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Forum des Nations Unies en appui au peuple Palestinien (Istanbul) "Jérusalem – La clef de la paix israélo-palestinienne Jérusalem" - Communiqué de presse Français
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Source: Secretary-General
27 May 2010



UNITED NATIONS PUBLIC FORUM
IN SUPPORT OF THE PALESTINIAN PEOPLE

Jerusalem – The key to Israeli-Palestinian peace

Istanbul, 27 May 2010
_____________________________________________________________________________________

Pal/3
27 May 2010

United Nations Public Forum in Support of the Palestinian People
Focuses on Jerusalem as Key to Israeli-Palestinian Peace

Experts, Activists among Participants Express Alarm at Israel’s
Ongoing Policy in East Jerusalem, Call for More Civil Society Engagement


ISTANBUL, Turkey, 27 May – With tensions high in Jerusalem and public criticism growing worldwide over the lack of action to alleviate the desperate situation of Palestinians clinging to survival there, experts, students and representatives of non-governmental organizations attending a United Nations Forum today called for an end to Israel’s repressive policies in that City, and urged fellow members of civil society to mobilize a coordinated, rights-based response.

The United Nations Public Forum in Support of the Palestinian People followed the International Meeting in Support of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process that took place in Istanbul from 25 to 26 May. Participants at both events shared the view that solving the complex and sensitive question of Jerusalem was vital to tackling the wider conflicts and unresolved issues in the Middle East. They similarly decried illegal expansion and consolidation of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, as well as provocative measures against Palestinian residents, including house demolitions, evictions, and land confiscation.

The Public Forum was organized by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, with the cooperation of the Global Political Trends Centre of the Istanbul Kültür University. The event was held at the University and featured three expert panels on respectively, “the situation in Jerusalem,” “approaches to promoting a just and lasting solution to the question of Jerusalem,” and “the role of civil society actors in promoting peace” in that City.

Opening the Forum, Zahir Tanin, Head of the Committee’s Delegation, said the Jerusalem issue sparked passion in the minds and hearts of people around the world. The City was considered a religious and cultural touchstone by people from every society and the three monotheistic religions – Christianity, Judaism and Islam. But instead of creating a bastion of harmony, those same passions were changing one of the world’s great Cities into one of oppression.

The Committee had regularly spoken out against Israel’s policies in Jerusalem. It considered that a negotiated agreement on the status of Jerusalem should take into account the political and religious concerns of all its inhabitants. He said that such agreement should include internationally guaranteed provisions to ensure the freedom of religion and of conscience of its inhabitants, as well as permanent, free and unhindered access to the holy places by the Palestinian people and peoples of all religions and nationalities.

Among the experts that addressed the Forum, many of whom shared personal experiences about daily life in Jerusalem, was Daphna Golan-Agnon. She said the public protests and demonstrations occurring regularly now in Jerusalem were a symbol for what should happen in the wider context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: people there were saying “enough is enough.” Things were becoming so untenable, that “naming and shaming” Israel was no longer enough. It was time for everyone to start developing a vision of a shared Jerusalem. Everyone should start examining the past to devise a shared future.

“I don’t have any magic solutions,” she said, and she wasn’t going to get into any of the arguments about separation, who should live where or what a future Jerusalem might look like. The reality was that “we are going to have to live together […] we are in the same neighbourhood. That is a fact.” On a personal note, she said she made a point of making her Israeli-Palestinian students communicate with each other and learn about their respective cultures. There was something to be gained from building contacts and identifying cultural touchstones among the younger generations. “If children grow up only seeing each other as terrorists and oppressors, there will be no hope for the future,” she said.

Nazmi Jubeh, Co-Director, Riwaq: Centre for Architectural Conservation, said that Israel’s policy in Jerusalem was based on three major elements: demography; land; and “Israelization” of the physical characteristics of the City. At the same time, the most abiding characteristic of the City was the “apartheid separation wall,” which had ripped apart communities and families. It had fragmented the social structure of East Jerusalem and, in turn, had fragmented the political ability of the people to combat the occupation.

He said it was sad and deeply troubling that most of the people living there now were poverty-stricken because before 1993, Jerusalem had been the social, cultural and educational centre of Palestinian life. Since then, there had been a systematic destruction of all the institutions dealing with those areas. While civil society had continued to operate, most of the institutions had been shuttered. He believed that the question of Jerusalem could not be solved until the institutions in the city, especially its cultural centres, were rebuilt and made operational again.

The discussions were moderated by Phyllis Bennis, Fellow, Institute for Policy Studies, Co-Chair, International Coordinating Network on Palestine, and Sylvia Tiryaki, Deputy Director, Global Political Trends Centre, Istanbul Külür University.

Opening Remarks

Welcoming the participants, MENSUR AKGÜN, Director, Global Political Trends Centre, Istanbul Kültür University, expressed gratitude to the United Nations and the Secretariat of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People for their enormous cooperation. He noted that the Centre had been established about a year and a half ago and carried out studies on conflict prevention and resolution, such as the relations between Armenia and Turkey, and Cyprus.

ZAHIR TANIN (Afghanistan) Head of Delegation, Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said the question of Jerusalem as a key to the Israel-Palestinian peace process had been one of the issues spoken about most emotionallly during the just-concluded International Meeting in Support of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process. The Jerusalem issue indeed sparked passion in the minds and hearts of people around the world. But instead of creating a bastion of harmony, that same passion was changing one of the world’s great cities into one of oppression. He was pleased that this topic was the central focus of the Public Forum.

The Committee had regularly spoken out against Israel’s policies in Jerusalem. It considered that a negotiated agreement on the status of Jerusalem should take into account the political and religious concerns of all its inhabitants. He said that such agreement should include internationally guaranteed provisions to ensure the freedom of religion and of conscience of its inhabitants, as well as permanent, free and unhindered access to the holy places by the Palestinian people and peoples of all religions and nationalities.

Continuing, he said that the Committee also stressed that any agreement that did not include East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian State would not lead to sustainable Israeli-Palestinian peace. It was his hope that today’s discussion would give civil society an opportunity to share ideas about how to move forward on that issue, as well as on the situation in the wider Middle East.

BURHANETTIN DURAN, Associate Professor, Istanbul Sehir University, said he believed that Jerusalem was not only critical to solving the Israeli-Palestinian issue but was perhaps the key to solving all the major problems in the Middle East. Turkey understood this, and had long tried to pursue broad comprehensive policies, that contained elements such as security for all, political dialogue, economic independence, cultural harmony and mutual respect.

The Jerusalem issue had many dimensions that went beyond its immediate region. It could not just be seen as a problem between Arabs and Israelis: Jerusalem, which was a central feature in the world’s major monotheistic religions, held the key to a just and lasting peace in the entire world. He said that civil society organizations must press Israel to live up to its obligations in this matter. It must be pressed to end the evictions and home demolitions. He hoped that today’s discussion would provide the opportunity to explore the issues in depth.


Expert Presentations

The first part of the discussion focused on forced evictions and settlements, as well as residency rights and ID revocations. The experts were also expected to touch on security concerns, including rising crime rates in and around Jerusalem.

DAPHNA GOLAN-AGNON, Researcher, Minerva Centre for Human Rights, Hebrew University, said that Jerusalem was strictly divided. Palestinian children attended schools largely in rented apartments. Rainwater was not distributed equally. As a child, her son had been confused by the stark differences in East and West Jerusalem. He had wondered why, in East Jerusalem, people had no sidewalks and why all the street signs were in Hebrew.

She said Jerusalem was a symbol for what should happen in the wider context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: people there were beginning to say “enough is enough.” Demonstrations were taking place now on a regular basis. Her own 20-year-old son had been arrested during a demonstration against Israeli polices in Jerusalem just two weeks ago. The police had broken his hand but not his spirit. She stressed that things were becoming so untenable, that “naming and shaming” Israel was no longer enough. It was time for everyone to start developing a vision of a shared Jerusalem. Everyone should start examining the past to devise a shared future.

The next expert, MOUSA QOUS, Researcher, Jerusalem Centre for Social and Economic Rights, said Israel’s policy in Jerusalem since it had begun its occupation of the city had been to have as many Jews and as few Palestinians inside the City as possible. Israel had carried out an annexation of the people as well as land. Palestinian citizens were issued permanent residency cards but under strict conditions.

By 1995, Israel had instituted the so-called “Centre of Life” policy, under which Palestinians travelling to and from the city needed to prove that Jerusalem was the centre of their lives by bringing their bills and work notices, among other personal identifying paperwork. On a personal note, he said that he and his wife, a Palestinian from the West Bank, had been married for 12 years but that she had only received her residency papers one year ago. The first 11 years of the union had been framed by the struggle to obtain her residency rights. Israeli polices were approaching apartheid-like levels of oppression and repression and it was past time for the international community to press for action.

The next part of the discussion focused on approaches to promoting a just and lasting solution to the question of Jerusalem, including Jerusalem and international law, East Jerusalem as the social, economic and cultural centre of a future Palestinian State, and the need to open Palestinian institutions there.

Ms. BENNIS stressed that Palestinian rights were no different from the rights of anybody else in the world. That was why the work of civil society actors should be rights-based. Civil society’s job was also to ensure that Governments were not supporting policies that abrogated the rights of Palestinians and others. “Civil society can be part of creating coalitions of the unwilling,” she continued, recalling how in 2003 the wider Security Council membership had stood against that body’s more powerful members to keep the United Nations out of the war in Iraq. She said that civil society must also defend international law. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a piece of paper without the will of average citizens to realize its vital tenets. Governments were generally not going to do the right thing until their citizens demanded it, she said, suggesting a response based on boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).

On the positive side, she said that in the United States, whose Government bore a huge responsibility in fomenting the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the wider Middle East, the political discourse on those issues was beginning to change among average Americans. While changing the discourse was not enough, it was certainly a start. The strategy of advocacy, rights and education was what was going to change laws and protect the rights of people in Jerusalem, she said.

NAZMI JUBEH, Co-Director, Riwaq: Centre for Architectural Conservation, said that Israel’s policy in Jerusalem was based on three major elements’ demography; land; and “Israelization” of the physical characteristics of the City. At the same time, the most abiding characteristic of the City was the “apartheid separation wall,” which had ripped apart communities and families. It had fragmented the social structure of East Jerusalem and, in turn, had fragmented the political ability of the people to combat the occupation.

He said it was a sad and deeply troubling fact that most of the people living there now were poverty-stricken because before 1993, Jerusalem had been the social, cultural and educational centre of Palestinian life. Since then, there had been a systematic destruction of all the institutions dealing with those things. While civil society had continued to operate, most of the institutions had been shuttered. He believed that the question of Jerusalem could not be solved until the institutions in the city, especially its cultural centres, were rebuilt and made operational again. He added that there should be Arab-based mechanism or organization inside Jerusalem to start building the capacity of cultural institutions.

The final round dealt with the role of civil society in promoting peace in Jerusalem, with experts and the audience discussing the spiritual significance of that City, and people-to-people diplomacy.

RAMZI ZANANIRI, Executive Director, Near East Council of Churches, said religious theorists and other experts all agreed that Jerusalem was the “Holy City” in a holy land for all humanity. “The promise of the land is the prelude to universal salvation,” he said reading from the Bible. Echoing other speakers, he said that rather than sparking unity among all faiths under God, Jerusalem was instead turning into the ember that might spark a third intifada. The Israeli occupation, characterized by oppressive policies such as heavy military presence in churches and holy sites, must end in order to find a solution to the overall Middle East issue.

Despite the situation, churches and religious organizations from all faiths were pressing ahead with their efforts to end the occupation. Inter-cultural and interreligious dialogues were underway, attempting “to breach the walls and barriers built by the occupation.” At the same time, he was concerned that such dialogue could be held hostage to political strife. Religious groups would nevertheless press on because they were filled with hope and the power of God

FADWA KHADER, Director-General, Sunflower Association for Human and Environment Protection, said that she too had felt the pain of being a mother in Jerusalem. Her teenage sons, who happened to be Christians, had been detained for months after they had been picked up with a group of other youngsters that had gathered to protect the Al-Aqsa mosque in 2000. She said that 60 years of aggression and more than 40 years of occupation “was enough.” But daily harassment continued in Jerusalem, where the people did not have access to their own water supplies, were forced to work on the black market, and were unable to build livelihoods where they lived.

The Palestinians living in Jerusalem were forced to pay 12 different types of taxes. “What types of services do you think we are getting for those taxes?” she asked. Absolutely none, she answered. Civil society was “the Government” of the people inside Jerusalem. Those organizations were working alongside the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to ensure the Palestinian people could live in dignity.

Closing Remarks

Wrapping up the Public Forum, Mr. TANIN said the Committee’s delegation appreciated the lively exchange of views during the discussions. The Palestinian people had suffered for too much and for too long. Governments, the United Nations and civil society must all play their own roles and work together to bring peace and justice to Jerusalem and to find solutions to the wider Middle East conflict. The Public Forum had heard about civil society’s tireless efforts, its struggles and its invocations of international law.

The Committee stood behind those efforts to broaden the movement to include more individuals and groups. The Committee would spare no effort to provide civic actors with a platform to share their unique views about on the ground realities. Whenever possible, the Committee would also be inviting civil society representatives to speak at its meetings and events. “The important thing is that we all stay connected and work together towards a common good,” which was, ultimately, the establishment of a viable, contiguous, sovereign and democratic Palestinian State.

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