Press Release
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York

28 October 2002

Fifty-seventh General Assembly
Third Committee
29th Meeting (PM)


Discussion of Self-Determination, Racism Concludes


The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this afternoon to continue and conclude its joint consideration of the elimination of racial discrimination and the right of peoples to self-determination.  (For background, see Press Release GA/SHC/3705 of 23 October.)



NAFTALI TAMIR (Israel) said that for his country the equality of all human beings was a cherished ideal.  Israel had worked tirelessly, throughout history, to protect and defend the rights of its myriad ethnic and religious groups and believed that the diversity of its society was a source of richness and strength to be celebrated.  It had been dismaying that the Durban Conference, intended to serve as a major forum for the advancement of human rights and the elimination of all forms of discrimination, had turned into a platform for singling out one country -- Israel -– and an attempt to brand it as a “racist international pariah”.  The Palestinian delegation and its supporters in the non-governmental organization community and other States had permitted the travesty of Durban to transpire.  Israel profoundly regretted that an opportunity to make significant steps for human rights had been squandered on petty political objectives.  

He said the Durban Conference closed on 7 September 2001.  Four days later, fanatic terrorists, the tragic embodiment of the poisonous marriage between hateful intolerance and religious fundamentalism, turned a bright September morning into a nightmare of death and devastation.  The 11 September attacks on New York and Washington had awakened the world to many new dangers, namely threats posed by radical intolerance and lack of respect for the most basic human right of all –- the right to life.

While the United Nations had been hesitant to acknowledge it, anti-Semitism had mounted a startling resurgence over the past year.  Anti-Semitic violence and rhetoric had intensified and was on the rise around the world.  He said the trend had been clearly and frighteningly manifested in the adoption by some Arab and Muslim countries of the distinct brand of Jew-hatred that once been the sole domain of European fascists.

He added, however, that hatred of Jewish people was hardly limited to those with a distinct anti-Israel agenda.  Even in enlightened, progressive societies, anti-Semitism was no longer taboo.  If the international community could not bring itself to unequivocally condemn such hatred, why should individuals be expected to do so, he asked.  Israel would continue to support efforts to ensure that ideals of peace and justice were reached by all, and hoped that responsible members of the international community would join in that campaign.

The modern story of Israel had been defined by its struggle to defend the right to self-determination of the Jewish people, he said.  Israel respected the rights of its neighbours –- both the Arab States and the Palestinian people –- to self-determination.  Israel had no desire to dominate the Palestinians or to control their destiny.  The right to self-determination was not, however, a blank cheque that could be used to legitimize an action undertaken in its name.  It was a right that must be exercised with respect for the rights of others to self-determination as well.


SOMAIA BARGHOUTI, observer for Palestine, said the realization of the right of many peoples to self-determination and the achievement of freedom and independence of a great number of nations were among the most important accomplishments of the past century.  During that time, the world had also witnessed the eradication of many forms and manifestations of colonization, subjugation, alien domination and foreign occupation.  Nevertheless, many challenges remained as new forms of colonization, and different faces of discrimination and injustice, had begun to emerge in many parts of the world.  In this age of decolonization, it was unacceptable that the Palestinian people continued to languish under settler colonialism imposed by Israel.

It was urgent, she said, that the international community, particularly the United Nations, take swift and concrete measures towards the realization of the self-determination by the Palestinian people.  That was a right enshrined in the Charter and embodied in many human rights instruments.  Every year that passed in which the Palestinian people were denied their right to self-determination was another year of suffering in desperate living conditions.  Attempts to merely calm the situation on the ground without addressing the core issue of that right would continue to fall short of a genuine solution.  The enjoyment of the right to self-determination for the Palestinian people was essential for achieving a comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East.

She said the Palestinian people were entitled to their self-determination as well as the right to establish an independent State, with East Jerusalem as its capital.  Israel must understand that the Palestinian people would not accept less than real freedom after suffering more than half a century of oppression and injustice.  Palestinians would continue to hold steadfast to their inalienable rights and continue to believe that one day they would participate as a Member State of the United Nations.  The continued occupation, coupled with constant use of military force, would not make the Palestinian people give up their legitimate struggle for self-determination and freedom.


RANIA AL HAJ ALI (Syria) ...


She noted with concern the increase in discrimination and racism towards the Arab and Muslim world.  Sadly, racism and discrimination against them had not been properly addressed in the report of the Secretary-General on racism.  The report had also disregarded the fact that anti-Semitism was not the monopoly of one single group and religion, and that Arabs also belonged to the Semitic race.  The situation in the region was getting worse, due to the racism shown in the practices of the Israeli armed forces against Arabs in the occupied territories.  Israel's actions violated international law, and no country, Israel included, was above the law.  The United Nations had not been able to put an end to the oppression and arbitrary practices against the Palestinians.  The United Nations had not been able to come to the rescue of the Palestinian people, largely due to the lack of international pressure. 

Rights of Reply


Also in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Egypt commended the courage of the representative of Israel for making his statement -– one which had accused all the participants at the Durban World Conference against Racism as being out to unjustly brand Israel as a racist country, and which had also labeled all Arabs and Muslims as fascists.  The representative wondered how Arabs such as himself could be called anti-Semitic.  For his part, his Semitism did not need to be verified because his people had been living in their country for more than 7,000 years.

He said that the representative of Israel had concluded his statement by saying he respected the rights of its neighbours to self-determination and that the process of genuine negotiations could lead to peace.  The Egyptian delegation would give the Israeli representative a chance to translate noble words into deeds.  It was prepared to present its draft resolution calling for the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people through the peace process and would invite Israel to sign the list of co-sponsors to prove that he meant what he said.


The representative of Israel, exercising his right of reply, said that, unfortunately, certain delegations seemed to use racism as a political weapon and a tool, rather than seeing it as a scourge of the world that needed to eliminated.  The Palestinian-Israeli conflict might be many things, he said; however, it was not based on racism.  The exploitation of the agenda item to advance the Palestinian cause served neither the Palestinians nor the cause the Committee was here to serve. 


The representative of Egypt asked the representative of Israel to define “child,” particularly what Israel considered the age of childhood for Palestinian children and for Israeli children.  He also reminded Israel that the list of co-sponsors was still open.


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