Friday, 21 June 2013

International solidarity: Palestine and Colombia

#undc13 The international session heard harrowing testimony of Colombian activists and calls for a sporting boycott to end Israeli apartheid.

Moving testimony of Colombian activists inspires support

Colombia is still one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a trade unionist and conference pledged to continue UNISON’s long term support for working people in Colombia in their struggles for human and trade union rights and to build a better quality of life.

Speaker after speaker gave examples of the human cost of government policies in Colombia, with trade unionists killed, massive internal displacement and a lack of justice.
Mary Sampson from Lanarkshire Health told delegates that the numbers of trade unionists killed in Colombia in 2008 were equal in number to everyone in the conference hall – a shocking statistic which has got even worse since then.

Her branch were privileged to welcome “our Colombian sister, Alfamia Castillo, who gave us an inspiring speech on the work she and her colleagues undertake in constant fear of their lives.”

Mary called for UNISON to actively encourage regions and branches to support campaigns that build a sustainable infrastructure supporting community organising, protecting workers and their families, “for the safety of workers like Alfamia, to allow them to support working people in Colombia.”

Jane Aitchison’s South Lanarkshire Branch also took the opportunity to organise a skype session with Berenice Celeyta Alayon, a leading human rights campaigner in Colombia.
Jane told conference, “It was inspiring to hear Berenice describe the bravery of trade unionists who are rising up and organising in spite of Colombia being the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist.

“It was inspiring to hear of this bravery from someone who herself puts herself in danger for championing human rights in her own country and beyond.

“All Berenice wants is for her people to be able to live in peace, with access to a decent health service and education. Is that really too much to ask?” asked Jane.

“Thanks to international solidarity there have been some successes but there is still a very long way to go.”

Call for a sporting boycott to end Israeli apartheid

Conference reaffirmed UNISON’s support for a Palestinian State and pledged to continue its campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

In a passionate speech Glasgow City’s Sam Macartney, Chair of Scotland’s International Committee, told conference that he wondered if BDS goes far enough.

“It is right that we target Israeli settlement goods, but while Israel continues to participate in the world’s sporting events without repercussions, it is an insult to all Palestinians, who should have a right to live in their own homeland with full civil rights and free from persecution.”

Last week Scotland hosted Mahmoud Sarsak, a Palestinian football player recently released from an Israeli jail after being interned for three years without charge. No charges were brought against him as no crimes were committed. Mahmoud was on hunger strike for 94 days before he was released.
Sam called for a sporting boycott to now be put in place “to draw attention to this Israeli apartheid regime.”

Sam said, “Mahmoud’s words stuck in my mind. He said, “It was heartbreaking to watch this under 21 world cup played on stolen Palestinian land. Where is our option to participate? Where is our justice?”

Sam said that when it comes to sport and Palestine there is the kind of discrimination that “Show Racism the Red Card” does such a great job of challenging in this country. In Ramala there are apartments where Israeli families live upstairs and Palestinian families live downstairs. Upstairs the families enjoy access to all benefits and sporting activities. Downstairs, they have none of these rights.

“That is discrimination! That is repression! That is Palestine under Israeli occupation.”
He ended with another quote from Mahmoud Sarsak, about his hunger strike. “The decision was very difficult to take between your own life and freedom, but freedom is much more important than everything. You would hate life without freedom.”

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