August saw a long planned trip by elected councillors and trade union representatives from Tower Hamlets to Jenin in the occupied West Bank.
Tower Hamlets has longstanding links with Jenin and the region,
through the Tower Hamlets & Jenin Friendship Association (THJFA www.thjfa.org.uk) which has sent regular visitors and volunteers to the area for a number of years. In November 2012 Tower Hamlets saw a visit from the Governor of Jenin province, Talal Dweikat, and the trip this summer took place as a direct result of his reciprocal invitation.
The delegation included the deputy mayor of Tower Hamlets, Councillor Ohid Ahmed, his cabinet colleagues Councillors Rania Khan and Shahed Ali, together with Councillor Lutfa Begum. The trade union reps were Kerie Anne of UNISON and Zia Rahman of the NUT at Oaklands School. Longstanding THJFA and PSC members Sybil Cock and Guy Shennan organised the trip alongside Yousef Awad, who has visited Tower Hamlets several times as a guest of the THJFA and who is now the Jenin Governorate’s International Relations Officer.
As had been feared, things started badly at Tel Aviv (Lod) airport, with several delegation members, including the deputy mayor and other councillors being held without explanation by the Israelis for up to ten hours, despite our official invitations from the governor of Jenin. One councillor was also strip-searched and heavily delayed on his return through the airport.
A day in Jerusalem saw our party visiting Al-Aqsa Mosque and meeting with the Deputy Governor of Jerusalem, and one of his senior managers, who showed us how his area in the Muslim quarter of the Old City is being ravaged by settler violence.
In Jenin, we were given a typical Palestinian red carpet welcome, visiting many organisations and a range of villages across the region.
The councillors were shocked by the hour-long performance at the checkpoint at the entrance to Barta’a village. Barta’a is in a closed military zone between the Apartheid Wall and the Green Line. The local Palestinians, of course, have to do this every day…..
Our arrival in Jenin coincided with the release of the prisoners by Israel as part of the ‘peace process’. We were able to chat with the three Jenin prisoners, each of whom had been released after twenty years in horrendous conditions in Israeli jails.
THJFA campaigned last year for the release of Khader Adnan, who started his hunger strike in 2011 against his Administrative Detention by the Israelis, leading to the mass hungers strikes that are still continuing to this day.
We were thrilled to meet him as he left the Mosque in his home Village of Arraba. His message to us in the UK was clear and straightforward – ‘put pressure on your government to end this occupation’.
We are pleased that, after several previous attempts, Tower Hamlets Council will be discussing a motion to formally twin with Jenin in November. We are optimistic that this will lead to concrete cooperation and raised awareness of the Palestine issue in our Borough.
Cllr Shahed Ali said ‘I really hope that I can now help spread the word about the actual situation there and share the spirit, warmth and hospitality of the amazing people.’
Kerie Anne said ‘Tower Hamlets Unison was both shocked at the conditions we observed in the occupied territories and humbled by the resilience and commitment of Jenin’s residents to building their communities and resisting the occupation.
Sybil Cock 22.09.2013
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