Leichhardt Friends of Hebron’s Festival of Friendship in Refugee Week was a resounding success and Leichhardt Town Hall filled to overflowing at its opening. The festival and exhibition were declared officially open by Mayor of Leichhardt, Jamie Parker and Ambassador Dr Izzat Abdulhadi, the head of the Palestinian delegation to Australia. The photographic exhibition, which was the centrepiece of the Festival of Friendship, continued to draw a steady stream of visitors all day Saturday.
The photo exhibition about life for Palestinians in Israeli occupied Hebron was curated for exhibition in 2008 but removed from Leichhardt Library following a “friendly visit” from Counter Terrorism & Special Tactics Operations Group of the NSW police. In 2010 the exhibition grew into a Festival of Friendship highlighting the plight of the Palestinian refugees in Refugee Week.
Celebrated writer of young adult fiction, Randa Abdel-Fattah, whose most recent novel was set in her father’s home town of Bethlehem, was the keynote speaker. Mrs Fathieh Douer, a Palestinian refugee, brought tears to the eyes of many when she told the audience how she and her husband were working abroad in 1967 when Israel invaded Palestine. They have never been allowed to return to their family home. United Nations Refugee Works Agency Commissioner-General Karen Abu Zayd has said that the Palestinians make up the world’s largest refugee group, and their plight has lasted longer than any other.
“Congratulations to Leichhardt Council. Without their help we would not have been able to raise so much money – almost enough to achieve our goal of providing a kindergarten for Palestinian pre-school kiddies in Hebron”. said Leichhardt Friends of Hebron treasurer, Marcia Corderoy. “We were amazed and thrilled to see how keen people were to help.”
Many people were shocked by some of the images in the exhibition as they had not realised the full impact of Israel’s military occupation, which is illegal under international law, on the residents of Hebron. “After seeing these photos, I’m totally shocked at the suffering of the Palestinian people under Israeli rule. People need to know what is actually going on in our world” said Christine Solamar from Taree who saw the exhibition when she was visiting Leichhardt for the weekend.
A panel discussion of the question ‘Censorship of the Palestinian story: how does it shape Australian understandings?’ also drew a full house. Discussion focused on the way so-called ‘balance ‘is used to silence critics of Israel and present a biased view. Dr Peter Slezak of Independent Australian Jewish Voices described attempts to silence critics of Israel in the Jewish community and discussed the prevalence of self-censorship in the media on the issue of Palestine. He also noted that the fears of many in the organized Jewish community are real although, in his view, unfounded. Other speakers shed light on attempts to silence the Friends of Hebron and institutional censorship of the “Treasures of Palestine” exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum in 2003. The panel was moderated by well known journalist and academic Peter Manning.
More people arrived for the Australian premiere of the film Welcome To Hebron, depicting the daily life of a Palestinian teenager who is trying to live a normal life with the hopes and aspirations of all young people around the world while coping with daily attacks by extremist Israeli settlers as she and her friends walk to and from school.
The evening closed with music and poetry. Friends of Hebron would like to thank the wide range of professional performers who donated their time and talent. The audience loved them all, the African dance music of Okapi Guitars, the exotic middle-eastern rhythms of Samir and his band and the eloquent spoken word artist Farid Farid.
“Overwhelming support from a wide range of people across the community made the festival such an outstanding success. There was a general enthusiasm for the event with people offering all sorts of support in work, time and products. Our heartfelt thanks to all of them.” said Ms Corderoy.
Leichhardt Friends of Hebron was formed in 2007 to engage Leichhardt Municipal Council in raising awareness of the Palestinan story in Hebron throughout the municipality and to providing practical humanitarian support for the people of Hebron. Leichhardt Friends of Hebon works with The Villages Group, a voluntary organisation of Palestinians and Israelis working together to support grassroots Palestinian communities suffering under Israel’s military occupation which is illegal under international law. This kind of partnership shows cooperation and friendship is possible between Palestinians and Jews in Israel/Palestine as people work together for peace with justice.