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Palestinian resistance icon and political leader Leila Khaled was joined by representatives of Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, the European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine and the Palestinian Youth Organization Europe for a series of meetings in the European Parliament in Brussels on 8 February.

Khaled met with the offices of MEPs Martina Anderson of Ireland and Ana Gomes of Portugal, where she highlighted three key issues: the struggle of Palestinian prisoners and, in particular, the 76-day hunger strike of Palestinian journalist Mohammed al-Qeeq, imprisoned without charge or trial; Palestinian refugees and the right of return, and the recent cuts to UNRWA health services in Lebanon; and the case of Omar Nayef Zayed, former Palestinian prisoner now facing extradition from Bulgaria, an EU member state.

lk4Khaled highlighted the suffering of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and the escalation in the past five months, including the constantly expanding use of administrative detention without charge or trial and the situation of child prisoners. In particular, she highlighted al-Qeeq’s case: his urgent health situation as he daily faces death, his insistence on freedom from administrative detention, and the targeting of Palestinian journalists. “Their role is to show what is going on, and because of that, they are shot, wounded, imprisoned and held in administrative detention,” said Khaled.

Khaled also discussed the case of 14-year-old Ahmad Manasrah, and the imprisonment of political leaders like Khalida Jarrar and Ahmad Sa’adat, as well as the ongoing repression directed against Palestinians: home demolitions, the siege on Qabatiya, and extrajudicial executions in Palestinian streets.

She also emphasized the case of Omar Nayef Zayed, former Palestinian prisoner who escaped Israeli custody in 1990 and has lived in Bulgaria for the past 22 years with his Bulgarian family, noting that he now faces extradition to the Israeli state by the Bulgarian government under an extradition treaty for “criminal matters,” noting that Zayed’s case – like that of all Palestinian prisoners – is a political matter, not criminal, and concerns occupied Jerusalem, territory under occupation where Palestinians face military courts. She warned that this case endangers Palestinians in Europe, especially former prisoners and veterans of struggle, urging that pressure be escalated to prevent an EU member state from extraditing a Palestinian former prisoner to Israel.

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Khaled, a member of the Palestinian National Council and chair of the refugees and right of return committee of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, emphasized the centrality of the right of return for Palestinian refugees to the Palestinian cause, noting that it is frequently silenced and marginalized when it is in fact at the center of Palestinian struggle. “Palestinian refugees want to go back home, including myself. I am still a refugee,” Khaled said. She noted that any true solution for Palestine requires the implementation of Palestinian refugees’ right of return, noting that UN Resolution 194, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and well-settled international norms all support the right denied Palestinians forced from their homes for 68 years.

lk5She also noted the budget cuts facing Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, dependent on health services provided by the UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA), which deals uniquely with Palestinian refugees; all other refugees’ cases are handled by the UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR). UNRWA’s budget is funded by donor countries and is constantly subject to political pressure in an attempt to liquidate the struggle of Palestinian refugees, Khaled noted; now, when it is facing a budget crisis, it is being resolved on the backs of those least able to handle it – Palestinian refugees in Lebanon in the camps, facing cuts to health services funding that have prompted significant protests throughout the country.

She also noted the continuing forced displacement of Palestinian refugees yet again from Syria, often to Europe, while their right of return continues to be denied.

Samidoun representatives in the meeting also discussed the issue of G4S, whose European Parliament contract was dropped in 2011, while it continues to provide security to the European Commission and other European institutions despite its atrocious human rights record, not only in Palestine where it provides control rooms and equipment to Israeli prisons, checkpoints and police training centers but around the world.

The participants in the meeting emphasized the importance of action by concerned MEPs on the case of Al-Qeeq, with particular urgency considering the daily threat to his life, and on Palestinian prisoners more broadly, as well as the case of Omar Nayef Zayed. They also called for action on Palestinian refugees’ right of return, which is consistently excluded from European discussions on Palestine and Palestinian rights, and a real boycott of settlement products in the EU.

Samidoun will be joining Khaled as she continues her meetings with parliamentarians in the coming days, and will be following up alongside ECCP with parliamentarians on the discussions and issues raised.