Palestine solidarity conference set for October

Rafeef Ziadah, a Palestinian activist, unionist, academic and spoken word artist will be the keynote speaker at the Building Solidarity, Combating Occupation and Apartheid conference, which is being held in Melbourne from October 29 to 31. This will be the first Australian national conference in support of the Palestinian-initiated boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign. The conference seeks to bring together people from all over Australia who are already active in the Palestine solidarity movement and anyone who is interested in learning more about BDS and the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and justice.

Ziadah is a member of the steering committee of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and is speaking on its behalf. She is a member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, one of the first unions in Canada to support the BDS campaign. Ziadah, a third generation Palestinian refugee, has been active for many years in the Canadian Palestine solidarity movement and is a founding member of the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA) and an organiser of Israeli Apartheid Week.

Ziadah will be speaking at the Friday launch of the conference on the struggle for a free Palestine. She will be joined at the launch, via video link, by Ofer Neiman, an Israeli activist involved in the BOYCOTT! Supporting the Palestinian BDS call from within campaign in Israel. Neiman, who is co-editor of Occupation Magazine, is a long-time Israeli peace activist and a conscientious military objector.

Ziadah will also participate in a panel with Samah Sabawi, a Palestinian writer and former executive director of National Council of Canada Arab Relations. Ziadah and Sabawi will speak on the Canadian Palestine solidarity movement and BDS campaign and what lessons can be learned to help build the BDS campaign in Australia.

Other speakers at the conference include Alex Whisson, who is the public advocate for Australians for Palestine, the secretary of Unions ACT, Kim Sattler, and Ginny Adams, an organiser with the Health and Community Sector Union. Both Sattler and Adams have recently returned from Palestine, where Adams participated in the Union Aid Abroad APHEDA Middle East Study Tour 2010.

A Concert for Palestine is also being organised as part of the conference by Australian Artists Against Israeli Apartheid. Performing at the Saturday night concert will be Fear of a Brown Planet, the Brothahood, the Conch, Phil Monsour Band and Rafeef Ziadah.

The BDS campaign, which was inspired by the struggle of South Africans against apartheid, was initiated in 2005 by more than 170 Palestinian organisations, including political parties, trade unions and civil and community groups. Conducted in the framework of international solidarity and resistance to injustice and oppression, it calls for non-violent punitive measures to be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognise the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and fully complies with international law.

The two-and-a-half-day conference will include sessions addressing the history of civil resistance and boycotts, including an analysis of apartheid in South Africa and Palestine, colonialism in Australia and Palestine, and lessons from Palestine solidarity work internationally. There will be workshops and strategy sessions on the development of a national BDS network and campaign in Australia, including sessions on developing the involvement of the union and labour movement, student and campus groups, community and faith-based groups and art and cultural groups; and developing research and media groups to support the campaign. Building Solidarity, Combating Occupation and Apartheid — National Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions conference will be held at the Maritime Union of Australia hall, 54 Ireland Street, Melbourne West. Conference registration is $30 for workers or $22 concession (including conference launch meeting) or $15/10 daily. For more information on the conference agenda and how to register, email ausbds@gmail.com or visit the Australian Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions Campaign for Palestine website.

Please also consider making a donation towards conference organisation costs. Whether it is a big or small amount, it all makes a difference. Please consider if you can donate $10 or $20 or $50 or more to the organising of Australia’s first national BDS conference. Donations can be electronically deposited at: BSB: 063 262, account number: 1052 9148. Please tag deposit with “BDS”.