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THJFA joins Teachers in Action Project – December 2015

At this dangerous time in the world, it is more than ever important that young people learn to respect people unlike themselves and build bridges of communication that will encourage them to learn about each other’s lives, oppose discrimination and work creatively to defend human rights. Promoting such links is a central project for the human rights charity CADFA which has been organising creative projects shared by young people, women and men in Britain and Palestine for the past eleven years.

One of Cadfa’s most exciting projects to date, building on school and youth links created since 2006, TEACHERS IN ACTION 2016 (a project funded by the European Union via Erasmus+ youth funding and supported by the NUT) will support links between schools in Britain and Palestine through two teachers’ training events next January and October. The first stage will bring fourteen teachers from Palestine to the UK where they will share a series of training workshops with UK teachers, visit their linked schools in England and Wales and finally on 16th January have a conference on school twinning with Palestine at the NUT which will involve many other teachers.

By the end of ten days, the teachers will have planned joint projects to do with their linked schools for the next few months. One model being explored is twinning clubs like those being run already in some Camden and Abu Dis schools. Here school students learn about the young people in the other country and are encouraged to communicate with each other through shared school blogs.

Then in October 2016, the teachers from the UK will have the opportunity to visit their linked school in Palestine so they can review progress together as well as learning about the other country and preparing more new work together.

As more and more teachers report that their senior staff worry about dealing wi­t­h controversial issues in the Middle East, pushed by the government’s ‘Prevent” agenda and worries about radicalisation, Cadfa’s work offers teachers and young people the opportunity to explore difficult issues in a safe and inclusive way. It offers young people positive steps to take in a campaign for human rights and builds personal links across the world that we have seen can last for many years. Friendship focused on human rights brings a breath of hope to people in both countries that is both a contrast and a challenge to the current context of fear, misunderstanding and racism.

The Teachers in Action project blog is at teachersinaction2016.blogspot.co.uk. More information on the project and public events in Chester, Liverpool, Pendle, Knighton, Llanidloes, Northampton, Camden, Hackney and Tower Hamlets from contact@cadfa.org.

Report on visit of Yousef Awad to Tower Hamlets – October 2015

For ten days earlier this month, we were delighted to recently host Yousef Awad, director of International Relations from Jenin Governorate, here in Tower Hamlets.

Maysoun Dawoud, Public Relations Manager for the Mayor of Jenin City, and Ahmed Al Quassem, Deputy Governor of Jenin province were due to accompany him in order to strengthen links between Jenin and our borough, established over the last decade. However, on attempting to leave Palestine via Jordan, neither Maysoun nor Ahmed were given permission to leave by the Israeli authorities. Nonetheless, Yousef valiantly attended 16 different meetings in London with various organisations in Tower Hamlets and beyond.

One of the highlights of the visit included a meeting with more than sixty students at Queen Mary University. Yousef was very pleased to see so many young people involved with human rights advocacy for Palestine, especially at this very difficult time in the West Bank. Yousef also thoroughly enjoyed a special East London tour with David Rosenberg who gave a radical history of the area, focused upon the  proud history of fighting fascism within the borough as well as the historical contributions and struggles of refugees that have become part of our multicultural community throughout the ages.

Yousef visited the East London Mosque and London Muslim Centre. He spoke to the congregation about practical solutions to help the Palestinian people, twinning with Palestine, campaigning, buying Palestinian produce and visiting Palestine. He visited St Barnabas Church, Bow, building on the long-term friendship with members of the church, many of whom have visited Jenin as part of regular pilgrimages to the Holy Land.

There was a productive meeting with the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs, Deputy Mayor Rachael Saunders and Speaker Abdul Mukit. They all listened with great interest to Yousef’s personal stories about the effects of the Israeli occupation on his life and we reflected on the current violations that Israel is perpetrating on Palestinians who live under military occupation. We conducted detailed discussions on strengthening the links between our communities and Yousef extended an invitation to all of the council officers to visit Jenin and take a tour of the West Bank, Palestine.

At a separate meeting with councillors from the independent group, several of whom had visited Jenin as part of a previous delegation organised by THJFA, we discussed strengthening Palestine solidarity work in Tower Hamlets.

The local MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, Rushanara Ali, organised for Yousef to be given a tour of Parliament at Westminster.

Yousef got the chance to visit a groundbreaking community and health centre in Bromley-by-Bow, which he hopes to build links with in his role as director of the Jenin Creative Cultural Centre.

Yousef met with three trade unions in the borough; the National Union of Teachers (NUT), UNISON and University College Union (UCU). Both the NUT and Unison have generously donated towards some of the cost of the three air fares that had to be paid for in advance by THJFA despite the prohibition of travel for two members of the delegation. It is hoped a teacher from the NUT in Tower Hamlets can take part in the upcoming Teachers in Action exchange with Palestine, which is run by Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association (CADFA) with support from Erasmus+.

Local activists at Unite Community got the chance to meet Yousef and discuss the grave and deteriorating security situation for Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and within Israel due to settler violence, state brutality and extrajudicial killing by the Israeli army. There was a discussion of how we could build on practical solidarity here in the UK, particularly in the borough.

Tower Hamlets Jenin Friendship Association believes one of the main areas in which we can challenge the occupation is by opposing the two way arms trade with Israel. During Yousef’s visit, we stood together supporting a local resident at Thames Magistrate Court who had been charged with ‘criminal damage’ for writing ‘Killer Arms Tested on Children’ in dry wipe marker pen on an armoured vehicle during the ‘Stop Arming Israel’ day of action on 6th September.

Despite all the serious political meetings, Yousef found time to enjoy London, taking in the sights of the South Bank, the British Museum, the British Library, the Olympic Park and experiencing the peace of Kew Gardens. He also got a taste of home when we visited the new branch of Lebanese & Palestinian restaurant Hiba, which has opened a new branch in Walthamstow, with members of Waltham Forest Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Abed from CADFA. Everyone gave their thumbs up to the cuisine.

Over the ten days Yousef spent with us he made a deep, personal impact on the people he met, furthered understanding of the conflict and strengthened resolve. Over thirty members of THJFA were involved in hosting this visit, which served to further consolidate our group  and developed more determined support for Palestine within our community and more widely.

BDS Victory as Tower Hamlets Council Agrees to Ethical Procurement to Exclude Occupation Profiteers

After a successful local petition demanding that G4S be disqualified from contracts in Tower Hamlets was presented to Tower Hamlets Council last night, both Tower Hamlets First and the Labour Party agreed with the demand made at full council to adopt a tight ethical procurement policy for council contracts.

The petition, demanding that G4S be disqualified from future contracts on the basis of its far reaching complicity with the illegal occupation reached 1,953 signatures and was presented to councillors and lead members after an hour-long lobby outside the council building where a coalition of groups chanted slogans in support of Palestine.

In the occupied West Bank, G4S provides security systems for Israeli prisons, equipment for military checkpoints and security services for illegal settlements.

G4S currently runs caretaking and school maintenance in twenty Tower Hamlets schools. Information recently obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that the council uses G4S to provide catering services for  its ‘Signs of Safety’ child protection training courses in Mile End , and that in 2014 it spent close to 100k on procuring a service from a G4S children’s home.

The agreement to amend the ethical procurement policy should see the end to any further contracts with G4S, Veolia and other companies on the basis of their ‘grave misconduct’, profiting from the illegal occupation of Palestine and the suffering of Palestinians against international law.

Tahsin Ahmed of Tower Hamlets Palestine Solidarity Campaign who launched the petition against G4S and presented it to the packed council meeting said, “This evening, we challenged Tower Hamlets council to improve its procurement process to enable it to exclude companies which are guilty of grave misconduct in Palestine.

They agreed to do this. We have been invited to meet soon with the lead cabinet member Cllr Alibor Choudhury to discuss taking further action.

We are pleased to note that there was full support for the proposal from both the major parties in the Council chamber.”

The campaign was run by the newly formed Tower Hamlets Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Tower Hamlets Jenin Friendship Association, who have run a long-term campaign against the multinational Veolia which presently runs street cleaning and waste services in the borough. The procurement process for new contracts covering these services is about to begin and could well be affected by this new development.

Campaigners have hailed the adoption of a new policy as a significant step towards a Boycott Divestment Sanctions victory but have vowed to keep up the pressure until ‘genuinely ethical’ procurement is successfully in place in the borough.

Sybil Cock of Tower Hamlets Jenin Friendship Association and Tower Hamlets PSC said, “We would like to thank everyone who signed our ongoing petitions against G4S and Veolia, especially those who have been involved in this divestment campaign over the last months, weeks and years. We will continue to work to challenge the existing contracts and sponsorship deals with these unethical companies until they completely divest from business with the Israeli occupation.”

Palestinian Schoolchildren Visit Tower Hamlets 

Tower Hamlets councillor Rania Khan recently welcomed Palestinian school children to the borough as part of a week-long educational visit with local twinning group the Tower Hamlets Jenin Friendship Association.

Boys from Jenin Refugee Camp and Abu Dis were accompanied on their 2,000 mile trip by youth worker Khalid Shati to meet children from Langdon Park, Stepney Green and Oaklands Schools and to work on a drama production performed at the Somers Town Festival in North London.

While visiting local schools the Palestinians explained the complex human rights issues that affect their daily lives and often prevent them from continuing their education. In an emotional meeting at Tower Hamlets Town Hall in Mulberry Place, one of the visitors, Radinal Nobane, 17, spoke of how in 2002 the incursion into Jenin by the  Israeli army left 600 Palestinians dead, including his father, his cousin and three of his uncles. Despite this early trauma in his life Radinal refuses to be bitter. “I am a unique person because of these events but I am also very normal. I am not like the stereotype you may have of someone with my experiences.”

Speaking after the meeting councillor Rania Khan was clearly moved by what she had heard. “We have a long tradition of supporting the Palestinians in Tower Hamlets and only wish that we could do more,” she said.

Sybil Cock, spokesperson for Tower Hamlets-Jenin Friendship Association added: “We are really encouraged by the council’s support for Palestine and will continue to campaign for the human rights of the Palestinian people.”

As reported in East End Life, 30th July, p.11. To see some more pictures of the visit go to our Pictures Page.

Visitor from Jenin – November 2011

Marwan Wishahi from Jenin Refugee Camp was the guest of Newham Jenin from 23rd November – 1st December. We had the pleasure of hosting him in our borough for a number of events. On the day of his arrival, Marwan lobbied our local MP Rushanara Ali on the issue of Palestine along with a number of local residents from our group. In the evening, he was given the honour of speaking at the PSC evening meeting at Westminster, where he spoke powerfully about how the siege of the camp had robbed him of close family members. He attended St Barnabas Church where he met the congregation and took back Christmas cards made by the Sunday school for the children of Burqin Church in Jenin. Marwan also visited the local special school, Phoenix, where Saba Jarrar visited in March and with whom we wish to twin with Al-Amal School in Jenin town, where we will be sending two professional volunteers to train staff in April 2012. One of the highlights of the visit was the meeting with Medical Aid for Palestinians who discussed with Marwan their projects for the disabled in the West Bank and the possibility of working together on future projects.

It was a joy to work with Marwan, Newham Jenin and Hackney Beit Sourik on this successful visit. We look forward to the visit of young women from Jenin camp and Beit Sourik next March.

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