Dr Husam Zomlot, head of the Palestinian mission to the UK, delivered a passionate speech at the Oxford Union on 28 November, emphasizing a key message that ‘achieving peace, even if it is not It’s not easy, it’s possible.
His speech, which included a speech followed by a question-and-answer session with Union President Disha Hegde and the audience, came at a critical time as the recent ceasefire between Israel and Hamas entered in its fifth day.
Dr. Zomlot, who formerly headed the Palestinian mission in the United States before his closing by the Trump administration in 2018, focused on the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.
He presented alarming statistics of “more than 15,000 killed, more than 30,000 injured and more than 1.1 million displaced,” highlighting the serious consequences of the conflict. Regarding the lack of medical facilities and essential supplies, he asked: “Where will the injured be treated?
The plight of civilians was a central theme of Dr. Zomlot’s speech. It highlighted the grim reality of life and the struggles of Gazans, including those who followed orders to move to southern Gaza. Gaza residents “now face long queues for basic necessities, the spread of disease and reported airstrikes.”
Dr. Zomlot accused Israel of breaking international laws while maintaining global support, noting that “it is astonishing how Israel gets away with it.”
Referring to Israeli government officials, he cited calls for genocidal actions by Israeli figures, including references to “a second Nakba“, “Nuking Gaza”, calling Palestinians “human animals” and plans to relocate Palestinians to the Sinai desert.
Earlier in November, a minister from the extremist Otzma Yehudit party said nuclear bombing Gaza was an option, or that people could “go to Ireland or the desert.”
Dr. Zomlot argued that the Israeli government’s extremism and the disasters of the conflict are the result of international neglect of the Palestinian struggle.
He said that “for more than a century they have been displaced, labeled as terrorists and, in recent years, ignored.”
Expressing frustration with the international community’s lack of attention to Palestinian issues, he said: “No one paid attention to the increase in settlements, no one paid attention when Israel engaged in 6 attacks on Gaza, no one paid attention to Israel’s immoral blockade of Gaza. In the Gaza Strip, no one paid attention when 200 Palestinians were killed in Gaza while marching peacefully.
The criticism extends to the fact that the PLO’s efforts have been ignored, including referring crimes to the ICC or ICJ, and claims that “countries like the UK and the US have protected Israel of any responsibility.”
President Hedge asked about the global appetite for a permanent ceasefire. He stressed that there is regional apprehension regarding the atrocities in Gaza and their potential regional fallout. This is a concern shared by many Western countries, including the United States.
He also highlighted the political implications in Israel, suggesting that Prime Minister Netanyahu “knows that when the guns stop being pointed at the Palestinians, they will be (politically) pointed at him, and he could end up in prison.”
Addressing the question of the realistic prospect of breaking the cycle of violence and hatred, Zomlot emphasized that “children are not hateful or violent by nature; it’s by context.” He advocated for changing this context to enable a peaceful future.
He stressed the importance of justice in shaping this new context, emphasizing the Palestinian commitment to teaching love while ensuring that perpetrators of violence on all sides are held accountable.
Additionally, he refuted claims that Palestinian education is propaganda and teaches children violence and hatred towards Israel. He affirmed the right and necessity to teach Palestinian history, the reality of life under occupation and to question Israeli narratives.
Asked about the role of the Palestinian Authority (PA) after the war and who governs Gaza, Dr. Zomlot clarified that the PA never left Gaza. He stressed that the Palestinian Authority continues to provide many public services, despite losing control over political and security functions.
He stressed that there is no military solution to the conflict and advocated for a two-state solution led by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). He reminded the audience of the international recognition, including by Israel, of the PLO as “the sole representative of the Palestinian people.”
The lack of elections since 2005 is a criticism that raises doubts about the legitimacy of the PLO’s control of the PA and its representation of the Palestinians. Dr. Zomlot recognized this problem and stressed the importance of democratic renewal within the PLO.
This ties in with his criticism of the broken promise of Oslo Accords, which aimed to establish a Palestinian state within five years. He said the Palestinian Authority’s ability to achieve this goal has been hampered by Israeli actions, such as obstructing its ability to hold elections in East Jerusalem, which is the internationally recognized capital of the Palestinians.
Dr Zomlot urged people not to underestimate their collective strength in protests and activism. He cited the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa as an example of how public action can lead to meaningful political change, saying it was the people, not specific governments, who brought down the regime of apartheid.
He rejected the misrepresentation of the Palestinian issue as a humanitarian or religious conflict, emphasizing that it is a political struggle for rights and statehood. He said the Palestinian cause predates groups like Hamas and is fundamentally about recognizing Palestinian rights and the need for statehood.
Reflecting on his experience at the London School of Economics (LSE), he praised the British culture of acceptance and embrace of ethnic and religious diversity. Dr. Zomlot encouraged the audience to “use everything that democracy offers.”
Concluding his talk with Oxford Union students, Dr Zomlot drew parallels with historical events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall and the transition in the Balkans, emphasizing that peace, even if not is not easy, is possible.
“One word can sum up the answer: hope,” he said. He stressed the importance of instilling hope in Palestinians, recognizing that “despair produces certain dynamics.”
His main message was that achieving peace requires leadership, political will, justice and statesmanship. It is possible, and it is desperately needed.
Image credit: Oxford Union
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