Reem contributed these opening remarks to a panel discussion
My parents fled from Palestine in the early 1950s, soon after the establishment of the state of Israel. I was born in Manchester, where my father studied to become a doctor, and I grew up in Kuwait.
It was in Kuwait that I learned to be a Palestinian and to give my solidarity to my people suffering in and outside Palestine. I organised and performed in fundraisers in support of Medical Aid for Palestinians. Kuwait is where the PLO was born.
I first sang in public at the age of 4. I sang a song about Jerusalem and many in the audience burst into tears. “Mama, mama, I cried: they don’t like my singing”. And the whole assembly switched suddenly into laughter. The performance had taken place weeks after the Arab-Israel war in 1967, and they were hurting over the loss of Jerusalem.
Fast forward to today and the cause of justice for the Palestinians is in danger, in the UK at least, of being permanently kicked into touch, to a point where ordinary people fear to show their solidarity. In the Labour party and in the media, a McCarthy-ite witch-hunt of Israel’s critics is ongoing.
Over the past decade, we have seen a rise in support for Palestinians across British society. The Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) movement has been winning popular support, and this has led to Israel’s increasing moral, if not political and economic isolation. For the first time in decades, one of our two major parties has a leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who is an anti-Zionist.
In response, the Israel Lobby has worked hard to taint anyone embracing the Palestinian cause with the stain of anti-Semitism. And in this, the Lobby has been abetted by the media and by the BBC in particular, which have allowed many to infer that anti-Zionism is something dirty and racist. In part they have achieved this by not representing the fact of a principled Jewish voice of anti-Zionism.
The Israel-Palestine conflict may be coloured today in a religious veneer, but it is something very different, at its core. Zionism is a colonial adventure, which involved and involves the occupation of Palestine and the expulsion of the indigenous Palestinian peoples by foreign settlers.
For me, political Islam is in itself a threat to Palestine. My work celebrates Palestine’s rich culture, encompassing as it does Muslims, Druze, Christian Palestinians, Armenians, Samaritan Jews and others besides. I don’t want to liberate Palestine only to find that it is a state for one kind of Muslim, and in which we are condemned to forget our distinctive cultural heritage.
Looking back through history, most Jews were killed for being Jews by their Christian neighbours and overlords: viz. the Inquisition in 15th century Spain, the pogroms in eastern Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Nazi Holocaust. By contrast, they lived in comparative security in the Middle East.
Decent people should freely acknowledge the horrific crimes which have been perpetrated against the Jewish people. Over and beyond that, history should best be left to the historians, and campaigners for Palestine should not give Israel’s apologists any grounds for reproach.
The British media focuses on the official bodies of the Jewish community, including the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council, the Zionist Federation, the Community Security Trust. They largely ignore the hundreds, if not thousands of British Jews who are anti-Zionist.
Jewish anti-Zionists are, in my experience, among the most self-sacrificing campaigners in support of rights for the Palestinians. At the same time, many of them are proud Jews. I salute their courage and their solidarity.