Polish delegation to Palestinian territories pays tribute to Arafat

Multiple members of the delegation referred to Israel as an apartheid state.

 Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Polish President Andrzej Duda review the honour guard in the West Bank town of Bethlehem January 18, 2017.  (photo credit: REUTERS/MUSSA QAWASMA)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Polish President Andrzej Duda review the honour guard in the West Bank town of Bethlehem January 18, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS/MUSSA QAWASMA)

Polish parliamentarians paid tribute to Yasser Arafat on Monday as part of a three-day official parliamentary delegation to the Palestinian territories. In a tweet by the Representative Office of Poland in Ramallah, members of the delegation can be seen holding a wreath that they then laid at the grave of the former leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).

“The Polish parliamentary delegation honored the memory of the first President of Palestine and the leader of the nation. Yasser Arafat was also a friend of Poland,” the tweet read. Among those tagged in the tweet was the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department. 

In another tweet, the office included a picture of four delegation members from multiple parties wearing traditional Palestinian scarves in front of photos of Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas. 

 Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek stands to attention next to saluting Palestinian President Yasser Arafat as national anthems are played December 9 during a welcoming ceremony for the visiting Polish leader outside Arafat's West Bank headquarters, December 9, 1999.  (credit: JWH/AA) Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek stands to attention next to saluting Palestinian President Yasser Arafat as national anthems are played December 9 during a welcoming ceremony for the visiting Polish leader outside Arafat's West Bank headquarters, December 9, 1999. (credit: JWH/AA)

Maciej Konieczny, a member of Poland’s left-wing Razem party, tweeted an image of himself standing by Arafat’s grave and endorsed the Boycott Divest and Sanctions movement. Part of the tweet stated that “We are united by solidarity with Palestine.”

Some delegates called Israel an apartheid state

“We are in Palestine as part of the official delegation of the Polish Sejm,” he wrote. “Today we had a series of official meetings with authorities and visited the grave of Yasser Arafat. We have intensive days of talks, visits and observations ahead of us.

"We are also here to stand up for human rights. The world's largest human rights organizations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have recognized that the actions of the State of Israel meet the definition of apartheid. It's time for the international community to act accordingly. Therefore, as the Razem Party, we support the boycott and sanctions campaign.”

Razem made an official statement endorsing BDS before the trip, which was posted on the BDS Movement website.

In the statement, the party recognized Israel as an apartheid state, called upon the international community to “draw consequences from Israel for its failure to respect international law and UN resolutions” and demanded that the IDF cease its “occupation of the West Bank.”

BDS expressed its contentment with Razem’s statement in a statement of their own. The movement praised Razem’s endorsement, adding that “Razem's recognition of the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and calls for ending Israel's ethnic cleansing of Palestinians are particularly praiseworthy.”

Magda Biejat, another Razem politician in the delegation, tweeted that “we are in Palestine to document evidence of Israeli apartheid.”

The messaging was not limited to members of Razem. Franek Sterczewski of Poland’s catch-all Civic Coalition party posted a similar message to Konieczny on his Facebook page. 

Sterczewski noted that he visited Arafat’s grave and said that the delegation was also in the Palestinian territories to assert fundamental human rights. Referring to Israel as an apartheid state, he explained that “This is why I wholeheartedly support a boycott and sanction the Israeli settlement in the West Bank. One must not be indifferent to unprecedented and systematic violence.”

Poland’s Representative Office to the Palestinian National Authority documented the delegation’s trip with social media posts of their own. “Poland strongly opposes the displacement of the local Palestinian population planned by the Israeli authorities. The displacement of the population is contrary to international law,” the account tweeted as a caption to a photograph of delegates in Hebron.

In addition, the office tweeted that the delegation went to Jerusalem and Bethlehem and “visited the holy places of Christianity and Islam in both cities.” Notably, there was no mention of the politicians visiting holy places of Judaism. Bethlehem is home to the Tomb of Rachel, a holy site for Jews as well as Muslims and Christians, while many of the holiest Jewish sites —including the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest — are located in Jerusalem. 

The trip comes amid recent tensions between Israel and Poland

The delegation’s activities come just weeks after Israel resumed diplomatic ties with Poland following a rift as a result of the Polish Senate passing a restitution law that made it very difficult for descendants of Holocaust survivors to reclaim property stolen during the Holocaust.

Warsaw previously aggravated Jerusalem when it passed a law in 2018 that made it illegal to attribute complicity in the Holocaust to Poland. 

Israel has yet to respond to the delegation’s trip and tribute to Arafat.