SOME 400 delegates gathered in Ramallah on 27 December for the World Social Forum on Palestine. Encircled by Israeli roadblocks and checkpoints, Ramallah feels distant from Bethlehem and Jerusalem, let alone the world beyond the West Bank.
Yet for all their physical isolation, Palestinians know that they are at the eye of a global storm. The colours of the Palestinian flag can be seen on anti-war and anti-capitalist protests the world over.
The Ramallah forum was proposed by Palestinian organisations and held in partnership with the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. European delegations included representatives from the Italian metal workers' union Fiom, and the French anti-globalisation movement ATTAC. Belgian and Spanish participants were arrested by the Israeli authorities at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, but eventually made their way to Ramallah.
A Filipino delegation was also stopped at the airport and refused entry. Debates throughout the conference showed both the hunger for new ideas and the frustration of political life under occupation and curfew. Randa Sinioria from the human rights organisation Al Haq gave a detailed presentation on Israel's violations of UN resolutions.
But for some in the audience, trying to enforce respect for international conventions seemed like a lost cause. 'International laws are tools of the great powers,' argued one Palestinian delegate. 'They are applied to Iraq, but not to Israel.'
'No one ever talks about Israel's weapons of mass destruction,' said another. Palestinian and international speakers called for a massive mobilisation to stop war on Iraq.