by Zafar Bangash (Islamic Movement, Crescent International Vol. 31, No. 9, Rabi' al-Thani, 1423)
In our last issue we published Ayatullah Sayyid Ali Khamenei’s speech at the annual conference in Iran to mark the death anniversary of Imam Khomeini, which was dedicated to the Palestinian struggle. ZAFAR BANGASH was there.
It is one of the ironies facing the Ummah today that there is hardly a country in the Muslim world where a conference could be held at which Palestinian representatives and other Islamic activists from around the world would be able to gather on one platform. This is because, despite their loud rhetoric in support of Palestine, most Muslim rulers do not have the courage to defy the US.
Hajj, for instance, is an ideal opportunity to express solidarity with the Palestinians, but the ruling family in Saudi Arabia is so averse to any political expression at the time of Hajj that they would rather destroy the Ummah than allow such discussion to take place. Islamic Iran is the only government that has the courage to stand up for truth no matter who is displeased by it. This is what the Islamic Republic did last month when it organized an International Conference on Palestine in Tehran on June 2 and 3.
The conference was organized by the Imam Khomeini Institute to mark the thirteenth anniversary of his death. It was a fitting tribute to the late Imam, who did much to publicise the plight of the Palestinian people, long before it became known internationally. It also reflected his wisdom and foresight; while Iran has no physical boundary with Palestine, under the Shah’s regime Iran had established strong relations with the zionist state. The Shah was an American puppet, and under him Iran was an American colony. Throughout his life the Imam highlighted these points in both his speeches and his writings, and targeted the illegitimate zionist entity as a usurper of the Holy Land of Palestine. He also missed no opportunity to warn the Iranian people about the Shah’s subservience to the US and why this was an insult to Islam.
The Tehran conference was attended by all factions of the Palestinian resistance movement —from the Islamic activists to the secularists — as well as by delegates from most Arab countries, where a great deal of sympathy and support exists for the Palestinian cause. In fact, a vigorous boycott-campaign against Israeli and American goods and companies is being pursued in the Arab world by individuals and organizations, without any direct support from their governments. This is most successful in such pro-western countries as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain, thanks to the determined effort of private individuals and students. There is great anger among the Arabs against zionist terrorism and the killing of Palestinians, as well as against the US’s blind support for such crimes. The people do not have the means to confront the zionists or their American backers directly, so they use the only weapon at their disposal: boycott of American and Israeli goods, to vent their anger, hurt Western interests and express solidarity with the Palestinians.
At the Tehran conference there were much more serious issues under consideration. It is indicative of the Islamic Republic’s commitment to the Palestinian cause that the conference opened with a speech by the Rahbar, Ayatullah Seyyed Ali Khamenei. He put the Palestinian issue into its proper context by declaring that it was the religious obligation of all Muslims to support it actively. The hundreds of delegates from all over the world also heard from most of the leading figures of the intifada. Those from within Occupied Palestine could not attend, of course, but their representatives based in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon attended and made eloquent presentations. It was good to see that their morale is very high and that they do not suffer from battle fatigue despite their great suffering.
It was equally heartening to hear delegates from the Arab countries expressing solidarity with their Palestinian brothers and sisters. There were even some parliamentarians from the Arab world; the speaker of Kuwait’s parliament, Muhammad Ali Khorrafi was there, as were many Arab journalists. The Kuwaiti speaker lamented the lack of unity in the Ummah. He said that before Muslims could confront the zionist entity, they must eliminate weaknesses in their own ranks. Yet, while unity is important, if the Ummah were to wait until it is achieved, the zionists would still be in occupation of Southern Lebanon. Resistance to foreign occupation is an inalienable right of those under occupation. The Ummah outside has an obligation to help the resistance with whatever means are available. The zionists not only have the support of the diaspora but also of the US government, which pours billions of dollars annually into Israel, even while millions of Americans go without food and medical aid.
While such conferences are organized more to boost morale than to discuss anything substantial, it was good to see that the Islamic Republic took its responsibilities seriously. The final session of the second day was presided over by Seyyed Hassan Khomeini, grandson of Imam Khomeini, and it was addressed by Hashemi Rafsanjani, head of the Expediency Council in the Islamic Republic. He gave a wide-ranging presentation about the nature of zionism and how this alien ideology was planted in Palestine. The conference was concluded with a 20-point declaration presented by Hujjatul-Islam Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, the conference chairman, who is also the former ambassador of Iran to Lebanon.
Conferences such as these are useful to gain insights into the real situation in Palestine by personal interaction with the delegates rather than by listening to speeches. Often, speakers repeat what has already been said or there is too much rhetoric in making a point. This was also the case in this conference, but because Palestinians of every shade of opinion were present, it was possible to get a real flavour of what was going on inside Occupied Palestine.
It was heartening to learn that Palestinians have not been cowed by zionist brutalities; their morale is high despite suffering terribly at the hands of the occupation forces. Palestinian representatives admitted that Israel’s military assaults on their camps in Jenin and attacks on Ramallah last April had caused some setbacks to their activities, but insisted that these had not crippled them. They felt confident that they could continue their resistance regardless. This became clear a few days later, when a massive operation was carried out on June 7 near Meggido in which a bus carrying soldiers was blown up. Other martyrdom operations were carried out on June 18 and 19. In two days at least 26 Israelis, most of them soldiers, were killed.
Delegates from other parts of the world repeatedly stressed that they support the martyrdom operations of the Palestinians and insisted that nobody should insult their sacrifices by branding them as "suicide missions". Such insulting expressions were deliberately used by the enemies in an attempt to delegitimize their valiant struggle. Those who have nothing but their bodies to fight with cannot be denied the limited means at their disposal. Certainly they would prefer to fight with guns and tanks, if only someone would supply them. It is hypocritical for people to condemn them for resisting their occupiers despite not having such weaponry.
While the Palestinians’ struggle for liberation will be long and hard, it is beginning to attract serious attention in the Ummah. Even if Muslims cannot help directly, they can do so indirectly, for example by participating in boycott campaigns. If this campaign were taken up in earnest in every part of the Muslim world, it would have a strong impact on the zionist aggressors and their American backers.
The least the Muslims can do is to highlight the wrongs suffered by the Palestinian people and neutralise some of the negative propaganda spread by the zionists and their apologists, especially in the west, to weaken the Palestinians’ cause.