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London’s Palestine Expo defies smear campaign attracting more than 15,000

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“No-one will ever silence me, and I will speak my mind,” says 16-year-old Leanne Mohamad, a British-Palestinian activist, to enthusiastic applause at the Palestine Expo.

“At school, when I was studying geography of the Middle East, Palestine was never mentioned. In history it was never mentioned, in religious studies, it was never mentioned. That’s why Palestinians describe themselves often as the forgotten people.”

“I stand before you today as evidence that children will never forget.”

Mohamad’s speech on Saturday summed up the passion, sumud and strength of the rising generations in both the UK and Palestine during Europe’s largest cultural event on Palestine.

The event that Britain’s Israel lobby tried to ban attracted some 16,000 people over two days. Coordinated by the UK non-profit organization Friends of Al-Aqsa, the event was located within Britain’s political hub, Westminster, in the publicly owned Queen Elizabeth II Centre.

Held on five floors, activities included traditional Palestinian dabke, Palestinian cooking demonstrations, spoken word, film, interactive installations, a large market-place, a food hall and other events.

Speeches and panel discussions in the main auditorium explored themes such as Why Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Gaza, the Power of Social Media and Women of Occupation. The evening saw sold-out performances by comedian Aamer Rahman, Palestinian rapper Shadia Mansour and a young dance group from Nazareth.

Comedian Aamer Rahman from Fear of the Brown Planet performs at the Palestine Expo, London. (Photo: Lydia Noon)

Palestinian-British musician Shadia Mansour performs at the Palestine Expo, London. (Photo: Lydia Noon)

The timing of the event was not coincidental. This year marks a series of devastating anniversaries for Palestinians: a hundred years since the Balfour Declaration, 50 years of Israeli occupation and 10 years of the Israeli government’s blockade on Gaza.

Only three weeks ago, Sajid Javid, Conservative MP and Communities Secretary, threatened to ban the event from taking place because of Friends of Al-Aqsa’s alleged support for Hamas, the ruling party in Gaza. On 14 June, Javid wrote to the organizers telling them that he was “minded” to cancel Palestine Expo. After threats of legal action by Friends of Al-Aqsa’s chair Ismail Patel, Javid’s department had a change of heart on June 27, saying that he was “content” to let it take place.

Only the night before the opening of the event, a group of four Conservative MPs, former Iraq War commander Tim Collins, and the chairman of the Campaign Against Antisemitism condemned the invitation of South African cleric Ebrahim Bham to speak and called on Prime Minister Theresa May to stop government buildings being used by “groups which oppose our values and ideals.”

Despite talk of a large anti-Palestine protest outside the venue, only a handful of demonstrators turned up from around 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., brandishing a large Israeli flag and a megaphone between them, they shouted ‘there’s apartheid in there’ [the venue] and said that those attending were ‘Assad supporters’.

Rather than put people off, punters told Mondoweiss that attempts to cancel the event and intimidate ticket-holders had simply encouraged them to attend in solidarity.

“I heard about this event through Friends of Al-Aqsa,” said Nabila, sitting in a cafe near the entrance with her husband, drinking tea.

“I’m involved with them in Bradford. I’m a teacher and the younger generation need to know about Palestine. It’s amazing they’ve been able to pull this together–only 10 days ago, they didn’t know if it would go ahead. Events like this can bring us all together, different religions, cultures, ages and backgrounds.”

As ticket-holders came through the doors, they were greeted with dates, Arabic coffee and biscuits.

“It’s a nice atmosphere, very friendly and relaxed,” said Malcolm Finch from Bournemouth. “I used to live in South Africa and the same arguments were used there to justify apartheid. Now I campaign for Palestine on social media.”

Palestine is still the issue

The first panel of the event was entitled “From Balfour to Apartheid.” Author and academic Professor Virginia Tilley spoke about apartheid and its effects in South Africa. She defined apartheid as: “when the state becomes the guardian of the system of racism.”

Tilley criticized the ideology of the two-state solution by explaining that if there are two states, then one state remains an apartheid state.

“They called this ‘grand apartheid’ in South Africa–an extension of apartheid. The correct solution was to take away divided South Africa and bring it back together for everyone to live in,” she said.

John Pilger. (Photo: Lydia Noon)

Big names such as John Pilger and professor Ilan Pappe drew the largest crowds. People stood at the back and sat on the floor of the auditorium as they spoke. They both lamented the so-called “peace process”–that provoked more frustration rather than less–and the West’s inability to understand the Palestinian issue.

Pilger spoke about the recent UN report that was quickly withdrawn after the author concluded that Israel was an apartheid state. He spoke of the outrage voiced at Israel being called an apartheid state, not because of the crime of apartheid but because someone had the courage to speak out about it.

Pappe said that people would understand the Palestine issue if they stopped focusing on the occupation and apartheid of today but went back to 1948, when Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes and the state of Israel was created. He said that 1948 is totally absent in the Palestine peace process and in most academic institutions, but it must be acknowledged for there to be a solution. And only if people go back to 1948, he continued, can the Balfour Declaration be understood.  

The Palestine Expo aimed to do just this in its weekend program of talks and interactive activities: to link the everyday reality of the occupation and the siege on Gaza to 1948 and to Balfour declaration in 1917.

Britain’s dark legacy

A short film called “Balfour Road” premiered at the event on Saturday. The film is part of UK-based advocacy organization Palestinian Return Centre’s Balfour Apology Campaign.

The Palestinian Return Centre started the campaign in 2013, calling upon the UK government to officially apologize for its past colonial crimes in Palestine and the legacy of these crimes, which are still evident today. In October 2016, the organization relaunched this campaign and a petition in the Houses of Parliament ahead of the 100th anniversary of the declaration in November 2017.

The government responded to the petition calling for the UK to apologize for the Balfour Declaration in May in a statement on the UK Government and Parliament website,

“The Balfour Declaration is an historic statement for which HMG does not intend to apologize. We are proud of our role in creating the State of Israel. The task now is to encourage moves towards peace.”  

The film is based in 2017 Britain and sees a London family evicted from their home and forced to live in their garden behind barbed wire. It switches between the past and present as the then Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour pens the short declaration to Lord Rothschild.

Film director Anas Alkarmi said that the decision to base the film in modern-day Britain was in order to relate to a UK audience, many of whom are not aware of the Balfour Declaration. The film incorporates themes of Palestinian displacement, settlements and occupation to increase understanding of how Balfour has affected Palestinians over the last 100 years.

Salah, of the Balfour Apology Campaign, said that it is the responsibility of the UK government to apologize.

“The government said no but we won’t lose hope. We will be relaunching our petition and calling on people to sign it and we will show it to MPs in parliament. This film is part of a campaign which we will continue for years. We will not give up,” he said

The Nazareth dance group performs at the Palestine Expo. (Photo: Lydia Noon)

The “olive tree of hope” on display at the Palestine Expo. (Photo: Lydia Noon)


It isn’t just the older people calling for an apology. Palestine’s younger generation has a fire in its belly. During her speech, Leanne Mohamad also called for an apology for the Balfour Declaration.

“We deserve recognition of our state. We deserve an apology from the British state and we deserve political freedom’ said the young activist, wearing Palestinian traditional dress and a Palestinian kaffiyeh,” she said.

Mohamad is even younger than the group that Friends of Al-Aqsa are focusing its energies on #GenerationPalestine, the 18 to 30-year-olds catered for in the Palestine Expo’s Student Hub. Speakers such as outgoing President of NUS Malia Bouattia, journalist Ben White and NUS Black Students officer Ilyas Nagdee spoke on the student movement and campus activism over the weekend.

Findings from a YouGov poll commissioned in May by Palestine Solidarity Campaign show that 18 to 24-year-olds and 25 to 49-year-olds are four to five times as likely to support Palestinian rights than older people.

The Labour surge in Britain’s recent general election was achieved in part due to young people’s support of its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, a long-standing supporter of Palestinian rights. The terror attacks in London and Manchester during the election campaign provoked discussion of foreign policy in the Middle East and criticism of the Conservative government for selling weapons to unscrupulous regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Israel.

The youth political movement is growing and as such, more young people than ever are becoming engaged with international issues.

In this anniversary year, it is imperative that Britain’s weakened government doesn’t simply atone for its historical meddling in Palestine, but that it is made accountable for its continuing support of the Israeli government at the expense of freedom and justice for the Palestinians.   

Events like the Palestine Expo opposite the Houses of Parliament are symbolically and actively bringing Palestine back into the UK’s public and political consciousness.

Lydia Noon

Lydia Noon is a freelance journalist currently based in Bethlehem.

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19 Responses

  1. echinococcus on July 10, 2017, 4:56 pm

    We deserve an apology from the British state

    An apology is nice but has no great resale value.
    Corrective action by the culprit is worth much more.

    By rights the UK government should be required to expel the invaders from Palestine.

  2. JosephA on July 11, 2017, 12:24 am

    Glad to hear the event was a success!

  3. Paranam Kid on July 11, 2017, 8:46 am

    “The Balfour Declaration is an historic statement for which HMG does not intend to apologize. We are proud of our role in creating the State of Israel. The task now is to encourage moves towards peace.”

    And to think that Balfour himself was an antisemite, who drew up the Declaration for antisemitic reasons: he did not want all those Jews from central & eastern Europe coming into Britain.

    So, in good Hasbara style, Britain has twisted the facts into alternative to fabricate a beautiful, but totally mendacious narrative.

    What’s more, that so-called task now to encourage moves towards peace is too little too late. Why did “noble” Britain, directly & indirectly responsible for a most of the mess in the Middle East, wait till now to “start” that task? What peace has been brought to the Palestinians so far anyway?

    The Balfour Declaration did NOT create israel, neither did the UN, resolution 181 did NOT authorise partition of Palestine, it only recommended it. israel intentionally abused 181 to create its state. israel never had the intention to share Palestine: the zionists’ objective has always been to grab ALL of Palestine, as well as Lebanon & Jordan, as is now clear from declassified National Archive documents stored in Kew.

    • MHughes976 on July 11, 2017, 11:07 am

      See Brian Klug ‘The Other Arthur Balfour’, an extract from one of his books posted on the Balfour Project website on July 8, 2013. Klug notes B’s frequently expressed admiration for Jewish people and his efforts to protect British Jews against petty discrimination alongside his support for the first round of UK immigration laws, which did arise from an anti-Jewish scare and which set the tone for other immigration scares right up to today. Like Klug I think that we can’t really call him an anti-Semite. He was certainly a Christian Zionist by religious conviction,
      The celebrations of the Declaration later this year will certainly be rather horrible.

      • Paranam Kid on July 12, 2017, 3:58 am

        He admired them so much that he did not want them to come to Britain. Furthermore, at the time of his declaration he knew that legally it was null & void since Britain had no jurisdiction in Palestine. So the basis for channeling the Jews to Palestine away from Britain cannot have been motivated by anything else than antisemitism.

    • Misterioso on July 11, 2017, 7:19 pm

      @Panama Kid

      Well said!!

      The Balfour Declaration did not promise “to support the creation of a homeland for the Jews in Palestine.” It viewed “with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish peoples and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this objective….”

      A “national home” is neither a “homeland’ nor a state.

      When the Balfour Declaration was issued, Palestine was still a province of the Ottoman Empire. Hence, by promising to “facilitate” the creation of a “national home for the Jewish peoples” in Palestine, The Balfour Declaration violated the well established legal maxim, “Nemo dat quod non habet” (nobody can give what he does not possess.)

      In discussing the legal basis for the creation of Israel, the highly respected American lawyer and diplomat Sol Linowitz wrote: “…the [Balfour] Declaration was legally impotent. For Great Britain had no sovereign rights over Palestine; it had no proprietary interest; it had no authority to dispose of the land. The Declaration was merely a statement of British intentions and no more.” (Sol M. Linowitz, “Analysis of a Tinderbox: The Legal Basis for the State of Israel.” American Bar Association Journal XLlll l957, pp.522-3)

      Even Chaim Weizmann knew the Declaration had no legal status: “The Balfour Declaration of 1917 was built on air.” (Quoted by Mallison, “The Balfour Declaration,” in The transformation of Palestine: essays on the Origin and Development of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, ed. by Abu-Lughold; Northwestern University Press, 1971 p. 85)

      It should also be noted that although the Allies managed to have the Balfour Declaration mentioned after World War 1 in the aborted Treaty of Sevres, there is no mention of it in the final treaty that was signed with the Turks at Lausanne on July 24, 1923. This is important in international law because Turkey did not agree to the idea of a “Jewish national home” in Palestine when it surrendered sovereignty to Britain.

      By incorporating the Balfour Declaration the 1922 League of Nations British Class A mandate for Palestine did facilitate Jewish immigration to “secure the establishment of the Jewish National Home,” but it did not call for the creation of a sovereign Jewish state or homeland in Palestine or any form of partition. This was made very clear in the Churchill Memorandum (1 July 1922) regarding the British Mandate: “[T]he status of all citizens of Palestine in the eyes of the law shall be Palestinian, and it has never been intended that they, or any section of them, should possess any other juridical status.”

      Furthermore, regarding the British Mandate, as approved by the Council of the League of Nations, the British government declared: “His Majesty’s Government therefore now declare unequivocally that it is not part of their policy that Palestine should become a Jewish State.” (Command Paper, 1922)

      To make it absolutely clear, in May 1939, the British government issued the MacDonald White Paper, which in accordance with the Mandate, ruled out any possibility of a Jewish state, and declared Great Britain “could not have intended Palestine should be converted into a Jewish state against the will of the Arab population of the country.” It called for a Palestinian state in which Jews and Arabs would govern jointly based on a constitution to be drafted by their representatives and those of Britain. The constitution would safeguard the “Jewish National Home” in Palestine and if good relations developed between Jews and Arabs, the country would be granted independence in ten years. Land sales to Jews were to be restricted and the annual level of Jewish immigration was to be limited to 15,000 for five years, following which, Palestinian Arab acquiescence would be required.

      Hence, consistent with the terms of its Class A Mandate and the MacDonald White Paper, Britain abstained on the UNGA vote regarding the recommendatory only Nov. 29/47 Partition Plan.

      • Paranam Kid on July 12, 2017, 4:22 am

        Jonathan R. Hammond wrote an excellent essay on this entitled “The myth of the UN creation of Israel”. A few HMG quotes from that essay:

        “Following the issuance of the UNSCOP report, the U.K. issued a statement declaring its agreement with the report’s recommendations, but adding that “if the Assembly should recommend a policy which is not acceptable to both Jews and Arabs, the United Kingdom
        Government would not feel able to implement it”.”

        “The U.K. followed with a statement reiterating “that His Majesty’s Government could not play a major part in the implementation of a scheme that was not acceptable to both Arabs and Jews”.”

        “A sub-committee to Ad Hoc Committee on the Palestinian Question was established by the General Assembly shortly after the issuance of the UNSCOP report in order to continue to study the problem and make recommendations. It found that “the General Assembly
        is not competent to recommend, still less to enforce, any solution other than the recognition of the independence of Palestine, and that the settlement of the future government of Palestine is a matter solely for the people of Palestine”.”

        “It [the sub-committee] concluded further that the partition plan was “contrary to the principles of the Charter, and the United Nations have no power to give effect to it.” The U.N. could not deprive the majority of the people of Palestine of their territory and transfer it to the exclusive use of a minority in the country…. The United Nations Organization has no power to create a new State. Such a decision can only be taken by the free will of the people of the territories in question. That condition is not fulfilled in the case of the majority proposal, as it involves the establishment of a Jewish State in complete disregard of the wishes and interests of the Arabs of Palestine.”

        “Nevertheless, the General Assembly passed Resolution 181.”

        The only conclusion possible here (not quoting now): israel was created fraudulently by intentionally misinterpreting & abusing Res. 181. And what is sickening is that the rest of the world was persuaded by the zionists of the disingenuous interpretation of 181, and eventually recognised the country because of the Holocaust, another heavily abused subject. But the zionists did not stop there, they are even arguing they are entitled to all of Palestine, and do not even accept the Palestinian Arabs as a distinct ethnic group, and therefore do not recognise their right of self-determination. israel was recognised because of the terrible things that had been done to the Jews by the Nazis, but those same jews (except the noble, real Jews) have tweaked, fine-tuned, then implemented many of those Nazi policies against the Palestinians, incl. genocide (albeit incrementally, as Ilan Pappé calls it).

  4. Jane Porter on July 11, 2017, 9:03 am

    Oh yes, I wish I could have attended too!

  5. lonely rico on July 11, 2017, 9:09 am

    The photo of Leanne Mohamad evokes memory of her moving speech “Birds not Bombs” –

    It also, less felicitously, evokes memories of the ugly Zionist reaction, smearing this beautiful young woman, who dared to speak the truth about Palestine.

  6. bevkrell on July 11, 2017, 9:36 am

    This highly anticipated which was touch and go at one point was a resounding success and attended by people of all religions. My one criticism was that many of the speakers overlapped on Saturday which led us to missing them. John Pilger was riveting, Ronnie Barkan the same. Inas Abbad showed the pain and anger of being subjected to a occupation where the children were taught on the ring fenced concrete playground and their journey’s to and from school being arduous. Miko Pelod was his excellent self not mincing his words.
    We thought we’d be running the gauntlet of Zionist groups but there numbers didn’t pass 20. The usual suspects of Hoffman and Collier were politely escorted out after after trying to provoke well known Jewish activists. One Jason Rich entered with a bodycam wanting a fight but he was removed from the scene.

    • aloeste on July 11, 2017, 5:32 pm

      better 20,000 demonstrating in UK and a million ‘settlers’ in Yesha….

      • Talkback on July 12, 2017, 9:45 am

        aloeste, we all know that you are less interested in justice and more in war crimes. Anything else you have learned from the Nuremberg trials besides charge “J. Germanization of occupied territories”?

      • eljay on July 12, 2017, 10:08 am

        || aloeste: better 20,000 demonstrating in UK and a million ‘settlers’ in Yesha…. ||

        The Zionist mindset on display: Better one million people doing evil than 20,000 fighting it.

  7. RoHa on July 12, 2017, 6:06 am

    Here’s another article by Pilger. It mentions a Palestinian cultural centre, but makes no mention of King Herod.

  8. Ossinev on July 12, 2017, 6:57 am

    “This was made very clear in the Churchill Memorandum (1 July 1922) regarding the British Mandate: “[T]he status of all citizens of Palestine in the eyes of the law shall be Palestinian, and it has never been intended that they, or any section of them, should possess any other juridical status.”

    Wait a minute I thought according to the Zioscript Palestine and the Palestinians never existed. Shurely shome mistake ?

  9. Kay24 on July 12, 2017, 4:47 pm

    It is very nice to see that thousands of people showed up to show their support for the Palestinian people. It is high time the world did.

  10. inbound39 on July 13, 2017, 8:45 am

    Given the efforts of Zionists to shut down the Palestinian Event it was interesting listening to the American News service talking about Russian interference in the recent election. It was stated in those newscasts that it is illegal for Foreign Governments to interfere in elections in the US. That being the case questions need to be asked as to why Israel gets away with interfering and why Netanyahu is allowed to interfere in Congress.

    • Keith on July 13, 2017, 9:55 am

      INBOUND39- “That being the case questions need to be asked as to why Israel gets away with interfering and why Netanyahu is allowed to interfere in Congress.”

      Better ask it fast before they pass a law (as in Europe) making it illegal to criticize Israel because doing so is anti-Semitic. You criticize power at your own peril.

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