Speakers decried Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights and some called for the deployment of an international force in the occupied territories to protect the Palestinian people.
Vladimir Petrovsky, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, read out a message from United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan which stated that a cease-fire was now desperately needed. The Secretary-General said that he believed that the full implementation of the recommendations of the Sharm el-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee, chaired by former Senator George Mitchell, offered the best route to a peaceful solution, based on resolutions 242 and 338 and the principle of land for peace.
Some of the speakers noted the increase in the numbers of both Palestinian and Israeli victims. It was noted that Israeli actions were violating international human rights norms as well as the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention which protects the rights of populations under occupation. Praise was expressed for ongoing peace efforts.
Speakers who took the floor during the commemoration ceremony included representatives of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, the League of Arab States, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of African Unity, and Non-Governmental Organizations accredited to the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. The Permanent Observer of Palestine also took the floor.
Messages of solidarity were also sent by Malta, Turkey, Bangladesh, Senegal and the European Union.
VLADIMIR PETROVSKY, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, read out a message from KOFI ANNAN, United Nations Secretary-General, in which he said that this year's commemoration was taking place at a critical time for the Middle East and the world. Escalating violence and significant loss of life, mostly among Palestinians, but also Israelis, had increased mutual mistrust and animosity between the two communities, and had undermined efforts to build bridges of reconciliation and partnership.
Since the Sharm el-Sheikh Summit of October 2000, international and regional actors had made repeated efforts to bring the parties back to the negotiating table. Earlier this year, the Sharm el-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee, chaired by former Senator George Mitchell, had provided a balanced and sensible set of recommendations which, if implemented, would lead the parties from confidence-building steps to substantive negotiations. A cease-fire was now desperately needed. This would also be in accordance with the understandings on security-related issues reached under the auspices of CIA Director George Tenet. The Secretary-General said he believed that full implementation of the Mitchell recommendations offered the best route to a peaceful solution, based on resolutions 242 and 338 and the principle of land for peace.
Mr. Annan said that the horrific terrorist attacks of 11 September had had a profound impact on events all over the world. In the case of the Middle East, there was a renewed sense of urgency to find a peaceful solution to the question of Palestine. The engagement of the international community -- in particular of the United States, the Russian Federation, the European Union, the United Nations, and Member States including Egypt and Jordan -- remained vital. It was also essential now for the parties to preserve the achievements of the peace process and to do all they could to regain the path of peace and reconciliation. Both sides must realize that violence, and the excessive use of force, were the enemies of progress.
The Secretary-General said that he shared the hopes expressed by President Bush and United States Secretary of State Powell that the Israeli occupation would soon end, and that two States -- Israel and Palestine -- would before long live side by side in peace with mutual respect and security. To this end, the expansion of settlements, assassinations, all acts of terrorism, economic blockades and incursions into autonomous areas should cease immediately, he stressed.
The crisis of the past 14 months had had a catastrophic effect on the Palestinian economy, Mr. Annan said. Repeated border and internal closures had led to a dramatic deterioration in living conditions and had considerably increased unemployment and poverty rates, adding to the general sense of despair, frustration and anger felt among Palestinians. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency continued to play a central role in responding to the rising needs of the refugee community. The United Nations Development Programme and many other United Nations agencies were also active on the ground. Donor assistance remained vital, especially now, at a time of crisis and severe economic hardship.
In conclusion, the Secretary-General said in his message that the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Terje Rød-Larsen, had been working very closely with the parties to support the peace process and to coordinate international assistance in the areas of emergency relief and development. For his part, Mr. Annan said he would continue to work with all parties until a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the question of Palestine was achieved, based on Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 and the principle of land for peace. At the start of the new millennium, the Palestinian people should finally be allowed to exercise their inalienable rights, including the right to self-determination and to a State of their own.
MOHAMED HATEM BEN SALEM, Representative of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, read out the message from PAPA LOUIS FALL, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, in which he said that during the past year, the world had witnessed with consternation, powerlessness and resignation, a disconcerting deterioration in the situation on the ground resulting in an undoubted setback to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Fourteen months of confrontations, acts of violence and tragedies had brought about the death of 1,000 people, including children and the elderly, and had left as many injured. Since 28 September 2000, the occupying power had implacably imposed its law: lethal incursions in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem, the destruction of property on a massive scale, the establishment of new settlements and the enlargement of existing ones, military occupation, the closure of towns and a merciless blockade, paralysing economic activity, imposing hardship on the population, and shattering, at the same time, what little had remained of the fragile trust between the two parties.
The message from Mr. Fall said that the Committee had taken note with appreciation of the slight hints of progress towards the revival of the peace process. More indicative and promising was the fact that the need to create an independent Palestinian State had been publicly acknowledged by the United States and the European Union. The Committee was mindful that any settlement of the question of Palestine and the Middle East conflict must be based on Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 which enshrined the principle of land for peace. The Committee strongly urged Israel to comply with the relevant resolutions. There was no way in which peace could prosper or the development of the region could be ensured as long as Israelis and Palestinians failed in their attempts to forge trusting relations, as sovereign States, within secure and internationally guaranteed borders.
IBOU NDIAYE, Representative of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, read out a message from JOHN DE SARAM, Chairman of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, in which he said that at the conclusion of the visit of the Special Committee last year to the Middle East, its members found that, not withstanding the depressing situation in the occupied territories, there was still some glimmer of hope that some developments in the peace process could lead to the improvement of the unfortunate conditions in the occupied territories. However, with the tragic events that unfolded in the last days of September 2000 in East Jerusalem, the occupied territories were thrown into an infernal cycle of violence and counter-violence that was continuing until today. This cycle of violence meant that respect for human rights was no longer observed.
Mr. de Saram's statement said that in its annual reports to the General Assembly, the Special Committee had drawn attention to the large number of elaborate, discriminatory and repressive military and civil laws and arbitrary practices implemented in the occupied territories. The situation in the occupied Palestinian territories was very worrying and neither conformed with international human rights norms nor with the rights guaranteed by the Fourth Geneva Convention. According to the Information received by the Special Committee, the situation of Palestinians living in the refugee camps was especially alarming. The sad and terrible reality was that in these conditions, the human rights of the Palestinian people were simply being ignored. The consequences for the whole occupied territories had been catastrophic. All Palestinians who had spoken with members of the Special Committee had said that they aspired to peace.
SAAD ALFARARGI, Representative of the Arab League, said that the commemoration this year came amid very dangerous conditions in the Middle East. After the Arab countries had been working for peace and hoping that it would help the development and progress of all those living in the region, Israel had pulled the area back to an atmosphere of tension with its violent actions and brutal attacks. Not only had Israel carried out assassinations of Palestinian leaders and kidnapping of Palestinians, but it had unashamedly used the 11 September events to escalate its violations of the rights of the Palestinian people, and to destroy the lands of the Palestinian Authority by pulling out trees and demolishing houses with the aim of terrorizing the inhabitants. Israel had carried out policies of collective punishments through its economic and military siege of the Palestinian areas and its constant closures of the crossings and roads, even stopping the delivery of medical and food supplies. All these actions contravened international laws and the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Mr. Alfarargi said that many had underlined the need for the international community, through the Security Council, to take urgent measures to protect the Palestinian people by forming an international monitoring force and sending it to the region and by pressuring Israeli authorities to implement the agreements it had agreed to. Since the Madrid peace conference, Arab States had announced that their strategic choice was peace and ending the Arab-Israeli conflict on the basis of the concept of land for peace. Now, the Arabs reiterated that a comprehensive and just peace would only be reached with the complete return of Jerusalem to Palestinian sovereignty, and the implementation of the legal rights of the Palestinian people, including of setting up their independent State with Jerusalem as its capital, and the complete withdrawal of Israel from the lands occupied in 1967. Arab countries welcomed all peace initiatives to bring peace to the Middle East, including the latest one announced by the United States Secretary of State.
AMADOU TIDIANE HANE, Representative of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, read out a statement by ABDELOUAHED BELKEZIZ, Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, in which he said that the commemoration came at a time when Israel was persisting, for the second year in a row, in its escalating aggression against the unarmed Palestinian people. The Palestinian casualty toll was 1,000 dead and some 40,000 injured. Israel daily violated international covenants and norms. It indulged in deliberate killings, extra-judicially, of Palestinian activists, leaders and politicians. And Israeli authorities were continuing their wide-scale demolition of Palestinian homes and buildings. The storming of Palestinian cities, repeated forays therein, continuous shelling of houses, of economic and education buildings, and sabotage of the infrastructure, added to the siege imposed, along with the freezing of funds due to the Palestinian Authorities, had brought about tremendous losses to the Palestinian economy which was now on the brink of collapse. Furthermore, Israel was continuing to procrastinate and to try to renege on agreements already reached.
The statement by Mr. Belkeziz said that the world, which today stood united to counter terrorism, should not lose sight of the kind of State terrorism practiced by Israel which had resulted in regional tension and which had jeopardized world peace and security. It was imperative to compel Israel to implement the agreements it had already signed. The only way to stop the deterioration and defuse the tension in the Middle East was to immediately halt the continuous Israeli aggressions and to lift the siege on the Palestinian people and to resume the peace process based on the concept of land for peace and Security Council resolutions 242, 338 and 194. Israel also had to withdraw from Palestinian territories occupied in 1967; end building of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories; allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homes; and agree to the establishment of an independent and fully sovereign Palestinian State with Jerusalem as its capital.
THOMAS MARKRAM, Representative of the Non-Aligned Movement, said that the Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people gave the world an opportunity to reflect on the deteriorating situation in the Middle East and on a year of tremendous tragedy and pain. South Africa and the Non-Aligned Movement very much regretted that the last year had witnessed an increase in fatalities on both sides of the conflict and reiterated their concerns about a number of Israeli Government policies. They continued to unequivocally condemn the excessive military force used by the Israelis toward the Palestinians, the incursions into and re-occupation of Palestinian controlled territory, the re-occupation of Orient House, and the policy of extra-judicial assassinations in a clear violation of international humanitarian law.
Mr. Markram said that South Africa and the Non-Aligned Movement called on both sides in the conflict to seize the opportunity for peace. They welcomed international efforts to re-kindle the peace process. And they would continue to support efforts to deploy an international monitoring mechanism in the occupied Palestinian territories.
SOPHIE ASIMENYE KALINDE, Representative of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), said that during the OAU Summit in Zambia in July, the OAU had adopted a decision on the Middle East which affirmed that the question of Palestine was the core of the Middle East conflict. A comprehensive, just and lasting peace could be established only when Israel fully withdrew from all occupied Palestinian territories. The OAU condemned unequivocally the use of internationally prohibited weapons, the excessive force against unarmed Palestinians, the imposition by Israel of the state of economic siege, and closures in areas under Palestinian control. The freedom and independence of the Palestinian people coupled with the secure existence of the State of Israel were a necessary part and key to a just solution and lasting peace.
Ms. Kalinde said that the Organization of African Unity was encouraged that fresh efforts were afoot which could bring the unfulfilled dream of the people of Palestine to fruition. The Middle East could not afford to, and did not deserve to live side by side with death, destruction and a continued cycle of violence. The OAU commended the efforts of the international community to start again and again until lasting peace to Palestine, Israel and the Middle East was found.
MICHELLE BEG, Representative of the Non-Governmental Organizations accredited to the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said that many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had instated independent observers to monitor the situation in Palestine. This was to provide independent information on the conflict to enhance global advocacy and solidarity initiatives. These international observers had brought back similar accounts of human rights violations, torture, and breaches in international humanitarian law. Palestine needed international protection. The second Intifada was draining the hope of the Palestinian people and was increasing the frustration, despair and depression. The International NGO community called for an immediate international civil protection for the people of Palestine. Independent monitors and a force had to be sent to the occupied Palestinian territories to provide urgent protect for the civilian population. It was essential to protect the basic human rights of the Palestinian people.
Ms. Beg said that on this International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, solidarity in words was no longer sufficient. Palestinian people wanted concrete actions; an end to the occupation and the fulfilment of justice and peace. The international community had to begin meaningful steps to end the occupation of the Palestinian territories and to create a Palestinian State. The plight of the Palestinian people was growing progressively worse.
NABIL RAMLAWI, Permanent Observer of Palestine, said that the international community had been commemorating this day for 25 years, and one wondered if anything had changed from the very first commemoration and until today. Despite UN resolutions from the Security Council, the General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights, the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories remained unchanged. Israel had been refusing to implement UN resolutions because it was protected by the world's major political, economic, military and security power. The present Israeli Government had no peace plans and practiced various crimes against the Palestinian people, including State terrorism. Everyone followed the daily killing of Palestinian children, the assassinations, the closures, the military siege, the destruction of houses and all sorts of collective punishment. With these crimes, the Sharon Government has assassinated the peace process. It was said long ago that war started in Palestine and peace started in Palestine. Did anyone think that what was happening in the world today -- the war on Afghanistan and the tragic events preceding it that were condemned by everyone -- was far away from the injustice that the Palestinian people had been suffering from for more than 50 years. The continuation of this situation would trigger wars and only God knew how extensive they would be.
Reading out a message from YASSER ARAFAT, President of the Palestinian Authority, he said that the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people had to be implemented and the occupation of the Palestinian territories had to end. Refugees had to recover their right to return to their homes, and the Palestinians had to recover their right to a Palestinian State with Jerusalem as its capital. These rights had to be implemented. The escalating cycle of violence in the region was the result of the Israeli aggressions. The territories had been closed, facilities and infrastructure had been destroyed, crops and trees had been uprooted, and land and money had been confiscated. It was critical to provide urgent protection to the Palestinian people. It was time to have an effective international intervention in order to implement all international resolutions.