Disclaimer: Long post ahead, some may consider political (I guess), my views only (don’t hold AYLI accountable) and completely unapologetic.
I really do wish I had written my posts when certain events happened right then and there but of course when you’re in the moment and it’s heated, it’s a bit tough.
There are probably four main topics I’d love to share with everyone.
So, I’ll begin here with some of my top experiences. I will try to the best of my ability to take you on this journey with me.
To start the journey, I’ll begin with July 4th, 2017. This was definitely a day that stood out for me. That was the day the vote on Jerusalem would take place. The Old City of Jerusalem and its walls was proposed by the Kingdom of Jordan to remain inscribed on the World Heritage sites in danger list. This is not a new inscription, it has been inscribed for many years, but every year it is put through to make a decision of retaining it and keeping it on the list.
I understand that many people were shocked and surprised at the politics that played out during this session, but honestly, what’s to be expected? The Palestine / Israel conflict has been a massive topic and issue for a very, very long time and to inscribe heritage sites, let alone entire cities, under Palestine would obviously create a fuss and receive public criticism. Palestine has constantly received backlash and unfortunately people have their entire focus on undermining and taking away from the legitimacy of Palestine rather than focusing on the huge atrocities committed under the IOA (Israeli Occupation Forces). So, just like the session was ‘political’, this blog will probably also be looked at as ‘political’ and one-sided. However, I have always been publicly and unapologetically for the State of Palestine because I am against occupation and colonisation whether it be Palestine, West Papua or the current post-colonial oppression experienced in our own backyard.
The draft resolutions also referred to Israel as an “occupying force”, so you can also see why they did not want this to be adopted. The resolutions (both Al Quds and Al Khalil) are important for numerous reasons which involve heritage protection as well as adding legitimacy to the State of Palestine.
Anyways, going back to the incident, the voting was to take place as a direct vote through roll call as this is how it had been done through previous sessions. And so, it began. I sat in the back with my notebook and pen in front of me and began writing down the countries for the inscription, countries abstaining and countries against, and my nerves were playing up more than ever.
“Angola”- the representative seems flustered and asks to be given another moment as his colleague isn’t in the room. (And then later, abstention).
“Azerbaijan”- “Yes, in favour.”
“Burkina Faso”- Not in favour.
“Cuba”- “Yes, in favour.”
“Finland.” – Abstention
“Indonesia”- “Yes, in favour.”
“Jamaica”- “Not in favour.”
“Philippines”- “Not in favour.”
“Republic of Korea”- “abstention.”
“Viet Nam”- Yes, in favour.
So I sat there and quickly began counting- 10 in favour, 8 abstentions, and 3 not in favour. What now?
After a few minutes of silence and watching the committee dialogue, the Chairperson announces, “Ladies and gentlemen… number of valid votes, 13, majority required, 9, yes, 10, no, 3, abstention, 8, it means that the draft decision “41 COM 7A.36” is adopted.” And he hits his gavel.
I am so excited at this point, barely able to stay in my seat. The site needs to stay on the list, losing it would mean a high possibility of having it destroyed due to the conflict, this was essential, to many of us, this is another sign of hope, peace and stability.
Then right away, before the applause even finished, ‘Israel’ wants to take the floor. And so, his crusade against the decision made, begins.
I won’t even write what he wrote (you can still see it through this link on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wX6Hbg0LHE, somewhere towards the end).
The thing that surprised me was how he went on and on and on about how the resolution is so “Anti-Jewish”. It always baffles me how much Israel actually turns a blind eye and forgets that many Palestinians are themselves Jewish and how many Arabs that are not Jewish, have Jewish roots and Jewish legacies. Many Arab Muslims even refer to Jews as our own cousins, so it’s just very bizarre how all this is ignored and anyone pro-Palestine is slammed for being anti-Jewish. He goes on a tangent on how this slows down the process of building bridges between all faiths when on many occasions even the call for Islamic prayer (Athan) has been banned from being called out) and many Palestinians are refused entry into the Masjid (you may have even seen this on the news lately).
As I sat in the back, my excitement and happiness transitioned to absolute sadness and disgust. The statements coming out of his mouth were aggressive and accusing any country that voted for the inscription of Jerusalem or not voting against Jerusalem of being anti-Semitic. It is insulting to have someone like that stand up and claim to be trying to promote peace. It is an insult to the actual peace-makers out there and those who are dedicating their lives trying to promote justice and peace in conflict zones.
Carmel Shama then asks the session to stand for the millions of holocaust victims who have lost their lives but what was confusing at this point (and if you go back and watch the video), was that his request did not feel genuine at all.
After this, the Ambassador of Cuba took the floor and reminded the chairperson that no one had the right to ask the entire session to stand for a minute of silence except for the chairperson, so then she, too, requested that the floor stand up for the thousands of Palestinians victims who have suffered, struggled and died due to the occupation.
During his statements, I kept looking back at the Palestinian representatives who sat so calmly and observed the Israeli ambassadors show. It saddened me how happiness can be ripped off of someone like that. I couldn’t imagine how it felt like to have all eyes on me, criticizing, critiquing, judging me…all for the sake of protecting heritage and protecting the identities of millions.
After the session, I spoke to one of the Palestinian representatives (trying hard not to cry at this point), and his response was so genuine and instead of me trying to support him, he was pretty much supporting me. He never once slammed the Israeli ambassador. He told me that this is expected but Palestine won’t give up and peace will be achieved. His words were so comforting to the mind and heart, which made me feel stronger and ready for Hebron’s resolution.
However, this was nothing compared to Al-Khalil (7th of July, 2017). The nomination of Al Khalil, unlike Jerusalem, was placed for the first time ever during the 41st session. It is also commonly known as ‘Hebron’ in the western world and it is still considered a city belonging to Palestine. You would think the opposition would not have a problem with its inscription… but it got uglier.
The nomination of Hebron was also an emergency case due to the threats the occupation poses against it.
From the get-go, Poland requested a secret ballot vote as it was an “awkward and sensitive topic”.
It was not long after that I noticed someone pacing through the committee members. Of course, it was Shama, walking through the rows of committee members and staring at each of them. Perhaps it was a scare tactic to try and get them to vote against the inscription, but all it looked like from the outside looking in was very childish and petty behaviour from someone who is supposedly an ‘ambassador’ on an international level.
Carmel Shama along with two others then made their way to the chairpersons table and began yelling. Of course, with no microphones on we could not hear anything from where we were but it obviously looked very aggressive. Furthermore, the procedures and rules of the UNESCO WHC prohibits non-committee members from entering that space or making their way to the chairperson. I really do have to give it to Dr. Purchla, who handled the situation with so absolute professionalism and calmness, I probably would have had none of it and send security from the very beginning.
It got to the point where the Lebanese ambassador began urging the chairperson to call security (which at that point the Carmel looked back at him and said some inaudible words) and then shortly after, the Lebanese ambassador was having none of it and began yelling into the microphone for security to remove the Israeli ambassador. I felt bad for the security to be in such a situation where they are politely asking him to leave the podium area but Carmel, thinking he owns the place, told them to leave him, but come on…this is your responsibility. Security is placed to deal with such situations immediately, but no, they were hesitant and left him alone at certain points.
There was a great moment, however, when the chairperson must have accidentally pressed the microphone button and we suddenly heard Shama yell “It’s not a secret ballot! We talked with you.” Which at that point, the entire room was in fits of laughter and applauding because his desperate attitude was too much.
Soon after, the chairperson began to rush the process because, fair enough, things were getting ugly, and it was best for the resolution to be sorted as soon as possible. One by one, the Committee State Parties began getting called to give their votes in.
And finally, the counting began, which felt like forever before the chairperson took the floor and announced, “majority required, 10, votes ‘yes’, 12…” and before he can finish the room was filled with applause. I couldn’t believe it. Jerusalem had 10 votes and I thought we would barely get 10, but here it is, 2 more votes than last time, wow. I could not stop grinning. I felt so much gratitude in my heart for those who voted ‘yes’. And I knew, that no matter what the opposition said this time, nothing, nothing, can steal our happiness. I looked at the Palestinian delegation and found them raising their hands and doing peace signs to the camera and my heart felt so much warmth. I wished in that moment that Palestine was a person in front of me, so that I can give her (yes, to me Palestine would be a woman- manawahine) a massive hug and two slobbery kisses on each cheek.
“Let me please finish,” The chairperson continued, “votes ‘no’, 3, abstention, 6…it means that the decision ’41 COM 8B.1’ is adopted as amended.”
And then of course, Israel asked to take the floor. And just like I didn't write what was said about Jerusalem's resolution, I won’t write word for word what the Israeli ambassador said (check it on youtube, not going to waste my time), but it was even more sickening than what was said during Jerusalem’s resolution. However, to summarize, he slams the Palestinian representative for noting that Carmel refused to stand for Palestine, and says that no one has the right to criticize him about anything but then goes on to criticize Cuba for not standing when he told the floor to. I mean the whole thing was hypocritical. He generalized Palestinians, called them terrorists, involved bloody politics in his hate speech and the whole thing was overall pathetic. He called Cuba ‘a criminal dictatorship’, but never once mentioned the atrocities the Israeli government commits on a daily basis. He also slammed the ambassador of Germany, for not taking a stand on the matter, which was absolutely inappropriate. Then, in the middle of his speech, his phone began ringing, and it was so ridiculous. And then towards the end, he finished off by saying, “Mr Chairman, it's my plumber in my apartment in Paris, there is a huge problem in my toilet, and it’s much important than the decision you just adopted.”
How much more disgusting and ridiculous and low can someone get? And you don’t have to be on this side or that to see how appalling such behaviour is.
I mean, a day after the session, a news article surfaced stating one of the Arab countries send a whatsapp message to Carmel Shama apologizing for voting for Hebron. Which doesn’t make sense considering it was a secret ballot, so vote as you like, no one would know. Propaganda at its finest.
But regardless of all this drama, I still wanted to celebrate! It was a massive step!
A state party rep from the West even told me, “in times of chaos…be Palestine.” And those words meant so much to me. They kept repeating in my mind when situations got rough and tough during the trip, and they still ring in my mind now. If Palestine, in the midst of hurtful words can stay calm and react with smiles and gratitude, then so can you.
If I were to advise the world on one thing, it would be to look at the long, long, long history of Palestine. It won’t take a day or week to understand, in fact it may take months. But remain patient, and listen to both sides, fact-check, look at the history, look at the present, and maybe if you can visit the territory. Visit Israel and then visit Hebron, and see how life is lived there. But do not give your opinion without understanding. Do not make ignorant remarks. We must all speak up when we see an injustice occur, but if you are not yet familiar with the issue, stay silent. Because speaking about such a massive issue for injustice can be seriously harmful, and sometimes silence is better (Ahem, looking at you U.S.A, Canadian, and Australian representatives).
And dialogue. Not for the sake of fighting, but listen, communicate, talk.
There is a reason I do not go to Israeli restaurants, for example. Boycotting is an obvious reason but more than that, cultural theft is existent and evident in such restaurants. When our falafel and hummus and things that form our identity are taken away and relabelled as belonging to another country, it is harmful and hurtful. So, try to listen and understand the reasons why some people may take such actions, do not simply slam them and yell at them and walk away.
Many of us have lived through this for years, think about that for a second. Compared to the large majority of people who support Israel, we are considered a minority for supporting Palestine. We hear many things on a daily basis, but we truly believe in this kaupapa, and there is a reason for it. Despite the retaliation and hate we may receive, we will never give up. We experienced a dark, dark history and we will not allow this to occur again.
Be mindful, be aware. When such serious issues are being discussed, do not sit there and voice your worry that a friend of yours may be upset that you are reporting on the issue. If that is your worst worry, then do not report. It is offensive to sit there listening to hurtful remarks from the Israeli ambassador and then listening to someone saying that they hope so and so doesn’t get offended. There are bigger problems, the world doesn’t revolve around one person who is not even Palestinian or Israeli.
Do not say you have had enough of colonial talk when someone speaks to you about it for two minutes when people have experienced this for decades and decades. I have dealt with comments against Palestine from lecturers at university, from students who didn’t even know me, from people close and far. So, excuse me if I try opening up a conversation about one of today’s biggest problems.
I’d also like to add that Judaism is a peaceful religion, as is Islam. Many orthodox Jews and holocaust survivors stand against the occupation. Do not tie Israel’s action with Judaism. There is a difference between being anti-Jewish and being anti-Zionist. Zionism is a movement and ideology.
Be unapologetic about standing up for peace. That is the capital ‘P’ we should be focusing on.
SO yes, I am for Palestine, for peace and for interfaith dialogue. But do not blame me or slam me for being outspoken and honest about Israel, because the events that played out at the World Heritage Committee Session this year was beyond hurtful. We continue life, smiling, struggling, and never giving up hope, but do not think that such incidents do not harm us.
On the last day of the session, I gave the Cuban ambassador a kuffeyah and a bracelet with Palestine embedded on it (shout out to Palestine Made for sending me it), and thanked her for her stand and speaking for Palestine during the session. And that’s what I’ll continue focusing on, the good stuff. Listening to constructive opinions and views that truly contribute to create peace and justice in conflict, not indulging in hateful rhetoric.
We are here extending an olive branch, it is up to you whether you will take it or leave it.
Also, check these out if you can:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKucPh9xHtM (amazing slam poet and poem “We teach life, sir”).
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xgtc49NkJ3w (one of my favorite songs).
All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences.