The Jerusalem meeting in Istanbul was touching, inspiring, saddening and encouraging. It was extremely touching when we began to see people from Al-Quds and from Palestine whom we only usually see on television screens being arrested by Israeli occupation forces and on their way to the prisons which house thousands of Palestinians whose only crime is that they aspire to be free of the humiliating Israeli occupation. They were showered with kisses and drowned with hugs from all directions as camera lights flashed in our eyes. Their facial expressions revealed they were trying hard to suppress the tears invited by this wave of emotion, tears that have been hindered by the cruel occupation.
I contemplated some of the men who have spent years in the dark cellars of Israeli prisons and found them shrewd, brilliant, extremely humble and knowledgeable. Now I understand that the Israeli occupation forces arrest the best of our young men in Palestine and the Golan and accuse them of being “terrorists” in order to justify imprisoning or torturing or even killing them. This is what “Israel” has been doing in our region for the last few decades and yet it is called the “oasis of democracy” in the Middle East which has cost the Arab nation our best men through wars, imprisonment and assassinations. But the meeting was also inspiring because 5000 of the best representatives of the Arab nation met in Istanbul to take one stand against occupation and humiliation, and to support all that consolidates dignity and integrity. It was also inspiring because people met as if they had never departed one another and as if the Sykes-Picot agreement has never been implemented. Aleppo and Damascus embraced Jericho and Gaza, Baghdad embraced Nablus and Ramallah and both Algeria and Cairo were exhilarated to embrace the sons and daughters of al Quds. This meeting was the ultimate proof, at least for a few minutes, that no one can impose on these people the ethnic or sectarian theories which are being used to divide the Arabs into different tribes or sects. The meeting was also inspiring because men of Islamic and Christian religions spoke as one man of the unity of land, culture, education, suffering and destiny. It was so inspiring to see these men who were subjected to torture and imprisonment display the greatest determination to fight occupation until freedom and independence are secured. All their suffering has made them more determined to cling to their land and culture. They brought bottles of that divine soil of Jerusalem to give as presents for people who dream of reaching that Holy Land. The meeting was saddening because of the testimonies given by people coming from al Quds who spoke about the daily destruction of Arab houses, the uprooting of olive trees and the continuous Judaization of the Muslim and Christian quarters of al Quds with none ot it even being mentioned in the international media. They also spoke about the social and human impact of these policies on Arab men and women who are suffering because of unemployment, poverty and the psychological ordeals resulting from occupation policies. What was encouraging, however, despite all this bitter reality, was the mature consciousness that has crystallized in the hearts and minds of people who understand today that the rights of the indigenous Palestinian people should be defended against movements to Judaize the city and its religious and historical monuments. What was also encouraging was that Jews, Christians and Muslims from all over the world have embraced the rights of Palestinian people for justice and dignity elevating by this the struggle of the Palestinian people to a human level. Some of them said that in every meeting we should call upon people to stand for “a minute of anger” in order to remind the world of the terrible Israeli measures against innocent and peaceful Palestinians who only want to live freely on their own land. “A minute of anger” would be the simplest form of solidarity and support for armless Palestinian people struggling against one of the latest and ugliest racist occupations in modern history.
Dr. Shaaban is a Nobel Peace Prize nominee and Minister of Expatriates in Syria.
Editor’s note: An international four-day forum on Jerusalem held in Istanbul last week ended with the Istanbul Declaration demanding support for Palestine and warning against Israeli plots to demolish the al-Aqsa Mosque. It called for an immediate stop to excavations near the mosque and other Muslim and Christian sanctuaries. The Al-Quds International Forum began on Thursday, November 22 and was organized by the Union of NGOs of the Islamic World (UNIW), the Union of Solidarity of Palestine and the Turkish Foundation for Volunteering Organizations (TGTV), an umbrella organization for dozens of Muslim foundations in Turkey. The forum hosted 5,000 guests from 60 countries, including representatives of the Muslim and Christian clergy, opinion leaders and civil society representatives.