Europe’s largest Palestinian heritage event has opened its doors despite attempts to have it cancelled by pro-Israel groups.
Palestine Expo bills itself as a celebration of Palestinian culture, history, and food, and is expected to draw more than 10,000 people on Saturday and Sunday.
Whether the event would go ahead was uncertain as recently as last week, as the British government considered complaints by pro-Israel groups.
Officials eventually decided to let the event proceed but not before threats of legal action by the events organisers, Friends of Al-Aqsa (FOA).
The event, which is spread over five stories of the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in central London, includes art galleries, augmented reality tours of Palestinian landmarks, and food stalls serving Palestinian dishes.
Speakers at the event include journalist John Pilger, Israeli academic Ilan Pappe, and writer, Ben White.
— Rawan Damen (@RawanDamen) July 8, 2017
Palestinian Hayat Amous Zughaier, one of those speaking at the event, told Al Jazeera that she was humbled by the show of support for the Palestinian cause.
“We’re very happy to see how many people have turned out to support the Palestinians,” she said, adding: “Sometimes, we do feel that we’re a forgotten cause”.
“The idea that we want to send out is that Palestinians don’t need charity, they need support.
“Everyone in the world should voice their support until we Palestinians get our rights back.”
When asked for her thoughts on attempts by pro-Israel groups to shut the event down, she responded: “They don’t want the truth.”
Events at Palestine Expo also include Al Jazeera’s award-winning Palestine Remix project, which allows viewers to easily edit and put together their own stories on Palestinian issues, using clips from Al Jazeera’s documentaries.
Palestinian filmmaker Rawan Damen, who leads the project, said visitors had reacted positively to the event.
“It’s the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Palestinian author Ghassan Kanafani in Beirut, one of the most creative intellectuals to tell the story of Palestine before the interactive age,” she said.
“In that spirit, Palestine remix has emerged the story of Palestine in an interactive way.”
FOA says the event has come amid pressure from government officials and what it describes as smears against some of the speakers, particularly ones who are Muslim.
Just hours before the event started, the Daily Telegraph ran an article with the title “Islamist preacher who compared Jews to ‘fleas’ to speak at Palestine Expo …”.
The headline refers to comments by a South African Muslim leader named Ebrahim Bham, who is billed to appear at the event.
Bham rejects the accusation of anti-Semitism and says the remark was a quote by Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, which he was using to warn of the dangers of dehumanising entire groups of people, including Jews.
Ismail Adam Patel, chair of FOA said: “It is clear to anyone who looks at the Palestine Expo schedule of events that this is a diverse event, supported by many with speakers who are Israeli, Palestinian and British, and of Muslim, Jewish and Christian beliefs.
“We are witnessing a desperate and underhanded tactic being used to undermine Palestine Expo,” he added, accusing opponents of the event of running a “deliberate smear campaign”.
“We hope this added publicity encourages many more people to attend the event and find out what life is really like for Palestinians on a daily basis”