With the new situation in Palestine, LALIT and the Committee that runs the Idriss Goomany Centre gathered their members and guests together for an evening Vigil in support of Palestine. It was held at Grand River North West in the Mother Earth Hall, Friday 29 July. After lighting a series of old-style hurricane lamps around a “VIV PALESTINN” banner on the Main Road into Port Louis, and symbolizing the light that will come, and the light that survives the storm, everyone went upstairs to hear the Opening Address by former President of the Mauritian Republic, Mr. Cassam Uteem.
It is important to note that on the very same day as the Vigil (and we only found this out the next day in the newspaper report in Le Matinale), the Cabinet had taken note of the Palestinian request for diplomatic ties with Mauritius. This co-incidence points to the perfect timing of the jointly organized Vigil.
The new situation in Palestine, and the tasks ahead of us, were made clear by the flow of speakers throughout the evening: Cassam Uteem, in his opening address, Imran Dhunoo for the Goomany Centre, Ram Seegobin for LALIT, Alain Ah-Vee and Ragini Kistnasamy as witnesses who have been present in support actions in Palestine, and the three co-chairs, Ally Lazer, Rajni Lallah and the author of this report, Lindsey Collen. What is this new situation? It is the uprisings in the Middle East all around Palestine that have changed the balance of forces. This has, in turn, led to the beginning of the opening of the Raffah crossing from Egypt to Gaza, to the fall of regimes that colluded with Israel in its occupation of Palestine, to the pressure on Hamas and Fatah to come together to put forward the UN resolution for the recognition of the Palestinian State, to the accentuation of the international support for Palestinians symbolized by the huge Freedom Flotilla action to break the Gaza siege, and then the repression against the Flotilla. All this, against a background of the sharp decline of the USA as an economic power. This is the new situation. Israel’s isolation is both a sign of hope because of the beginning of the end of its impunity, and also of possible danger, as Israel gets more and more desperate. What needs to be done was also argued both coherently, and in a convergent way.
Other features of the evening were a series of very recent slides of Palestine taken by the great photographer, Jano Couacaud, and presented by him, bringing parts of Palestine to vivid life before our eyes, and also a poignant poem by the great poet, Umar Timol, which he himself read, bringing empathy at the horror of the bombing of Gaza into our ears and hearts. All this contributed to an unforgettable evening, and to the beginning of a new phase in the struggle of the people of Palestine.
Former President of the Republic structured his speech around three Palestinian poems, which he read in French translation. One was on land, one on resistance, and one on defiance. He then linked these strong Palestinian voices to the new political situation and geo-political realities of the world right now. Despite starting with the disadvantage of a slightly hoarse voice due to a persistent winter throat, Mr. Cassam Uteem spoke for 30 minutes, inspiring us, and always putting emphasis on the resilience of the Palestinian people in the face of such a long, sustained attack by the Israeli Zionists. His detailed, precise knowledge of the political issues involved, coupled with his ability to explain this to those present, in simple terms, made his arguments compelling. He spoke clearly for the boycotting, disinvestment and sanctions campaign against Israel that has now got off the ground world-wide, how useful a tool it had been in Mauritius in the struggle against apartheid, and how we must pinpoint one or two products. He also argued for the immediate halt to all Israeli colonization, for an end to the blockade on Gaza, for the UN General Assembly recognition of Palestine as a State in its September meeting. He said that it is important that Israel not be seen as “a small state, the victim” that it paints itself to be; Israel is a part of the USA, a huge and powerful State. His plea for the millions of Palestinian refugees, many of whom have lived in camps for generations now, was taken up by other speakers throughout the evening.
The two LALIT members who have been to Palestine a number of times as part of international support gave powerful testimonies. Emotions ran high as they spoke. They were both described as “Mauritian heroes” by Ally Lazer. In their personal testimonies, they both paid tribute to the dignity and courage of the Palestinian people in the face of such violent and sustained attack, and at the same time linked their visits with the precise details of the present geo-political situation. Ragini Kistnasamy said that if the USA uses its veto at the Security Council,
A Palestinian, in the audience, was applauded by those present. He was born he said in Saudi Arabia and, like millions of refugees, is not allowed to return to Palestine. He is married to a Mauritian. Other people from abroad were present at the vigil and gave the event the kind of internationalist feeling that will be necessary for the success of this struggle. As well as a Palestinian, there were people present (receiving interpretation from Mauritian Kreol into English, on the spot, by three LALIT volunteers) from Britain, Holland, Pakistan, Belgium, India and Denmark.
Imran Dhunoo, for The Idriss Goomany Centre, began by saying how, while many people were thinking only of the Medpoint scandal, those of us gathered in GRNW were also, at the same time, maintaining focus on Palestine. He made a clear and well-researched plea for the Palestinian people, and for the Mauritian Government not to bow down to economic and political pressure of any sort. He thanked his colleague Norman for help in preparing his talk.
Ram Seegobin, for LALIT, in a powerful, emotional speech, outlined all the political issues involved. He put emphasis on the need to continue to pressure the Mauritian Government. There have been political representations recently by Israel, he said, referring to a delegation’s very recent visit to the President of the Republic in Reduit and to the Prime Minister in his office, and that Mauritius should refuse to give diplomatic representation of any kind to Israel so long as occupation continues. Ram Seegobin said that diplomatic relations should be established with the Palestine State, which the UN will soon be called upon to recognize. He said that Israel’s position was directly affected by the uprisings all over North Africa and the Middle East, and also by the impending bankruptcy of the USA. However, he warned that Israel may act wildly, and that a strike against Iran is not impossible. This is designed to provoke a military retaliation against a Gulf State that, in turn, will draw the US into military action in the region.
Reeaz Chuttoo from the floor proposed a common action of support for the Palestinian people, and the Idriss Goomany Centre proposed that the same kind of event be held in different localities.
The evening was characterised by the way in which all the interventions converged, in terms of content and of the strength of commitment. Nothing wavered. The vigil had met on a seven-point program:
*No to new Israeli law to criminalize boycotting of colonies!
*Freeze all settlements and new colonies immediately!
*No to repression on the Gaza Flotilla! End the blockade!
*Government support for UN resolution for Palestinian State!
*No diplomatic links with Israel till occupation ends!
*Yes to diplomatic representation in Mauritius for Palestine.
*Boycott Israel! Boycott Caterpillar products that are utilized to destroy houses in Palestine.
Rajni Lallah had summarized these points, as she referred to Mr. Uteem’s speech, while she co-presided.
At the vigil, there soup and bread was served on the veranda just before starting and after the end of the vigil, to stave off the wintery cold, and to symbolize sharing. A group of LALIT members had prepared it on the spot in the afternoon, at the end of the LALIT political education school, which the Idriss Goomany Centre had brought freshly baked bread. The legendary Egyptian singer, Oum Kalsoum’s voice, filled the air. Alain Ah-Vee had bought a CD of her songs, songs he has loved since hearing her on shortwave on Egyptian Radio as a child, when he was in Palestine. The CD was stolen by Israeli soldiers during a search, when he visited Palestine. Alain Ah-Vee, in his usual generous way, was not too upset, because, he said, he was pleased that they, too, liked her singing. Recently, friends had “replaced” his lost CD with another, which was played at the Vigil.
People at the vigil were from all over Mauritius, with a concentration from the Port Louis area, of course, including Plaine Verte, La Tour Koenig, Grande Riviere, but also from all over, including Curepipe, Rose-Hill, Montagne Blanche, Beau Bassin, Vacoas, Mount Ory, Bambous, Flic-en-Flac, Camp Le Vieux, Site Richelieu, Quatre Bornes.