RALLY ORGANISER CALLS ON SLOVAK GOVERNMENT TO TAKE ITS OWN STAND ON MIDDLE EAST VIOLENCE

Arab residents protest for peace in Palestine

Arabs and Slovaks launched a joint protest in Bratislava over the continuing conflict in the Middle East.
Carrying banners with slogans such as "Israeli generals are war criminals" and "Freedom for Arafat, freedom for Palestinians", as many as 100 Slovaks and members of the Arab community met April 5 on Bratislava's SNP square, demanding Israeli troop withdrawals from Palestine and calling for more awareness among Slovaks of the conflict.
"We want to show the people of Slovakia what is really going on in the West Bank. We are also doing this because there are a lot of Slovaks who support our cause and believe that we have a right to our own state," said Ibrahim Al Khatib, an Arab resident in Slovakia and one of the organisers of the protest.


THE PROTESTOR'S sign reads: "Israel is killing us with American weapons."
photo: Ján Svrček

Arabs and Slovaks launched a joint protest in Bratislava over the continuing conflict in the Middle East.

Carrying banners with slogans such as "Israeli generals are war criminals" and "Freedom for Arafat, freedom for Palestinians", as many as 100 Slovaks and members of the Arab community met April 5 on Bratislava's SNP square, demanding Israeli troop withdrawals from Palestine and calling for more awareness among Slovaks of the conflict.

"We want to show the people of Slovakia what is really going on in the West Bank. We are also doing this because there are a lot of Slovaks who support our cause and believe that we have a right to our own state," said Ibrahim Al Khatib, an Arab resident in Slovakia and one of the organisers of the protest.

The protest, jointly organised by members of the Arab community and the Slovak Co-ordinating Committee for the Support of Palestinians, came just over 18 months after one on the same square in early October 2000, days after the current Palestinian intifada began.

Arab demonstrators were aggressive in their condemnation of Isreali action in Palestine, and read aloud a statement from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat urging his followers to fight "to the last drop of blood" for a free and recognised Palestinian state.

"What more can I do but protest? In Palestine it's murder, it's massacre, old people are being killed there, men and women. If I can't do anything else I can at least do this, protest," said Nasir Ali, 25, a Palestinian studying in Slovakia.

"I would also like to see some Slovaks among us. What's wrong, don't they have an opinion?" he added.

The protest organisers also called on the Slovak government to take a clear stand on a conflict which has claimed hundreds of lives in the last 18 months.

Opinion in the international community, and in Europe in particular, has moved towards a cessation of Israeli military action and a withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank.

One day before the Bratislava protest, US President George Bush demanded concessions from both sides in an effort to reach a peaceful settlement, including an immediate cessation of Israeli military operations in Palestine.

The Slovak government has made no comment on President Bush's demands or European Union diplomatic efforts to bring the conflict to an end.

"The government doesn't have their own opinion on it, they will just wait for the European Union and America and then say the same thing," said Al Khatib.

Some Slovaks at the rally said the government's lack of response was a disappointment.

"I would like them to say more. They should express their own opinion," said Michal Gramblička, 21, a student in Bratislava.

Just before the rally members of the Jewish community in Slovakia revealed they had approached the government over safety concerns in the wake of violent incidents in other European countries.

Following attacks on synagogues in France and Belgium in recent weeks, Jozef Weiss of the Union of Slovak Jewish Communities said the Interior Ministry had promised to implement safety measures to protect Jewish buildings.

"We have requested co-operation in security matters," he said.

However, Al Khatib said that since the present conflict began there had been no problems between the Jewish and Arab communities in Slovakia.

"We have no problem with the Jewish community in Slovakia at all. We have never had any conflict. I have never come across any problems here and I never will," he said.

On Sunday April 7 Slovak Catholic churches joined others around the world in a day of prayer for peace in the Middle East.

The head of the Slovak Conference of Bishops, František Tondra, called on churchgoers to use prayer to "fight for peace and justice" in the region.

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