Conférence internationale de la société civile à l’appui du peuple palestinien (Genève, 7-8 septembre 2006) - Communiqué de presse Français
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Phyllis Bennis, Co-President of the International Coordination Network for Palestine, said the meeting was being held amidst a new crisis of war and occupation, in which Palestinians had suffered, and continued to suffer, even beyond the suffering imposed during almost 40 years of occupation. Once again, the crime of apartheid was being committed by a United Nations Member State. Civil society representatives called on its partner – the United Nations – to join with their call for the perpetrators of the crime of apartheid being committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories to finally be brought to justice. The United Nations should convene, under its own auspices, a new international peace conference for the Middle East, and this would ensure that all actors had a seat at the table, that all rights of all parties would be respected and implemented, and that no veto or threatened veto would impose an illegal outcome.
During the plenary meeting, which was on the topic of “from awareness to action: the impact of pacifist movements, political parties and syndicates”, speakers said the current conflict in the Occupied Palestinian Territories was one in which people were striving for freedom whilst living under a colonial occupation having been disposed from their land for more than 58 years. A solution to this conflict would never be reached if it was believed that both parties were equally guilty; unless there was an agreement that Israel was the unlawful aggressor there would never be a peaceful solution.
Civil society organizations had to fight on a number of fronts: to try to bring to account the United States in Iraq, Israel and what had been done in Lebanon, how the United States was manipulating the nuclear issue in Iran, and the issue of the ideological banner of the global war on terror to provide a cover for larger geopolitical issues, namely the issue of State terrorism, speakers said. If progress were to be made in realising the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, then all available tools of the civil society should be used to this effect and to rehabilitate all the basic rights built up by the international community, without which a solution would not be found in the Middle East to the current situation.
Speaking during the plenary were Mustafa Barghouthi, Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council; Achin Vanaik, Professor of International Relations and of World Politics, Department of Political Sciences, University of Delhi; Pedro Brieger, Sociologist and journalist specialising in international affairs from Buenos Aires; Pierre Galand, Senator, Belgian Parliament; and Dror Etkes, Director of Settlements Watch Project, Peace Now, Jerusalem.
The Conference will hold workshops this afternoon and on Friday, 8 September in the morning on broadening, deepening and consolidating global constituencies and campaigns targeting the occupation, and on campaigns to uphold international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on the construction of the wall, and mobilizing public opinion, including media strategies.
The next plenary meeting at 3 p.m. on 8 September will hear the reports of the workshops and will discuss a new Plan of Action. The concluding segment of the Conference will take place at 5:30 p.m. when it will adopt the Plan of Action.
SERGEI ORDZHONIKIDZE, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, reading out the message of KOFI ANNAN, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said while much of the world’s attention had recently been focused on developments in Lebanon, the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory continued to worsen. The recent hostilities and Israeli incursions had inflicted further hardship on Palestinians, exacerbating already high levels of poverty and unemployment, destroying vital civilian infrastructure and exposing them to new and more serious shortages of water, electricity and, in Gaza, of food. Moreover, an elaborate system of checkpoints and closures had made the movement of people and goods next to impossible.
The Secretary-General’s message said that during his recent visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he had stressed the need to act with urgency to prevent any further deterioration and violence. Since the end of June, more than 200 Palestinians, including women and children, had been killed. Beyond preserving life, there was a need to sustain life. Furthermore, crossing points had to be opened to allow goods into Gaza so that Palestinian exports could reach their markets. It was also important for there to be progress in releasing Palestinian Authority officials recently arrested by Israel, and in President Abbas’s long-standing efforts to secure prisoner releases. These goals required Palestinian efforts, including the release of the captured Israeli soldier, the provision of security at crossing points and an end to rocket fire against Israel from Gaza.
Mr. Ordzhonikidze said the Secretary-General encouraged Palestinian efforts to form a National Unity Government in order to help ameliorate Palestinian suffering and bring the security situation under control. The United Nations would do whatever it could to support these efforts, he added. Renewed efforts should be undertaken without delay to restart the peace process in the region. In this regard, the Secretary-General said civil society had a key role to play. The United Nations had always attached great importance to the efforts of Palestinian and Israeli grassroots organizations to engage in people-to-people initiatives, which could help trust and mutual understanding take the place of suspicion and fear.
PAUL BADJI, President of the Committee for the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said since the first Conference in 2002, this event’s plan of action had been elaborated every year with the aim of collectively mobilising the action of civil society organizations. Since the creation of the International Network of Coordination for Palestine, the activities of civil society were better coordinated and had a more practical reach. Despite all the welcome efforts of the international community, including civil society, the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories continued to deteriorate. It was greatly regrettable not only that all the problems which had been examined during preceding meetings and conferences, including the building of the Separation Wall, had become more important, but also that the main concern came back to the most elementary issues, namely the end of killings and the satisfaction of the most basic needs of the Palestinian people.
The Committee was also gravely concerned about the arbitrary detention of the Ministers of the Palestinian Authority, and of more than 30 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, including its President. This situation made fragile Palestinian institutions, and the Committee called for the immediate and unconditional release of these people. The Committee also reminded Israel, the occupying power, that it was bound by the Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians during times of war. The Committee also energetically condemned rocket attacks and Palestinian suicide attacks that indiscriminately targeted civilians. These acts went against the aspirations of Palestinians to peace and the creation of a State, deteriorated an already fragile situation, and compromised efforts made to build the broadest possible international support for the just cause of the Palestinian people.
Ignoring the appeals of the international community, and in violation of international law, the Israeli Government continued to act in the field, and these facts were rarely covered by the international media. The Committee continued to believe that the root causes of the conflict were the occupation by Israel of Palestinian territory, and its denial of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. The consolidation of the occupation by events in the field considerably complicated the efforts aiming to create a durable peace between the two peoples. To this end, the Committee encouraged all civil society organizations to work with their parliamentary and governmental institutions to act to encourage Israel to respect its international obligations, including those under the relevant United Nations resolutions. The permanent responsibility to work for a global, just and durable solution to the Palestinian question fell to the United Nations, and all, both in the United Nations and without, should work to this end.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, said the role of civil society in supporting the Palestinian people and their just cause and promoting and supporting peace efforts over the decades had been invaluable, keeping the issue of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people at the forefront of the international agenda. This had been of critical importance during the years of struggle, in particular the most recent and darkest events. The question of Palestine had been on the agenda of the international community, in particular the United Nations, since its inception, awaiting a just solution for more than half a century. Civil society had an essential role in promoting and supporting the rights of the Palestinian people, until an independent Palestine was established with East Jerusalem as its capital. The only way for this to be achieved was through direct negotiations between both sides.
The many resolutions adopted by the United Nations, including on the right to self-determination, the right to return, the illegality of settlements and the Wall, and the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people had in the majority not been implemented, and such total disregard for the United Nations and its resolutions and decisions, and the continuing violation of international law by the occupying power, had considerably hampered the realisation of the rights of the Palestinian people, as well as perpetuating the conflict. The situation on the ground had continually deteriorated, from all aspects, including humanitarian and economic. Israel had now nearly completed the construction of the Wall, built on confiscated land in Palestinian territory, severing the territory, displacing thousands, and entrenching the illegal settlements. The Wall was destroying the continuity and integrity of Palestinian territory, devastating the Palestinian economy, and destroying the very fabric of Palestinian society.
The Palestinian civilian population under Israeli occupation continued to suffer declining economic and social conditions, as clearly illustrated in recent months by the military aggression against civilian populations in the Gaza Strip. The financial crisis imposed on the Palestinian Authority in the recent months had caused the dramatic decline of economic and social conditions, and resulted in the grave humanitarian crisis that existed in the territory today. Civil society was called upon to exert intensified efforts on Israel and on all Governments that were turning a blind eye to Israel’s behaviour towards the Palestinian people. Justice and peace could be brought to a Palestinian nation, living side-by-side with Israel, but this could only happen when Palestinians were living in their own land in peace and dignity. All should work to this end.
PHYLLIS BENNIS, Co-Chair of the International Coordinating Network on Palestine, said the meeting was being held amidst a new crisis of war and occupation, in which Palestinians had suffered, and continued to suffer, even beyond the suffering imposed during almost 40 years of occupation. Thirty years ago the United Nations recognized, condemned and committed itself to oppose the international crime of apartheid and defined it as a crime against humanity, not specific to the then-reality of South Africa. The war in Lebanon and the continuing assault in Gaza had created new realities. The conditions of those living under occupation continued to deteriorate and Palestinian refugees continued to be denied their internationally guaranteed right of return. If democracy was to have any meaning, the United Nations, and indeed every Member State, should welcome the opportunity to recognize and establish full relations with a democratically elected government in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The United Nations must uphold international law and its own resolutions, she said. Chief among these laws and resolutions must be the implementation of those that called for an end to Israeli occupation and the realization of all human rights – civil and political, economic and social – of the Palestinian people. Once again, the crime of apartheid was being committed by a United Nations Member State. Civil society representatives called on its partner – the United Nations – to join with their call for the perpetrators of the crime of apartheid being committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories to finally be brought to justice. While the work of the Human Rights Council in investigating Israel’s use of prohibited weapons was to be commended, civil society called on United Nations Member States to join them in imposing governmental sanctions to stopping the murderous arms trade between Israel and so many governments throughout the world. Moreover, civil society called on the United Nations to move to implement the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice calling for the Israeli Apartheid Wall to be dismantled.
It was essential for the United Nations to take advantage of the reality in which Israel and the United States had accepted the presence of United Nations blue helmet troops on Israeli’s border, providing protection for Lebanese and Israelis alike, she said. Finally, civil society urged the United Nations to convene, under its own auspices, a new international peace conference for the Middle East. This conference would ensure that all actors had a seat at the table, that all rights of all parties would be respected and implemented, and that no veto or threatened veto would impose an illegal outcome. While noting that 21 September was designated by the United Nations as International Peace Day, it was further noted that ending Israeli occupation and implementing law and United Nations resolutions guaranteeing equal rights to all Palestinians would be a more fitting way to replace unilateralism and war with the possibility of peace.
Statements in Plenary Meeting on Theme of “From Awareness to Action: Impact of Peace Movements, Political Parties and Trade Unions
MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI, Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Ramallah, said the current conflict in the Occupied Palestinian Territories was one in which people were striving for freedom whilst living under a colonial occupation having been disposed from their land for more than 58 years. A solution to this conflict would never be reached if it was believed that both parties were equally guilty; unless there was an agreement that Israel was the unlawful aggressor; there would never be a peaceful solution. Israeli was violating international humanitarian and human rights law. Testament was the fact that Israel had been continuing to build the Separation Wall, had established more than 650 checkpoints in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and had imprisoned more than 10,100 Palestinians in its prisons, including women and children. Although all these prisoners did not attract the attention of the world media, one Israeli captured soldier did.
By not paying due attention to these matters, the international community had in effect encouraged the Israeli occupation of Palestine, he said. Despite the International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion, the construction of the Israeli Separation Wall continued. Israel had cultivated a feeling of impunity which had led to the weakness and death of the peace movement in the region. Moreover, Israel was also deporting any foreign national who was attempting to enter its territory to investigate its illegal practices. There was only one way out of this situation, in effect to conduct what was successful in South Africa to shut down its apartheid regime, - to work through a strong grass roots civil society movement to pressure the Government of Israel to divest from their current practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Efforts should also be made to apply international pressure for military sanctions against Israel and, generally, to institute an effective campaign to force Israel to respect international law and resolutions.
Achin Vanaik, Professor of International Relations and of World Politics, Department of Political Sciences, University of Delhi, said if the activities and initiatives of civil society were to be made effective, then they had to adapt to changing circumstances and times. It was clear, with the benefit of hindsight, that the Israeli occupation of Palestine had gone through three phases. The third phase, since 2003, was a phase of unilateral imposition. It was in this context, of a collective project which was being fought under the ideological banner of a global war on terrorism, that the situation should be examined. It was not possible for civil society organizations in the South to be able to fight effectively for Palestinian rights unless it recognised that there was a need to fight for more than Palestinian rights. Civil society organizations had to fight on a number of fronts: to try to bring to account the United States in Iraq, Israel and what had been done in Lebanon, how the United States was manipulating the nuclear issue in Iran, and the issue of the ideological banner of the global war on terror to provide a cover for larger geopolitical issues, namely the issue of State terrorism.
Ways had to be found to internationally coordinate the mobilisation of public opinion in the United States, where there was ignorance about the Palestinian question and thereby indifference. The moral clarity of the Palestinian issue was incontestable, and it was not difficult to convey this. An international tribunal for the war crimes of Israel in Lebanon should be created from within the United Nations. With regards to Iran, a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction should be created, and Arab States supported this, but Israel, backed by the United States, rejected it. Israel should be isolated and embarrassed by other States. Civil society organizations had done a number of things in the South, including international days of action, boycott, sanctions, campaigns in support of Palestinian prisoners, and these would continue. The global war on terrorism was selective and hypocritical and demonised Islam and Muslims. Terrorism was a technique, tactic and method used for political violence by a range of individuals, groups and States. Specific ways of addressing youth had to be found, as this was a long struggle, and there should be an International Concert for Justice for Palestine.
PEDRO BRIEGER, Sociologist and Journalist on International Affairs from Buenos Aires, said it was very important to bear in mind south-south cooperation when addressing the Palestinian question and recalled that the Palestinian cause was supported by several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean where there was wide backing for an independent Palestinian State. Latin American and Caribbean States were also, by and large, against the construction of the Separation Wall by Israel, as had been voiced through meetings of the Group of Rio and CARICOM. It was also noted that the largest Palestinian population outside of Palestine was situated in Chile and that out of Latin American countries, Cuba was considered to be the country with the closest links to the Palestinian people, which had now been joined by Venezuela.
Mr. Brieger recalled that the invasion of Lebanon in June this year had resulted in the relocation of several Latin American diplomatic missions in Israel. In 2001, a new context favorable to solidarity for the Palestinian people emerged in Latin America when a number of governments in South America redefined their international policies dealing with the question of Palestine. More recently, last year a summit was held between Latin American and Arab countries at which the occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories was discussed and at which a proposal was tabled to enhance trade negotiations between MERCOSUR and Israel. Following a series of demonstrations from non-governmental organizations of Brazil and Argentina protesting against this move, participants at that summit decided not to sign the agreement for free trade between MERCOSUR and Israel.
Pierre Galand, Senator in the Belgian Parliament, said the European Coordination Movement could support everything that had been said so far. The South was effectively reorganising itself, and South America was making a great comeback. It was good to see how the continent was restructuring itself and gaining support at the international level. It was not possible to continue solidarity activities without taking into account that there was a fundamental issue for all solidarity movements, and that was to rise to the challenge of the peace movement, which had been carried out for years with great strength and popular support in Europe in the ‘70s and ‘80s to stop the military confrontation of the United States and the Soviet Union. Since then, the war had been redeployed, and had become globalised, taking place at the fringes. The war in Lebanon and in Palestine were part of that redeployment of war at the planetary level. The situation was that of confrontation of the United States as a superpower leading the West, and the rest of the world.
Israel was fighting to “eliminate the axis of terrorism and hatred”, and today, the West, including Europeans, considered Israel to be part of the legitimate side of the confrontation, which was structured and thought out as NATO wished. NATO viewed that it had a civilising mission for the world, and this was of grave concern. Last April, Europe had suspended aid to Palestine, following United States decrees condemning Hamas. Europe had never protested when Israel had continued to prevent taxes being transmitted to the Palestinian Authority. It had also done nothing to ensure the success of the Barcelona Conference, but had preferred to undermine this, replacing it with a new agreement based on the new European policies. It was essential to realise that there was a total imbalance in trying to prevent a sovereign state from carrying out nuclear research, such as in Iran, whilst tolerating this in Israel. The Mediterranean area should be de-nuclearised, and this should take place hand in hand with civil society. If progress was to be made in realising the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, then all available tools of the civil society should be used to this effect and to rehabilitate all the basic rights built up by the international community, without which a solution would not be found in the Middle East to the current situation.
DROR ETKES, Director of the Settlements Watch Project, Peace Now, Jerusalem, said Zionism was a movement which should not oppress others, but should rather stand for democracy and human rights and conduct policies based on reality. The core of the conflict dated back to 1948, although the solution to the long-standing conflict should be found in the two-State solution proposed in 1967. The Palestinian people were the indigenous people of the land; this was a reality which was often overlooked by the majority of the Israeli public. Over 440, 000 Israelis were currently living in areas occupied by Israel after 1967. Moreover, only one out of every ten people living in the West Bank were Israelis.
The Israeli occupation in the West Bank seemed to have reached its final stage, Mr. Etkes said. The plans of the Government of Israel to construct the Separation Wall were being pursued to allow Israelis to escape from the reality of the situation in the region. The main role of the international community was to help both sides to assume responsibility for their collective choices. Efforts must be made to ensure that any solution to the conflict must be based on the two-State approach.
In a question and answer session following the main statements, various issues were raised, including on what percentage of the Israeli population Mr. Etkes represented; whether Israel considered itself a country for the Jewish people, but not for its other citizens; whether the conflict could really be resolved merely by a return to the 1967 borders; and a request for more detailed information as to the idea of a tribunal that would cover the different aspects of the issue in the context of judging Israeli war crimes.
Responding to these questions and others, Mr. Etkes said one of the main things the Israeli right said was that the conflict was not really about disarmament, and therefore the dismantlement of settlements, the return to the Green Line and the 1967 borders could not really be the answer, as this would not be the end of the conflict, but rather the beginning of a very long and emotionally-complex process of reconciliation. The conflict was not only territorial, and the only playable game was the Nation-State game: both sides should do what they could to allow the other to live in a State which would be a function of the national identity of the two collectives. A growing percentage of Israeli society understood that there would eventually be no other possibility than to withdraw from large chunks of the West Bank; the questions were whether this would be bilateral or unilateral, and from which areas the withdrawal would take place. Settlements that were east of the Barrier were doomed. People behaved in tribal and national patterns, and the Fence was being used to solve the demographic trap which Israel had created around itself, but it would not be the final border, he said. If negotiations were to take place, then they would have to take place from the context of equal acceptance of the other side.
Responding further, Mr. Galand said the decision taken at present at this stage on an international plan was to set up a court or tribunal, and there was an appeal to get a committee to support this initiative and to determine what was lacking in the international community which had led to the non-existence of the Palestinian State today after 40 years in the international arena. The basis of this tribunal were advisory documents of the International Court of Justice. Logically, the United States should be involved in this process.
In further questions, speakers asked whether the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority would benefit the Palestinian struggle; whether the primary obstacle to a national unity Government was Fatah; the recent abstention of suicide attacks by Hamas; whether Israel as a State could exist without colonialism; how there could be a mobilisation within the United Nations itself for the aims of the Conference; what was the position of the Israeli peace camp party within the context of international law; and how NGOs could condemn the inclusion of Hamas on the inclusion of the international list of terrorist organizations.
The panellists then responded, making concluding remarks at the same time.
Mr. Barghouthi said the Wall did not have to be concrete to be a Wall, as it was a concept, no matter what it was made of. It was a structure of oppression and suppression. Israel had been very smart in the war of words and conceptions: this was why it was referring to the Wall as a “fence”, and why Israel insisted that it had not attacked Arab countries in 1967, but was attacked. It was not just a matter of words, it was a matter of concepts, and this was one of the main struggles for Palestinians. The issue of settlements was also important. Palestinians insisted on having a true State, and it was impossible to compromise the compromise. The Palestinian-Israeli issue over the last 40 years had been one of colonialism and of oppression. It was an issue of dignity and of the right to be equal.
Mr. Etkes said the respect of basic human rights were the basis of democracy. In the two-State solution, not every square centimetre in the West Bank would be given to a Palestinian, and everybody knew this. Palestinian authority to manage a new State would not be based on the annexation of one settlement or another to Israel. Israel had no right to take land from a Palestinian, and when negotiations took place, compensation would have to be given based on legitimacy and Palestinian existence within Israel. Values should eventually be matched with reality, and Israel would have to both absorb values and accept responsibility for reality.
Mr. Brieger said expression of the different movements at an international level and having them work together was increasingly probable, as it was a global world, and the opportunity should be seized to work together in all directions, and a meeting such as this was perfect for that sort of approach. The battle of ideas, and the military and political failure of Israel and Lebanon were an indication that the conceptual and media battle being waged with regards to the Palestinian cause and the 40-year occupation of Gaza had now reached a point where a global offensive focusing on the significance of the 40 years of occupation could have a positive outcome.
Mr. Galand said the internal divisions within the Saudi regime would not lead it to have a more nationalist approach and to no longer be part of the United States plan for the region. The Israeli blitzkrieg in Lebanon was a considerable shock and very disturbing to public opinion in both Europe and the Arab world, with a reaction similar to that of Iraq, and increasingly the European public was refusing participation in this situation. Politicians in Europe had taken an official distance from the United States position and action.
Mr. Vainak said with regard to Zionism, India was faced with a bitter struggle against those wishing to establish a Hindu State within India, and who admired the situation of Zionism. To be a Zionist was to endorse the principle of a Jewish State with special rights for Jews, and this was anti-democratic. It was no excuse to say that Israel was more democratic than most Arab States. The spectrum of what was possible, realist and pragmatic, was very wide. When changing the political relationship of forces, the impossible became possible, and it was important for this to be borne in mind. The Palestinian Liberation Movement was one of the most remarkable liberation movements of modern times, and its tragedy was that it had been strategically flexible, and tactically inflexible, when it should have been the reverse. With regards to changing the direction of political forces, there were two in this case, the larger geopolitical forces in the region, and there should be a shifting of the general forces globally, as well as work within the occupied territories and Gaza.