Saturday, February 21, 2009



YB. Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir,
YB. Dato’ Syed Ahmad Jamal,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Assalamualaikum Wabarakatuh.

56 days have passed since Israel viciously began their attack on Gaza on 27th of December 2008; 56 days is not even two full months. More than 1300 men, women and children have been brutally killed; more than 5000 have been maimed; of the wounded men, women and also children many have lost more than one of their limbs and will remain crippled to the end of their lives. 22,000 houses have been destroyed, together with schools, hospitals and mosques.

Tons of illegal munitions that burn and poison and tear apart bodies have been unleashed unto the brave people of Gaza. White phosphorus has been rained on them, and they have been pounded by the deadliest arsenal ever seen. The devastation in Gaza is complete.

Yet, the world has moved on. Other headlines are dominating the media of the world, including Malaysia.

Yes, the world has moved on, but we can’t!

Gaza remains under a complete blockade. The Gaza border crossings including the Rafa crossing remain closed. The airspace over Gaza remains prohibited. The sea off Gaza is still off limits. Gaza remains 100% under siege and Israeli military control, while the West Bank is still occupied by a brutal military occupation, and more than 4 million Palestinian refugees are still waiting to go home.

We cannot and we must not go back to business as usual.

The hardship that the Palestinian people have to face has not been eased; it has increased over the years. Every new event is adding to their hardship and deprivation. While the bombing of Gaza has been going on, other attacks causing suffering to Palestinian people have gone practically unnoticed by the world press. Let me give you a few examples.

On 17th of February, two days ago, Al-Jazeera reported that Israel has taken control of 425 acres of land in the West Bank, close to an illegal settlement south of Jerusalem to build an additional 2,500 houses so that that illegal settlement will become a city with 30,000 inhabitants, all of them illegal Israeli settlers. There are now nearly 290,000 illegal Israeli settlers living in illegal Zionist settlements in the West Bank.

In Jayyous, a village near Qalqiliya, the Apartheid Wall (which is completely surrounding Qalqiliya and cutting off many farmers from their land) is to take a new route which results in an additional loss of fertile farm land of 6000 dunums. Hundreds of olive trees have been destroyed in December 2008 alone. The villagers have been taking to the street and have held weekly demonstrations since December 2008.

The occupying forces have met the demonstrators with excessive violence, arrests, imposing curfews and cutting off and occupying the village completely, thus preventing the press from reporting anything about this act of resistance. As a result of this landgrab, the 85% of the people of Jayyous who are farmers have been made unemployed and their livelihoods destroyed.

And a last example of the impact of violence and hardship affecting Palestinians on a daily basis:

In the north of Lebanon, outside Tripoli, the Palestinian Refugee Camp Nahr al-Bared is still waiting for reconstruction. In a three-month battle ending in September 2007, the Old Camp area of Nahr al Bared was leveled to the ground, and the New Camp sustained extensive damage as well. 40,000 Palestinian refugees were made homeless. About half of them were distributed among the other 10 refugee camps, while the remaining 20,000 took refuge in Beddawi, the closest camp, where MSRI has a centre. Today, one-and-a-half years later, most homes, schools and basic services still remain to be reconstructed. UNRWA has taken the lead in the reconstruction efforts, but they are hindered by insufficient funds, as well as technical difficulties such as unexploded ordinance still laying in the rubble. Amidst plans by the Lebanese government for military installations to be set up in the camp, many of the residents belief that Nahr al-Bared will never be reconstructed.

Such are the suffering of the Palestinian people in Gaza, West Bank, and in the refugee camps.

MSRI has a long involvement with aid and support for the Palestinian people. MSRI was also the first Malaysian NGO to send medical volunteers to help. From 1987 until 1995, 19 Malaysians served stints of 6 months in the refugee camps in Lebanon. MSRI also provided medical aid and set up a centre in Beddawi, in the north of Lebanon with the Palestinian NGO, Beit Atfal as-Samoud (Home of the children of the steadfast) which provides social and other basic services such as pre-school, dental care, vocational training, medical and mental health care. Beit Atfal as Samoud is also MSRI’s partner for the Sponsorship Programme of Palestinian children under which more than 1000 children have been sponsored by caring Malaysians over the years.

In recent years, MSRI has also been cooperating with the Union of Health Care Committees, a Palestinian NGO with headquarters in Nablus, who have hospitals and clinics in West Bank and Gaza, providing free medical services to the poor. The UHCC hospital in Gaza has been bombed into the ground on 5th of January 2009; their three mobile clinics have been buried in the rubble.

MSRI is striving to help rebuild, restore and support their services, and to establish a sponsorship programme for the children of Gaza.

This present charity art exhibition is the third exhibition MSRI has been involved in. It is by far the largest and we believe it a significant contribution by the Malaysian arts community to the Palestinian cause. We warmly welcome the overwhelming support of more than 200 Malaysian artists in this endeavor. We extend our deep-felt gratitude to Dato’ Syed Ahmad Jamal, Seniman Negara, for initiating this exhibition and supporting it whole-heartedly by allowing us to use his art work entitled “?Palestine” as a logo and symbol for this important event.

We also thank Raja Ahmad of RA Fine Arts gallery for co-organizing this current exhibition and his continued support of the Palestinian cause. In 2007, RA Fine Arts and MSRI with Deir Yassin Remembered organized the “Tabah Dalam Derita” exhibition of paintings by a young Palestinian artist, Rouhaifa Qassim, who had transformed her experience and trauma of the destruction of Nahr al-Bared into art.

And last, but not least, I would like to thank the dedicated people of Balai Seni Lukis Negara under the leadership of Director General Dr. Mohamad Najib Ahmad Dawa, who made this exhibition an event of national importance for the Malaysian art scene and gave us the opportunity to be a part of this.

Walking through the exhibition, looking at the more than 400 different art works, it can be clearly seen that there are uncountable ways and means to express one’s feelings and ideas about a cause such as the Palestinian cause. Edward Said once said: “Remember the solidarity shown to Palestine here and everywhere … and remember also that there is a cause to which many people have committed themselves, difficulties and terrible obstacles notwithstanding. Why? Because it is a just cause, a noble ideal, a moral quest for equality and human rights.”

This exhibition is an expression of our commitment for the just cause of the Palestinian people, the moral quest for equality and human rights, the reconfirmation of support for the Palestinian Right of Return and the freedom to live in their homeland as free people.

I will end here with a poem by Kamal Nasir, a Palestinian poet. It is a poem which he wrote in 1961 and which is till as fresh today as it was almost 50 years ago :

The Story, by Kamal Nasir (1961)

I will tell you a story..
A story that lived in the dreams of people..
A story that comes out of the world of tents..
Was made by hunger, and decorated by the dark nights
In my country, and my country is a handful of refugees..
Every twenty of them have a pound of flour..
And promises of relief .. gifts and parcels
It is the story of the suffering group
Who stood for ten years in hunger
In tears and agony..
In hardship and yearning

It is a story of people who were misled
Who were thrown into the mazes of years
But they defied and stood
Disrobed and united
And went to light, from the tents,
A revolution of return in the world of darkness

Ladies and Gentlemen, Thank you!

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