One extremely positive aspect of the recent Istanbul Al-Quds International Forum is that it took place at all, despite Israeli pressures. It had been known from the beginning that Israel was not happy about any activity that might disrupt the music of the Annapolis orchestra.
Despite the Erdogan government’s relative strength in resisting the Israeli pressure, however, it was observed that the lack of any official Turkish government representation at the opening of the conference could be interpreted as meaning that the Turkish government had taken two factors into consideration; the first of these is the fact that its popular base is supportive of Palestine, particularly over the question of Al-Quds (Jerusalem). This situation was reflected in the determination of the Turkish hosts to hold the conference “in the street if the government tries to stop it,” as a leading Turkish figure who was one of the conference organizers, told me. The second factor is that it seems that the Turkish government could not totally ignore the Israeli and possibly the American pressure, which might explain the tactical step of allowing the conference to be held but without government representation. This position was somewhat mitigated, however, when the mayor of Istanbul gave a speech in support of Al-Quds and Palestine at the conclusion of the conference.
The conference came at a sensitive time with only few weeks separating us from the Annapolis conference, which the Bush administration is investing huge efforts in to lend it an air of seriousness and gravitas, despite the considerable skepticism which has been voiced even by US friends in the region.
In the view of a leading figure at the Al-Quds Conference, the official Palestinian leadership must learn that its moves are being closely monitored by the Arab and Muslim masses and thus the speaker voiced hope that the conference would send a strong message to all concerned that Jerusalem is a red line, given that it represents the third most sacred place for Muslims after Mecca and Medina.
There are, however, a few cautionary notes which must be sounded in this regard: The first point is that, despite the huge contributions at the conference from across of the Islamic world (7,000 participants from 66 countries), Palestine and Jerusalem in particular should not be viewed solely as an Islamic cause. The question of Palestine, it should be remembered, is about justice and justice alone, regardless of who occupies it.
The success of the Palestinian and Arab discourse in the past was in its direct address to humanity’s conscience regarding the Palestinian question; the peak of these efforts was reached on November 10, 1975 when the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 3379, stating “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination,” which was, in my view, the most serious blow Zionism had been dealt since the displacement of Palestinians in 1948. The deconstruction of the discourse of ideological Zionism and the revealing of its true racist face should be the cornerstone of Palestinian and Arab policy.
A discourse that could endanger the Palestinian cause by portraying it as a sectarian inter-religious one would serve the Zionist movement which has adopted a policy of playing on the religious aspects on two levels: on the international level to benefit from 9/11 and subsequent events in order to agitate against the Palestinian national movement and portray it as a terror organization, and on the other level to play on Sunni-Shia differences with the aim of fragmenting and thereby weakening Arab resistance against the Zionist apartheid state.
Also, despite my disagreement with the idea of involving religious communities in the Palestinian conflict — since this could objectively help Zionism in portraying the conflict in religious terms — it would have been a wise step had the conference involved other religious denominations such as representatives of the Catholic and the Protestant churches and other religious communities in the world; inviting Arab Christian leaders to be among the main speakers was a good step, but it was not enough. It must be clearly conveyed to the world that Zionism is working hard to endanger international peace by means of pitting the West and Muslims against one another.
The rest of the world must be involved and the Zionist discourse must be deconstructed in order to show its real face, as an immoral ideology whose very existence was and is based on violence, injustice and hatred. Another negative point related to the previous one was the absence of foreign media representatives covering the conference despite being extensively covered by the Arab media. This also made the conference an inter-Arab and inter-Muslim dialogue when its point should have been to convey the judicial aspect of the Palestinian question to the rest of the world. The inter-Palestinian conflict regarding the question of representation was one of the negative issues discussed at the conference.
Only a few weeks ago, the internal Palestinian conflict was about to be taken to the United Nations through the Palestinian representative in a step which showed itself to be, to put it mildly, extremely dangerous. The question which everybody at the conference raised is: what is the point of taking the inter-Palestinian conflict outside the borders of Palestine? And I add one more question: After 100 years of the Palestinian struggle, do Palestinians need to be told the story of the man who gathered his sons and showed them that it is possible to break one stick alone but difficult to break the sticks when they are together?
Dr. Salim Nazzal is a Palestinian-Norwegian historian in the Middle East, who has written extensively on social and political issues in the region. He can be contacted at: email@example.com. This article appeared in the Web site of the Maan News Agency on 24 November 2007.