UNISPAL Home

French.pdf Webcast: Morning Session 1 Morning Session 2  Afternoon Session
Press Release
UNITED NATIONS
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York


Committee on the Inalienable Rights
of the Palestinian People
AM & PM Meetings
GA/PAL/929
4 September 2003

CIVIL SOCIETY SUPPORT INDISPENSABLE TO ACHIEVING MIDDLE EAST ‘ROAD MAP’,
SAYS SECRETARY-GENERAL, AS TWO-DAY HEADQUARTERS CONFERENCE OPENS

Panel Discussions Address Such Issues as Israeli ‘Separation Wall’,
Obstacles to Assistance, Grass-Roots Activism in Occupied Territories


Civil society support was indispensable to achieving the vision of the “Road Map” for peace in the Middle East, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today at the opening of the two-day session of the United Nations International Conference of Civil Society in Support of the Palestinian People.

In a statement read on his behalf by the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Kieran Prendergast, the Secretary-General noted that Israelis and Palestinians, assisted by the Quartet and the international community, had committed themselves to the Road Map.  If the vision of the Road Map were to be made a reality, civil society must play its part.  Indeed, that vision must be realized if the Palestinian people were to live a normal life in a land unencumbered by military occupation, strife and unbearable living conditions, and the Israelis were to live in peace and security within their own borders, free from fear.

The road to peace, however, was strewn with many obstacles, he said.  The ceasefire had broken down and the level of violence had increased sharply last month, with repeated incursions into Palestinian cities, targeted assassinations, as well as deadly suicide bombings against Israelis.  Palestinian and Israeli civilians continued to be killed in indefensible acts of violence.  The Road Map remained the best way to reach an independent and viable Palestinian State.  “We must not allow the renewed cycle of deadly violence to divert us from it”, he said.

The Permanent Observer for Palestine, Nasser Al-Kidwa, said Israel’s fierce campaign over the last three years included war crimes, premeditated murders, arbitrary executions, the arbitrary destruction of homes, infrastructure and agriculture, the arrest and imprisonment of Palestinians and collective punishment, including restrictions on movement of persons and merchandise.  The result was a tragic humanitarian situation.  Some had tried to turn the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a question of terrorism, instead of a question of foreign occupation and settlement policy.

The very essence of the Road Map had been undermined, he added.  Israel’s settlement policy continued, as did the confiscation of land and the construction of the expansionist wall.  A revitalization of the Road Map was needed.  The work of the United Nations would remain important in support of the Palestinian efforts to re-launch the political process.  Demanding an end to occupation was the first and ultimate condition for the achievement of peace in the Middle East and for putting an end to the Palestinian conflict.

The Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, Papa Louis Fall (Senegal) said the root cause of the conflict, namely the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, must be eliminated in order to bring peace to the Middle East.  The current situation was bleak.  Thousands of lives, overwhelmingly Palestinian, had already been lost and the destruction of Palestinian villages and agricultural lands had led to economic disaster and internal displacement.  He urged civil society groups to prioritize the rehabilitation of the devastated Palestinian economy and suggested the deployment of international monitors or a multinational stabilization force to help the Israelis and Palestinians implement the peace agreements.

In a morning panel discussion that followed the opening statements, entitled “The situation on the ground:  Obstacles to peace”, speakers focused on the impact of Israeli construction of the “separation wall” on the Palestinian people and the prospects for peace.  Speakers stressed both the daily realities facing Palestinians as a result of the separation wall -- including the confiscation of land, the demolition of houses and businesses -- and the degradation of the environment.  The construction of what some called an “apartheid wall” would render a political settlement impossible.  Also highlighted in the discussion was the effect of closures and curfews and the need to further discuss the concept of “international trusteeship”.

In the afternoon discussion, entitled “Civil society under siege”, speakers addressed the issues of grass-roots activism in the occupied Palestinian territory, obstacles to the provision of emergency relief and humanitarian assistance and civil society coordination on the ground.  In that regard, speakers stressed the need to strengthen civil society networks at all levels.  Other topics included the role of the media in portraying the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the use of the environment as a weapon of war and the need for international legal action.

The conference will meet again at 10 a.m. Friday, 5 September, to take up the theme, “The international community, civil society and the political process to end the occupation”.

Background

The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People met this morning to open the United Nations International Conference of Civil Society in Support of the Palestinian People.  The two-day Conference is convened in accordance with General Assembly resolutions 57/107 and 57/108 of December 2002.  In the plenary meeting that follows the opening session, the Conference is expected to discuss the theme “The situation on the ground:  Obstacles to peace”.

Statements

KIERAN PRENDERGAST, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, reading a statement by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had been part of the Organization’s work almost since its inception.  Those efforts continued at a crucial time, in cooperation with the other members of the Quartet –- the United States, the European Union, and the Russian Federation.  Assisted by the Quartet and the international community, Israelis and Palestinians had committed themselves to the “Road Map”.  Its goal was clear -– an end to violence, an end to occupation, a permanent settlement of the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace within secure and recognized borders.  Civil society support was indispensable if the vision was to be achieved.  That vision must be achieved if the Palestinian people were, at last, to live a normal and secure life in a land unencumbered by military occupation, strife and unbearable living conditions, while Israelis, at last, lived in peace and security within their own borders, free from fear.

The road to peace was strewn with many obstacles, he continued.  After initial encouraging steps taken by both sides, the ceasefire had broken down.  The level of violence increased sharply last month, with repeated incursions into Palestinian cities, targeted assassinations, as well as deadly suicide bombings against Israelis.  Palestinian and Israeli civilians continued to be killed in indefensible acts of violence.  He had called on the parties to exercise the utmost restraint, to break the cycle of violence and counter-violence.  He repeated that call today and urged both sides to deepen their commitment to security cooperation to allow the political process to move forward.

The Road Map remained, if fully and fairly implemented, the best way to reach an independent and viable Palestinian State, he said.  The whole international community must strengthen its efforts to help both parties stay the course.  Settlement expansion and the construction of bypass roads remained serious impediments to the Road Map, which clearly called for a freezing of all settlement activity and for the dismantling of settlement outposts erected since March 2001.  The construction of the barrier in the West Bank separated Palestinians from their farms and from other Palestinian communities, creating facts on the ground and running contrary to the letter and spirit of the Road Map.  The activities tended to predetermine the outcome of future negotiations on permanent status and threatened to undermine the vision of a viable and contiguous Palestinian State alongside the State of Israel.

For its part, the Palestinian Authority must act decisively to halt terrorist attacks, he said.  A solution would not be achieved through terrorism.  Civil society, particularly Palestinian civil society, must speak loudly against terrorism, which was not only unjustifiable, but also harmful to the Palestinian cause.  It was also important for the Palestinian Authority to continue its reforms in a transparent manner in close consultation with the international community, specifically the Quartet’s Task Force on Palestinian Reform.  Creative ways must be found to engage civil society more deeply in various aspects of the reform process.

The humanitarian situation was a cause for great concern, he said.  Israeli withdrawals had been accompanied by some easing of restrictions on the movement of Palestinian workers and commodities.  But, closures and curfews in the West Bank remained.  Palestinians were still unable to move freely, seek medical care and attend to other aspects of their lives.  The United Nations had stressed the need for international and local humanitarian staff to have access to Palestinian areas.  The Palestinian people needed to see tangible benefits in their lives.  The United Nations was fully engaged in development and humanitarian work on the ground.  For more than 50 years, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) had provided Palestinian refugees with a broad range of essential services.  The UNRWA needed sustained donor support at a time of crisis and dire economic hardships, as it struggled to cope with budget shortfalls and increased requests for services.

The work carried out by civil society organizations, individually and in partnership with the United Nations, greatly contributed to efforts for peace and provided much-needed humanitarian assistance, he said.  Of particular importance were joint grass-roots initiatives between Palestinian and Israeli non-governmental organizations, as well as between Jewish and Arab groups in the United States, Europe and elsewhere.  If the vision of the Road Map was to be achieved, civil society must play its part.

PAPA LOUIS FALL (Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said the active interest in the present conference underlined the view shared by governments and civil society organizations that the root cause of the conflict, namely the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, had to be eliminated in order to bring peace to the Middle East.  Currently, however, the situation was bleak.  Thousands of lives, overwhelmingly Palestinian, had already been lost.  In addition, the destruction of Palestinian villages and agricultural lands had led to economic disaster and internal displacement in the region.

He lamented the fact that, despite vigorous international condemnation, Israel was continuing to expand its settlements in Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem.  Such action was contrary to the rules laid down by the Road Map.  Additionally, in defiance of international protest, Israel was building a wall of separation, with large parts of the barrier cutting into Palestinian territory.  He warned that such methods could never bring peace.

Noting that the global anti-war movement was becoming a well-organized and influential part of civil society, he urged non-governmental organizations to continue playing their significant role.  He added that civil society groups should prioritize the rehabilitation of the devastated Palestinian economy, and he suggested that international monitors or a multinational stabilization force be deployed to help the Israelis and Palestinians implement peace agreements.  Urging civil society groups to work together and form regional and national platforms, he told those present that his Committee wished to help coordinate such efforts at the international level.

NASSER AL-KIDWA, Permanent Observer for Palestine, said the international community had not provided the needed protection for those working on the ground in the occupied territory.  While the Security Council had taken an initiative to remedy that situation by adopting a resolution on the protection of humanitarian workers, including representatives of the United Nations, a similar initiative to protect those working for the United Nations in the occupied territory had met with the usual United States veto.

He said the fierce campaign conducted by Israel over the last three years involved war crimes, premeditated murders, arbitrary executions, the arbitrary destruction of homes, infrastructure and agriculture, the arrest and imprisonment of Palestinians and collective punishment, including restrictions on movement of persons and merchandise.  The result had been a tragic humanitarian problem.  Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s policy was aimed at destroying all the consequences of the Oslo process.  Some had tried to turn the Israeli Palestinian conflict into a question of terrorism, instead of a question of foreign occupation and settlement policy.

He said he was against terrorism and against the bombings of Israeli civilian targets.  The bombings did an injustice to the Palestinian cause and ran counter to international law.  The first bombing, however, had occurred some 27 years after the beginning of the occupation.  Violence in self-defence in the occupied Palestinian territories was not terrorism, but a reaction to the odious Israeli crimes committed against the Palestinian people.  Palestine wanted to preserve a peaceful negotiating process and it remained committed to international efforts to establish peace and achieve a lasting settlement based on the presence of two States.  The Palestinians, however, had never agreed to sidestep the unlawfulness of Israeli settlements.

The contours of the Palestinian position were clear, he continued.  The Israeli party refused to withdraw from the occupied territories.  Both parties must accept the rights of the other party, including the establishment of Palestine as a sovereign State and recognition of Israel.  The Road Map represented a reasonable option to arrive at that solution.  Problems had arisen at the very beginning, due to Israel’s position.  Some 12 to 13 Israeli reservations had been accepted, virtually undermining the Road Map.  While the Palestinian side had also made its own demands on the Road Map, it had committed itself to even more than what was required by the Road Map.

The very essence of the Road Map had been undermined, he said.  The settlement policy continued, as did the confiscation of land.  The expansionist wall continued to be built.  The Road Map had to be revitalized.  It needed a serious, new beginning, involving a genuine commitment on both sides to comply.  The Palestinians were ready to commit when the new serious beginning was in place.  International legitimacy must also be preserved.  Israel, at present, was waging a new campaign aimed at the United Nations and international legitimacy.  It was trying to legitimize all of its unlawful actions.  It could not succeed, of course, for the international community remained committed to international law and justice.  The work of the United Nations would remain important in support of the Palestinian efforts to relaunch the political process.  Demanding an end to occupation was the first and ultimate condition for the achievement of peace in Middle East and for putting an end to the Palestinian conflict.

FINN MARTIN VALLERSNES, Chairman of the Committee on Middle East Questions of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and Member of the Norwegian Parliament, said his organization had attempted to foster dialogue and cooperation between lawmakers from Israel and Palestine.  Stressing that, without trust, it was difficult to deal with complex issues, he suggested that negotiations must first address the most basic problems.  For example, terrorism could not end without first holding discussions on its root causes.

He expressed the belief that the peace process could only move forward if all parties, including governments, civil society groups, and the common people on the street, moved simultaneously in same direction.  In that regard, people had to see improvements in their daily lives before they could truly support political agreements.  Additionally, parties needed to focus on their own implementation efforts, rather than blame the other side for not doing its part.  Urging stronger participants in the peace process to give their weaker counterparts a helping hand, he acknowledged that his advice was obvious and yet perhaps difficult to follow.

THOMAS NEU, Chairperson, Association of International Development Agencies and Middle East Representative, American Near East Refugee Aid, said the statistics were mind-numbing:  Palestinian unemployment rates were above 40 per cent; real per-capita income was 46 per cent less than before the intifada; and some 55 per cent of the Palestinian population depended on international assistance.  In terms of access to water, closures, roadblocks and long delays meant that water trucks were often delayed.  Many families remained thirsty for days.  Nutrition was still a cause of concern.  Israeli Defence Force movements, closures and curfews happened so frequently that they were no longer noted in newspapers or parliaments.  Such activity happened every day in numerous places.  Rapidly growing needs brought non-governmental organization representatives together frequently.  International non-governmental organization gatherings focused on the issue of movement and how to avoid getting arrested or harmed.

Non-governmental organizations faced many operational difficulties on the ground, he said.  Some international and local non-governmental organizations were not accorded the right of mobility.  Access was often seen as a privilege that could be withdrawn at any time, rather than a right as guaranteed under international law.  Civil society pertained first and foremost to ordinary people, not just recognized non-governmental organizations.  In Palestine, the local non-governmental organization movement recognized its responsibility to “represent the unrepresented”.  The non-governmental organization network struggled to alert the world to the implications of imprisoning entire communities.  Civil society should be mainly about participation, not protest.  Non-governmental organizations could do much, including publicizing what happened.  Despite the best efforts of non-governmental organizations on the ground, the only solution was to end the occupation.

Panel

PHYLLIS BENNIS, Moderator of the plenary session, said the focus of the Conference was ending the occupation and discussing action and strategies that could be used to implement that goal.  Telling Conference participants that they were serving as pressure points on governments and the United Nations as a whole, she said their commitment was more important than ever, especially in light of the new wall that Israel was constructing.

The subject of the first panel, she said, was entitled: “The situation on the ground:  Obstacles to peace”.

JAMAL JUMA, Coordinator of the Palestinian Environment NGO Network, said there were actually two walls being built in the West Bank.  He used slides to show the first one, made of concrete and complete with towers for snipers.  The second wall, consisting of a complex of fences, barriers, roads, cameras, sensors, and deep trenches was being built to protect the first one.  He told Conference participants that, between the walls, there was a buffer zone in which all greenhouses and animal shelters would soon be destroyed.  Additionally, about 11,550 people from 16 villages were trapped between the walls and the Green Line, and during construction Israeli forces had already demolished 920 Palestinian buildings, leaving 13,000 people homeless.

Turning to environmental and economic concerns, he said that 102,320 trees, some over 700 years old, had been uprooted and 36 wells were now separated from their communities.  Additionally, Qalqiliya, once one of the West Bank’s richest cities, had been completely sealed off by the wall and was now only accessible through a single military gate.  Many Israelis had previously shopped in the town.  Now, however, 75 per cent of the inhabitants depended on humanitarian assistance for survival.  Expressing concern over the walls’ psychological effect on Palestinian children, he strongly condemned the Israeli construction efforts.

JOHN REESE, Coordinator, United States Campaign to Stop the Wall, said the environment was being used as a weapon of war by the Israeli military, settlers and Government.  Settlements were often located on hilltops.  Waste flowed down onto Palestinian farmland, rendering it unfit.  Over 200 industries had moved into the West Bank, turning waste and pollution into chemical and biological weapons against their Palestinian neighbours.  The wall was exacerbating the situation.  The assault on the environment exacerbated the degradation of Palestinian farmland, which was not only the core of the local economy, but also affected fragile ecosystems.

The construction of the wall was having a major impact on the flora and fauna, destroying habitat and claiming acres of land, he said.  The construction of the wall was a massive construction project.  It was equivalent to building a super highway with the destruction of land up to 200 metres on either side of the wall.  It was a huge cut and fill project.  Some 100,000 olive trees had been dug up and replanted on the Israeli side of the wall.  Just the footprint of the wall itself, including the buffer zones, would be enormous.  Once completed, the wall could mean the loss of as much as approximately 12,500 acres.  The wall isolated farmland and communities from wells, piping and storage systems.  Both domestic and agricultural water systems would be demolished and could not be rerouted.  The wall was a symbol of the situation under which Palestinians must survive.  The construction of the wall would have a devastating impact on the people and the environment of Palestine.

NAOMI CHAZAN, former Member of the Knesset, said the Road Map was on the verge of failure.  In an appalling environment characterized by increasing terrorism and intolerance, it was more crucial than ever to facilitate dialogue between people of opposing viewpoints.  Denouncing the separation wall and the virtual annexation of Jerusalem without negotiations, she said a peaceful solution could never be reached as long as Israel humiliated the Palestinians with closures, curfews and checkpoints.  Criticizing Israel for failing to freeze settlement activity and dismantle settler outposts, she suggested a way that the international community could ameliorate the situation.  Specifically, because 80 per cent of Israeli settlers were economically motivated, she urged donors to set up a compensation fund to help them relocate.

She told conference participants that the four major obstacles to peace today were:  the leadership crisis on both sides; the fact that extremists on both sides had been allowed to take control of the political agenda; the monumental breakdown in trust; and the failure of the international community to fulfil its obligations.  In order to salvage the vision of the Road Map, she suggested moving directly to the plan’s third phase, which provided for two separate States for two separate people with two separate capitals.  Also, she said the time might be ripe for reconsidering the possibility of an international trusteeship over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

CLAUDETTE HABESH, Secretary-General, Caritas Jerusalem, said the situation today had proved the futility of violence as a means of problems solving.  Israel’s occupation and its policy, including closure, curfews and extrajudicial executions, had not succeeded in providing security for the people of Israel.  The current circumstances had weakened the milieu for a healthy Palestinian opposition and a moderate core, while allowing the extremist camps on both sides to gain strength.  Palestinians were no longer safe in their own cities, homes and refugee camps, as much as Israelis were no longer safe on their buses, their coffee shops and streets.  Political instability and the Israeli imposed closures had severely impacted the Palestinian economy.  The Palestinian people were also encountering severe health problems, with access to medical treatment restricted by the closures.  Education had also been adversely affected.

The disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by the Israeli army and extrajudicial killings of Palestinians had aggravated the situation, she said.  Some 2,572 Palestinians had been killed since the onset of the intifada.  House demolition and tree uprooting was used as a measure of collective punishment.  While many statistics had been read, how could one assign a number to lost opportunities, dreams and hopes?  Serious issues of justice were at stake.

MAHA ABU DAYYEH SHAMAS, Director, Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling, said inadequate laws and rules were better than none at all.  Unfortunately, however, in the Middle East, humanitarian law was being subjected to the bilateral political interactions between unequal parties.  In such an environment, faced with a racist military machine bent on expanding Jewish settlements, it was only natural for Palestinians to struggle.  She also found it ironic that, despite the tremendous efforts to maintain Jewish security, the average Israeli was feeling more insecure these days.

Turning to civil society, she said the Israeli mainstream peace movement had previously thought they could achieve peace without dealing with the past.  The Palestinians, on the other hand, had not focused on the present, continuing political negotiations while ignoring increases in Jewish settlements.  In that context, she urged civil society groups to shed their illusions and confront each other’s realities.  Before concluding, she illustrated flawed thinking in the region with the following proverb: “Me, along with my enemy, we die together.”

During the ensuing discussion, one representative said many people in Israel did not know what their Government was doing in their name.  They did not know where the wall was, nor did they know its purpose.  He was particularly disturbed about the issue of the environment.  Many Israelis felt that the State of Israel had not been a good caretaker of its land and that could provide a common area of discussion.

Another representative said that, in the Torah, it was clear that the Jewish people were forbidden to leave exile.  A Palestinian State composed of indigenous people must be created.  The Torah forbids the oppression and displacement of the Palestinian people.  The creation of an Israeli State was against God and the teachings of the Torah.

A representative from Jerusalem said it was important to be blunt as to who was preventing the United Nations from fulfilling its duty and the stationing of international forces in the region.  It was the United States.

Ms. BENNIS said the role of the United States, through its use of bribes, threats and punishments for those States that did not tow its line, remained a challenge, particularly for those non-governmental organizations confronting that reality.

One speaker emphasized the need for greater discussion on the idea of “international trusteeship”.

The founder of the non-governmental organization “If Americans Knew” said her organization had done case studies to determine how a local newspaper had covered the intifada in its first six months.  It had found that, while the deaths of Israeli children had been extensively covered, the deaths of Palestinian children had been much less reported.

Another speaker noted that the suffering of the Palestinians were not limited to the West Bank and Gaza.  The focus should not only be on ending the occupation, but on ending the system of apartheid in Israel.

Responding to questions from conference participants, Mr. JUMA said Palestinians were relying on international popular support to help resolve the conflict in the Middle East.  He also reiterated that any sort of apartheid, such as the form that was being practiced in Palestine, was unacceptable in the twenty-first century.

Ms. CHAZAN, addressing the question of having an international trusteeship in the region, said she was not sure it should be led by the United States.  Instead, she envisioned a large role for the United Nations.  Having a trusteeship would allow for an immediate Israeli withdrawal and the political, economic, and social rehabilitation of Palestine.

Ms. HABESH added that the other three members of the Quartet – not just the United States – should be more involved in the implementation of the Road Map.  It was easy to accept the document, but now help was needed in implementing it.

Mr. REESE told conference participants that Israeli authorities had considered him a security threat in the West Bank.  Declaring that truth was more powerful than Israel’s nuclear weapons, he regretted that Israel was still the gatekeeper to the Palestinian territories.  Thus, he could not continue his environmental work in the region.

Ms. SHAMAS said Israeli society was ignoring the situation, because knowledge was painful.  Palestinians, on the other hand, were only too aware of what was going on.  After all, they were consistently “beaten on the head”. She criticized Israel for not thinking about the price they would have to pay for peace.  The status quo, involving cheap Palestinian labour and economic exploitation, could not be maintained.

Before the discussion’s end, Ms. BENNIS questioned whether the Quartet was really just a solo act, controlled by the United States.

Afternoon Panel

Panel Moderator, CHRIS DOYLE, said the theme of the discussion – “Civil society under siege” – was of tremendous importance, given matters over the last few years.  The success of the conference depended on civil society coming up with ideas and implementing action.

THOMAS NEU, Middle East Representative, American Near East Refugee Aid, Chairperson, Association of International Development Agencies, said local and international non-governmental organizations in Palestine were active and creative in finding ways around problems.  Their activities included relief efforts, provision of basic services, mitigating measures, repairs, long-term development assistance, capacity-building, advocacy and political activism.  Alternative strategies meant that choices would have to be made.  One hallmark of an effective non-governmental organization movement was respect for the choices each had made and recognition that all of those choices had a reasonable claim to priority and urgency.

Challenges and choices faced by non-governmental organizations included opportunities for service, he said.  Palestinian and international non-governmental organizations in the West Bank had proven to be among the most effective in the developing world.  Locally based non-governmental organizations were starting to operate with a new-found confidence in their collective strength.  Local non-governmental organizations had become more effective at demonstrating the need for change.  Protests against the wall were practically continuous.  Protests against house demolitions were acquiring greater momentum.  While there were many issues deserving attention, among non-governmental organizations, access was the most important operational issue.  Little had changed in the last 14 months since international humanitarian and development organizations had issued a joint appeal for the Israeli Government to guarantee unrestricted access.  The question was whether non-governmental organizations could have been more effective, or whether they needed to organize differently.

The most basic functions of life in the West Bank still depended on the mood of the nearest teenage soldier, he said.  If delivering a baby became a flashpoint of contention, then the diminishing sphere of personal privacy and individual freedom merged with all other dimensions of the never-ending political conflict and strife.  It was in the private sphere that civil society was most seriously in crisis.  The only path toward a truly lasting solution involved self-representation and self-determination in the public sphere

CINDY CORRIE, Member, Peace and Justice Studies Association, spoke of her 23-year-old daughter, who went to the Palestinian Territories as an International Solidarity Movement (ISM) activist and was killed by an Israeli bulldozer while trying to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home.  Referring to other non-violent civilian activists who had been killed or injured by Israeli forces, she stressed that such a presence, the only buffer between helpless civilians and a powerful military machine, was an indictment of the international community’s failure to guarantee protection for the Palestinians, as required by the Geneva Convention.

She said that ISM activists were united in their dedication to Palestinian freedom, despite their differences in nationality and religion, and they stood in opposition to the United States and Israeli policy of not allowing international human rights monitors into Palestine.  They were among the only international witnesses to the detentions, gunfire, and severe harassment that Israeli forces regularly inflicted upon the Palestinian people.  Told that the Israeli Military Police had closed her daughter’s case without bringing any charges, she emphasized that the world must demand credible explanations for what happened and continues to happen in Palestine.  It was essential for people to understand the magnitude of the violence and oppression that the Palestinian people had lived with for so long.

ALLAM JARRAR, Member of the Steering Committee of the Palestinian NGO Network, Nablus, said it had been three years since the intifada had begun.  When it first started, Palestinians were trying to respond to the unfair situation resulting from seven years of unfruitful negotiations.  There were two major causes for the intifada, including the bold injustice practiced against the Palestinians by the Israeli Government.  Another cause for the intifada was the fact that the Oslo process had not contributed to the creation of a political environment that would lead to the implementation of Security Council resolutions.  In fact, it had had the opposite effect.  The intifada had not started with violence.  The Sharon-led Government, using the tragic events of 11 September, had portrayed the just struggle of the Palestinian people as a sort of terrorism.  The Israeli Government had launched a massive offensive, resulting in the death of thousands of people and the massive destruction Palestinian property.

Palestinian non-governmental organizations and civil society were deeply concerned about the grave situation on the ground, which could be characterized by daily violations of Palestinian civilians, unprecedented poverty levels, inaccessibility for humanitarian services, the restriction of goods and services and the building of the “apartheid wall”.  The only way out was through direct and immediate involvement from the international community.  In that regard, the United Nations had a great responsibility.  Among other things, non-governmental organizations should strengthen their networks, mobilize forces to end the occupation and support the work of the peace movement in Israel.  The Palestinian people were determined to continue their struggle for liberty and independence.

AVIA PASTERNAK, Representative of Ta’ayush, explained that her organization was an Israeli peace group whose main purpose was to keep Palestinian territory within Palestinian hands.  With a name meaning “living together” in Arabic, Ta’ayush was created after the second intifada and was opposed to the Israeli Government’s efforts to impose unbearable living conditions on Palestinians in order to scare them away and facilitate Israeli annexation of their land.

With branches in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, and Galilee, Ta’ayush was the only peace organization described as an “Arab-Jewish partnership”.  Fostering grass-roots connections between the two communities, the group wanted to stop the occupation, help create an independent Palestinian State, and achieve equality on all levels between Jews and Arabs within Israel.  Declaring that it was not enough for Israelis and Palestinians to merely live next to each other, she stressed that they needed to interact and cooperate.

She told conference participants of a Palestinian village in South Mount Hebron, where families were living in caves and regularly harassed by Israeli settlers and the army.  The villagers were often unable to obtain permits to work their own land, and their children were frequently attacked while trying to walk to school.  In order to help, her organization was sleeping over at the village, accompanying the children to school, and documenting incidents of harassment.  The reactions of the military showed that the Israeli establishment was frightened by personal connections being built between Israelis and Palestinians.

She put forth the idea of boycotting international companies that worked with settlements.  Oracle, for example, was installing computer infrastructure in the settlement of Ariel and should, therefore, face some consequences.  She also called for more media work to educate Israelis about what was really going on in the occupied territories.  After all, they were suffering economically, as well, as a direct result of the occupation.

AHMED BOUZID, Founder, Palestine Media Watch, said the narrative in the media was that Israel was defending itself.  While “heavy-handed” was a favourite expression among editorial boards, one never heard of war crimes, for example.  In the United States, only 3 per cent of the people knew that an occupation was going on.  That figure indicated a basic lack of awareness.  The United States’ unconditional support for Israel was a central problem and demonstrated the need for greater media awareness.  The United States was a democracy and its Government was mindful of public opinion.  The media was central for shaping public opinion.

It was important to understand why the media was failing in its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said.  One reason was an over-reliance on government sources.  Other reasons included the need for a “peg”, the need to create balance and the commitment to a paradigm, namely that Israel was “only defending itself”.  Access to information, the nature of attacks, the need to find an angle, overemphasis on the positive, reluctance to see a negative in allies and the effects of pressure groups were among the other reasons for the failure of the media.

In the discussion that followed, one participant said the two parties were not equal and, therefore, should not be equally assigned blame.  Also, it was tragic that the Road Map dealt with opposition to the occupation, but not the occupation itself.

Another participant, from the Middle East Fellowship in southern California, asked about the water situation in Gaza.  He also wished to know if the United Nations would recognize 8 November as an international day to reflect on Israel’s new wall.  To the second question, the moderator answered that the week of 8 November had already been suggested for that purpose.  Nothing was definite, however.

An attorney from Portland, Oregon said that, under the Geneva Convention, signatory States could take violators of the Convention to court.  In that regard, he proposed that Israeli military commanders should face legal charges.  Many lawyers would welcome the chance to work on such a case.  The case could be held even without the participation of the commanders and result in travel difficulties for them and greater international awareness.  The moderator reminded the participant that Belgium had indeed tried to do that with Ariel Sharon.

Another participant said that non-governmental organizations from the United States were not permitted to say what was really going on in Palestine.  Also, when United States congressmen visited the region, they were given carefully crafted tours.  In that regard, she stressed that it was now time for more truth telling.

One participant, associated with the ISM, said the “intifada” should be referred to as an “uprising” so that more people realized what was going on in the Middle East.  He also called for the ISM to be recognized internationally as a human rights organization, so that it would not be attacked in the future.

An African representative from the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions said Palestinian labour issues needed to be addressed.  She also agreed with Ms. Pasternak’s view that international boycotts could make a difference.  After all, they had been instrumental in bringing down apartheid in South Africa.

Speaking next, an Episcopal priest said that Christian Zionism should be addressed, with respect to lobbying strategies in the United States.  It was, after all, a strategic and not a theological matter.

NAIM ASHHAB then took the floor to say that “intifada” was a direct Arabic translation.  It was more important to clear up the confusion between terrorists and Palestinian freedom fighters.  Nowadays, there was no distinction.

A representative from the Palestine-Israel Action Group in Ann Arbor, Michigan said he wished to coordinate groups interested in divestment activities.  Such strategies should be a matter of priority.  The moderator responded by saying a divestment caucus could be held later.

Another participant added that a conference on that very issue was to be held 10 to 12 October at Rutgers University.  More information was available at:  www.njsolidarity.org.  She then turned to racism, saying it had not been properly linked to Zionism.  Additionally, little had been said about self-empowerment for the Palestinians.

A representative from a group called “If Americans Knew” then suggested that the conference move beyond the “end the occupation” theme, which it had already discussed last year.  Proposing specific actions that could be taken to ameliorate the Palestinian situation, she said people could help by performing statistical analyses of newspapers to report on how the United States public was being misinformed.  She also called attention to the upcoming March for Humanity, in which 1,000 Americans would march peacefully to Palestine.  More information could be found at:  www.marchforhumanity.org.

MARY ROSE OAKAR, President of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and former member of the United States Congress, said the panel speakers should testify before the United States Congress.  Additionally, their whole report should be sent to the State Department, since the United States “had the cards”.

A Hasidic participant then explained to those present that Judaism was not the same as Zionism.  Specifically, Judaism represented an ancient spirituality while Zionism was only a century old and concerned a nationalism devoid of God.  He also stressed that Zionist Christians should be confronted about their views.

Another speaker said that Israel’s membership in the United Nations had been predicated on its acceptance of certain conditions.  That had not happened.  While action in the Security Council might not be possible, he suggested that the General Assembly be asked to suspend Israel’s status as a Member State.  Such action was attainable.

A rabbi from the Jewish Peace Fellowship said that Israel was a nation of refugees.  It was a nation of people who had lived with trauma.  Both Israelis and Palestinians were wounded people.  He was beginning to hear disturbing expressions.  Zionism was a national, not a racist movement.  By and large, Zionism was a movement that believed it could create an ideal society.  To attain peace, it was essential that people on both sides recognized each other’s pain.  That would not be accomplished by military might.  Most Jews recognized the Zionist movement and the State of Israel as part of the progress of Jewish history.  It was wrong to occupy and oppress another people.  If Israel had an evil aspect, it was that it had never had to deal with power before.

It was appalling that internationals should lose their lives serving as a protection force, another speaker said.  There were two schools of thought.  One was that the United States held all the cards.  The United States did hold a large number of the cards, but not all of them.  The United Nations could take concrete, legal steps.  There was a need for American non-governmental organizations to approach the United States Congress.  There was also a need for internationals to take the matter out of the Security Council and into the General Assembly.

Palestinian refugees had been undermined for the past 50 years, another speaker said.  He did not have a problem with a Jewish homeland, but not at the expense of his homeland, Palestine.

Another speaker said the environment was being used as a weapon as a method of occupation.  She suggested that a green or sustainable tax be placed on Israel.

One way of tackling the problem of occupation was to lobby governments that had invested directly in Palestinian infrastructure to seek compensation from the Israeli Government, another participant said.

Regarding the issue of media, one speaker said that media consolidation in the United States was one of the reasons for the way in which the Israeli-Palestinian issue was covered by the press.

On the issue of access, one participant said that even negotiations at the highest level did not translate into action on the ground.  A presence on the ground was needed.  There was much room for the United Nations and civil society to work together.

Responding to the question of water in the Gaza Strip, Mr. NEU said the problem was getting worse each year.  Water and environmental issues were so serious that they deserved separate consideration.  Regarding the issue of advocacy, his organization often met with journalists.  He agreed that much more could be done in the United States Congress.  Business as usual was no longer acceptable.

Ms. CORRIE echoed the call for the General Assembly to take action on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.  If that had already happened, her daughter would probably still be alive.  Regarding Congress, her family had been lobbying for a resolution that called for an independent investigation into Rachel’s killing.  Slow progress was being made in that regard.  She had found that there was much misinformation or lack of information in Congress.

Ms. PASTERNAK said the end of the conflict would be realized only after both societies recognized each other.  That was one of her organization’s main goals.

Mr. JARRAR stressed the importance of networking.  He also invited representatives to participate in the campaign against the separation wall.  Regarding lobbying the United States Congress, he said Palestinians were ready to testify before United States officials.  American non-governmental organizations working in Palestine had a special responsibility to lobby for the Palestinian cause.

The extent of ignorance in the media should not be underestimated, Mr. BOUZID said.  Coordination and strategic thinking was necessary.


* *** *
______________________________________________________________________
For information media - not an official record