Hanoi, Vietnam – At a private venue tucked away in a narrow alley in Hanoi’s city centre, a group of more than 20 people listened attentively to Saleem Hammad, a charismatic, 30-year-old Palestinian man, as he spoke in fluent Vietnamese.

Hammad, who runs a business in Vietnam, shared an incident from his childhood in Jenin in the occupied West Bank.

Those present listened as he recounted a vivid memory of being awoken one night as Israeli soldiers surrounded and raided his family home.

Earlier, he had told those attending the discussion that Vietnam’s history of fighting for liberation against the United States had inspired Palestinians in their struggle against Israel’s occupation of their lands.

“Vietnamese people, with their painful and glorious history, have always been the source of inspiration for the Palestinians in our struggle for justice,” Hammad told his audience.

“We always look up to you as the role model.”

Horrified by Israel’s war on Gaza and the spiralling death toll, primarily young Vietnamese people have begun to raise their voices in support of Palestinians. In the process, they are discovering historical ties between Vietnam and Palestine and their shared fights for national liberation.

But the decades-old relationship between the two nations has been overshadowed by more recent promotion of Israel’s business culture to a younger generation of Vietnamese.

Focused on achieving success in Vietnam’s fast-growing free market economy, many have been inspired by Israel’s startup business culture while knowing little about the darker side of Israel’s success in terms of its long occupation of Palestinian land.

Organised late last year by pro-Palestinian activists Trinh* and Vuong*, the gathering where Hammad spoke was inspired by the student activism the pair encountered while studying in the US.

Trinh and Vuong are part of a burgeoning grassroots movement among Vietnamese youth who have been drawn to the Palestinian cause since the war on Gaza started in October.

But Vietnam’s strict policies against public assemblies and political activism means pro-Palestinian campaigners have to come up with low-key and creative ways of organising events without attracting the unwanted attention of Vietnamese authorities.

In Ho Chi Minh City, Trinh and some friends have organised discussions on Palestine and drawing classes with a Palestinian theme. A designer by training, Trinh has also worked with fellow creatives to design pro-Palestine merchandise, political art and fanzines.

Vietnamese youth create art in support of Palestine [Courtesy of Tu Ly]

In November, a screening of documentaries and films on Palestine, the Nakba and the history of Israel’s occupation of Palestine took place under the title Films for Liberation: Palestine Forever with the aim, according to the organisers, of undoing “the demonising descriptions of the Palestinians” by “Western and imperialist” actors.

On social media, a host of Vietnamese-language fan pages has sprung up featuring translated Palestinian poems, pro-Palestine artwork and analyses on the history of the conflict while the embassy of Palestine in Vietnam invited former veterans of the war against the US, academics, activists and members of the public to a commemoration for those killed in Gaza.

On November 29, which is the United Nations-designated International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, Vietnam’s government also published a message from then-President Vo Van Thuong in which he spoke of the long history of fraternity between Vietnam and Palestine and “Vietnam’s strong support and solidarity with the Palestinians in their struggle for justice”.

But the relationship between Vietnam and Palestine is not as it once was.


Comments are closed.