Sergei Ordzhonikidze, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, read out a message from United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan which termed the Day of Solidarity a day of mourning and grief, as the human and material losses sustained by the Palestinian people over the past two years had been nothing short of catastrophic.
Excessive and disproportionate force had often been used by the Israeli authorities, along with extra-judicial killings, arbitrary detentions, deportations and collective punishment measures such as house demolitions, Mr. Annan said in the statement; such actions only intensified rage, desperation and a desire for revenge. At the same time, cruel and devastating terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians, including suicide bombings, had claimed large numbers of innocent lives, and had wounded many more. Such actions only set back the Palestinian cause, the Secretary-General's statement said.
Mr. Annan's statement concluded with a call for all parties to work for a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the question of Palestine on the basis of Security Council resolutions 242, 338, and 1397 and the principle of land for peace.
The contention that only a negotiated peace would bear fruit was echoed by other speakers, and the lament that United Nations resolutions relating to the Middle East conflict had not been implemented was sounded repeatedly. Several of those addressing the meeting said an international force should be dispatched to the occupied territories to protect Palestinian civilians and to reduce violence so that there would be an opportunity for negotiations to succeed.
It also was charged that international reaction to the situation was biased, giving more attention to the deaths of Israelis than to Palestinians and terming violence against Israelis "terrorism" while violence against Palestinians was not so labelled. And Israel was repeatedly accused of violating international norms such as those contained in the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.
Providing statements were representatives of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People; the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories; the League of Arab States; the Organization of the Islamic Conference; the Non-Aligned Movement; the African Union; and Non-Governmental Organizations Accredited to the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. The Permanent Observer of Palestine also took the floor.
In addition, messages of solidarity were sent by Japan, Bangladesh, Cyprus, Turkey and Malta.
SERGEI ORDZHONIKIDZE, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, read out a statement from Secretary-General KOFI ANNAN in which the Secretary-General termed the Day of Solidarity a day of mourning and grief, as the human and material losses sustained by the Palestinian people over the past two years had been nothing short of catastrophic. The deplorable situation in the occupied Palestinian Territories had kept the whole region in a continuous state of crisis, with no end in sight. Hundreds of lives had been lost, mostly among Palestinians but also among Israelis. Tragically and unacceptably, many of the victims had been children.
Excessive and disproportionate force had often been used by the Israeli authorities, along with extra-judicial killings, arbitrary detentions, deportations and collective punishment measures such as house demolitions, Mr. Annan said in the statement; such actions only intensified rage, desperation and a desire for revenge. At the same time, cruel and devastating terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians, including suicide bombings, had claimed large numbers of innocent lives, and wounded many more. Such actions only set back the Palestinian cause.
The reoccupation of West Bank cities in the course of Israeli military operations, wide-scale destruction that had brought economic activity in the occupied Palestinian territory to a halt, tight closures and curfews, and interference with the Palestinian Authority's ability to function had stifled the Palestinian economy and reduced life for thousands of Palestinian households to a harsh struggle for daily survival, the Secretary-General's statement said.
Despite this descent into a seemingly endless cycle of killing and destruction, a parallel process of diplomatic and political progress had taken place. The two-State vision affirmed in Security Council resolution 1397 and accepted by all parties had wide international support. But achieving the solution the resolution called for required "complete cessation of all acts of violence, including all acts of terror, provocation, incitement and destruction". Through contacts on the ground and in the world's capitals, the "Quartet" of international mediators had been trying to help the parties move away from confrontation and towards a resumption of the political process, Mr. Annan's statement said.
Sustained progress could only be achieved if simultaneous steps were taken on the security, economic, humanitarian and political aspects of the conflict, the Secretary-General contended. Reform of Palestinian institutions was essential, but to take root and produce tangible results, such reform must be matched by Israeli measures that would create favourable conditions for the resumption of Palestinian economic activity. There also must be generous support from the international donor community in this time of great need until the crisis was over and the situation had stabilized. The Israeli Government should implement its stated commitment to lift the restrictions and provide unfettered access of humanitarian convoys and relief missions to the civilian population in the Occupied Territory.
Mr. Annan's statement concluded with a renewal of his commitment to working with all parties until a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the question of Palestine was achieved on the basis of Security Council resolutions 242, 338, and 1397 and the principle of land for peace.
MICHAEL BARTOLO, Permanent Representative of Malta to the United Nations Office at Geneva and Representative of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said the root cause of the violent situation in Palestine was unquestionably the occupation of Palestinian territory by Israel and its perpetuation by means of illegal actions taken by the occupying power, with a succession of individual and collective sanctions, blockades and curfews, destruction of public infrastructure; and with arrests and detention, demolition of houses and destruction of other private property, devastation of farmlands, deliberate pursuit of the settlements policy, extra-judicial executions and murderous raids, among other things. The unbearable suffering and inhuman collective reprisals thus imposed unjustly on the Palestinian civilian population undoubtedly constituted grave violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, and of the very clear obligations which Israel was mandated to fulfil.
Mr. Bartolo said the political horizon -- the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian State within the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital -- should be clearly outlined from the start, as should the frame for implementation of the various phases. The full cooperation of the parties was indispensable. They should unconditionally accept the premises and modalities of the process, and their compliance should be verified by an international presence on the ground.
PRASAD KARIYAWASAM, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations Office at Geneva, read out a statement of the Chairman of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices, which noted that this year the Special Committee had submitted to the General Assembly its 34th report -- a reminder, it could be said, that the occupied territories had been under occupation for 34 years. Current conditions, the Special Committee found, did not, in a number of respects, accord with contemporary international norms as to human rights; nor with the requirements of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The over-riding impression that had formed in the minds of the three members of the Special Committee was a troubling one, as Israeli authorities had put in place a comprehensive and elaborate system of laws, regulations and administrative measures that affected the lives of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories to the extent that they suffered from a sense of fear, despondency, and hopelessness. During period of violence the exercise of Israeli control made Palestinians' lives even more unbearable.
Bitterness, dispossession, hopelessness and despair caused to a large extent by lack of progress in the peace process and lack of tangible benefits for the Palestinians of the occupied territories made the situation one of the greatest urgency. The Committee had made specific recommendations to the General Assembly that concrete steps be taken to ameliorate conditions in the territories. It was of great importance that the High Commissioner for Human Rights establish a system of continuous communication with Israeli authorities with a view to relieving the very difficult circumstances in the occupied territories, and which gave rise to violence which the Special Committee deplored.
SAAD ALFARARGI, Representative of the League of Arab States, said Israel was escalating acts of terrorism and was destroying the infrastructure of Palestinian people. It was regrettable that the international community was unable to stop the Israel practices, particularly the destruction of holy places. While Israel continued its aggression, the international community failed to bring peace to the region. The barbaric aggression of Israel should be brought to an end. The campaign of aggression led by Israel in the region should also be rejected by the international community. Israel had also continued to contravene all international norms and agreements reached concerning a peace settlement in the region. Through its destruction of the economy of Palestine, Israel had made the Palestinian people to live in poverty.
Mr. Alfarargi said Israel was attempting to impose its own version of peace, which was unacceptable. Any negotiation for peace had so far failed and would fail in the future because of the aggressive policies of Israel. The international community should continue its efforts to find a concrete solution to the situation so that the heroic people of Palestine achieved freedom through the establishment of a sovereign State of Palestine with Jerusalem as its capital.
JAFAR OLIA, Representative of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, read out a message from ABDELOUAHED BEKEZIZ, Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which said Israel was continuing for the third straight year its escalating aggression against defenseless Palestinians, with around 2,000 Palestinians killed and over 60,000 wounded so far; in addition, thousands of Palestinians had been detained in harsh conditions that contradicted the most basic of human rights and violated international covenants and conventions. Israel continued to commit daily war crimes, crimes against humanity, and violations of international covenants and conventions, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel had dismembered the Palestinian territories, had been practicing an apartheid policy against the occupied city of Al-Quds (Jerusalem) and had been preventing worshippers from reaching mosques and churches. The persistent Israeli aggressions had brought the Palestinian economy to the brink of collapse.
The world that stood united against terrorism must not turn a blind eye to the state terrorism being practiced by Israel. The only way to halt the downward spiral lay in Israel ending its aggression, lifting the blockade and resuming the peace process where it had been stopped; in the assumption by the international community of its duty to provide protection for the Palestinian people; in the withdrawal by Israel from all the occupied Palestinian territories up to the June 1967 borders; in the implementation of a just solution for the problem of refugees based on UN resolutions; in granting the Palestinian people their right to establish an independent and sovereign State with Al-Quds as its capital; and in the rejection of all decisions and measures taken in violation of international resolutions on the occupied city of Al-Quds and of any attempt to undermine Palestinian sovereignty over Al-Quds as capital of the Palestinian State.
SIPHO GEORGE NENE, Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations Office at Geneva, read out a message from South African President THABO MBEKI, Chairperson of the Non-Aligned Movement, in which he said that more than a century later, the Palestinian people were still denied their inalienable right to rule themselves. Instead, forces stronger than they continued to take that way from them and subject them to suffering, humiliation, destruction and killings on a daily basis. It was unthinkable that United Nations personnel, who were working in the Palestinian territories, should also become victims of the indiscriminate and violent conflict. The Non-Aligned Movement stood firm in its belief that however noble the cause might be, there could be no justification for the deliberate targeting of innocent civilians whether Palestinian or Israeli.
President Mbeki's statement said the Non-Aligned Movement had consistently maintained that the tragic situation could only be resolved if the parties to the conflict resumed a political process that would lead back to the negotiating table. The principled position of the Movement was that there could be no military solution to the conflict. The Movement believed that there was an urgent need to support the call of the United Nations Secretary-General for the deployment of international observers to the conflict. The establishment of an international presence would be an important confidence-building measure and would be another step towards re-starting the peace process.
IDRIS OSEI MENSA-BONSU, Acting Permanent Observer of the African Union in Geneva, said each November 29 brought more untold hardship and suffering for the people of Palestine; the African Union (AU) had long proclaimed its solidarity with the people of Palestine, based on their shared experience of titanic struggle for freedom and independence. Yet Palestinian National Authority President Yasser Arafat had not been able to attend the summit marking the birth of the African Union last July because he was a prisoner in his own home. His captivity was symbolic of the cycle of violence in Palestine and Israel that had claimed the lives of many innocent people. It was discouraging that when deaths occurred in Israel there was universal uproar and condemnation that far exceeded international reaction to deaths that occurred from tank and air attacks against stone-throwing youths in Palestine.
The AU had consistently called for a balanced and even-handed approach to the conflict, but nonetheless there was bias in how the actions or reactions of the Palestinians were characterized as terrorism while the actions of the other side were spared that label. Such nationalist struggles should not be labelled terrorism; the struggle that saw the freedom of Nelson Mandela was not a terrorist struggle, nor would the Israelis accept the struggle led by former Prime Minister Menahim Begin being termed "terrorist". Lately there was new determination and commitment to strengthen the UN and to make it more effective by scrupulously respecting all its resolutions and decisions and sanctioning those who flouted them; this principle should be applied in all parts of the world, especially in the Middle East. All should be firm in their advocacy for human rights in Palestine as well as Israel, and all should continue to impress upon the parties involved that a durable peace would only result from a negotiated settlement.
CLARISA BALAN, Representative of the Non-Governmental Organizations accredited to the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, read out a message from MUSIMBI KANYORO, General Secretary of the World YMCA, and representative of Non-Governmental Organizations accredited to the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, in which she said that since 1948, despite the uprooting of the Palestinian people, the YWCA had continued to serve the community there by providing education and skills-training programmes for women and children in refugee camps and engaging in development work among them. If the resolutions passed by the United Nations had been implemented and enforced, the annual Solidarity Day commemoration would not be necessary. The question remained: How could the international community tolerate the conscious neglect of and indifference to the resolutions it had crafted to address the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories since 1967?
The Day of Solidarity was being observed during the holy days of Ramadan, a time of contemplation and fasting during which the Muslim people strove to have a closer relationship to God. A cease-fire during this period was a gesture of respect, but this did not happen for the Palestinians -- there was no respite from the daily reality of occupation. The wall being built on Palestinian land in the name of "security", the closures and sieges of towns and communities, and the reoccupation of most Palestinian cities and territories were testimony to the intensification of the occupation. As an act of hope, the East Jerusalem YWCA and the YWCA of Palestine had begun a campaign to replant olive trees in areas where they had been uprooted by the Israeli occupation army. In the last two years, more than 130,000 olive trees had been uprooted. The campaign goal was to replant 50,000 trees with the help and sponsorship of YMCAs and YWCAs, churches and other groups and individuals. It was a way of keeping hope alive. The security Israel longed for was intimately tied to the security of Palestinians and would not be achieved by building walls of hatred, injustice and separation.
NABIL RAMLAWI, Permanent Observer of Palestine, said Israel had repeatedly refused to abide by international resolutions to end its violations. It had continued its war crimes in violation of international norms. Relevant United Nations resolutions had conferred on the Palestinian people a number of rights, including nationhood. The occupation by force of any territory would necessarily lead to a conflict, and would destabilize peace in the region. The terming of a struggle as acts of terrorism would justify the unjustified killings of the aggressor. The United Nations had been besieged by blind powers, and it was unable to act independently. Israel had been established by force and continued to exist by force. Israeli crimes had been perpetuated in the occupied Palestinian territory. Even the United Nations was unable to send a force of protection for the Palestinian people. It was also unable to send a fact-finding mission to investigate the crimes committed by Israel in Jenin. While Israel continued to refuse the implementation of international law, attention should be drawn to another State on the context that it did not implement international resolutions. Israel had been fully supported by the United States' administration.
No sanction was taken against Israel when it committed untold crimes against Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territories, Mr. Ramlawi said. Israel had been perpetuating all sorts of crimes, including extra-judicial executions, destruction of buildings and uprooting of trees. The international community should provide protection to the Palestinian people against Israeli aggression. Peace could only be sustained when the Israeli occupation was terminated.