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Division for Palestinian Rights (DPR)
29 June 2004
UNITED NATIONS AFRICAN MEETING
IN SUPPORT OF THE INALIENABLE RIGHTS
OF THE PALESTINIAN PEOPLE
Cape Town, 29 and 30 June 2004
29 June 2004
SPEAKERS AT CAPETOWN MEETING COMPARE SITUATION
IN OCCUPIED TERRITORIES WITH SOUTH AFRICAN APARTHEID
Participants discuss the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory
CAPE TOWN, 29 June – The settlement enterprise in the Occupied Territory had created a system of legally sanctioned separation based on discriminations that had no parallel anywhere since the apartheid regime of South Africa, Anat Biletzki told participants at the United Nations African Meeting in Support of the Palestinian People in Cape Town this afternoon.
Ms. Biletzki, Chairman of the Philosophy Department of Tel Aviv University, said the word apartheid had adopted a local Israeli-Palestinian meaning. Israel’s political agenda of consolidating the occupation and creating facts on the ground was responsible for the grave violations of Palestinian rights.
This afternoon’s session, part of a two-day meeting sponsored by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, heard presentations by experts on the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem.
The Minister for Negotiations Affairs of the Palestinian Authority, Saeb Erakat declared that anyone who said that Arabs were not ready for democracy was a racist. Palestinians stood ready for presidential and local elections as soon as conditions allowed but there could be no elections under Israeli curfews and other restrictions. Palestinians could not form a democracy in a situation where other nations had the right to disqualify Palestinian candidates.
The Gaza withdrawal must be a part of the Road Map and not an alternative, he said. He urged the Quartet to produce an action plan to stipulate how the Gaza withdrawal would be implemented. “Show us how Gaza is doable”, he demanded.
Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, Peter Hansen, said that more and more donors questioned the feasibility of continuing assistance to the Occupied Territory and considered that the situation was a lost cause. The humanitarian community could not keep pace with Israeli destruction. He appealed to all to bring pressure to bear on the donor community to continue its contributions.
He went on to say that South Africa was one of the few places in the world where people could understand the Palestinian situation and what it meant to be treated as less than a human.
Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Commission on Human Rights, John Dugard, comparing apartheid with the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said the pass laws which had determined the right of Africans to move and reside in so-called white areas were prototypes of the special permits required by Palestinians to live in their own homes in the “seam zone”, to reach their farm land and to visit family living elsewhere. South African laws were brutal but administered uniformly. Israeli pass laws were administered in an arbitrary manner.
Apartheid was a brutal system designed to maintain white domination, he continued. Military occupation of the Palestinian Territory was likewise a brutal system but the goal was unclear. He stressed the need for the rules of international law to be strictly applied to Israel which should not be seen as being above the law.
There was hardly a human endeavor not covered by some human rights document, but the issue of compliance and enforcement in the event of non-compliance had proved difficult, Narandran Jody Kollapen, Chairman of the South African Human Rights Commission told the Meeting. Ultimately, the international system for the protection of human rights and the advancement of international humanitarian law depended on political will and was often shaped by interests that had little to do with the interest of humanity.
He said the cost in human and financial terms of increasing restrictions on the movement of Palestinians was staggering but the cost to future generations was incalculable. The international community had failed to protect the people of Palestine and that was everyone’s failure.
The theme for tomorrow’s morning meeting is “Realizing a shared vision of peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians”. Participants will discuss ending the occupation; current approaches to advancing a negotiated settlement; preserving and building on prior achievements in the peace process; and strategies to garner public support for renouncing violence and returning to political dialogue.
Plenary I: The situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem:
Israeli strategies to consolidate occupation and create facts on the ground; the destruction of the Palestinian economy and the humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Palestinian refugee camps; the responsibilities of the occupying Power; strengthening Palestinian institutions; and the urgency of international protection of the Palestinian civilian population.
SAEB ERAKAT, Minister for Negotiations Affairs, Palestinian Authority, said the borders of the United States extended all over the world and the situation in the Palestinian Territory was no different from the situation in the Middle East. There were new political realities on the ground. The only solution to the Palestinian problem would be a two-state solution. The Israeli attempt to snatch a few pieces here and there would not work. Palestinians did not need new ideas, visions and statements but rather they needed a Power to stop Israel from violating international law. He had wanted the International Court to make a judgment on the legality of the Occupation Wall because no one would accept the word of the Palestinians.
He recalled that the international community was constantly being told that Palestinians had turned down the best offer at Camp David. Had anyone ever seen a copy of what former Israeli Prime Minister Barak had offered Palestinians?, he asked. It had been his experience over the last ten years that unless there were minutes of the various meetings he had attended with Israelis, it was his word against theirs regarding what had transpired and he did not stand a chance. What did Mr. Sharon mean by withdrawal from Gaza?, he asked. The Gaza withdrawal must be a part of the Road Map and not an alternative. He urged the Quartet to produce an action plan to stipulate how the Gaza withdrawal would be implemented. “Show us how Gaza is doable”, he demanded. Moreover, how could Gaza survive without the West Bank?
Continuing, he said that Mr. Sharon promised that he would not build new settlements but he continued to build them. He said he would not build a ditch and yet Israeli newspapers had carried the tender for the project. The question was not that Israel was breaching the commitment but what the United States would do about it. The only way to make the Gaza withdrawal work would be to adhere to the Road Map. The end game was to stop the occupation that began in 1967. If that was not achieved, things would go from bad to worse at the cost of Israeli and Palestinian lives. The Road Map must be implemented.
PETER HANSEN, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East said that South Africa was one of the few places in the world where people would really understand the Palestinian situation and what it meant to be treated as less than a human. It was hard to describe the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory but the figures spoke louder than the words. In Gaza, more than 75 per cent of the population lived below the poverty line. The prospect of societal breakdown was real in a situation where the male provider could no longer provide for his family, where unemployment rates were meaningless. One needed to visit some of the towns and see the idle hands and closed shops. How could it be otherwise when every access was closed? If you lived in a restricted area and were over 35 you were unlikely to get a permit to go in and out of that area. If you had a permit to work, you must begin at 3 a.m., never knowing whether you would get through the checkpoint or if you would get back. Moreover, you would not know to what indignities you would be subjected.
Such abuses applied to humanitarian staff as well, he said. UNWRA staff worked in other parts of the world stated that the relationship with the Israeli Government was comparable only to relations of humanitarian organizations with the Government of North Korea. It was a wonder that humanitarian workers could carry on. More and more donors questioned the feasibility of continuing and considered that the situation was a lost cause. The humanitarian community could not keep pace with the destruction. UNWRA was constructing emergency housing in Gaza and the West Bank but the Israeli razing of houses proceeded faster than UNWRA could build replacements. The international community was beginning to question the point of continuing assistance.
He appealed to all who had any influence to bring pressure to bear on the donor community to continue its contributions. Palestinian refugees could not bear the cost of this impossible task alone.
ANAT BILETZKI, Chairman, Philosophy Department, Tel Aviv University, said the oft-cited distinction between human rights in general and politics on the other did not hold water. It was Israel’s political agenda of consolidating the occupation and creating facts on the ground that was responsible for the grave violations of Palestinian rights. Any report on human rights violations could be divided into specific issues: house demolitions; targeted assassinations; checkpoints; settlements; and the Wall. These constituted the basic picture of the West Bank today. She noted that the last incursion into Rafah was not so exceptional as the army went into Rafah and Gaza all the time. The difference now was that two Israeli armoured vehicles had been attacked. The settlements were a grave violation of human rights on any level that one could imagine. When the war was lost, it would be because of the settlements. The Wall, currently the burning issue in the region, was an icon of the occupation.
She related the story of the villagers of Nu’man who had been mistakenly registered in the 1967 census as residents of the West Bank rather than as living in areas that Israel had annexed. Now classified as persons staying illegally in their own homes they could not go in or out without risking being unable to return. In the town of Tulkarm-Kalkilya, the Wall separated farmers from their lands and made residents semi-legal inhabitants of their own homes and lands. The land between the wall and green line, the seam area, had been declared a closed military area. Palestinians had to obtain permits to live in their own houses and to make a living on their own land. Jews and Israelis could travel in the area without problem.
She said the day-to-day life of the Palestinians was a travesty that must be recognized and stopped. Headlines of traumatic events were so easy to come by that they had to fight to make it into the news. But it was not the dramatic headlines that told the story. A life lived under curfew, the inability to visit friends and family, the hours of waiting and walking and queing in order to perform a daily function -- those were the real horrors of occupation, issues about which Israelis chose not to know. According to B’Tselem, the settlement enterprise in the Occupied Territory had created a system of legally sanctioned separation based on discriminations that had no parallel anywhere since the apartheid regime of South Africa. The use of the word apartheid had adopted a local Israeli-Palestinian meaning. Referring to apartheid roads or the apartheid Wall was no longer outrageous and grotesque, perhaps because the situation itself was no longer outrageous or grotesque.
JOHN DUGARD, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Commission on Human Rights, comparing apartheid with the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said that apartheid South Africa had set aside 13 % of the land for occupation by black South Africans. Ironically that was the percentage of the original Palestine that was likely to be left to the Palestinians. He noted that, unlike in the Palestinian areas, apartheid in South Africa had never extended to roads. Regarding the Wall, he said that if it really were a security measure, it would adhere to the course of the Green Line or the recognized 1967 border. Rather, it seemed designed to protect settlers and extend the land of the settlers. It was only a matter of time before farmers abandoned their land and villagers left as a result of the constant harassment by the Israeli Defense Force.
Continuing, he said that apartheid had been characterized by serious restrictions on freedom of movement. The pass laws had acquired international notoriety. Palestinians also required special permits to live in their own homes in the seam zone, to farmland in that zone and to visit family. South African laws were brutal but administered uniformly. The Israeli pass laws were administered in an arbitrary manner. Homes were destroyed in apartheid South Africa to create group areas for different races but not with the ferocity that characterized the Israeli occupation. Homes in the Occupied Territory might be destroyed for administrative reasons or as a punishment for political activities but by far, the greatest number of homes were destroyed for “military necessity”. During a visit to Rafah last week, the refugee camp, which had been razed by Caterpillar bulldozers, looked as though an earthquake had hit it. He called on the international community to boycott the Caterpillar Company.
Security laws gave the apartheid security forces wide powers to suppress political activity. It was the same with Israeli law and practice in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Apartheid was a brutal system designed to maintain white domination. Military occupation of the Palestinian Territory was likewise a brutal system but the goal was unclear although the frequently declared objective was that of security. Unfortunately there were those, particularly in the United States who would relax the rules of international humanitarian law and not apply it to situations where it was clearly applicable. They argued that such matters as boundaries, Israeli settlements and the return of refugees should be settled by negotiation free from the restraints of international law. He did not share that view. The rules of international law should be strictly applied to Israel. It should not be seen as being above the law.
NARANDRAN JODY KOLLAPEN Chairman of the South African Human Rights Commission said there was hardly a human endeavor that was not covered by some human rights document but the issue of compliance and enforcement in the event of non-compliance had proved difficult. That raised concern about the international system for the protection of human rights and the advancement of international humanitarian law. Ultimately it depended on political will and was often shaped by interests that had little to do with concerns for humanity. If the international community was the custodian of international conventions, how did it respond to non-compliance? Even as he spoke there were spectacular failures of the international community to respond to violations.
Increasing restrictions by Israeli authorities on the movement of Palestinians in the Occupied Territory caused unprecedented hardships for the Palestinians, hindering or preventing their access to work, education, medical care, family visits and other activities. The cost in human and financial terms was staggering but the cost to future generations was incalculable, he said. The issue of restricted water use and consumption reflected a denial of the basic essentials of life. A checkpoint was not simply an outpost on the highway that checked documents. It reflected the imprisonment of the people within their own homes. Accounts of humiliation were legion.
Focusing on the psychological damage caused by the situation, he said the ongoing situation was among the main causes of acute psychic distress among Palestinian children. Approximately two-thirds of adults reported feeling continuously distressed. That was especially marked among women. The situation remained as grave as ever. The international community had failed to protect the Palestinian people. Perhaps it was exposed to so many reports and statistics that it did not respond as it should. The failure of the international community was everyone’s failure and a catastrophe that was affecting this and future generations was ensuing.