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Bangor to Bethlehem

It’s the time of year for festivals again, and through the weekend of 16-18 April visitors to the old farm buildings of Neuadd Hendre, near Bangor in Gwynedd, could enjoy top Welsh bands, listen to the edgy and moving stand-up comedy of Ivor Dembina and eat fantastic Palestinian food, while camping in the spring sunshine with panoramic views across the Irish Sea. But this was a festival with a difference. It had an agenda – Palestine.

The Bangor to Bethlehem international festival was opened with a speech by veteran statesman and activist Tony Benn, who pulled in a large and varied audience for his clear and concise account of the history and political situation in Israel and Palestine.

In the two days that followed that history was illuminated by many informative and inspiring contributions.

Sessions were led by: Bob Williamson of the International Solidarity Movement; Karen Chalk of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme; Pennie Quinton of the Right to Education campaign; author and activist Rich Wiles, who gave an account of everyday life in the Aida refugee camp; and activist and writer Sharyn Lock, with frontline experience of Gaza.

Further comment on Gaza was provided during a lively panel discussion with Sharyn, Hebbe and journalists Sammah Hamib and Ahmed Najar. Former NUT president Mary Compton talked about monitoring the 2006 legislative elections in Palestine, and how the west advocates democracy in theory but rejects it when the result is not to its liking.

Dr Ben Alofs examined Hamas and Fatah policy making, and the McCarthy-like crackdown on the peace movement in Israel. Dan Judelson of Jews for Justice for Palestinians gave a thoughtful analysis of Israeli-US relations and the boycott campaigns.

This forum was the idea of Steve Collings, who with other former Bangor University students established the Bustan Qaraaqa community permaculture project and international hostel near Bethlehem.

Steve joined forces with the Bangor and Ynys Môn Peace & Justice group to organise the event, which was sponsored by the Karibu foundation, CND Cymru, Unison, Cynefin y Werin and the Aberystwyth Peace & Justice Network.

The festival attracted visitors from as far away as London and Glasgow, and valuable contributions were made by Islamic communities from across North Wales and the English Northwest. Participants were in agreement that the chief aim of the international community should be to assist in the creation of a situation where Palestinians themselves could freely determine the nature of their future state.

In a public event at the Morlan Centre in Aberystwyth on 16 May, Aberystwyth Palestine Solidarity Campaign marked “Al Nakba” (The Catastrophe) of 1948-49, where 13,000 Palestinians were killed and 750,000 driven from their homes by Israeli forces.

The Bustan Qaraaqa permaculture project is in urgent need of your financial support: Cheques to “Bustan Qaraaqa”, The Old School, Lydfords Lane, Gillingham, Dorset, SP8 4NJ.