Alexi Dimond opens small park BIG RUN

It is my great honour and privilege to open the Small Park Big Run this year. This is a fantastic community event raising money for two important projects in Palestine.  Please join me in paying tribute to the all organisers, participants, performers and everyone else who makes this event possible. I’d like to pay special tribute to Johnny and the organising team; and also to Musheir of Sheffield Palestine Solidarity Campaign for his inspirational leadership, and relentless work in support of justice for Palestine in the face of such great adversity.    

Meersbrook Park, is about the same size as Tulkarm refugee camp – with which this event will connect live on Sunday. Tulkarm is home to over 20 000 Palestinian refugees, which is roughly the same population as the whole of Gleadless Valley Ward! It is hard to imagine everyone in Gleadless Valley living within the boundaries of this park, yet millions of Palestinian refugees have been forced to live in restricted and crampt conditions like this for over 70 years – longer than the Queen has been on the throne!

There is no cause more vital in the 21st Century than freedom, justice and equality for the people of Palestine. From a young age I went to demonstrations against apartheid in South Africa and my uncle, a huge influence on my life, was forced into exile by the apartheid regime there because of his activism. We know that the colonisation of Palestine is based on the same racist philosophy as the former apartheid regime in South Africa. Throughout the world, people – including a former US president – argue that the persecution the Palestinians face is worse than in apartheid South Africa, because of the scale of Israel’s use of deadly force on peaceful protestors; executions of journalists and medical professionals; and the frequent bombing of residential areas, schools and hospitals by what is one of the most advanced and sophisticated militaries on earth. 

Apartheid policies are being enacted throughout the whole of Palestine. In Sheik Jarrah, Jerusalem, the Israelis practice ethnic cleansing, with settlers forcibly seizing homes, and state-sponsored attacks on Palestinians. In the Negev, Bedouin villages are routinely demolished by the Israeli military who say they are unrecognised – despite the Bedouin being far older than the concept of political Zionism. Palestinians everywhere are subjected to the daily indignity of checkpoints, segregation, restrictions to fuel and water. 

Palestinian history and culture itself is under threat with a revisionist history being promoted by Israel – supported by the West – seeking to erase centuries of Palestinian history, while there is violent prohibition of the Palestinian flag. People with no historic connection to Palestine are able to move there freely, while Palestinians themselves are banned from travelling short distances to visit relatives, or the cities, towns and villages from which their families were ethnically cleansed. 

Next month there will be a petition to Full Council calling for Sheffield to once again declare itself an “aparthied free zone”; and to divest funds – including the South Yorkshire pension fund – from companies complicit in the occupation. So please also sign this petition and lobby your Councillors to support the petition at the Council. 

In Sheffield we have a proud history of activism and solidarity with people resisting oppression. We were the UK’s first City of Sanctuary, where we work alongside refugees to make Sheffield a place of welcome and sanctuary. This week has been particularly challenging and traumatic, as our government has sought to restart the UKs trade in people, through forcible trafficking of refugees to Rwanda. However, the successful grassroots and legal resistance to the first Rwanda flight has been nothing short of inspirational and a source of great hope.

This week was also the launch of Sheffield’s annual Migration Matters festival, which celebrates people seeking sanctuary and migrants as part of our beautiful Sheffield community. Another festival PalFest  – celebrating Sheffield’s friendship with Palestine, runs from 13th June to 3rd July with a fantastic lineup of acts, activities and events. So please enjoy this weekend’s SmallPark BigRun, and then pick up programmes for Pal Fest and Migration Matters festival and show as much support as you can!