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Source: Department of Public Information (DPI)
18 December 2006

General Assembly

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

(Reissued as received from a UN Information Officer.)

KUALA LUMPUR, 17 December -- Representatives of civil society advocating for the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict met in Kuala Lumpur today to explore the role of civil society in supporting a lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The role of civil society is central to the Palestinian cause, said the Vice-Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, Ravan Farhadi, in his opening statement.

“With parties so obviously unequal, the power of international public opinion is extremely important,” he said.

The forum’s resulting declaration called on Governments to provide urgent protection to Palestinian people living under occupation and to adopt a concrete approach towards the plight of the Palestinians.  It also supported all United Nations efforts to alleviate the humanitarian hardships of those living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

The call to action asked for a strategy to increase awareness of the Palestinian struggle in the media and to work with experts on both sides, as well as journalists, parliamentarians and civil society.  It proposed the creation of an Asian coordinating network on Palestine to ensure better coordination among groups for major campaigns, linked to the larger International Coordinating Network on Palestine.  It designated 9 June 2007 as a global day of action, marking 40 years of occupation, under the slogan: “The World says No to Israeli Occupation”.

The morning meeting looked at initiatives by civil society in Asia and the Pacific in solidarity with the Palestinian people, including legislative and political advocacy, and mobilizing public opinion in support of the Palestinian people -- efforts by non-governmental organizations, religious groups and the media.  Discussion in the morning focused on the pivotal role of the media, including blogs, in changing Israeli public opinion and putting a human face to the suffering and human rights abuses in Palestine.

The afternoon meeting looked at Asian and Pacific civil society and worldwide initiatives to support a peaceful solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, protect the Palestinian population and end the occupation.


SARAH OZACKY-LAZAR, Founder, All-for-Peace Radio Station and Fellow, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, shared her experience of obstacles and conflicts working for peace within Israel.  “The reality of daily violence affects the beliefs and behaviours in creating a mutual dehumanization and hatred, but there have always been groups and individuals on both sides trying to bridge the divide and come up with innovative ideas on resolving the conflict,” she said.

“There has been a dramatic shift in the Israeli attitude.  Public opinion polls show that the majority of Israelis support the creation of a Palestinian State; not because they support the Palestinian people, but because they don’t want to see the Palestinians.”  She said Israelis favoured a two-State solution.

“It’s very difficult to convince the Israeli public opinion that peace is possible, and if they don’t believe it’s possible, they won’t pursue it,” she said.  She bemoaned the lack of coordination or a joint vision among peace non-governmental organizations in Israel.  She said the lack of young people included in the peace movement was a problem, linked to the military service of young Israelis, as was the constant struggle for funding.

She said that 2007, marking the fortieth year of the occupation, would hopefully be the last year of the occupation. “NGOs can stick to their beliefs despite daily events, so we have an advantage over politicians.”

MAYSA BARANSI-SINIORA, Co-Director, All-for-Peace Radio Station, Jerusalem, said “its purpose is to give a voice to know and trust the other side and to give a forum for a message of hope.  We try to help Israelis see how Palestinians are living now, in a big prison, and Israelis don’t know.  We have a big wall, so we don’t see them or care about them.  We don’t see their poverty or their suffering, or the effect the wall has had on their movements.”

She said the media on both sides blamed each other.  “Media can educate people; we are the peace initiative voice.  The national media on both sides is very biased and nationalistic,” she said.

MUKHRIZ MAHATHIR, Coordinator, Malaysians for Peace, Kuala Lumpur, said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was perhaps the number one issue that most roused anger among Muslims against the West.  “It has been exploited within the Muslim world to gain support for their own narrow agenda, setting the stage for perpetual violence in West Asia,” he said.  “We want people to see the Palestinian occupation as a human rights issue, rather than a religious issue.”

YOSHIOKA TATSUYA, Director, Peace Boat, Tokyo, a peace educator bringing the message of peace on the Peace Boat ship so people hear about the real impact of war.  He said Japan was in a position to really support the Palestinian issue.  He was actively working for awareness-raising in Japanese society, including workshops, humanitarian aid and exchange programs between the Japanese and Palestine refugees.

OMAR YOUSEF, Board Member, International Peace and Cooperation Centre, Jerusalem, said urban planning was being used by Israel as a tool of ethnic segregation and control, and as a weapon of physical and psychosocial fragmentation.  “The space of Jerusalem has been slowly and quietly killed,” he said.  Mr. Yousef spoke about the geographies of oppression and exclusion using land maps and interviews with Palestinian people.  He said Jerusalem occupied a central place for the Palestinian people.  “It was a major hub, but now it’s fragmented through a matrix of checkpoints,” he said.

“It has been destroyed by urban planners through the confiscation of land and dislocation of residents,” he said.  “The Palestinian people are denied a homeland, and also homes.   Israel, by occupying others, is in danger of being occupied themselves.”

ACHIN VANAIK, Professor of International Relations and Global Politics, Department of Political Science, Delhi University, New Delhi, said India had become very conservative.  Indian television, he said, even had an opinion poll asking if India should act like Israel.  He explored the role of civil society in creating a just solution for long-term peace.  He said tactical perspectives must be incorporated within a larger perspective of how to move forward.  He emphasized the importance of a long-term vision, due to the urgency of peace now.  “The terrain of the Middle East is larger than the terrain of Palestinian and Israeli land.  Civil society has to be part of the opposition to the war in Iraq, the isolation of Iran, future Israeli invasions of Lebanon and all Middle East issues.  Civil society can help with their solidarity, support and in holding up the morale of the Palestinian people, both in Palestine and the diaspora,” he said.  “State terrorism is our biggest threat.  The United States and Israel took actions that they knew would kill civilians.  We must combat State terrorism,” he said.

CHANDRA MUZAFFAR, President, International Movement for a Just World, Kuala Lumpur, said the people of the Middle East had not been responsible for the Holocaust.  “The Holocaust does not justify the dispossession of the Palestinians,” he said.  “Europe decided to transfer their collective guilt to the Middle East.  Islamic supporters protected the Jews.  The flowering of Jewish culture took place under Muslim rule.  The argument that God gave land to a people is weak and unjustifiable to those outside the Jewish community.  The final argument, that Jewish people were there first, is also without basis, because we know that Palestinians are indigenous also to that land.  The argument is untenable.  There is no time in history that this land was the sole possession of one people,” he said.  “The UN created Israel, violating its own Charter.  The UN carved up Palestinian land without consultation, because the UN was dominated by Western countries.   Israel is very much part of the Western enterprise and Palestinians have to understand that Israel has incredible determination to hold onto what they have acquired,” he said.

“Don’t forget, the Arabs are also Semites.  The most widely spoken Semitic language is Arabic.   Israel has monopolized the term anti-Semitism for themselves, because language is power.   Israel accepts Oslo, then expands settlements and blames the other side.  The Palestinian people have been betrayed by a number of Arab Governments, which sustains and perpetuates their dispossession,” he said.  He urged Asia to work harder to mobilize support for the Palestinian cause, saying that countries in the region were in an advantageous position to lend support.

MOHIDEEN ABDUL KADER, Lawyer and Board Member, Third World Network, Penang, used the example of East Timor as a model for the creation of Palestinian State, highlighting the role of civil society in catalyzing changes in public opinion and bringing about change in Government policy.  “We must remember that Israel will not voluntarily end the occupation or give up their territories.  The unconditional support given by the US to Israel is the most important reason for the protraction of the conflict.  The US uses its veto power to shield Israel from UN resolutions.  The US unofficially condones the actions of Israel.   Israel has made clear that they do not want an independent Palestine,” he said.  He encouraged grassroots movements, especially in the United States, to encourage an end to the occupation.

TANYA REINHART, Professor of Linguistics, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands, said Israel had become a rogue State.  “There is almost no UN resolution that Israel has not broken.  It is perceived by people as the most severe danger to world peace, and comes before North Korea in international polls as the biggest threat to world peace.  The UN should be democratic.  The United States is trying to undermine the UN’s role and such articles such as the Fourth Geneva Conventions,” she said.   She asked why the United Nations had not recognized the elected Palestinian Government, and why at the current meeting there were no Hamas representatives.  “The UN needs the help of civil society,” she said, pointing to the South African experience as a model of a successful solution with respect for peace and human rights.

IBRAHIM KHREISHEH, President, Al-Bashir Institute for Development and Creativity and Former Secretary-General, Palestinian Legislative Council, Ramallah, said Palestinians believed that civil society organizations were not fully organized, and did not have a unified strategy in ending the occupation.

“We are short of a unified action plan that would harmonize our efforts to confront the occupation,” he said.  The central task for all of us should be in confronting Israeli colonization of Palestinian land in the form of settlements and wall construction, both in grave breach of international law.  The campaign against both colonization and the wall had to go on with more participants and more media coverage.  The campaign had to be around the world, in London, Washington, Paris, Kuala Lumpur and all other capitals.

Discussions following presentations called for a more concrete action plan.

GHADA KARMI, the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding, said refugee rights had been sidelined and growing civil society activity and public support for the Palestinian cause in the United Kingdom were already having an impact.  “At least one Israeli official about to fly into London was forced to turn around out of fear of being detained on war crimes charges,” she said.

The forum adopted a plan of action.

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For information media • not an official record

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