“Peace is possible”: Dr Husam Zomlot speaks at Oxford Union
Dr. Husam Zomlot, the Head of the Palestinian Mission to the UK, delivered an impassioned speech at the Oxford Union on 28th November, emphasising a key message that “achieving peace, while not easy, is possible”.
His address, which included a speech followed by a Q&A session with Union president Disha Hegde and the audience, came at a critical time as the recent ceasefire between Israel and Hamas entered its fifth day.
Dr. Zomlot, who formerly led the Palestinian Mission to the USA before its closure by the Trump administration in 2018, focused on the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.
He presented alarming statistics of “more than 15,000 killed, over 30,000 wounded, and more than 1.1 million displaced”, highlighting the severe impact of the conflict. On the lack of medical facilities and essential supplies, he asked, “Where will the wounded be treated?”.
The plight of civilians was a central theme in Dr Zomlot’s speech. He shed light on the grim reality of life and the struggles of those in Gaza, including those who followed the order to move to the south of Gaza. Gazans now “face long queues for basic necessities, spread of diseases, and reported airstrikes”.
Dr Zomlot accused Israel of breaking international laws yet maintaining global support remarking that “it’s astonishing how much Israel is getting away with”.
Referring to Israeli government officials, he cited calls for genocidal actions by Israeli figures, including references to “A second Nakba”, “Nuking Gaza”, labelling Palestinians as “human animals,” and plans to displace Palestinians in the Sinai desert.
Earlier in November, a minister from the extremist Otzma Yehudit party stated that nuking Gaza is an option, or the population can “go to Ireland or deserts”.
Dr. Zomlot argued that the extremism of the Israeli government and the catastrophes of the conflict are the result of international neglect of the Palestinian struggle.
He stated that “for more than a century, [they’ve] been displaced, labelled terrorists, and for the past many years, ignored”.
Expressing his frustration at the international community’s lack of attention to Palestinian issues, he stated: “no one paid attention to the increase in settlements, no one paid attention when Israel engaged in 6 attacks against Gaza, no one paid attention to Israel’s immoral blockade over the Gaza strip, no one paid attention when 200 Palestinians were killed in Gaza when they marched peacefully.”
The critique extends to the PLO’s efforts being ignored, especially in referring crimes to the ICC or ICJ, and claims that “countries like the UK and the US shielded Israel from accountability”.
President Hegde inquired about the global appetite for a permanent ceasefire. He emphasised that there is regional apprehension regarding the atrocities in Gaza and their potential regional spillover effects. This is a concern shared by many in Western countries, including the US.
He also pointed out the political implications within Israel, suggesting that Prime Minister Netanyahu “knows that when the guns stop being pointed at Palestinians, they will be [politically] pointed at him, and he might end up in prison.”
Addressing the question about the realistic prospect of breaking the cycle of violence and hatred, Zomlot emphasised that “Children are not hateful or violent by nature; it is by context”. He advocated for changing this context to enable a peaceful future.
He stressed the importance of justice in shaping this new context, underlining the Palestinian commitment to teaching love while ensuring that perpetrators of violence on all sides are held accountable.
In addition, he refuted claims that Palestinian education is propagandist and teaches children violence and hatred towards Israel. He asserted the right and necessity to teach Palestinian history, the reality of living under occupation, and challenging Israeli narratives.
When asked about the role of the Palestinian Authority (PA) after the war and who governs Gaza, Dr. Zomlot clarified that the PA has never left Gaza. He emphasised that the PA continues to provide numerous public services, despite losing control over political and security functions.
He emphasised that there is no military solution to the conflict and advocated for a two-state solution led by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). He reminded the audience of the international recognition, including by Israel, of the PLO as “the sole representative of the Palestinian people”.
The absence of elections since 2005 has been a criticism that raises doubts about the legitimacy of the PLO’s control over the PA and their representation of Palestinians. Dr. Zomlot acknowledged this issue and emphasised the importance of democratic renewal within the PLO.
This aligns with his criticism of the unfulfilled promise of the Oslo Accords, which aimed to establish a Palestinian state within five years. He stated that the PA’s ability to achieve this goal has been hampered by Israeli actions, such as obstructing their ability to hold elections in East Jerusalem, which is the internationally recognised capital of the Palestinians.
Dr Zomlot urged people not to underestimate their collective strength in protests and activism. He referenced the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa as an example of how public action can drive significant political change, stating that it was the people, not specific governments, who brought down the apartheid regime.
He rejected the misrepresentation of the Palestinian issue as a humanitarian or religious conflict, emphasising that it is a political struggle for rights and statehood. He expressed that the Palestinian cause predates groups like Hamas and is fundamentally about the recognition of Palestinian rights and the need for statehood.
Reflecting on his experience at the London School of Economics (LSE), he praised the United Kingdom’s culture of accepting and embracing ethnic and religious diversity. Dr Zomlot encouraged the audience to “use everything that democracy offers”.
Concluding his talk with students at the Oxford Union, Dr. Zomlot drew parallels with historical events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Balkans’ transition, stressing that peace, while not easy, is possible.
“One word can summarise the answer: Hope”, he stated. He stressed the importance of instilling hope among Palestinians, recognising that “hopelessness produces certain dynamics”.
His core message was that achieving peace requires leadership, political will, justice, and statesmanship. It is possible, and it is desperately needed.