An event at the Scottish Parliament involving an organisation that supports illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank was cancelled after pro-Palestinian supporters raised concerns with MSPs.
FoRUK says it is committed to human rights and facilitating peace talks between Israeli settlers and Palestinians.
But critics said the group should not have been invited to Holyrood, claiming that it supports “apartheid” and is an “attempt to whitewash the crimes of the Israeli settlers”.
FoRUK is the UK branch of an organisation called Roots which aims to connect Israeli settlers with Palestinians face-to-face. Roots’ founders include a Zionist settler who moved to the West Bank, and the organisation’s headquarters is in Gush Etzion, a bloc of two dozen settlements and outposts near Bethlehem, in the West Bank.
FoRUK’s launch tour took place in November, with speakers visiting London and Birmingham, among other cities. The tour was supposed to kick off at the Scottish Parliament.
Scottish Greens MSP Maggie Chapman, co-convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s CPG on Palestine, was among those voicing concerns. She said the event should never have been scheduled, arguing that it is “totally inappropriate to be showcasing speakers” that back West Bank settlements.
“The settlements in the West Bank are a core part of the occupation and are symptomatic of the injustice that has been inflicted on the Palestinian people,” Chapman added. “They are the manifestation of the daily apartheid and abuse that millions of Palestinians have been forced to endure.”
She said Palestinians on the cross party group were “outraged” that any speaker who would try to justify the West Bank settlements could have been invited, which is why she could not attend the event.
“There can be no place for apartheid in our parliament, or for those that would try to whitewash, minimise or excuse it. Palestinian civil society has called for a boycott associated with the settlements: we should heed these calls,” Chapman said.
Eurig Scandrett, chair of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said pro-Palestinian supporters across Scotland contacted MSPs to voice concerns after learning the event was to due to take place.
“It is clear that FoRUK is an attempt to whitewash the crimes of the Israeli settlers,” Scandrett claimed. “They say they want a dialogue between settlers and Palestinians while these same settlers are illegally occupying Palestinian land, stealing water, destroying crops, killing livestock and violently attacking Palestinians. Racist colonisers who try to justify Israel’s apartheid should not be given a public platform.”
The co-chairs of FoRUK — Ruth Jacobs, Steven Longden, Jess Foster — told The Ferret in a joint statement that the organisation is committed to the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights, and that it “fully recognizes that the status quo in the West Bank denies Palestinians many, if not most, of these fundamental human rights”.
“We understand our work as addressing the roots of these inequalities, and our goal is to change the status quo for the better,” FoRUK said. “Nothing is off the table in our projects – difficult conversations are the norm and our raison d’etre.
“Through this difficult work, relationships are built over the long term with participants involved in a range of initiatives that aim to challenge inequalities, promote non-violent activism.”
FoRUK pointed out its board includes British, Israeli and Palestinian Muslims, Jews and Christians, and claimed the “allegations of whitewashing simply demonstrate a wilful ignorance” of its work. “The idea that peace is achieved without building grassroots, person-to-person relationships simply does not stand the test of time,” its statement continued.
FoRUK also argued that “top-down political solutions are much more likely to fail” than successful grassroots movements, citing the Oslo Accords, a 1993 peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, which later failed.
Pointing to the work of the International Fund for Ireland and the “positive role it played in laying the groundwork for the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland”, FoRUK said cross community movements play an important role in promoting peace.
Scottish Labour’s Paul O’Kane MSP — who organised the event — said it was intended to be a tripartite discussion between members of the CPG on Building Bridges with Israel, the CPG on Tackling Racial Discrimination and Religious Prejudice, and the CPG on Palestine.
He explained that Scottish Parliament guidance states that events like these “must command the confidence and have positive engagement” with all the CPGs involved.
“In the 24 hours prior to the event, it became clear that some members of the CPG on Palestine and some members of the CPG on Tackling Racial Discrimination and Racial Prejudice would not be attending the event,” O’Kane explained.
“On the basis that the event would no longer facilitate dialogue between the three groups and that it wouldn’t be in line with the Scottish Parliament guidance on events held between multiple CPGs I felt the event couldn’t go ahead.”
A Scottish Parliament spokesperson said: “The Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body is not responsible for member-sponsored events beyond ensuring compliance with the published criteria.”
The cancellation of the Holyrood event followed a general election in Israel that led to the formation of the most far right government in its history.
A coalition of far right parties — including one whose leader was once convicted of anti-Arab racism — is led by Benjamin Netanyahu, who prompted condemnation last week after promising to expand Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Many states and international bodies have long recognised that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law.
They have been condemned in many UN Security Council and other UN resolutions.
Israel captured the West Bank in 1967 along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. The Palestinians seek the West Bank as the heartland of a future independent state. In the decades since, Israel has constructed dozens of Jewish settlements there that are now home to about 500,000 Israelis, living alongside about 2.5 million Palestinians.
Major human rights organisations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have accused Israel of apartheid. Israel has strongly rejected those claims.
Cover image thanks to iStock/Ryan Rodrick Beiler