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Leila Khaled’s Keynote Speech

[delivered by Liza Maza at the International Festival of People’s Rights and Struggles Opening Program held on July 5, 2011 at the University of the Philippines Film Institute]

Comrades, Sisters and Brothers,

Thank you for inviting me to this conference. A special thanks for the organizers.

I’m here to tell you the story of our people, the Palestinians. The story of a people who were expelled by force from their country,Palestine, by the Zionist movement which, in 1948, established a state called “Israel” on the ruins of historicalPalestine. This expulsion, which we call the Nakba, meaning catastrophe, and the subsequent occupation, caused the disruption of Palestinian society. It inflicted untold suffering on Palestinians who were forced to live in refugee camps in different countries ever since. For 63 years, people have lived in miserable conditions, without independence, statehood or certainty about their future. This constitutes a crime against humanity which was committed in full view of the world community and with the collusion of theUnited Statesand European powers.

The 1948 usurpation of 78% of historical Palestine by the armed Zionist militias, that became Israel’s army, paved the way for the massive influx of Jewish settlers who replaced the native Palestinian inhabitants of the land.

Since the early 1900s, the Palestinians have been struggling to defend their land by popular uprisings and armed revolutions, without receiving any outside help. The international community only established a UN body called UNRWA which is responsible for aid to Palestinian refugees, meanwhile ignoring their right to return to their homeland.

In 1967, Israel occupied the remaining part of Palestine, again creating new waves of refugees, and keeping those Palestinians who remained under military occupation. Yet Palestinians were not daunted by this new occupation but continued to struggle. Women became more prominent in the struggle during this time, joining the armed resistance and later the broad mass struggles of the first and second intifadas. Through their participation in the struggle, they raised their social status and acquired more social rights, despite all their suffering and the atrocities inflicted by the Israeli occupation and its policies. The 1988 Palestinian Declaration of Independence confirmed that women have equal rights in society.

Today, thousands of women are sole provider for their families because of the death or imprisonment of their husbands. Many women have themselves been imprisoned and tortured; others were killed. Through all this, women have organized themselves in the General Union of Palestinian Women, political parties and other associations to continue the struggle for national liberation, and to help women and children acquire a better life and education.

To return to the occupation: The main goal of Israel’s policy is to confiscate more Palestinian land by building settlements and encouraging more settlers to move into them. This policy culminated in the construction of the Apartheid Wall which, along with the Israeli settlements, was declared illegal by the International Court of Justice. During all these years,Israelhas refused to abide by international law, including this ruling.

Combined with confiscating the land, the Israeli occupation has exercised harsh repression against Palestinians—imprisonment, deportation, curfews, sieges and a system of checkpoints and closures which prevents people from reaching their schools, jobs and medical facilities, as well as usurping water resources and destroying age old olive groves and other agricultural resources. All these policies are intended to make life so impossible for Palestinians that they will leave their land in desperation.

These policies reached an extreme in the four-year siege of Gaza, whereby one and a half million Palestinians are kept in a virtual open-air prison, denied basic goods and services, and cut off from international aid and solidarity.

Since 1967, one million Palestinians have been imprisoned by the occupation authorities. This is in line with a basic Israeli policy intended to break the Palestinians’ will to struggle for freedom. At present, there are 6,800 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails, including 450 children and 37 women. Of these, 130 have spent more than 25 years in jail. Many of them are administrative detainees who have never been brought to trial or presented with the evidence against them. On the other hand, others are sentenced in military courts which hand out long sentences, such as 9 consecutive life sentences, which is intended to frighten people away from struggling for their rights.

Torture is systematic in Israeli jails and legalized by an Israeli High Court ruling, making Israel the only country in the world where torture is legal in flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions.Israelhas ignored the many appeals to release Palestinian political prisoners, especially those among them who are sick. I call on this conference to add your voices to the appeal to release these prisoners, especially Ahmad Sa’adat of the PFLP, Marwan Barghouti of Fatah, and other leaders and members of parliament.

Over the years, the Palestinians have tried a broad range of means to regain their rights to return, self-determination and an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital, from popular struggle to negotiations, but Israel has refused any kind of solution to the conflict.Israelpretends to want peace but its policies actually prevent peace.Israelhas deliberately stalled negotiations in order to buy time to confiscate more land and build more settlements.

We are the victims of occupation. We are the ones who need peace, a peace built on justice that restores our rights. We call for an international conference sponsored by the United Nations to implement its resolutions dealing with the Palestinian cause, first and foremost Resolution 194, which calls for the return of Palestinian refugees to their homeland, because self-determination can only be exercised in one’s homeland. Our vision for the future is to build a democratic state inPalestine, where all citizens would have the same rights and duties, regardless of religion, ethnic identity or gender.

Comrades, sisters and brothers, I call upon you to express your solidarity with the Palestinian people by joining the growing international BDS movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel. I would like discuss with you about any BDS activities going on in thePhilippines, and hear your opinions about the possibilities for your initiating such activities.

Let’s globalize the struggle to face imperialism and its allies, and to confront globalization.

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