Samidoun’s Charlotte Kates participated in a conference in Milan, Italy on Saturday, 25 February, speaking about Palestinian political prisoners, Zionist repression and the internationalization of repression and resistance. The conference, organized by Fronte Palestina, brought together Italian activists from various cities to speak about repressive legislation designed to suppress Palestinian and pro-Palestinian activism, including the BDS movement, and the Israeli role in the export of repressive technology internationally.
Kates began her remarks at the conference by speaking about Omar Nayef Zayed, the former Palestinian prisoner killed one year earlier in Sofia, Bulgaria, and found dead outside the Palestinian embassy where he had taken refuge from an Israeli attempt to extradite him. Her remarks echoed the event’s opening, as the conference began with a salute to Nayef Zayed, recalling his struggle for freedom. Kates discussed Nayef Zayed’s imprisonment, escape in 1990 and his life in Bulgaria with his family as a leader in the Palestinian community, noting that the extradition request came after years of increased security coordination between the Bulgarian government and the Israeli state. She noted that there is a “triangle of responsibility” for the death of Omar Nayef Zayed, the Israeli state, the Bulgarian state and the Palestinian Authority, who pressured Nayef Zayed to leave the embassy, denied him visitors and discouraged international campaigners on his behalf rather than supporting his efforts to fight Israeli extradition.
She then discussed the role of “anti-terror” legislation and the use of lists of so-called “terrorist organizations” to separate exiled Palestinians from their national liberation movements and cut off international solidarity with the Palestinian liberation struggle, as well as the ways in which these lists replicate and mirror Israeli lists of “prohibited” or “hostile” organizations for which thousands of Palestinians have been imprisoned for membership, affiliation and support, remarking on the case of the Holy Land Five in the United States. She also noted other key international cases relating to the Palestinian struggle, including the case of Rasmea Odeh in the US and the imprisonment for 32 years in French prisons of Arab struggler for Palestine, Georges Ibrahim Abdallah.
Kates spoke about the importance of international solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners and the work of Samidoun, highlighting the role of Palestinian prisoners as examples of Palestinian national unity, leaders of the Palestinian liberation struggle and representatives of Palestinian resistance, on the front lines confronting Israeli occupation. She noted that supporting Palestinian prisoners is part and parcel of supporting Palestinians’ right to resist occupation and oppression, and highlighted specific cases, such as the current hunger strike of imprisoned journalist Mohammed al-Qeeq, and the struggle of imprisoned Palestinian leader and PFLP General Secretary Ahmad Sa’adat against isolation.
The talk also addressed the role of Palestinian prisoner solidarity as part of an international struggle against imperialism and repression. She noted European complicity in the imprisonment of Palestinians and highlighted programs such as LAW-TRAIN, funded by the Horizon 2020 research grant program, which brings European and Israeli police agencies together, along with several universities including Bar-Ilan University and KU Leuven, to study interrogation techniques. The project also includes the Israeli Ministry of Public Security, headed by far-right figure Gilad Erdan, who also holds the portfolio for fighting BDS organizing around the world.
“Building solidarity with Palestinian political prisoners is a way to support Palestinian national unity, real Palestinian struggling leadership, support Palestinian resistance and build alliances of mutual support and solidarity to fight the alliance of imperialism, Zionism and reactionary regimes that threatens us all. This is why we build campaigns to boycott and internationally isolate Israel and the corporations that are part of its prison infrastructure…This is why we organize protests and actions and come together ever more strongly with domestic movements against racism, against fascism, against repression and imprisonment,” concluded Kates.
The event included a number of interventions; Italian lawyer Ugo Giannangeli spoke about DDL 2043, a proposed anti-BDS law making its way through the Italian legislature, contrasting the attempts to suppress Palestine solidarity activism with Israel’s own egregious violations of international law. Enrico Bartolomei spoke about the university as a site of capitalist research and development, and how this drive towards profit works together with militarization and partnerships with Israeli universities, such as the Technion, for repressive industries locally and globally.
Several students from the University of Torino spoke about their work as part of Students Against Technion, working to expose the Israeli university’s involvement in the development of military technologies that oppress Palestinians, including drone technologies and tunnel detection. The university, along with other Italian universities, maintained a partnership with the Technion that expired in November 2016; no official word has been issued on its resumption, and the students are demanding an end to this partnership and all future such partnerships. They also spoke about the repression of their own activities on campus, including the cancellation of a speaking event with Israeli pro-BDS activist Ronnie Barkan.
Diana Carminati spoke about another proposed Italian law, DDL 2186, to implement increased bilateral agreements between Italy and Israel in military, security and defense matters, as well as the importance of a political and anti-imperialist approach to Palestine solidarity organizing. Silvano Falessi of Fronte Palestina spoke about the use of law to serve far-right and imperialist interests in Italy while suppressing the exposure of the genocide against the Palestinian people, while youth activists with Fronte Palestina in Padua addressed their organizing against anti-BDS legislation alongside anti-NATO and anti-imperialist organizing. Activists from Soccorso Rosso (Red Aid) spoke about the case of Georges Abdallah and the importance of supporting Palestinian political prisoners.
The event concluded with lively discussion and political analysis presented by Fronte Palestina organizers, as well as strategizing to build campaigns to confront repression in Palestine, in Italy and internationally.