Palestinian conference in Berlin dedicated to prisoners, takes the #SaltWaterChallenge to support hunger strike

The fourth conference of the Union of Palestinian Communities and Organizations in Europe convened in Berlin, Germany on 20 May 2017. The conference brought together over 140 Palestinians from Sweden, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Austria, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Turkey, Cyprus, Greece and elsewhere to convene and plan activities for the coming period linking Palestinian exile communities throughout the European region. Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network participated in the conference’s activities as well as providing prisoner support information and materials to attendees.

The conference was dedicated to the Palestinian prisoners and their ongoing Strike of Dignity and Freedom. Participants, including Samidoun and BDS Berlin organizers and Palestinian activists from across Europe, took the “Salt Water Challenge” to express their support for Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike who have consumed only salt and water since the beginning of the strike. Among the participants in the conference was Sakhran Sakhran, the first Palestinian prisoner in Israeli jails of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Participants in the day-long conference elected a new leadership, including multiple Palestinian youth organizers and Samidoun activists from Greece, Belgium and Turkey, including Mohammed Khatib, the European Coordinator of Samidoun, based in Athens. Dr. Fawzi Ismail, of the Associazione Amicizia Sardegna-Palestina and director of the Al-Ard Doc Film Festival, was elected president of the union.

Samidoun posters highlighting the campaign to free Ahmad Sa’adat, the imprisoned leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and all Palestinian prisoners, adorned the walls of the conference venue, while materials about the cases of Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, Basil al-Araj and the current hunger strike were distributed to attendees.

The conference’s political statement began with a statement emphasizing support for the prisoners:

“In this Berlin Declaration, we affirm the Palestinian people’s right to return to their homeland and homes as a sacred and inalienable right that persists no matter how long the struggle, as we emphasize our stand with the principled struggle of the prisoners’ movement, the vanguard of our people and their valiant resistance. We dedicate the work of our conference to the Palestinian people everywhere, and to all of their prisoners in the Zionist prisons, led by the great national leader Comrade Ahmad Sa’adat, the struggler Karim Younis, the longest consecutively-held Palestinian prisoner, and the struggling brother Marwan Barghouthi, and all of the leaders of the struggling prisoners’ movement as the enter the 34th day of their historic open hunger strike. We urge our people, our nation, and all of our friends in Europe and in the Diaspora to build an even wider movement of solidarity with the prisoners’ struggle until we achieve freedom and dignity.”

The conference was followed by a cultural event that drew over 500 Palestinians and their supporters in Berlin, featuring a speech by longtime Palestinian veteran struggler from the refugee camps of Lebanon, Salah Salah, and performances by two Palestinian cultural performance groups, Raj’een Palestinian Dabkeh Troupe from Brussels, Belgium, and Al-Awda Band, based in Berlin. Both performance troupes elicited cheers as they performed Palestinian traditional and national songs and dances. Raj’een has performed at multiple demonstrations for the prisoners in Brussels with a special dabkeh performance developed to support the prisoners and depict their struggle and experience. The evening concluded with a performance by Al-Awda Band of “May wa Meleh (Salt and Water)” in a musical and dance salute to the striking prisoners.

The day before the conference, Friday, 19 May, conference organizers and participants – including Samidoun activists from Belgium, Greece, Turkey and elsewhere – joined in a protest organized by Palestinian and Arab organizations in Berlin in support of Palestinian political prisoners on hunger strike outside Rathaus Neukolln in a busy district of Berlin. They held signs, posters and banners in support of Palestinian prisoners while distributing information to passers-by about the prisoners’ strike and chanting for freedom for the prisoners and the Palestinian people.