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Justice for Palestine Rally Trafalgar Square 18.05.02 - Speech by Paul Mackney, Natfhe General Secretary.

Natfhe along with Unison was listed as a sponsor of the Palestinian rally

I am proud to speak here today as General Secretary of the University and College Lecturers' Union, NATFHE.

You should be proud to be here too. We are here as part of a worldwide movement in solidarity with the people of Palestine, calling for Justice for the Palestinians.

We condemn the systematic destruction of homes and of the infrastructure of Palestinian civil and educational institutions.

We mourn with the families of the civilians killed be they Israeli or Palestinian

As a higher education union we are in solidarity with the staff and students of Bir Zeit University, the University of the West Bank.

They have been harassed for years by the Israeli forces. Classes often have to be suspended. The roads to the university have frequently been blocked and dug up. Telephone lines and water pipes have been cut.

More recently, since the invasion, they have been searched, beaten, arrested, stranded without food and money

We are in solidarity with all those who oppose the policies of Sharon and this includes with those in Israel who oppose Sharon and militarism

We are in solidarity with the refusnik reservists in Israel who will not be part of the oppression and occupation.

We support the network of Jews in this country working for Justice in Palestine.

We stand with Dr Ilan Pappe at the University of Haifa who is facing expulsion in an attempt by the University to curtail academic freedom and criticism of the Israeli state.

We have urged all UK universities and colleges to review - with a view to severing - their academic links with Israel. We have said such links should only be restored:

. After the full withdrawal of Israeli forces

. After the restoration of full access to all Palestinian educational institutions. And after the opening of negotiations to implement the UN resolutions

As Paul Oestreicher has reminded us: "the prophets of ancient Israel did not

hesitate to condemn the sins of their nation"

The same thing applies here. Blair must carry much of the blame. Sharon has merely mimicked the policies of Bush & Blair in their undefined war without end against terror.

They gave the green light. They speak of re-ordering the world - presumably in America's image.

They showed, in Afghanistan that powerful nations can get away with killing civilians, flouting basic humanitarian principles, and destroying civic buildings in a country ravaged by decades of war.

They are now suggesting we want to extend that war to Iraq and threaten to drag us all into a catastrophe. Well 'I' am not part of that 'we'. And I'm sure you are not part of that 'we'. We say 'Hands off Iraq'. Their war-mongering is not in our name.

Sharon has called the brutal shattering of Ramallah and the other fragile resources of the Palestinian authority a 'police action.

The Americans called the Vietnam War a police operation.

13 years ago, in the first intifada, the conflict was symbolised by Palestinian children with stones confronting Israeli foot patrols. Now it's suicide bombers

and Israeli tanks, bulldozers and helicopter gunships to protect stolen lands and the reduction of Palestine to a series of Bantustans.

This spiral of violence and repression must end now.

At the Labour Party Conference the loudest and longest applause in Blair's speech was when he spoke of the need to establish an independent democratic state for the people of Palestine.

That does not mean sweeping Israel into the sea. It is, in fact, in the interests of the ordinary people in Israel to see an independent democratic state of Palestine.

Blair should stop the sale of arms to Israel until it ends its 35-year occupation of Palestinian land. This must end now.

Thank you for coming. We stand in solidarity with the Palestinians today.