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Plotting a path to Palestine in Bangkok

Dec 09. 2016
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By Carleton Cole
Special to The Nation

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Four years after Thailand joined a growing majority of countries by recognising the sovereignty of Palestine, people gathered in Bangkok recently to mark the United Nations Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.

“Not only for Palestinians or Israelis, but for all people of my generation and the next, we need to step closer to that world where every child is able to grow up without the hate that stains innocent hearts. The world where we do not leave any of our friends behind. And the world where justice and peace are not only in resolution papers but also on everyone’s minds. May justice be served and may peace be upon all of us.”

Those words concluded a speech delivered at Bangkok’s United Nations complex on November 29 by Pin-anong Weesaapen, a student in one of my Asian Studies classes at Mahidol University International Demonstration School (MUIDS). They mirrored the statement made by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, “reaffirming support for the Palestinian people in their quest for freedom and basic rights, particularly the inalienable right of self-determination”. 

Next year Thailand and Japan will co-host the third ministerial meeting of East Asian Countries for Palestinian Development – with tourism and agriculture on Bangkok’s radar.

The annual Day of Solidarity marks the day in 1947 when Palestinians, who had lived on their land for centuries, were suddenly made an all-or-nothing offer of a small portion of territory set aside for them during the creation of Israel, when survivors of the Holocaust became initiators of a great injustice.

Stuart Ward, a member of the Thai Palestine Solidarity (PSC) Campaign and the event’s emcee, noted it was heartening to see such optimism for the cause among the young Thai generation.

MUIDS student Pearutch Kuvinichkul used his time at the podium to deliver a similar message: “Another vital issue for the Palestinians is that they are losing their national identity following the occupation and repression by Israel. Culture is instrumental in the re-establishment of Palestine as a viable sovereign state in the future.” 

Among other speakers sharing ideas and solidarity was Professor Kraisak Choonhavan, honorary president of PSC-Thailand and son of former prime minister Chatichai Choonhavan.

A highlight of the event was a statement by Tammam, a Palestinian whose family has been living in exile since al-Nakba – “the catastrophe” – of 1947. “I feel very good about Thailand. Thailand protected my family,” said the refugee, who grew up in Syria and lived in Thailand for four years before being granted asylum in New Zealand a few months ago. “I went to many embassies in Damascus,” he explains of his dramatic experience after the civil war in Syria exploded five years ago. “No country accepted me,” he said. “Then I went to the Thai Embassy and got a visa there, no problem. The next day I returned with passports for 21 people, including my father, brother, wife and two sons and other relatives.” 

In a moving conclusion to her speech, Pin-anong the MUIDS student said: “We cannot rewrite history but we still can build the future [with] our power to seek the truth, our power to speak up for justice, our power to cross over the labels and benefits, our power to prioritise humanity, and our power to plant the seed of harmony in society.”

Carleton Cole is author of the recently re-released “Siamese Arabesques: Tales of the Muslim World with Thai Twists”.

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