SOME 34 people joined the delegation to Palestine, united around the common theme of action against war and for peace. We came together from mosques, trade unions, universities, schools and the voluntary sector to see the conditions in the Palestinian refugee camps for ourselves.
Palestinian authorities extended an official invitation to our group as a result of our campaigns to twin the town of Preston with the Palestinian city of Nablus, and the University of Liverpool with Bir Zeit University on the West Bank.
The Preston campaign was led by Respect councillor Michael Lavalette. Ultimately it proved unsuccessful, losing by a narrow margin of ten votes on the council.
But a 500-strong meeting of Liverpool students warmly endorsed twinning their university with Bir Zeit. We are all determined to press ahead with such solidarity campaigns.
The delegation heard from former prisoners about the conditions in Israeli prisons—for adult and child prisoners alike. We also spoke to representatives of the campaign to free Marwan Barghouti, the Palestinian MP held without charge by Israel for the past two years.
We heard of the struggle to educate school and university students in a land where students are frequently prevented from attending classes by curfews and Israeli checkpoints. We heard of efforts to build trade unions at a time when half the Palestinian workforce is unemployed.
The delegation was taken around refugee camps in Ramallah and Nablus. Ordinary Palestinians invited delegates into their homes and told them of their murdered children, family members and friends.
We also visited Yasser Arafat in the compound where the Israeli government has imprisoned him for the last four years.
Some of us visited Hebron, one of the most tense areas within the West Bank. Israeli settlers have built and occupied around 300 homes in the town.
Israeli soldiers stopped us at every turn, and our delegation only gained access to the mosque because they held British passports and werehelped by a group of international observers.
The delegation also visited the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, and Israel’s apartheid wall, which cuts across the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.
We added slogans to the graffiti on the wall: “Respect for Palestinians”, “Preston supports Palestine” and “FBU against the wall”.
We met Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear scientist turned peace activist, in his sanctuary at St George’s Cathedral.
Vanunu’s quiet dignity and resolution to continue his fight touched us very deeply. Councillors from Preston vowed to launch a campaign to grant Vanunu the freedom of the city.
The north west delegation reflected the diversity and strength of the anti-war movement in Britain. The fact that we were Muslims, Christians, socialists and trade unionists working together impressed the Palestinians we met.
Everyone returned from Palestine with a renewed commitment to fight for peace and social justice.
Our group is putting together a film of the visit, and we are only too happy to speak about our experiences at public events.
For speakers, or for details of how to start a twinning campaign, phone Michael Lavalette on 07739 729214