United Nations Headquarters, New York
10-12 July 1985
PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE OF CUBA TO THE UNITED NATIONS AND
VICE-CHAIRMAN OF THE COMMITTEE ON THE EXERCISE OF THE
INALIENABLE RIGHTS OF THE PALESTINIAN PEOPLE
Attitudes toward Palestinians and Israelis
When asked whether their sympathies lay with the Palestinians or the Israelis in the Middle East conflict, approximately 40 per cent of Canadians chose one group or the other. There is a significant lack of commitment shown in the fact that over one third are equally sympathetic to both sides or to neither side, and one quarter of those interviewed respond that they "don't know".
There is little change in the commitment of Canadians to either side when their sympathies today are compared with those recalled from a year previous.
Support for the Israelis comes most strongly from residents of the Atlantic Provinces, from Canadians with high school education and from professionals and executives. Sympathy for the Palestinian cause comes closest to matching that for the Israelis among those with public school education and among francophone Canadians.
By a margin of almost 5 to 1 (24 per cent vs. 5.0 per cent) those Canadians who have an opinion believe that Canada's policy favours Israel rather than the Arab countries. However, the largest proportions (41 per cent) believe that neither is favoured while close to 30 per cent cannot give an answer.
Among respondents stating an opinion, university graduates show the strongest belief that Canada favours Israel. Quebec residents come closest to being supporters of a belief that Canada favours the Arabs. Canadians in Ontario are the most convinced that Canada's policy is to favour neither side.
(Methodological explanation: the total sample was split, as indicated earlier. The first 325 respondents were asked the questions as stated above. The next 330 respondents were asked the same question with the order of the statements reversed so as to eliminate bias. No significant statistical difference emerged when the statements were reversed. The percentages in column 3 represent the total number of respondents as a percentage of the sum total of the entire sample.)
4. A majority of Americans think the present level of United States military and economic aid to Israel (2.6 billion dollars a year) is too much.
A similar majority think that aid to Egypt (2 billion dollars a year) is also too much.
Q. "The United States Government has agreed to give Israel 2.6 billion dollars a year in military and economic aid. Do you think this aid is the right amount, too much, or not enough?"
It is a great honour for me to spend the next few moments with you and then the next couple of days with you discussing some issues which are of common interest and I think of general importance. I would like to make a couple of comments before I move into the major part of my address.
The first is that Ms. Kunadi has given us an outstanding review of the basic relationship between the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and the non-governmental organizations (NGO) community and has given us a United Nations perspective which is important for our deliberations, and I will try to complement that where I can.
Secondly, I would like to take a moment to thank those who have made it possible for this conference to be held. I was in the position not very long ago of having to be on the other side of this microphone and I know some of the problems, the trials and the travails that they have gone through to make this a success. So I believe that the Division for Palestinian Rights, particularly the Committee, and specifically Mr. Aubrey Nkomo and Ms. Eileen Schaeffler, deserve our undying gratitude for the work that has gone to in this particular conference. I think also that the resource leaders, resource persons and the workshop leaders, whose work really begins in earnest tonight and continues all through the next couple of days should not be forgotten and we are passing our thanks.
In the remarks read out by The Rev. Meyers, he mentioned that I am currently residing in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, which I am sure all of you instantly recognize since many of you are atlas buffs of the United States. Briefly, Tahlequah is the capital of the Cherokee Indian Nation and I find it ironic yet highly relevant to be living among people who, 150 years ago tasted dispossession of their land in the eastern part of the United States as they were removed from what was then called Indian territory. But that Indian territory was soon to become part of a new State once it was realized that there was wealth to be found in those plains where they were supposed to be beyond the realm of law and order.
This panel is to address the question of NGO collaboration on the question of Palestine and, specifically, the relationship with the United Nations. I would like to pass over a couple of the events that Ms. Kunadi has brought to your attention but perhaps from a slightly different perspective. I had the opportunity in good fortune of being involved with the United Nations in the evolution of this NGO network that has come in to being and I think that you might appreciate some of the perspectives that can be brought to this particular point.
In 1982, the United Nations had no direct relationship with a network of NGOs on the question of Palestine. In fact I go so far as to say that there was no such network in existence and, while a network certainly has difficulties and troubles and perhaps does not know one side from the other at this particular point, it does exist and it is vibrant and it is crying for attention and organization. But it was in 1982, with the formation of the secretariat for the International Conference on the Question of Palestine, under Mrs. Lucille Mair, that the question of NGOs and the role that they could play, the positive important role that they could play in the development of consciousness on the question of Palestine, began to be considered. Mrs. Mair was, and is, a firm believer in the role of NGOs and commissioned several of us to begin to work with the NGO community. As we began to reach out to the NGO community, not just in the United States but world-wide, something became painfully apparent, and that was that there was no NGO community on the question of Palestine. There were important organizations doing highly relevant work but, as an international community, these NGO entities simply did not exist. And so we found curious anomalies, situations where NGOs doing outstanding work just a few miles from another NGO, had no conception of what that NGO was up to, had no idea that that NGO might be duplicating their work. And even in Europe and other countries, we found a similar situation.
Those were very humble beginnings, but the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and its service organization, the Division for Palestinian Rights, worked very hard to encourage the NGO community to co-operate with it throughout the coming years. And the results, I think, grew progressively more impressive and progressively more important.
It was in 1983 that the International Conference on the Question of Palestine was held and it was convened, as you know, at Geneva after a series of regional meetings. To those regional preparatory meetings were invited a number of NGOs, not in North America however, but in Latin America, Western Asia, Africa and Asia and Europe. Perhaps it was the European meeting that sticks most strongly in my consciousness because there were about 40 NGOs that did come, and out of that meeting came a commitment on their part not to simply leave the meeting and go their merry way but to co-operate with one another in a way which they had not done up to that point. This perhaps was our first indication that a network was a true possibility.
It is difficult for me to speak about the International Conference on the Question of Palestine without putting it into some contemporary context. I always call it the most controversial and the least discussed Conference ever held by the United Nations, and I am sure that is open to great discussion. But I will tell you, from the perspective of someone that played a very small role in the development of that Conference, that I was always amazed how it was conspicuously avoided by the press. I recall just before the opening of the Conference that the press of the world was reporting that only 76 countries were going to attend. And yet finally, when 137 nations did participate in some form, that particular figure was trumpeted very loudly. In fact if you lived in the United States or some other countries in the world, about the only thing you would have heard from that Conference was the fact that the Swiss Government took impressive and perhaps extreme measures in order to ensure our security. Twelve miles of barbed wire were laid around the Palais des Nations at Geneva. Every 100 yards, there was an armoured personnel carrier station and every 50 yards was a sign in five languages that said, "If you are asked to halt, please do so." Otherwise, the patrol units and the soldiers were ordered to shoot. I was never quite sure whom the Swiss army was protecting from whom. But the result was a rather tranquil Conference, tranquil in terms of external violence or difficulties, but I think quite revolutionary in terms of its results. Aside from the 137 nations that participated, there was what was called a side-show, another dimension of the Conference, which eventually assumed some proportion. That was the fact that 104 NGOs, representing international NGOs and national NGOs from 24 countries, decided, with their own money, with their own expenses, to come to the meeting. We had at that meeting 10 organizations from Israel representing the Palestinian and the Jewish-Israeli communities. We had organizations, some from the West Bank and Gaza, although others were not allowed to attend. And it was a rather turbulent period. But I believe that the results were quite extraordinary because we had the beginnings of an international consciousness amongst the NGO community that they could make a difference.
I realize just how important that meeting was from an NGO perspective when the United Nations began to count the achievements of that Conference. Wile the Declaration and the Programme of Action were considered to be outstanding accomplishments, also listed among the accomplishments was the fact that, not only did the NGOs participate, but they participated so vibrantly. In fact it was on more than one occasion that I found representatives to the governmental conference slipping downstairs to catch the NGO action. It was an interesting meeting. It was a meeting which had some turbulence and some interaction that went beyond just normal conversation but I think it was an important step in the evolution of the NGO community on the question of Palestine.
Last year, here, the North American Symposium on the Question of Palestine was held. It was the first of its kind in this particular region and it was attended by 55 or 56 NGOs. I think it played a crucial role here in North America. But there was a problem. And the problem was that, in the Declaration that was adopted by many of you who were there, one of the keys that you saw to the future of the NGO effort in North America was the question of organization. In fact you called for it specifically in the recommendations that the North American NGOs, in Canada and in the United States, should become more involved in a formal organizational way, and I believe over the next three days we are going to have to address that particular question more determinedly.
Last August, the International Meeting on the Question of Palestine, held at Geneva, was attended by about 100 NGOs, and out of that came the first formal, though transitional, structure to bring NGOs together world-wide. It is called the Interim Co-ordinating Committee for NGOs on the Question of Palestine (ICC), usually referred to as the Interim Committee. It is composed of 15 organizations world-wide, 2 of which are from North America. One is the National Council of Churches and the other is the Palestine Human Rights Campaign. It was considered to be a transitional mechanism to help NGOs on the way to organizing their efforts and it will be completely revamped, reviewed, revised and perhaps replaced at the upcoming international meeting on the question. But regardless of at the structure is, it is important that the structure was created because, however flawed and however pr imitive, it provided the international NGO community with its first vehicle to relate directly as a community to the United Nations. And remember that we are interested in finding ways that the NGO community can collaborate positively with the United Nations on this question. I think, in the past, that perhaps we have looked more to the United Nations for the initiative in this relationship and, in the future, we must look to our selves and to other NGOs for that initiative.
What role can we, as NGOs, play in collaboration with the United Nations? Well, I think that some of you have talked about this before but I want to reiterate a couple of points. First, we cannot see the challenge in a sectarian or a provincial manner. The challenge is global, the response must be global. Each of us must react locally but we must collaborate globally. Each of us must do our thing, in our place, but we must be consummately aware of what others are doing in their places so that we can interact, understand, inform, co-operate, impress and be effective for the future.
We do this not by repeating what Governments have done but by taking our own perspective. Many NGOs have the advantage of being grass-roots movements. You touch people in the heart as well as the mind. You remind them that people, the Palestinian people, are in fact just that - people. They are not stereotypes to be reduced to terrorists or refugees. They are mothers and fathers, children and teachers and, when you take the whole gamut of the 4.5 to 5 million Palestinians, you realize as you understand the issue, that you are dealing with a real human community. If we can accept the challenge of making that a reality, not only to our friends and not only to each other because we all know this, but to those in the gallery and to those beyond the gallery, to the constituencies that exist in the United States and Canada and then beyond that area, then we will accomplish our ends. If we can attack the pernicious stereotyping that is going on with regard to the question of Palestine, each in our own individual way, then we will have made a significant contribution to the process of realizing a Palestine for the Palestinians in the future.
There is another challenge and that challenge has to do with the Committee that organized this Conference. Any of you that know of the impression of this Committee beyond the confines of this house, particularly in the United States and Canada, are aware that this Committee is not held in the highest esteem. As a matter of fact, I would say it is a rather maligned organization. And yet I find it quite interesting over the last day and a half, talking to several of you, how many of you have been impressed by members of the Committee you have met, and how "moderate" the pronouncements of the Committee seem. I do not believe that the Committee is moderate in terms of its aims. Its aims are there - they are clear. The aims are to effect the rights of the Palestinian people and to help them to secure a national home in Palestine. But I believe that the image of the Committee has really been distorted. Perhaps in your work we can consider an accurate portrayal of the role of this Committee in some inventive ways.
We are sometimes called NGOs or sometimes called the key to public opinion in the United States. But, perhaps because we are grass-roots organizations, we can make a difference. I think the challenge is there. It is just how do we accept, it. When I come back to a theme I started at the beginning - it is the question of organization. From my perspective, this Conference begins when my words end, because what has been said up to this time is preliminary. What happens after this particular moment is going to be significant because the conference is unique in United Nations history. It is going to revert to you and to me, as an NGO. It is going to revert to our talents and our perspectives. We are going to be trying over the next couple of days to come up with specific ways and means, not pious platitudes, but specific ways and means by which we can effect the ends we all hold in common, and I believe we cannot shrink from the notion of organization. At some point, in some form, we must address how do we, as a continental existence, as a continental group of NGOs, project our work in a more efficient, more realistic and more effective fashion. What mechanism, however primitive, can we create over the next couple of days to make sure that what we do here is not forgotten until the report is read next year.
I think it is important to consider the question of team-work. I think it is important to consider the question of dissemination of information over the next couple of days, the role of the media and how you network. Tomorrow, there is going to be a specific panel, which is a non-panel, a workshop, dealing with the question of networking and collaboration. It is the most unstructured of all of the workshops. It rests exclusively on your inventiveness. It rests exclusively on your insight and the dreams and hopes that you can bring into the focus of reality. And I believe that the committee, that particular workshop, will be as successful as the individuals in this room care to make it.
Toward global NGO collaboration, I would like point again to ICC. Last year in August, ICC initiated a global signature campaign. It was a campaign designed to mobilize world public opinion in some form by a global signature process to support the idea and the convening of an international conference on peace in the Middle East, as prescribed in United Nations General Assembly resolution 38/58. This particular signature campaign and the particular instrument for the signature campaign has been analysed and re-analysed and discussed and debated. I know that there are some of you out there that do not believe that you can sign. Others of you have sponsored it. Some of you have endorsed it, some of you have passed it around. Actually from a personal perspective, that makes very little difference to me. What is important is that it was a step taken by the international community and that that step has to be discussed, debated and reasoned by us all. The hope, and it is coming to fruition, that the number of signatures that are going to be gathered in this campaign will be significant and will be presented to the Secretary-General next 29 November as an indication of grass-roots support for that international conference.
Beyond the signature campaign, let us look to a comprehensive regional and global NGO directory, a data base that lets each of us know where the other one is and what we are up to. We have found one another more or less, although there are new groups being discovered all the time, but we lose touch with one another. It is going to be important to consider ways and means whereby we can stay in contact. A continuing committee? Perhaps. In what form? That is open to your discretion. What about a comprehensive audio-visual directory? We have all been impressed, individually and collectively, with the massive role the media, particularly television, can play in our lives. And it is no different on the question of Palestine. A very small example, and it is very small: I spoke not too long ago - I had the great pleasure of speaking - at Mount Holyoke College on this question. And I must admit it was an audience that was basically neutral for the issue, some for, some against, but essentially neutral. And When I went up there, I had the opportunity of taking what I consider to be a very significant piece of audio-visual equipment. It is "Shadow of the West", a short audio-visual piece that was done by Edward Said and shown on British television. It had an opportunity to be shown while we were there and they asked if they could retain it. Well, it has been returned to me and it has been passed around to four or five different colleges in the area and all the reactions have been positive. People are talking and thinking. It was a catalyst for some sort of action and activity. But do we have, perhaps you will answer yes, do we have a comprehensive continental and international directory of all the audio-visual possibilities that exist for us today? What kind of media blitz could we in fact mount if we knew what was out there? A comprehensive directory of NGO meetings world-wide? I am constantly finding new organizations holding meetings or groups of organizations holding meetings. And what about an expanded data base of human rights violations that we can have access to by computer? These are all areas that we have to look into. But first and foremost we have to consider in what form this body will be constituted after these dates. And I urge you to look to the possibilities of a regional plan of action that includes a continuing committee of some sort.
At the end of this Conference, one of the cardinal rules of United Nations meetings, and many of you are more aware of this than I am, is that we will be asked, as NGOs, to present a declaration to the United Nations. In the past I think we, as NGOs, have prepared monumental declarations, some of great substance and some of lesser substance. But I believe that it is important that this declaration take on a unique dimension. This should not be a declaration composed solely of general statements and platitudes. This should be a declaration where we are quite specific not as to what we expect the United Nations to do for us but as to what we are going to do for the question of Palestine in North America and how the United Nations can assist us in that quest; not demanding that the United Nations accomplish a particular end while we go our particular individual ways, but how we are going to co-operate and how that co-operation will be enhanced by the United Nations. I submit to you that the clearer we are, the more specific we are, in our recommendations the better opportunity we will have of collaborating positively with the United Nations.
In 1983, Lucille Nair closed the International Conference on the Question of Palestine on what I consider to be a high and relevant note. And I am going to paraphrase some of her comments at this point. She said that, at that Conference, something unusual had happened and that was that we had a glimpse of a bridge - a bridge that can be built by decent people. This morning, John Mahoney talked about the question of decency. And if there is one way to characterize the people in this room that I know, it is definitely a collection of decent people. What can be accomplished by decent people from this point on? I believe that at the International Conference on the Question of Palestine we had a sense, perhaps for a moment, of the world community drawing on its deepest hopes and its noblest aspirations) that we can take the question of Palestine beyond a regional notion or a refugee notion, and that we can create and continue to create an infinitely important yet still delicate new form of hope about this issue. I believe that the work on the question of Palestine in North America has been begun in earnest by all of you. I believe that a new dimension, a collaborative dimension, a continental dimension, begins when you go to work collectively tomorrow. And I am very pleased, honoured and excited to be part of that process.
2/Highlights of a report prepared by Canadian Facts, Toronto, Ontario and presented to The Institute of ARAB Studies Inc., 556 Trapelo Ra., Boston, Massachusetts 02178.