Review: Palestine Expo London

PEXPO

All walks of life came togeth­er last week­end at Palestine Expo held in the heart of Lon­don. Organ­ised by the UK non-profit organ­isa­tion Friends of Al-Aqsa (FOA) it was the debut of the largest event of its kind in Europe. Two days of cel­eb­rat­ing Palestini­an her­it­age and cul­ture but also more import­antly to acknow­ledge and dis­cuss the effects of the severe mil­it­ary occu­pa­tion and apartheid Palestine is cur­rently for­cibly under by the Israeli mil­it­ary, and has been for sev­er­al years.  With over 15,000 attendees of diverse back­grounds, this event was clearly a huge suc­cess.

It felt extra spe­cial to be hos­ted in the heart of Lon­don at the Queen Eliza­beth Con­fer­ence Centre, over five floors of pan­el dis­cus­sions, speeches on human rights in Palestine, music, dance, food and activ­it­ies, there was some­thing for all the fam­ily. Only a stone throw from the Houses of Par­lia­ment it was also iron­ic as this year marks 100 years since the Balfour declar­a­tion, but also a remind­er that gov­ern­ing bod­ies do not always rep­res­ent the people they stand for.

There was a long list of bril­liant inter­na­tion­ally renowned guest speak­ers who each gave very mov­ing talks of their own per­son­al exper­i­ences backed up with fac­tu­al inform­a­tion. On a very com­plex and layered issue. I liked how each talk addressed some­thing spe­cific and was very focused on a par­tic­u­lar area. I learnt a lot. Some­thing new for me was hear­ing how illeg­al set­tle­ments are often fun­ded by char­it­able organ­isa­tions who may not declare where their funds are going. It was also very heart warm­ing to see all the lec­ture rooms so full, people had to end up stand­ing at the back or sit­ting on the floor. Some of the many top­ics covered included, ‘Women of Occu­pa­tion’, ‘The ori­gins of Zion­ism’, ‘Why Jews for Justice for Palestini­ans’ and ‘Gaza: 10 years of Israeli siege’. There were also a few talks on what we can do in terms of act­iv­ism to sup­port Palestini­ans and spe­cific advice for stu­dent groups.

Iyad Burnat, who leads the ‘Friends for Freedom in Bil’in’ and ‘Bil’in Pop­ular Com­mit­tee again­st the Wall’ gave a very emo­tion­al talk. I had been humbled to vis­ited him home a few months ago dur­ing my stay in Palestine so I was some­what aware of the crush­ing occu­pa­tion he has to endure on a daily basis. He told us every time he leaves Palestine for his act­iv­ism work the Israeli mil­it­ary attack his fam­ily home and five chil­dren in the vil­lage of Bil’in, they have been attacked over 20 times. On his recent trip to New York to speak at the United Nations, Iyad’s son was shot mul­tiple times and whil­st he was receiv­ing treat­ment he was arres­ted so his heal­ing was dis­rup­ted. It was a very power­ful talk which had us all won­der­ing about his family’s safety at that moment he was in Lon­don to talk to us. This is a well known tac­tic of the occu­pa­tion, where fam­il­ies espe­cially the chil­dren of act­iv­ists are tar­geted so they do not speak out of fear of intim­id­a­tion. I have much respect for him know­ing his fam­ily are in danger but the import­ance of his travel around the world to speak his truth, which is often manip­u­lated by the media as a form of ‘ter­ror­ism’.  His talk was fol­lowed by a stand­ing ova­tion, it was extremely mov­ing.

Another speak­er who made it hard to hold back tears was Malaka Mohammed, run­ning from talk to talk. A stu­dent ori­gin­ally from Gaza spoke about her every­day exper­i­ence of grow­ing up under the occu­pa­tion where the sounds of war­planes and drones is just back­ground noise to the chil­dren and the dif­fi­culties of try­ing to leave Gaza to pur­sue an edu­ca­tion in the UK. Obstacles included closed bor­der cross­ings, mil­it­ary har­ass­ment and hav­ing to apply for mul­tiple visas. The Rafah bor­der is only open once or twice a month and on the day Malaka tried to cross the mil­it­ary decided to not allow any stu­dents to cross, des­pite this Malaka was determ­ined to try and formed a stu­dent protest at the bor­der where the mil­it­ary then allowed only 30 stu­dents to cross, at first Malaka’s name was not called, but as a stroke of luck the last per­son called was not present and Malaka’s was allowed to cross as the last per­son. Hav­ing made it to Shef­field uni­ver­sity, Malaka then spoke about the resent­ment she has faced liv­ing here being accused of anti-semit­ism for speak­ing out again­st injustices to Palestini­ans and her fam­ily. Of course speak­ing out for human rights does not make you anti-Semit­ic, but this is yet anotheunnamed (6)r tac­tic employed by the pro-Zion­ist lobby. Des­pite facing con­tin­ued dif­fi­culties, Malaka said she felt priv­ileged to now be in the UK and is determ­ined not to give up her act­iv­ism work, her strength and cour­age is such an inspir­a­tion and she is a strong role mod­el for women every­where. Much respect.

The cul­tur­al side of Palestine was not for­got­ten, as the occu­pa­tion also tries to deny Palestine as has cul­ture of it’s own. The group ‘Fursaan’ who per­formed a tra­di­tion­al Palestini­an dance known as, Dub­ka was so full, the per­form­ance was inter­rup­ted when one of the staff came to ask those stand­ing to leave the room due to health and safety issues as there was too much over­crowding and the per­form­ance had to be repeated so every­one could get a chance to see it.

There was also a floor of a mar­ket place with a vast array of Palestini­an and middle east­ern goods for sale, Kuf­fiayehs, dates, Oud, mod­est cloth­ing, lit­er­at­ure and of course halal sweets for the kids. Here you could find many human rights organ­isa­tions and char­it­ies sup­port­ing Palestine, such as Inter­pal, and Stop the War Coali­tion, Mer­cy Mis­sion as well as groups organ­ising trips for tree plant­ing and the holy pil­grim­age to Al-Aqsa. There were many inde­pend­ent busi­nesses selling their goods. One of the my favour­ites from the mar­ket place was the jew­ellery made out of olive wood from Beth­le­hem. Unique designs it’s a won­der­ful way to stand in solid­ar­ity with Palestine and dorn some­thing beau­ti­ful.

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I also bought a box of the ‘Holy Dates’, dates from Jericho where profits go towards build­ing orphan­ages in Jer­u­s­alem. These dates are not only deli­cious but also money going towards a good cause. I stopped here to dis­cuss our exper­i­ences of trav­el­ing to Palestine with one of the stall hold­ers as I noticed his, ‘Straight out­ta Palestine’ hood­ie. Fra­grance of the falafel was enough to entice any­one to join the long queue for some­thing to eat in the food court.

The even­ing saw a sold out per­form­ance by the first lady of Hip Hop Shadia Man­sour who is Palestini­an her­self and comedi­an Aamer Rah­man.

Sur­pris­ingly there wasn’t an over­whelm­ing police pres­ence which I feel would have over­shad­owed the event. Every­one was very friendly as we were all here for the same reas­on, it was easy to exchange a smile and start a con­ver­sa­tion. All in all I felt there was a very pleas­ant atmo­sphere of pos­it­iv­ity and good vibes.

This event went ahead, des­pite efforts from vari­ous hate groups with false alleg­a­tions and slander, that this event was preach­ing anti-Semit­ic con­tent, sev­er­al of the speak­ers were in fact them­selves Jew­ish, as were some of the exhib­it hold­ers. This is a clev­er tac­tic often used by the pro-Zion­ist lobby, I spoke to the hand­ful (less than 6) pro­test­ers out­side the huge event to inquire about their feel­ings on the event and sur­pris­ingly they told me they would be open to attend them­selves if it wasn’t for cer­tain speak­ers when I asked whom, they handed me a leaf­let of ‘quotes’ clearly mis­quoted and taken out of con­text. There def­in­itely seemed to be a mis­un­der­stand­ing of what the event was actu­ally about, but with the lack of sup­port for the oppos­ing side showed to me the under­stand­ing of the truth is far great­er and grow­ing. The Palestine Expo was in fact a very enjoy­able, pos­it­ive and uplift­ing exper­i­ence.

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It was very reas­sur­ing to see such a massive turnout of a vari­ety of people inter­ested in what’s going on. This event can only grow, I am already look­ing for­ward to the next one. Much love to Friends of Al Aqsa and all the organ­izers! The road to justice is nev­er easy. To all those who say I can’t make a dif­fer­ence or I can’t change things, WE can — this event went ahead des­pite vari­ous efforts to have it shut down and slandered with false alleg­a­tions, and that IS pro­gress, res­ist­ance and HOPE. The take home mes­sage for me from this event espe­cially after see­ing the diversity of the dis­cus­sion pan­el was not to be afraid to stand up and speak out, our voices togeth­er can amp­li­fy the urgent need for justice and even­tu­ally we will be heard.

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Faizah Cyanide

Faizah Cyanide

Faizah works in clin­ic­al research by pro­fes­sion and has been an avid Hip Hop lov­er since the early 90’s, hav­ing cre­ated her own Hip Hop event, ‘Break­in’ Bound­ar­ies’ in the early 2000’s which was pre­dom­in­antly based around the con­cept of bboy battles, she has worked with sev­er­al inter­na­tion­al events pro­moters and dan­cers to inspire oth­ers through this art­form.

About Faizah Cyanide

Faizah Cyanide
Faizah works in clinical research by profession and has been an avid Hip Hop lover since the early 90's, having created her own Hip Hop event, 'Breakin' Boundaries' in the early 2000's which was predominantly based around the concept of bboy battles, she has worked with several international events promoters and dancers to inspire others through this artform.