Boston conference for Palestine

May 7, 2009

BOSTON--Over 100 student and community activists came together for a Palestine solidarity strategy conference on April 25.

The event came at the end of months of protests, panel discussion and organizing on and off campus in Boston, which was sparked by Israel's brutal assault on Gaza in December and January. The purpose of the conference was to deepen activists' understanding of Zionism and the Palestinian struggle, strengthen new Palestine solidarity groups in New England, and facilitate the kind of discussions that can help sustain organizing beyond the recent crisis.

The meeting, which was held at University of Massachusetts Boston, involved students from at least eight college campuses and three high schools in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, including Hampshire College--the first college in the U.S. to divest from Israel.

The tone was set in an opening panel featuring writer Sarah Roche-Mahdi, fresh from a recent Code Pink peace delegation to Gaza, and Layla Hijab Cable, a Palestinian activist who argued why the whole Zionist project--and U.S. support for it--should be opposed.

The mood of the conference was one of hope and inspiration from the outpouring of solidarity around the world in response to Israel's U.S.-supported war.

Conference attendees were riveted as Jess Chilton McConnell, a student organizer at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, recounted the movement of campus occupations across the UK during the bombing, including one that she led at her own campus.

Palestinian activist Omar Baddar laid out the opportunities for building a movement in the U.S. by noting how much has changed in the past 10 years:

A former U.S. president has written a book condemning Israel's apartheid regime in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Mainstream political scientists [John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt] at leading academic institutions have written a book describing the adverse effects of the Israel lobby on U.S. policy. The leading CBS show 60 Minutes ran an excellent piece exposition the extremism in Israel's occupation and settlement expansion. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart ridiculed the endorsement of U.S. officials of Israel's assault on Gaza. Academic institutions are defying the Israel lobby's attempts to silence criticism of Israel on campuses.

These are all signs of a progressive shift in U.S. public discourse on Israel/Palestine.

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