On 21st February Merton PSC invited Karen Mitchell, a partner at Thompsons Solicitors, to share her journey from having 'no background knowledge of Palestine' before her life-changing visit to Palestine in 2008, to now being elected to the Executive Committee of Palestinian Solidarity Campaign. Full video of her presentation and question-answer session is provided below.
"I am Karen Mitchell, I'm a lawyer with Thompsons. We are the largest firm of lawyers representing trade unionists through out the country. And it was part of my job as a partner with Thompsons that I was invited by the south-east region TUC to accompany a delegation of fire-fighters to Palestine. Now at that stage, it was 2008, I had no background knowledge of Palestine other than there was trouble there. So I went with an open mind. What I saw there, and I'm going to share with you my slides, and as I've hinted at, changed my perception, my life, and my commitment and dedication to Palestine. And its important that I share this with you because anyone that has seen this, and experiences that, comes back changed. So I'm firmly of the view that as many people as possible in trade union delegations should be sent to Palestine because when you see an apartheid state in action you have to come back and do things.."
What followed was a moving account of how the Israeli occupation shatters any semblance of life for Palestinians.
Karen Mitchell - "Going to Palestine and seeing for yourself what happens there undoubtedly changes your life."
Karen Mitchell ended her talk with a passionate plea for local PSC branches to link up to local trade unions to create the needed momentum to build a movement to end apartheid:
"The trade union movement are now coming aboard, make no mistake about it, the victory at the trade union conference this year was amazing. There was not one single union that voted against boycott divestment and sanctions which is significant from previous years because there had been the trade union friends of Israel - they had been lobbying and lobbying and they are powerful. This year they were utterly defeated. So my plea to you is that we are going to be asking more and more of our branches to link up to trade union branches. We want delegations to go out Palestine, because make no mistake about it - you send 10 trade unionists out to Palestine to see what I witnessed they will come back like I came back infused, determined to do something and it will add to the momentum of what you have all been doing for years. So please when you have any activities we will supply you with local trade union branches and if you can get them involved it will be excellent because you are building the momentum to make this movement the biggest movement that we need.. it happened with South Africa, apartheid was defeated, make no mistake about it this is an apartheid state and if we are not careful the Palestinians will be wiped out, no mistake about it!"
Karen Mitchell shares her visit to Palestine through her slides
Her talk was followed by 15 minutes of questions and answers. In the qa session Karen Mitchell revealed details of how the TUC victory had been achieved and its origins link back to this trade union delegation of fire-fighters to Palestine:
"This delegation also resulted in the first of many motions that were put, that lead up to the final victory. The Fire Brigades Union(FBU) lead the massive onslaught on raising Palestine because simply they had seen and had been there, so they were able to then take it to their conference who then pushed it through in the TUC. And believe me, that first victory really opened my eyes because the Fire Brigades Union, and the Public Service Trade Union (UNISON), and Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) - the 3 unions that lead on Palestine, all 3 of them had government intervention as to why they should back track on the motions they were backing and the 3 of them - UNISON, PCS, and the FBU refused to stand down, so they lead the way for the massive victory that followed because they wouldn't be moved on it. But the shenanigans that went on behind the scenes to get them to dampen down the motions shouldn't be underestimated either.."
It should be mentioned that due to this unfair pressure from the government the final motion that the TUC passed in 2009, whilst remaining a landmark victory, was in fact watered down with reference to the boycott of Israeli consumer goods being altogether removed from the motion and an opt out clause added in (UCU request) to allow individual unions room to back track. The motion called for the boycott of goods from the Israeli settlements, and an end to arms sales to Israel, and for a campaign for disinvestment by companies associated with the occupation or the building of the separation wall. The TUC motion of 2010 also, disappointingly, stopped short of a full boycott of Israeli goods.
Video: Karen Mitchell - Life Changing Visit to Palestine
"Everywhere we went (in Gaza) the same question was on every body's lips - 'You are here but where are the Arabs?' One little girl said to me 'where is this Arab world that they teach us about in school? Where is this Ummah that they talk to us about on Fridays? Why did they leave us alone?'. That's what she said to me, with tears in her eyes 'why did they leave us alone?' I had to turn my face away from her when she said it, and I'm not an Arab, I had to turn away.. I couldn't face her in the face of such a question.."