On Friday, March 8, in a public lecture that tail-ended the events of Toronto’s Israeli Apartheid week, Ambassador for the Palestinian Diplomatic Corps Afif Safieh analyzed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the political lens offered by his professional experience. While other events this week highlighted activism and resistance in Israel, Palestine, and abroad, Safieh’s public lecture tackled the question of using international law to forge a path to freedom for Palestine.

Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) was first created in 2004 at U of T to discuss the Israeli occupation of Palestine, but has since spread to cities around the world. IAW also supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, which calls for pulling support from companies that support human rights violations in the occupied territories.

Despite the less-than-radical profile of the day’s speaker, the event organizers Students Against Israeli Apartheid reminded the audience twice of their disruptions policy, warning, “We have in the room a group of experienced and trained marshals who will escort the harassers out of the room and call security to intervene if needed.”

IAW has been criticized in the past as being anti-semitic or promoting intolerance, however, even Safieh commented after the second reminder, “I don’t think anybody is intentionally disrupting, they got the message.”

Safieh began by condemning of the actions of Israel and the ideology of Zionism. He described the two main denials of Palestinian oppression: “Zionism, one of its founding principles was that Palestine is a ‘land without a people for a people without a land.’ Our mere physical existence was denied. … Then we were denied our basic rights, individual and collective, and later and even more disturbingly, we were denied our suffering and our pain.”

His language took a pragmatic turn, however, when he analyzed solutions. Pointing to the UN Resolution vote of November 2012 that made Palestine a non-member observer state, Safieh aimed to show that world opinion favours a free and sovereign Palestine.

The main problem Safieh described with the peace process was a lack of political will to find a solution. Attempts at peace have been made since the 1970s, including direct talks since 2010 encouraged by US President Barack Obama.

Safieh further addressed Obama and US involvement in the region. He called for Obama to use the influence and funds of the US to push for peace. Safieh commented, “Too much was left to local belligerent parties to sort it out, and the US needs to throw itself behind peace, rather than behind war.”

Rather than continuing bilateral talks, Safieh stressed that peace needs to be negotiated with international presence. Safieh sees Obama a multilateralist and urged Obama to cooperate with international partners to counter the Zionist lobby that pushes for continuing investment in Israeli military defense. Safieh summarized the plight of his people, proclaiming, “We the Palestinians, we are either blessed or plagued with too much history, too much theology, too much mythology, and very little geography.” While his message of peace through international law may have turned off the activist-minded participants in Israeli Apartheid Week, the standing ovation he received at the end showed some still have hope for ballot box solutions.

Additional Info

  • Subtitle: Palestinian Diplomat Afif Safieh on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
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