Members of student unions and youth organisations from 30 countries assembled in the Turkish city of Istanbul to participate in a two-day conference discussing recent and future developments in the Palestinian territories.
Organised by the Turkish-based Anatolian Youth Association, National Youth Foundation and Platform for Youth Movement for Jerusalem and Palestine, the Second International Student and Youth Movement Conference on Jerusalem and Palestine Support provided a platform for Muslim youth to educate themselves on the origins and current status of the Palestinian struggle as well as what actions could be undertaken in their own countries to help. Organizers of the conference intended to foster increased solidarity between the Palestinian people and the wider Islamic world, with emphasis being placed on the common struggles experienced by both.
The subject of Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa mosque dominated conference discussions. Occupied by Israeli forces since 1967, a result of the Six-Day War, East Jerusalem – the predominantly Palestinian-Arab section of the city – contains some of the holiest sites for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, including the Al-Aqsa mosque. Many participants in the conference reiterated the importance of Jerusalem to the global Islamic community, and how returning control to the Palestinian people was the first step in resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict. The third holiest site in the Islamic faith, the Al-Aqsa mosque remains a site of great contention between the Palestinian and Israeli communities. While administered by an independent, Arab body, the Waqf, Israeli security forces have jurisdiction over the area. This authority is frequently exercised as a means to restrict access to the site, which has led to rioting, civilian detentions, and in some cases, violent outbursts resulting in civilian fatalities.
The many trials faced by Palestinians – indefinite detention without charge (also applicable to minors), economic and resource embargoes, a lack of freedom of movement, invasion – are all constant reminders of the ethno-religious conflict between the predominantly Jewish Israelis and Muslim Palestinians, it in itself the end result of the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. In an attempt to maintain a presence in these territories, Israeli settlements have been established under the auspice of the government, a practice deemed illegal by the international community. Many thousands have been displaced as a result, contributing to a growing population of Palestinian refugees who are forced to flee to neighbouring countries, as well as increased tensions between the Israeli and Palestinian people. While efforts have been made by the international community to resolve this conflict, most notably in the proposal of a two-state solution in which Palestine and Israel exist alongside one another as independent states, these have been abject failures.
The participants of the conference, while acknowledging these past failures, voiced the importance of education on the issue and the maintenance of its presence in the Islamic community’s collective consciousness.
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