3 February 2005 Edition
Palestinian MP's fears for Gaza - BY JENNIFER WILLIAMS
Addressing a public meeting in Derry city centre during the Bloody Sunday weekend, Palestinian MP Dr Jamal Zahalka expressed his deep concerns over the proposed Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
Zahalka said the withdrawal would only result in greater violence being used by the Israeli Government against the Palestinian people. "They will want to demonstrate to the world that their withdrawal from settlements in Gaza is being done from a position of strength and not weakness," he said.
The Palestinian representative was sharing a platform with Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin at the Calgach Centre, where they explored the similarities between Bloody Sunday in Derry and one of Israel's Bloody Sundays, when Israeli police shot dead 13 Palestinians after Ariel Sharon's provocative visit to the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem in 2000.
The Nazareth-based MP explained that Israel intends "to keep a firmer and harsher grasp on Palestinian life in Gaza after the withdrawal by using its army to surround the territory on land and by increasing its naval patrols along the coast".
Zahalka described the situation for Palestinian people as "intolerable" and spoke of the severe oppression that people experience.
"Palestinian land and water continues to be confiscated. Since September 2000 and the beginning of the second Intifada, 3,540 civilians, including 500 children, have been killed by the Israeli army. And over 20,000 people are homeless after Israeli troops destroyed their homes in Gaza."
Zahalka called for support for a recent report, the International Convention for National Minorities, which aims to give rights to minority groups and help preserve their culture and heritage.
"Like the people of the North, the Palestinian people are involved in a great political struggle as well as a humanitarian struggle, living in constant fear of the Israeli regime," he said. "With talks of a ceasefire brewing in Palestine, many have stated that they simply want a guarantee that Israeli soldiers will stop the killing.
"It is a sad fact that any solution to the problems in Palestine will only be based on power and not on justice," he said.
Meeting with members of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign in Belfast on Monday, Dr Zahalka praised international solidarity groups for their work in support of the Palestinian people.
He encouraged the continuing boycott of Israeli goods, saying, "these actions will prove that the force and oppression used against the Palestinian people will not be tolerated".
His meeting coincided with the news that community groups throughout West Belfast have came together to call on local supermarkets "to join the international boycott of Israeli goods and to introduce a purchasing policy which would remove Israeli goods from their shelves".
Gerry McConville of the Falls Community Centre, backed the campaign "in the hope that it sends a clear message to the Israeli Government that its oppression of the Palestinians is abhorred throughout the world".
Adding her voice, Una Marron of the Falls Women's Centre said: "We have been campaigning for years for the rights of the Palestinian people and in the recent past have twinned with women's groups in Palestine. It is only when we stand together that we will create and influence the end of the oppression of the Palestinian people."
Sinn Féin MLA Micheal Ferguson, expressing the party's support, said "this campaign is fully supported by the West Belfast community".