Impressive freedom lecture by Hanan Ashrawi

Admiration and respect. That is what Hanan Ashrawi earned with her freedom lecture on 17 June in a crowded Pieterskerk. Ashrawi, impressive advocate of an independent Palestinian state, put her point across with poetry and even with humour.

Deciding for yourself

Ashrawi: 'The Palestinian wall robs Palestinians of their sight, and not only literally. The wall prevents them from having a clear outwards view. And it prevents Israelis from seeing what they are doing to our country and our people. And this all in the name of security.’ 
Ashrawi, known worldwide from the time when as a young woman she represented the Palestinian delegation during the peace talks in the Middle East (1991-1993), emphasized once again that the Israeli occupation penetrates deeply into the lives of Palestinians, in all respects, but primarily from a human perspective. ‘ Israel is constantly trying to redefine its own borders,’ she said, ‘and they get away with it.’

Video of the freedom lecture

Hanan Ashrawi entering the Pieterskerk, followed by Mayor Henri Lenferink and Rector Paul van der Heijden.

Hanan Ashrawi entering the Pieterskerk, followed by Mayor Henri Lenferink and Rector Paul van der Heijden.

In his heart he does...

And: 'We belong there, we want our own state and the ability to make our own decisions. First the British decided what we could and could not do, now it’s the Israelis. This has to stop. We want our own identity, our own passport, a safe place to live.’ She derives hope from the slowly growing criticism of Israel, something which was for a long time unthinkable. She is happy with the recognition given to Palestine in some countries. The Netherlands is not one of them. At this point, Ashrawi allowed herself to make a joke about Mark Rutte: ‘He might not speak up for Palestine in his role as Prime Minister, but in his heart, he does,’ she said

Help required

And yet, the Palestinian cause is not advancing fast. The Palestinian people hoped for a long time for help from the UN, but this did not bring about much change. Ashrawi now believes more in increasing the pressure on Israel. ‘For this we need help from outside,’ she says, ‘solidarity with our cause. Networking is therefore very important, as is providing information.’ This is what she does, tirelessly. But always peacefully, ‘based on the inalienable human right to freedom.’

Arabic spring

Ashrawi also spoke of the Arabic Spring, which is not equally spring-like everywhere. It is clear that the social landscape is changing in some places in the Middle East. ‘The younger generation has broken with fear,’ she says. Many people in Arabic countries want democracy. She resolutely dismissed the idea that the Arabic countries are not ready for democracy according to the Western model. ‘Nonsense. We want the same freedom that you have in the West.’

In the morning, Ashrawi was received in the Garden Room of the Academy Building by representatives of Leiden University.

In the morning, Ashrawi was received in the Garden Room of the Academy Building by representatives of Leiden University.

Forbidden

The questions from the audience which followed the lecture were also interesting. Some began with a statement that would easily qualify as a contention before asking their question. One of them was, unsurprisingly, about Hamas, mostly known as a terrorist movement. Ashrawi did not seem impressed. ‘Hamas is an elected party among other elected parties,’ she said. ‘So many excuses have been made over the years for not talking to us. In the 1970s, Israel was even forbidden to speak to us, and we were forbidden to speak to Israelis. And don’t forget that the dialogue with Hamas came into being precisely because the peace talks stranded. Entering into a dialogue with others is the beginning of acceptance, recognition and peace.’

Insistent

An insistent question which led to an insistent and personal answer was: ‘How do you manage to not fall prey to hate?’ ‘Of course I have done so,’ said Ashrawi. ‘When you are arrested and beaten time and again, as are your friends, some of whom are even murdered... then you feel deep hate. But if you see this as a licence to act in a similar manner, you end up in a vicious circle and one day you come to the realisation that this is not getting you any further. It does not solve anything. I have had to learn not to hate, and for this it is important to be surrounded with people who mean a lot to you. In the end, I managed to banish hate.’

(17 June 2011)

Last Modified: 28-06-2011