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


GA/PAL/784
17 June 1998

NORTH AMERICAN NGO SYMPOSIUM ON QUESTION OF PALESTINE
CONCLUDES AT HEADQUARTERS, 15 - 17 JUNE


Issues relating to dispossession, closure, settlements and refugees were among those raised as the United Nations North American Non-Governmental Organization Symposium on the Question of Palestine concluded its session today.

Held under the auspices of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the theme of this year's Symposium was "50 years of dispossession of the Palestinian people".

Plenary discussions during the three-day session centred on "Memory: Remembering the Palestinian history" and "Conscience: Strategies for contesting the future", which were followed by a series of workshops. They included those on non-governmental organizations (NGO) campaigns for East Jerusalem, for Palestinian refugees and against settlements; the effects of closure on the occupied Palestinian territory; mobilizing North American public opinion; and NGO support for the Fourth Geneva Convention with respect to the question of Palestine. This morning's final plenary meeting, on the topic "From memory to conscience", focused on conclusions to be drawn from the workshops for NGO work in North America.

Ravan A.G. Farhadi (Afghanistan), Acting Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said that the Symposium's theme should remind participants of the unresolved tragedy of Palestine and, at the same time, mobilize a redoubling of efforts in the pursuit of a just peace. Every attempt should be made to support and complement the important decisions and efforts of influential governments and intergovernmental organizations in support of the Palestinian people.

In the next few months, he continued, the Committee would be involved in many of those intergovernmental efforts, which would culminate in the annual session of the General Assembly. It was expected that important decisions would result from those meetings. The Committee would carry out its programme of work with the necessary flexibility to respond to developments in the most effective manner.

Workshop Recommendations

NAJAT ARAFAT KHALIL, President of the Arab Women's Council, speaking in the workshop on NGO campaign for Palestine refugees, said there was a need to emphasize that the refugee issue was not only a humanitarian concern, but also a political one. Refugees should have the right to return to pre-1948 borders, and to be compensated if they chose not to exercise that right. The term "refugee" must refer to all dispossessed Palestinians and not just those living in the camps; there was a need for increased support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). In view of the international consensus, Israel must acknowledge its part in the dispossession of the Palestinian people.

On the effects of Israel's policy of closure, JOHN SIGLER, United Nations Association of Canada, said closure was part of Israeli Government's policy, regardless of the party in power. The Internet should be used to disseminate information on the policy of closure, and American journalists in the region should start writing about the issue. Audio-visual material should be produced on that issue and a fact sheet should be provided to tourists visiting the Holy Land. Articles should also be published in medical publications to inform physicians about the medical effects of closure.

He also said that a meeting of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention should be convened over the illegality of Israel's actions in the occupied territory. Demands that international law be respected should become part of a media campaign, and the Fourth Geneva Convention should serve as a tool for that campaign.

DARREL MYERS, Middle East Fellowship of Southern California, said that the workshop on the campaign for the East Jerusalem recommended promoting educational tours of Israeli settlements and of Jerusalem. There was also a need for a press watch to monitor stereotypes of Palestinians and Arabs. A dialogue about peace between Jews and Palestinians could sensitize Americans. The workshop recommended joint action with Gush Shalom, an Israeli peace movement.

KATHY BERGEN, Friends of Sabeel, said that the workshop on campaign against settlements felt that the media should be used by NGOs in such campaigns. There were excellent videos on the Palestine issue that should be aired by local networks. A fact sheet on settlements should be distributed to target publics, such as mainline churches, the religious right and policy makers. A suggestion had also been made to hold a "lobby day" on a date that was relevant to the Palestinian question.

Speaking on the workshop on mobilizing North American public opinion, LARRY EKIN, of Pax World Service, said that progress in putting together a valuable coalition to mobilize public opinion had not been very good. There was need for systematic outreach. One of the things that prohibited effectiveness in mobilizing public opinion was that NGOs did not know each other well enough and, therefore, could not effectively use the skills and resources that were available. A more systematic exchange was needed.

Comments

In general discussion, one participant said that dispossession was at all levels -- emotional, economic and psychological. All Palestinians, whether they lived in camps or elsewhere, had been dispossessed, and there was not a single one who had not been scarred. The various categories of Palestinians created by the United Nations and the United States were not valid. Palestinians did not believe that they could be categorized and compartmentalized. NGOs should give voice to all those who had not been heard.

Some participants said the fundamental issued was the political question of Palestine -- how could the two communities, Israel and Palestine, coexist peacefully and politically. The state of Palestine needed to be actualized on the ground; the Palestinians wanted complete Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. Stating that many American passport holders were being asked to choose between their American citizenship and the East Jerusalem identity card, one participant said there was a need to emphasize the right of those people to dual citizenship.

A participant said that only 650 doctors were being permitted to move back and forth from Gaza and the West Bank to East Jerusalem. Hospitals were unable to function. More permits were needed both for doctors and patients.

The European Union, the United States' closest ally, was in the process of imposing sanctions on Israel, a participants said. The Union had stated that goods manufactured in the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights could not be exported to Europe as Israeli products. The United States media had not covered the issue at all.

Closing Statements

DAVID GRAYBEAL, Chairman of the North American Coordination Committee for the NGOs on the Question of Palestine, said that if NGOs could undertake even part of the proposed measures, then they would have done a great part. There were many complex issues to be addressed, and it would be rare to find a working consensus. NGOs, however, were unanimously united on the question of Palestine and would give the issue all their efforts over the next year. The Palestinian people were indebted to the United Nations for its efforts on their behalf. He urged the Organization to move forward and expedite its mission to achieve the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.

SOMAJA BARGHOUTE, speaking on behalf of the Permanent Observer for Palestine, thanked all NGOs for their participation in the Symposium and their continued efforts to assist the Palestinian people in their struggle to achieve their inalienable rights. She also thanked the various panellists and workshops that had addressed a number of serious issues over the last three days.

RAVAN A.G. FARHADI (Afghanistan), Acting Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said the theme of the Symposium was intended to remind participants of the unresolved tragedy of Palestine and, at the same time, to mobilize a redoubling of efforts in the pursuit of a just peace. NGO symposiums convened by the Committee in implementation of its General Assembly mandate to mobilize international support for the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people also sought to promote concrete forms of assistance to meet Palestinian needs. The peace process and agreements reached by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) were important steps towards achieving the desired comprehensive, just and lasting settlement.

The Committee strongly believed that every effort should be made to support and complement the important efforts made by many influential governments and intergovernmental organizations in support of the Palestinian people. In the next few months, the Committee would be involved in many of those intergovernmental efforts, which would culminate in the annual session of the Assembly. It was expected that important decisions would result from those meetings. The Committee would continue to follow developments in the peace process and the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, and would carry out its programme of work with the necessary flexibility to respond to those developments in the most effective manner.


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