Palestine’s most celebrated cartoonist, Naji Al-Ali, would have been so delighted. His iconic character, Hanthala, the eleven year old refugee boy, who, before Al-Ali’s assassination, exposed the Arab world to some bitter truths about the failure of solidarity with the Palestinians, has re-appeared in the most unexpected circumstances.
Last weekend Hanthala adorned the black t-shirts of the youthful organising team of a conference held in Haifa, Israel, called by Abnaa elBalad – the Sons of the Village Movement. The conference met to re-assert earlier revolutionary demands which today so embarrass the official Palestinian leadership – for a single democratic secular state and the right of return of the Palestinian refugees.
Abnaa elBalad has a long history of organising Palestine’s Israeli Arab citizens.
But it has undergone something of a renaissance after Hizbollah’s victory over Israel in the summer of 2006 – and the exile of Azmi Bishara, the leader of Palestine’s Israeli Arab citizens in the Israeli parliament, who is wanted for treason for supporting Hizbollah.
Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security apparatus, has publicly voiced concern that the “radicalisation of Israel’s Arab minority is a strategic threat to the state’s existence”. Abnaa elBalad now sees itself in the vanguard of this threat.
Other iconic images at the conference were those of Che Guevara and George Habash, the recently deceased leader of the revolutionary guerrilla movement, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
Habash was often known as the “conscience of the Palestine revolution”. Abnaa elBalad opened books for signatures of commemoration for Habash in the days following his death earlier this year in some Israeli town centres. They raised the Palestinian flag on Nakba Day, the commemorative date of the expulsion of Palestinian refugees sixty years ago.
Conference organisers proclaimed their commitment to Marxist-Leninism and a major discussion at the conference was whether a democratic secular Palestinian state was possible without socialist transformation.
Wide ranging workshops, involving hundreds of participants, covered ground from the failure of the two-state solution to the fluidity of political identities. Progressive Israeli Jews were welcome at the conference. A tiny minority have even joined Abnaa elBalad, learning to speak Arabic fluently.
Messages of support were read out from some of the Palestinian refugee camps as well as activists from the West Bank, who were either refused entry or trapped at Israeli military checkpoints.
I spoke at a workshop on the Boycott of Israel with, amongst others, Omar Barghouti, one of the leading figures from PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.
There was intense interest in the resolutions on Palestine passed by UCU, the university and college lecturers’ union in Britain. A lecturer from the University of Tel Aviv said she would respond positively to UCU’s call for Israeli academics to investigate the complicity of their universities in the Israeli military occupation.
Arguably, the conference focus on Israeli Palestinian conflict was too narrow. Conference organisers acknowledged the need for a wider debate on the rise of political Islam in the region, the immense significance of the emerging Egyptian workers movement, and, of course, the resistance to the US-led military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. However this was a brilliant beginning to what appears to be a new and fresh movement led by Palestinian youth in northern Israel.