in Palestine after we get rid of the racist Zionist
Who was there?
As a gathering of political activists, working for the future, we started
with the youth. The proliferation of independent youth Palestinian
movements within the 48 territories is one proof that the new generation
is not satisfied with the traditional political offerings. At the Midan
theatre, on June 20, 17:00, the conference started with youth meetings .
not lecturing to the youth but activists from different youth movements
discussing among themselves their views of the future. There were two
parallel sessions, one for High School students and the other for the
.Shabab., university students and young workers, mostly in their twenties.
The Opening Session
At the opening session, the 300-seat hall of the Midan theatre was almost
full. There were several Arab TV crews, including Al Jazeera, taking
interviews with political leaders, and reporters from local Arab
newspapers. Several Palestinian flags were on the stage, as well as a sign
in Arabic, Hebrew and English declaring the .Haifa Conference for the
Right of Return and the Secular Democratic State in Palestine.. Sahar
Abdo, the presenter, called Hanan Wakeem to sing .Mawteni. (My Homeland),
and the public stood up to the song and observed a moment of silence for
the martyrs. Rajaa Zo.abi .Omari welcomed the public in the name of the
initiating committee, and outlined the vision of the conference.
The main part of the opening ceremony included political speeches by the
general secretaries of three parties in the 48 territories: Ayman .Odeh
from the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Hadash - a front that
includes the Communist party), Awad Abed El-Fatah from the National
Democratic Alliance (BALAD) and Muhammad Kana.ane from Abnaa elBalad, the
movement that was the backbone of the coalition that constituted the
Initiating Committee. The appearance of Muhammad Kana.ane was most
significant as (on 28/5) he was newly released from four and a half years
in Israeli prisons, after he was sentenced for political meetings with
Palestinian activists in Jordan.
In the second part of the opening session, there were three speeches in
Hebrew: Yehuda Kupferman from the .Committee for a secular and democratic
state in the whole of Palestine., and Dr Uri Davis from .the movement
against Israeli Apartheid in Palestine. . both from the initiating
committee, and Dr Anat Matar, a leading activists in support of the rights
of Palestinian prisoners and for the rights of Israeli youth to refuse
serving in the Israeli army.
There were also written congratulations to the conference, mostly from
like minded activists in the 67 occupied territories and the Palestinian
diaspora who could not come. The most significant written participation
came from the Secretary General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of
Palestine, Comrade Ahmad Sa.adat, from the Nafha prison in the Naqab
Who was not there?
Professor Bhim Singh from Kashmir, who had to represent the international
delegation in the opening session, could not get a visa from the Israeli
embassy in India.
A group of Palestinian academics (with foreign passports) from Bir Zeit
University were on the bus from Jerusalem to Haifa, coming to take part in
the conference, as the bus was intercepted mid-way in Kfar Saba by Israeli
security forces. They were held for several hours and forced to return to
The Islamic Movement was invited to take part in the conference, as
partners in the struggle against Israeli oppression, in accordance to the
organizers belief that the secular democratic state is a framework to
defend everybody.s rights and to ensure full respect to all religions.
They didn.t officially reject the invitation and the task of building
cooperation with them is left for the follow up committee that was formed
in the conference.
Saturday full of Workshops
The real attraction in the conference was the workshops program, 3
workshops in parallel at each of 3 sessions. In the 9 workshops there were
41 registered contributors, in addition to the facilitators, all of them
leading activists and intellectuals. The list of participants. names, more
than 50 of them, on the invitation was a parade of support for the
conference, and it was probably the main reason why, while we initially
expected the second day of long discussions to have restricted
participation, we came Saturday morning and found the premises of elMidan
full with festive atmosphere, with many Palestinian activists from
different political movements and parties and from many civil society
organizations. There was a very significant presence of Jewish activists
as well, probably the widest participation in a Palestinian political
event ever (except, of course, mass demonstration, where everybody comes
but there.s not much interaction). There was also a significant presence
from international solidarity movements . most of them young activists
that volunteer in different programs to support the Palestinian people and
came on the weekend to Haifa to support the conference. All in all between
300 and 400 people took part in different workshops on Saturday, with
lively discussion about many aspects of the problem, the struggle and the
The enthusaistic atmosphere created the conditions for the most serious
discussion that characterized the workshops. The participants made their
best to clarify their positions, and the public took active part in the
discussion. Many different approaches were proposed, but it only
contributed the confidence that we can do important things together.
What Happened at the Conference?
Details of the Proceedings
I will not dare try to give here any short description of the contents of
some 20 hours of discussion in the workshops and full sessions. About half
of it was filmed and should go online anytime soon. We also requested all
the participants to write down their contributions, and some of it is
already on the conference.s site: www.ror1state.org. There are also
written contributions from many writers that could not make it to the
The full list of participants is on the invitation, and may be seen on the
website. To introduce each of them and write a little about their
experience in struggle or their writing or other achievements requires a
big book - only the internet can give practical answers to this task.
Palestinian Popular Festival
Some of the more sophisticated writers that attended the conference
promised to write special articles about the atmosphere that filled
elMidan, before going after the conference political and social contents.
It was all organized on the principle of a Palestinian popular festival .
covering for the lack of budget with the effort of tens of activists, like
the family in a wedding party, running around all the time to take care
for the guests. Tens of the participants from outside the area were
invited to be guests in the homes of local activists; Lunch was
traditional wedding.s home made food, and after 220 meals were served the
rest was contributed to a local welfare institution; Simultaneous
translation to Hebrew and English was done by political activists, and in
most cases more to the point than the mechanical translation of many
All Palestinian Gathering
The most important thing about the Haifa conference is its place as part
of an all Palestinian awakening for a new vision that will pose
alternatives to the dead end of the Imperialist-led fake .peace process..
The problem, the struggle and the solution are all common to all parts of
the Palestinian people, as was seen throughout the conference. It was
stressed in the workshop on ethnic cleansing exposing how it is practiced
by Zionism from before 1948 until these days, in the 1948 occupied
territories as well as in Gaza and the West Bank and the Syrian Golan. It
was clear from the concentration on the right of return of all Palestinian
refugees to all the areas from which they were expelled.
Even though only few Palestinians from the 67 occupied territories, mostly
from Jerusalem, could come to Haifa, the conference was part of a wider
movement: Ajras elAwda, one of the components of the initiating committee
is an all-Palestinian network. Ajras published a special magazine on the
occasion and distributed it in Palestinian refugee camps in Syria. Special
meetings are now taking place in Ramallah to promote the same ideas, and
in Haifa we listened to the written participation of Ahmad Katamesh from
Ramallah presenting his view toward the future democratic state in
Palestine. Salame Kelly, a leading Palestinian activist and Arab Marxist
from Syria, sent a speech on video that had to be part of the opening
ceremony (but we failed to show it due to technical problems).
The Palestinians in the 1948 territories
For a long time Palestinian in the territories who came under Israeli
control in 1948 were a smashed society, licking the wounds of the 1948
Nakba which included many massacres and the ethnic cleansing of the
majority of the population. Some tried to pursue a course of struggle for
equal rights within the Israeli context outside of a Palestinian national
perspective, but were always frustrated by Zionist systematic racism, that
defines the goal of the state as serving the .international Jewish
nation.. In the nineties of the last century, some tried to pose a
perspective of redefining Israel as a state of all its citizens. The Haifa
conference was an opportunity to examine in historic perspective all these
failed attempts at reforming the racist system, and propose a solution to
the suffering from Israeli Apartheid in the context of a comprehensive
solution to the Palestinian problem.
It was clear from the list of participants that the discussion of a
secular democratic state in Palestine is not confined to Abnaa elBalad,
which always promoted this solution, or to radical circles around it.
Salman Natur and Hisham Naffa from Hadash, as well as Dr. Mahmoud Muhareb
and Yael Lerer from Balad are just some of the more famous promoters of
the one state solution. But also the speeches of the secretary generals of
Hadash and Balad in the opening ceremony revealed a lot of soul searching
and internal conflicts in relation to this perspective. It would not be
far-fetched to conclude that there is a majority of Palestinians within
the 1948 territories that prefer the secular democratic state, while the
main reservation is about the practicality of posing this slogan at the
current stage, but there is also no much illusions left about any
practical solution to the Palestinian problem as long as the United State
and Israel are calling the shots.
The massive presence in the conference of activists from the Palestinian
civil society is another show of maturity of the society.s confrontation
with the harsh conditions of Israeli Apartheid. While there is a whole
class of people that dedicate their lives to caring for the daily needs of
the people, from education to health, to workers. rights, women.s rights,
economic and social development, culture and much else, almost nobody
expects solutions to those problems outside of a framework of political
change. We didn.t expect the local NGOS to take a clear political
position, and all participants were presenting their personal views on
their own responsibility. Ameer Makhoul from Ittijah, Union of Palestinian
community-based organizations - an umbrella organization for Palestinian
NGOs - was on the initiating committee from its onset, and we had the
participation of many leading personalities from NGOs covering most areas
of public lives.
The numbers are not the only measure, and we still didn.t process the
registration papers, but the participation of Jewish activists in the
conference was very obvious. They covered a whole rainbow from released
political prisoners, through different trends of the traditional left,
feminists, Oriental Jews (Arab Jews) activists, anarchists, anti war
activists, academics, religious activists for peace, democrats,
cosmopolitans and many more. But the most significant part was not their
presence but the way that they were integral part of the whole conference,
not as a separate entity trying to negotiate or to come to terms with a
separate Palestinian entity, but as part of a common gathering trying to
figure out a common future and how to bring it about.
The Concluding Declaration
When we finally arrived to the concluding plenary, we were not only tired
and much beyond the schedule, but it was also clear that the inputs of the
conference are too many and too important to try to conclude them in one
hour.s discussion. The initiating committee decided to present to the
participants the draft position paper on which we agreed after long
internal discussion, a paper named .The Jaffa Declaration. in tribute to
the city where the initiating committee was holding its meetings while it
was discussing the document through the first months of the year.
The Jaffa Declaration
The establishment of the Democratic Secular state in the whole of
Palestine is the positive solution that will accomplish justice and will
bring an end to the struggle on the Palestinian land as it:
1. Preserve the unity of the Palestinian people and their historic
connection to the Palestinian land.
2. Achieve the goals of the liberation struggle of all the
Palestinian people: The return of the refugees, freedom, equality and the
right of self determination.
3. Strip the Jewish presence in Palestine of its colonialist nature,
which is connected to the racist Zionist project, as a tool of imperialism
and global capitalism.
4. Be based on the principle of separation between religion and the
state, while assuring the freedom of believers in all religions to
practice their religion.
5. Assure full equality in the rights of all citizens without
discrimination on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity, gender,
nationality, class or any other reason.
The declaration was read to the public and received general approval as
the base for the concluding statement of the conference. Several important
comments were made by the public, mostly for additional positions, to be
added to the declaration.
Many of the participants asked to join the initiating committee, to form
together the follow up committee that will continue the work for these
goals after the conference. Hundreds of the participants signed up and
requested to be informed of the next steps.
(*) The writer is a member of the political bureau of Abnaa elBalad and
was active in the initiating committee of the Haifa conference