INTERNATIONAL DAY OF SOLIDARITY WITH PALESTINIAN PEOPLE COMMEMORATED AT UNITED NATIONS OFFICE AT GENEVA
29 November 2004
The International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People was commemorated today at the Palais des Nations with speakers expressing their condolences to the Palestinian people over the death of President Yasser Arafat and calling on the international community to renew its commitment to the Middle East peace process.
Sergei Ordzhonikidze, the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, read out the message of Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the occasion of the Day. The Secretary-General took the opportunity to express his sympathy, once again, to the Palestinian people over the loss of President Arafat. “Let us hope that his memory will be an inspiration to the Palestinian people at this difficult time, so that they may remain united and strengthened in their efforts to realize their national aspirations for statehood and self-determination though peaceful means”.
While referring to the continuing bloodshed and chaos in the Middle East over the past four years, the Secretary-General recalled the “dismal existence of grinding poverty and dispossession endured by Palestinians” as a result. “The past four years have demonstrated all too clearly that violence only begets violence, and pushes farther away the prospect of a peaceful solution to the conflict”, the Secretary-General's message reads.
The Secretary-General called on the international community to gather its strength and renew its commitment to work for a reinvigorated peace process in the Middle East and not to give way to despair and pessimism. He said he was hopeful that the international community would do so following the recent Quartet meeting in Sharm el Sheikh. Moreover, he said it was time for the parties to begin to live up to their commitments under the Road Map.
Other speakers also expressed their sympathy to the Palestinian people over the death of President Arafat and said they hoped that the new Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian people would commit themselves to pursuing their objective peacefully through negotiations. Among other things, they raised the issue of the separation wall being constructed by Israel, the situation of human rights throughout the occupied Palestinian territory and the killing of some 4,000 people, many of them women and children. The speakers called on the international community to renew its commitment to the Middle East peace process and for Israel to halt the aggression against the Palestinian people.
Contributing 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; non-governmental organizations accredited to the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People; and the Permanent Observer of Palestine.
Turkey, Senegal, Tunisia and the Netherlands as President of the European Union sent messages of solidarity.
SERGEI ORDZHONIKIDZE, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, read out a message from United Nations Secretary-General KOFI ANNAN on the occasion of the International Day. The message reads as follows:
"On this International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, I take the opportunity to express, once again, my sympathy to the Palestinian people, who are mourning the loss of their leader, the late President Arafat. Let us hope that his memory will be an inspiration to the Palestinian people at this difficult time, so that they may remain united and strengthened in their efforts to realize their national aspirations for statehood and self-determination though peaceful means.
Over the past four years, bloodshed and chaos in the Middle East have continued without respite. Palestinians have endured a dismal existence of grinding poverty and dispossession. But they have not been good years for Israelis, either. They too have borne great loss. They too need security. The past four years have demonstrated all too clearly that violence only begets violence, and pushes farther away the prospect of a peaceful solution to the conflict.
However, we must not give way to despair and pessimism. Today, throughout the world, people hope that a new chance for peace may be around the corner. That opportunity must not be let pass. The international community must gather its strength and renew its commitment to work for a reinvigorated peace process. Following the recent Quartet meeting in Sharm el Sheikh, I am hopeful that it will do so.
The Quartet’s Road Map still embodies a path to peace that is accepted by both the Palestinians and Israelis, and strongly supported by the international community. It is high time that it be given a chance to succeed, and that the parties begin to live up to their commitments under it. And I have expressed my hope that Israel’s disengagement plan will revive peace efforts based on the Road Map, leading to the end of the occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as well as the Gaza Strip, and paving the way for a sovereign, democratic and contiguous Palestinian State, living side by side in peace with a secure Israel.
For my part, I pledge to continue to work with all parties for a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the question of Palestine, based on Security Council resolutions, and on the principle of land for peace".
HABIB MANSOUR, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Tunisia, speaking on behalf of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, referring to the loss of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, said the Palestinian people had lost one of their best sons, a true fighter for the just Palestinian cause who had devoted most of his life to the struggle against the occupation and for the realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. As the leader of his people, Yasser Arafat had created an international awareness and concern about the plight of the Palestinians. Mr. Mansour assured the Palestinian leadership that the Committee he was representing would support all efforts to resume the political dialogue with Israel in order to pave the way for the implementation of the various parallel steps laid out in the Road Map.
Mr. Mansour said that given the realities on the ground, the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory showed no sign of improvement with the crisis having reached alarming proportions; Palestinian civilians, living under Israeli occupation, faced harassment, violence and deprivation on a daily basis. The death toll since the start of the intifada had reached 4,000, most of the victims being Palestinian but also including hundreds of Israelis. More than 670 of these victims were children who had died in the past four years of the intifada.
Concerning the state of the economy, Mr. Mansour said that unless protective measures were taken without delays, poverty was likely to rise further. Food security, health standards, the quality of water and sanitation, and education standards had already deteriorated this year. Referring to the criticism among members of the international community of the continued construction of the wall dividing Palestinian communities, he added that it was also a matter of utmost concern that the expansion of settlements went on.
Mr. Mansour said the Committee welcomed the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice which had found that the construction of the wall being built by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territory, including in and around East Jerusalem and its associated regime, was contrary to international law and that it severely impeded the exercise by the Palestinian people of their right to self-determination. He said the Committee expressed hope that the Quartet and the international community would intensify their engagement as a matter of urgency to help the parties to commence implementing their obligations under the Road Map.
OUSMANE CAMARA, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Senegal, speaking on behalf of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, expressed the Committee’s condolences for the passing away of Yasser Arafat who had “steadfastly epitomized the inextinguishable quest of the Palestinian people for a sovereign and an independent state: the State of Palestine”. It was the sincere hope of the Special Committee that the Palestinian people as well as their leadership would commit themselves to pursue their objective peacefully through negotiations, Mr. Camara added.
Mr. Camara said that in spite of some progress the situation in the Middle East conflict seemed to be stagnating with no indication of an improvement in the horizon. Although, the Special Committee was not allowed by the Government of Israel to visit the occupied territories to observe the human rights situation there, this year, as in the past, it had undertaken its annual field mission in May and June to Lebanon, Egypt and Syria and had met with 84 witnesses, the highest number ever, in the three countries. The Committee had gathered sufficient evidence to express its serious concern at the deteriorating human rights and humanitarian situation, and at the unprecedented level of destruction taking place in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Most witnesses from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip had highlighted their appalling and deteriorating living conditions resulting from the military incursions by the Israeli Defence Forces and from the construction of the separation wall in the northern West Bank, Mr. Camara said. Moreover, extrajudicial killings continued, taking not only the lives of leaders of militant groups, but also the lives of children. During the military operations at Rafah, some 40 children had died between January and May 2004.
Owing to the construction of the wall, many villages in rural areas in northern West Bank no longer had access to hospital facilities located in cities and did not have basic health care in their local communities, Mr. Camara said. Moreover, according to sources, more than 1,100 houses were totally or partially demolished in the Gaza Strip during the period between January and May 2004, especially in the area of Rafah and the refugee camps nears the Egyptian border.
Mr. Camara referred to an assessment carried out by the Special Committee on the human rights situation in the occupied Syrian Golan according to which the current population of the 44 Jewish settlements was approximately 20,000 inhabitants and was expected to increase by another 1,500 over the next three years.
In conclusion, Mr. Camara said there were three positive developments which were likely to bring hope to the Palestinian people for their future: the renewed genuine interest of the media in reporting on the military occupation of the occupied Palestinian territories and the plight of its people; the growing influence in some countries exercised through public opinion for the need to resolve the situation now; and the combined effects of the Advisory Opinion rendered by the International Court of Justice, the Israeli decision to withdraw from the Gaza Strip in 2005, and the evolving situation in the occupied Palestinian territories which had focused world attention on the Palestinian issue once again.
MAHMOUD HASSAN ELSAYED, Representative of the League of Arab States, speaking on behalf of the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States AMR MOUSSA, expressed the League's sadness over the loss of Yasser Arafat who had led the Palestinian people in their struggle for freedom. The League of Arab States would always record with pride the commitment of Mr. Arafat in pursuing the objectives of his people and nation.
Hundreds of deaths had resulted from Israeli incursions throughout the occupied Palestinian territory and agricultural lands had been uprooted by savage actions and continued aggressive campaigns by Israel. The construction of the separation wall continued, despite the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice and in spite of the United Nations resolution of July 2004 calling for the dismantling of the wall, Mr. Moussa's statement said.
In the opinion of the League of Arab States, Israel would not have dared to continue with its aggression against the Palestinian people had it not been for the silence of the international community and the use of the veto in the Security Council which had paralysed the body. The political process in the region was at a standstill. The Israeli Government had adopted a plan to withdraw from the Gaza strip by next year which must be fully abided by and accompanied by similar steps in the West Bank in coordination with the Palestinian authorities.
Arab States, and in particular, the League of Arab States, had always striven for a global and just peace in the Middle East, and considered peace as a strategic option, Mr. Moussa said. At the 2002 Beirut Summit, the Arab peace plan had been proposed which had offered a comprehensive framework for a just and lasting solution to the Palestinian problem and the Arab-Israeli conflict and which had dealt with all issues such as refugees, Jerusalem and the peaceful coexistence of peoples in the region in conformity with United Nations resolutions. The League of Arab States called on the international community to support this initiative to allow for peace and to put an end to tension and instability in the region. Moreover, the League called on the international community to lend its assistance and support to the Palestinian Authority to reform Palestinian institutions and prepare for elections early next year which would set up a democratic framework. The League also called on the Quartet to make further efforts to put in place the Road Map to put an end to the struggle and called on the United States to play its part as a neutral broker to help reach a settlement to the conflict in the Middle East.
In conclusion, Mr. Moussa noted that the Palestinian people had made several concessions when they had accepted the Road Map. He said Israel must now stop pretending that it was making concessions. The League called on the Security Council and the international community at large to assume their responsibility and offer protection to the Palestinian people against the incursions of Israel and to put in force the Road Map to restore security in the region and promote the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.
BABACAR BA, Permanent Observer of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, speaking on behalf of the Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference ABDELOUAHED BELKEZIZ, said that with the loss of President Arafat “the Palestinian cause has been deprived of a staunch resistance campaigner and a man of peace of the highest calibre”.
Israel’s disregard for the demands of the Palestinians and of the international community to resume the peace process had led to greater escalation in the region and had stalled international and regional efforts to restore calm and resume peace talks, Mr. Ba said. The International Day this year also came at a time when Israel had persisted, for the fifth consecutive year, in its mounting aggression against the Palestinian people, nearly 4,000 of whom had been killed and tens of thousands injured.
In addition to crimes against humanity, perpetrated war crimes and daily violations of international conventions and covenants, Israel has been persistent in demolishing Palestinian buildings and imposing a stranglehold on border crossings that paralysed the movement of Palestinians and prevented their access to food and medical supplies. Moreover, the Israeli occupation authorities were applying an apartheid policy against the occupied city of Al-Quds Al-Sharif, which had been besieged with scores of military barricades and trenches that prevented worshippers form reaching their mosques and churches, Mr. Ba said.
The Organization of the Islamic Conference called on the international community to spare no efforts to put an end to the Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people and to compel Israel to implement the signed agreements, abide by the resolutions of international legitimacy, and open the way for Palestinian elections to be held. In this respect, the Organization supported the efforts of the Quartet Committee to implement the Road Map, put an end to Israel’s aggression and occupation, and move towards establishing the independent Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital. Mr. Ba said.
The Organization of the Islamic Conference further called on the international community to reaffirm and reiterate its solidarity with the Palestinian people, to redouble its efforts to put an end to the Israeli aggression, and to bring the peace process back on track on the basis of the foundations of the principles on which it was launched.
DATO HSU KING BEE, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Malaysia, speaking on behalf of the Prime Minister of Malaysia in his capacity as Chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement, at the onset of her statement expressed the support of the Non-Aligned Movement for and solidarity with the Palestinian people to achieve their inalienable rights.
This Day was being observed with a feeling of great loss and sorrow over the death of Yasser Arafat who had been a visionary and had personified the Palestinian struggle. The Non-Aligned Movement was convinced that his efforts would never be forgotten. She added that every Palestinian should fulfil his dream and address the many challenges ahead.
The Non-Aligned Movement welcomed the holding of Palestinian elections in January 2005 which should provide a new beginning for Palestine. It was time that the Palestinian people were spared the violence. The use of force by Israel, which had led to numerous injuries and deaths as well as to the destruction of land, had to come to an end. The Non-Aligned Movement reaffirmed its call on the State of Israel to cease its actions against innocent civilians and its destruction of homes. The Non-Aligned Movement was also hopeful that the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people to establish a State would come to fruition in 2005 as envisaged in the Road Map, Ms. Hsu King Bee said.
The long held desire of the Palestinian people should be realized and the international community must lend its support to this. The impact of the separation wall was overwhelming and threatened the integrity of the future of Palestine. The conclusion of the International Court of Justice should be respected by all, and in particular by Israel.
The Non-Aligned Movement also urged the Security Council to look into this matter and called on the international community to resuscitate the peace process. There was no military solution to this conflict, the Non-Aligned Movement affirmed, and the key to a solution lay in the willingness on the part of Israel to cooperate so that the Palestinian people could realize their self-determination. Moreover, the Non-Aligned Movement urged those who had influence to play a role to find a solution to the question of Palestine and the Non-Aligned Movement would continue to cooperate with the international community to that end.
In concluding, the speech by the Chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement said the United Nations was well placed to play a role to allow for a lasting peace in the region. The Palestinian people had suffered long enough. The Non-Aligned Movement reaffirmed its commitment to ensure a lasting settlement of peace.
SOPHIE ASIMENYE KALINDE, Permanent Observer of the African Union, expressed the condolences of the African Union to the family, the people and the authorities of Palestine on the death of President Yasser Arafat who had left behind a legacy as an indelible mark in Palestine and the world. Ms. Kalinde said the African Union once again renewed its solidarity with and support for the struggle of the Palestinian people as it had been doing for more than two decades, even though it was aware that each year the hardship and suffering for the people of Palestine was deepening.
Ms. Kalinde recalled the African Union Summit of 2004 where Heads of State and Government of the Union had condemned unequivocally the use of internationally prohibited weapons, excessive use of force, the human rights violations and particularly the assassination of Palestine leaders, which posed serious challenges to the international community in support of the just struggle of the Palestinian people.
The African Union condemned all acts of violence against Palestinian civilians. “For the people of Africa, solidarity with the people of Palestine has become an article of faith with a shared historical experience in our titanic struggles for freedom and independence”, Ms. Kalinde added.
While recalling the United Nations International Meeting on the Impact of the Construction of the Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory held in Geneva in April 2004, Ms. Kalinde said the construction of the barrier had confiscated Palestinian agricultural land and water sources, severed established economic links between and within Palestinian communities and greatly limited access to health care, education and food thus prolonging Palestinian dependence on donor assistance.
The decision of the African Union Heads of State and Government in 2002 to set up a Committee of 10 Member States to promote the peace process in the Middle East was yet more evidence of the preoccupation of Africans for a speedy resolution of the question of Palestine.
In conclusion, Ms. Kalinde said the African Union was encouraged by a ray of hope promising the revival of peace talks by the recent shuttling to the Middle East by various representatives of the international community and was confident and optimistic that the efforts of the new leadership in Palestine would move forward and engage all concerned in the resolution of the conflict constructively.
HELENE YINDA, Programme Director for Africa and Middle East of the YWCA, speaking on behalf of the Non-Governmental Organizations Middle Working Group in Geneva, extended the sympathies of the organizations to the Palestinian people for the death of President Yasser Arafat whom she said would always be remembered for his commitment to a sovereign Palestinian State that peacefully coexisted alongside the State of Israel.
Ms. Yinda said the organizations representing the NGO Working Group were committed to supporting peace with justice in the Middle East. In a recent visit organized by the World YWCA, 20 participants from 14 countries were appalled by the impact of the inhuman restrictions imposed on the movement of the Palestinian people. The separation wall under construction occupied a large part of Palestinian land and was in violation of Geneva Conventions. It divided Palestinian villages and families and separated people from their land, thereby destroying their livelihood.
International NGOs had helped their constituencies to understand the issues of the Middle East conflict and had created platforms for Palestinians and Israelis to hold dialogues. Women’s organizations, such as the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, along with Palestinian and Israeli chapters, had been especially helpful in this respect.
The Palestinian people continued to need the solidarity of the international community in their struggle to achieve peace with justice, human rights and self-determination especially when elections were planned for 9 January 2005. Ms. Yinda referred to the Secretary-General who said “Leaders see Palestinian elections as a chance for peace. The Palestinian elections provide an opportunity to revive the Middle East peace process”, adding “Israel is ready for such a step.”
In order for these elections to be fair and just, Israel will need to lift travel restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Palestinian residents of Jerusalem to facilitate their voting, Ms. Yinda said.
In conclusion, Ms. Yinda reaffirmed the commitment of NGOs to educating their members about the root causes of the conflict in the Middle East; advocating to help implement all relevant United Nations resolutions; and supporting peace with justice for all people, everywhere and at all times.
MOHAMMAD ABU-KOASH, Permanent Observer of Palestine, speaking on behalf of the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization MAHMOUD ABBAS, said the international observance was a day of solidarity with the just struggle of the Palestinian people and reflected the legitimacy of the cause of the people of Palestine. The observance rejected the unjust occupation which deprived the Palestinian people from exercising their inalienable rights which were afforded through numerous resolutions and which had still not been realized.
Mr. Abu-Koash said Mr. Abbas expressed Palestine’s appreciation to the Secretary-General of the United Nations and to the Committee on the Exercise of Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People for their efforts to settle the conflict in the Middle East. The commemoration was especially important this year given the passing away of Yasser Arafat who had personified the concern of the Palestinian people and whose name was synonymous with Palestine. Yasser Arafat had been a man who was unwavering and his conviction had been constant; he had been convinced that only brave leaders could achieve peace in the Middle East.
After the loss of President Arafat, the Palestinian people had achieved a smooth transfer of power and now they were more than ever in need of the support of the international community in order to overcome this delicate stage by reconstructing their infrastructure, rebuilding their economy and ensuring their inalienable rights. They needed help to achieve an atmosphere that was conducive to holding presidential elections in a transparent and democratic manner. All registered Palestinian voters would hopefully participate in these elections including those in the occupied territory, Mr. Abbas's speech said.
The Palestinian authorities called on the Israeli military forces to withdraw to the pre-September 2000 line in order to achieve the implementation of the Road Map. Palestine looked forward to having the necessary support to enhance its position based on justice and international legitimacy. Palestine would continue in its commitment to the peace process and would abide by Security Council resolutions, the speaker added. Moreover, the Palestinian people refused all unilateral measures and asked for such measures to cease immediately since they prejudged the final map. The construction of the separation wall, which was in violation of international law and the Geneva Conventions and was an obstruction of the peace process, should also come to a halt.
What was needed was mutual respect and building bridges not walls, said Mr. Abbas. The Palestinian authorities called on the international community to support their request to put an end to the oppression and colonization of the Palestinian people. The support of the international community could help the Palestinians overcome their struggle. Peace must be lasting, consolidated and based on mutual respect and cooperation; it must guarantee security and stability and ensure the Palestinian people freedom and independence as well as put an end to the suffering of the past and turn to a new age of coexistence in the region.
The United Nations had a moral responsibility and an important role to play which had been expressed in many important resolutions, including the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice which called for the building of the separation wall to stop. Resolution 1515 of the Security Council was another expression of the commitment of the international community to reach a peaceful solution in the region.
In closing, Mr. Abu-Koash said Mr. Abbas expressed the deep gratitude of the Palestinian authorities for the sincere condolences extended to the Palestinian people on the loss of their leader President Arafat who had placed the Palestinian cause on the international scene. He thanked the participants of the meeting for their support and expressed hope that the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people would soon be recognized.