CIVIL SOCIETY CONFERENCE PRESENTED WITH ACTION PLAN TO SUPPORT PALESTINIAN RIGHTS THROUGH INTERNATIONAL LAW

14 September 2004
GA/PAL/968

CIVIL SOCIETY CONFERENCE PRESENTED WITH ACTION PLAN TO SUPPORT PALESTINIAN RIGHTS THROUGH INTERNATIONAL LAW

14/09/2004
Press Release
GA/PAL/968

International Conference

in Support of the Palestinian People

AM Meeting


Civil Society Conference Presented with Action Plan to Support


Palestinian Rights Through International Law

 


Also Discusses Role of Civil Society

In Alleviating Suffering, Promoting End of Israeli Occupation


The International Conference of Civil Society in Support of the Palestinian People concluded its work today by hearing a presentation of the “2004-2005 Plan for Action to support Palestinian rights through international law and the United Nations”.


According to the draft plan of action, adopted by the Conference Steering Committee, internationally coordinated action would be developed to escalate pressure to end the Israeli occupation and achieve the realization of Palestinian rights.  To that end, non-governmental and civil society organizations participating in the Conference would work together to educate people and to pressure Governments to move towards strict enforcement of the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice and the resolutions of the General Assembly that call for self-determination of the Palestinian people, stopping and reversing Israeli settlements and dismantling the separation wall.


If the occupying Power continued to violate international obligations, the participants would, as civil society, initiate divestment and other targeted sanctions against the occupying Power, and urge governments to impose restrictions including arms bans, withdrawal of economic privileges, bans against items produced by illegal settlements, travel restriction on violators of the Geneva Convention and other components of international law.


The participants would work towards the realization of the international community’s responsibility to provide serious protection of Palestinians forced to live under Israeli occupation, refugees and exiles, in particular the most vulnerable such as children and women.  They would strive for a greater United Nations role in diplomacy regarding Palestine.


The envisioned Plan of Action identified three important dates for global mobilization, advocacy and education campaigns to end the Israeli occupation:  29 November as the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People; 16 April 2005 as Palestinian Prisoners Day; and 5 June 2005 as the anniversary of the 1967 occupation.  It urged international civil society and national and regional non-governmental organization coalitions to consider support for other actions, including tribunals to examine cases of violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention in the occupied Palestinian territory; convening an international civil society conference to take up broader issues involved in defending Palestinian rights; and campaigns providing direct support for Palestinians in the occupied territory.


The two-day Conference had brought together all players involved in the search for a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian question, including representatives of governments, the donor community and non-governmental organizations.  The aim of the Conference, with the theme “Ending the occupation –- a key requisite for achieving peace in the Middle East”, was to provide civil society organizations from all regions of the world with an opportunity to discuss the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem; coordinate their activities; and develop action-oriented proposals in support of the Palestinian people.  In workshops following the Conference, the plan of action would be completed.


In closing remarks, Paul Badji, Chairman, Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said representatives of civil society, Member States and intergovernmental organizations alike shared an overriding and sincere desire to see a just and lasting solution to the question of Palestine.  One lesson from the Conference was that “we, working together, as a diverse yet cohesive group, can make a difference as we try to bring peace in the Middle East one step closer”.


He expressed the hope that the plan of action would serve as a catalyst for new, broad-based campaigns of action by civil society, with the Conference Steering Committee continuing to play a vital coordinating role.  “After all, civil society becomes much, much more than a sum of its constituent organizations if they share a common purpose and strategy and coordinate their actions”, he said.


This morning, the Conference had a panel discussion on the theme “The role of civil society:  From alleviating human suffering to advocating the end of occupation”.  Speakers focused, among other things, on mobilizing public opinion in support of the Palestinian people; the parallels between the anti-apartheid struggle and the struggle for Palestinian rights; the rights of Palestinians living in Israel; the role of a Jewish State as a refuge for persecuted Jews; and the role churches could play in fostering understanding of and support for the Palestinian cause.


Panellists were:  Adam Keller, Spokesperson, Gush Shalom, Tel Aviv; Raymond Deane, Chairman, Ireland/Palestine Solidarity Committee, Dublin; Corinne Whitlatch, Executive director, Churches for Middle East Peace, Washington; Max Ozinsky, Chairperson, Not In My Name, Cape Town; Dennis Brutus, Professor emeritus, African Studies, University of Pittsburgh; and Marcia Freedman, former Member of the Knesset and President, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom (Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace), San Francisco.  The panel’s moderator was Jennifer Butler, United Nations representative, Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, New York.


Background


The United Nations International Conference of Civil Society in Support of the Palestinian People continued this morning at United Nations Headquarters.  Its theme is “Ending the occupation -- A key prerequisite for achieving peace in the Middle East”.  Convened by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the Conference was mandated by General Assembly resolutions 58/18 and 58/19 of 3 December 2003.  For coverage of yesterday’s meeting see Press Release GA/PAL/966.


Panel Discussion


This morning’s panel discussion was on the theme “The role of civil society:  From alleviating human suffering to advocating the end of occupation”.  Introductory statements were made by:  Adam Keller, Spokesperson, Gush Shalom, Tel Aviv; Raymond Deane, Chairman, Ireland/Palestine Solidarity Committee, Dublin; Corinne Whitlatch, Executive director, Churches for Middle East Peace, Washington; Max Ozinsky, Chairperson, Not In My Name, Cape Town; Na’eem Jeenah, Spokesperson, Palestine Solidarity Committee, Johannesburg; Dennis Brutus, Professor emeritus, African Studies, University of Pittsburgh; and Marcia Freedman, former Member of the Knesset and President, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom (Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace), San Francisco.  The panel’s moderator was Jennifer Butler, United Nations representative, Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, New York.


ADAM KELLER, Spokesperson, Gush Shalom, Tel Aviv, focused on mobilizing public opinion in support of the Palestinian people.  His organization’s aim was to tell the Israeli people that peace with the Palestinians was necessary, possible and in the best interest of both people.  A big part of Israeli society was open to that argument.  Many, however, said that the interests of Israelis and Palestinians were incompatible.  Those two groups were in constant competition for the favour of public opinion.


His own organization, and the wider Israeli peace movement, had had a setback in 2000 after Mr. Barak, the “peace Prime Minister” came back from Camp David without an agreement.  He accused the Palestinians of being intransigent and not willing to make peace.  Soon afterwards, Israeli public opinion was pushed to the right, and Ariel Sharon was elected as a “war Prime Minister”.


What had helped the peace movement, ironically, was the fact that Mr. Sharon had used the “war option” to the maximum extent.  After three years, Israeli public opinion started to realize that it did not work, and last year, the peace camp started again to dictate the agenda in public opinion, especially through the “Geneva” peace initiative and the letter of pilots stating they would refuse to participate in actions against Palestinians.  That was why Mr. Sharon had come up with the Gaza disengagement plan.  However, the disengagement plan, if executed, was intended to keep stronger control over the West Bank.  The challenge now was to keep an independent position and to say that withdrawal from Gaza as a first step was good, but as a final step would not solve anything.  The fact that Mr. Sharon was creating turmoil on the right wing was a bonus.


The separation wall was one of the main issues for the involvement of the peace movement, he said, describing actions of several groups against the barrier’s construction, such as demonstrations and trying to stop the bulldozers.  The movement also tried “twinning” Palestinian villages threatened by the wall with Israeli towns and villages in order to organize protests. “The Council for Peace and Security”, consisting of ex-army officers, used their prestige in opposition to the wall.  In the militaristic society of Israel, he said, the word of former generals and colonels carried a lot of weight.  The result of those and other actions had been that the wall had been moved closer to the “Green Line”.  That was not a complete victory, but every kilometre that the wall was moved back meant that hundreds of villages would keep their fields.


The struggle of the Refuseniks -- young Israelis refusing to serve in the army in occupied territories and willing to go to prison instead –- was another important movement.  Tomorrow, five Refuseniks would come out of prison, and a public welcome party had been planned in Tel Aviv.


RAYMOND DEANE, Chairman of the Ireland/Palestine Solidarity Committee, Dublin, said that for a long time, the Irish liberation struggle had been seen as an inspirational example by occupied countries fighting for independence.  Ireland’s tortured history, together with the global dispersal of Irish people, poverty and famine, had given the Irish “a strong, if diffuse” sympathy for the underdog.  The Ireland/Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) sought to raise Irish awareness of the plight of the Palestinian people, promote government involvement in finding a just solution to the conflict, promote Palestinian culture in Ireland and encourage informed reporting on the Middle East conflict and the Israeli occupation.  Among its activities, were organization of public lectures and media appearances by visiting speakers from Palestine and Israel, lobbying the Government and individual politicians, presenting cultural events with a Palestinian theme, and organization of boycott actions, protests and demonstrations.


The suspension of the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement between the European Union and Israel was a central concern shared by the Campaign and its colleagues within the European Coordinating Committee for NGOs on the Question of Palestine (ECCP), he continued.  The European Parliament had voted to suspend that Agreement -- which granted Israel preferential trading terms with the European Union -- in April 2002, in the wake of Israel’s savage assault on the Palestinian refugee camps, in particular in Jenin.  That vote had been disregarded.  Two years later, in April this year, after Israel’s assassination of Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Yassin, the Parliament determined that “if Israel continued its targeted assassinations policy, the Council of Ministers and the European delegations should act to suspend the Association Agreement”.  Just over two weeks later, Yassin’s successor was killed in an Israeli air-strike.  The Agreement was not suspended.


In May 2004, during the Irish presidency of the European Union, the Euro-Mediterranean process was discussed by Union foreign ministers in Dublin, he said.  That month, representatives of ECCP and IPSC met with the Secretary-General of the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, Dermot Gallagher, to press their demand for suspension – or, at least, the threat of suspension -- of the Agreement.  Mr. Gallagher informed those representatives that the suspension of the Agreement was inconceivable, because it would “remove any possible influence we might have on Israel”.  He also assured them that the Quartet would be issuing a statement that very day, which would address many of their concerns.  The European Union’s alleged influence on Israel was graphically demonstrated 9 days later, when Israel embarked on Operation Rainbow in Rafah.  By 20 May, 45 Palestinians, 38 of them civilians, including 9 children, had been killed, and 134 civilians had been injured.


As the Irish European Union presidency drew to a close, he had published an opinion piece in the Irish Times, suggesting that, as far as the Israel/Palestine conflict was concerned, it had been a disappointment, he said.  The Quartet statement asserted the willingness of its members to engage with a responsible and accountable Palestinian leadership, called for a reorganized Palestinian Authority and demanded that Palestinian security services should be restructured under the auspices of an oversight committee led by the United States.  In his article, he deplored the lack of a concomitant call for a responsible and accountable Israeli leadership, a reorganized Israeli Government, or any suggestion that “an oversight committee” should ensure the restructuring and retraining of the Israeli army.  That double standard had its roots in the age-old colonial dualism that divided the world into “us and them”.


According to a Foreign Affairs reply in the Irish Times, he continued, the Quartet statement in question had been very warmly welcomed in the Arab world and, in particular, by Palestinian leadership.  The criticism of the ineffectuality of the Irish European Union presidency was declared “all the more astonishing when so many Arab leaders ... had been very warm and generous in their appreciation of the distinctive and effective role of the Irish presidency in this process”.  The speaker fully appreciated the innate courtesy of the Palestinians and other Arab peoples, but it might help their own cause, were they to temper their gratitude with a more steely insistence that Europe should live up to its responsibilities, which were nothing less than momentous.


Recently, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) had shown itself capable of emulating the Israelis by hiring young, articulate and personable spokespersons, he continued.  It was time the Palestinians appropriated another Israeli stratagem –- the appeal, endlessly reiterated, to Europe’s conscience.  Clearly, Germany was the country most justly stigmatized for its anti-Semitic past, and hence, less qualified to hold Israel to account.  In the words of Norman Finkelstein, “The challenge in Germany today is to defend the memory of the Nazi holocaust and to condemn its abuse...; to defend Jews from malice and to condemn their overwhelmingly blind support for Israel’s brutal occupation.  But to do this requires real moral courage”.  To varying degrees, he believed that challenge applied to the whole of Europe.  European politicians must be reminded forcibly that the Palestinians were victims of Europe’s victims.  Europe, having historically scapegoated the Jewish people for the ills of European society, could not now redeem itself by scapegoating Palestinians.


The weapon was trade, he insisted.  As long as the European Union continued to treat the “human rights clause” of its Association Agreement with Israel as a dead letter and failed to suspend the Agreement in response to Israel’s crimes, the Union would be open to the accusation that it was sacrificing the Palestinian people on the altars of Mammon and bad faith.  The International Court of Justice opinion on the illegality of the wall and the subsequent General Assembly resolution made this the most opportune moment for such action.


CORINNE WHITLATCH, Executive Director, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), Washington, D.C., said her organization was a coalition of American churches that included Protestants, Catholic and Orthodox institutions.  Its mandate was to be the ecumenical advocacy voice of the member churches in Washington, seeking constructive changes in United States policy and practices.  CMEP board members engaged in direct lobbying, and the CMEP also provided guidance to congregations and individuals on how to lobby their own members of Congress and the Administration.  Most of the national church bodies adopted policy statements on Middle East peace and other issues at national assemblies.  Those policy statements were important educational tools for shaping opinion among church members.  Local church activation clearly had an impact on public opinion in the larger community.


Mobilizing public opinion in support of Palestinian human and political rights was still a highly-charged and controversial action, she said.  Calls for the United States to pressure Israel to change policies and practices were interpreted by some as being anti-Semitic.  Most churches were committed to maintaining warm relations with Jewish religious institutions and people.  The CMEP’s guidance encouraged congregations to become and stay engaged in advocacy and activism that was moderate in language and reflected the churches’ hopes that both Israelis and Palestinians might have viable and thriving States living side by side within secure and recognized borders.


She said the two-State position was held by many other non-governmental organizations.  A “perfect logical idea” would be that if only those organizations would join together, their political power would be able to trump that of the so-called “Jewish Lobby”.  However, that was not going to happen and, instead of increasing clout, the coalescing effort would suck up enormous amounts of time and energy with endless meetings and deliberations.  Instead, the mode of operations was one of “collegial cooperation”.


Along with many other non-governmental organizations, the CMEP had focused on the separation barrier.  Most recently, it had delivered letters to the foreign policy aides of those senators who had co-sponsored a resolution endorsing Israel’s building of the separation barrier.  The CMEP had also conducted focus groups to identify how issues and messages resonated with “typical” or “average” Christians.  It had been found that “the wall” brought immediate and visceral negative reactions from the participants.  The low level of the participants’ knowledge of the history and geography was discouraging.  Most were unfamiliar with the term “occupied territories”.  Even more discouraging were their opinions about settlements, which were seen as good.  Participants were also concerned about the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the Iraq war and the security of America.  However, they did not link Israeli-Palestinian peace with improving the security of America.  It had been recommended that the coalition incorporate the larger impact of peace in the Middle East on the lives of ordinary Americans in its message.


One segment of particular concern to the CMEP was the politicized Christian right that espoused a Christian form of Zionism, she continued.  While being careful to not label all evangelical Christians as theological supports of Israel, the CMEP placed great significance on countering and challenging the apocalyptic politics of Christian Zionism.  Working together as interfaith partners had proved to be possible and helpful, she said.  On the part of Christians, there was a strong will to work on Israeli-Palestinian issues together with Jews and, since 9/11, with Muslims as well.


In conclusion, she said that non-governmental organizations around the world recognized that United States policy had been not only deficient, but at times actually thwarted the application of international law.  Only the Americans could lobby their Government to change United States policy and could volunteer for political campaigns and contribute to candidates.  That opportunity that Americans exclusively held was also a responsibility.


MAX OZINSKY, speaking on behalf of Not in My Name (NIMN), South Africa, said the non-governmental organization he represented was an organization of South Africans of Jewish origin calling for the withdrawal of Israel from the occupied territories and the creation of a sovereign, independent PalestinianState alongside Israel.  While the Government of Israel and various Zionist organizations claimed that their actions were done in the name of all Jews, Mr. Ozinsky and Minister Ronnie Kasrils in 2001 had called on South Africans of Jewish origin to sign the statement to express their opposition to the oppression of the Palestinian people.  Circulated at the end of 2001, that statement was soon signed by more than 300 Jewish South Africans, including most Jews who had been active in the struggle against apartheid.


The statement had unleashed a storm within the South African Jewish community, he continued.  The Chief Rabbi had said the people who had signed the statement were not Jewish.  They were also labelled as anti-Semitic, as self-hating Jews and as traitors.  Out of that debate, the Not in My Name was born.  For some time, the organization had focused on the issue of war resistors in Israel.  Like conscripts in apartheid South Africa, young men and women in Israel were forced to carry out acts of oppression against another people.  To take the step of resisting conscription or refusing to serve in the occupied territories meant leaving the country and the family, or going to jail for a long period of time.  It also meant being considered a traitor by your own people.


Those brave men and women needed all the support they could get, he said.  His group’s actions served to break down the impression that all Jews uncritically supported the IsraeliState in its occupation of Palestine and showed that the struggle of the Palestinian people was not a religious struggle against the Jews, but rather the struggle of a colonized people for the return of their land and the right to self-determination.  While the NIMN was initially rejected by the Jewish communal organizations, in the last year those organizations had been more prepared to engage with its views.


The NIMN saw itself as part of the broad movement of solidarity with the Palestinian people, he said, which needed to root itself amongst all sections and groups in South Africa.  The movement must be non-sectarian in both religious and political sense.  The issue of Palestinian solidarity must not be seen simply as a Muslim issue.  One of the areas of concern was the growth of “Christian Zionism”, in particular among Pentecostal Christians outside of the mainstream Christian denominations.  That was a worldwide phenomenon, which had originated in the United States and was linked to the growth of neo-conservatism, but had also spread to South Africa.  It was also necessary to guard against political sectarianism in the solidarity movement.  Such national mass organizations in South Africa as the country’s trade unions, the Council of Churches and the NGO Coalition needed to play a leading role in the Palestinian solidarity movement.


While there must be room for discussion, debate and difference in the solidarity movement, it was also necessary to focus on the issues, which could unite the people.  Those issues must be linked to the key demands of the Palestinian people and must enjoy broad mass support.  Among those would be the call for a stop to the construction of the wall, Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and the creation of a sovereign PalestinianState.


DENNIS BRUTUS, Professor (emeritus), African Studies, University of Pittsburgh, focused on the role of civil society, drawing parallels between the struggle for Palestinian rights and the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.  He said the experience of confronting the apartheid regime, which had led to the ending of that system, could be useful as a model for activism in the current conflict.  Activism must extend over a broad range of issues and must be undertaken on an international scale.  Global awareness and global activism must be created.


He said the apartheid regime was a system controlled by the white minority with the exclusion of the non-white majority from political power.  The campaign against apartheid had been waged both internally and externally.  External activities included political action, including activities by the United Nations, church organizations, labour organizations and humanitarian/philanthropic organizations.  A major element of the campaigns was the focus on the predicament of political prisoners.  One of the most effective activities had been the focus on economic boycott activities. The divestment campaigns had contributed significantly to weakening the apartheid regime to the point where negotiations were begun with the liberation movement.  He stressed that all those activities had been conducted in conjunction with, or consultation with the liberation movement.


In the Palestinian/Israeli context, the focus of the struggle was currently on the wall, he said.  Current activism in civil society should focus on a just solution and ending the occupation.  In the process, one should focus on the persistent violation by the Israeli Government of resolutions adopted by the United Nations.  The central issue in building a campaign against the occupation was the issue of political prisoners.  The idea of conducting a campaign for economic isolation of the Israeli Government had already been brought up, but should include other forms of pressure such as academic, cultural and sports boycotts.


He said that the various campaigns against the apartheid regime had contributed to creating a climate of international awareness of the nature of the racist and oppressive system of apartheid and had led to general outrage and a demand for its international isolations.  Something similar should happen in the case of the Palestinian struggle.  There was a need for a global conference in support of the Palestinian people.  Out of such a conference must come a call for global action, a broad-based and many-faceted attack on a system that was inhuman, racist and biased, a campaign as effective as the campaign against apartheid.  The message of the Secretary-General had not included recognition of the dominant role of the United States in supporting Israel.  If the United States could indeed obstruct serious discussion on the issue of Israel, it might be necessary to create an alternative forum where that issue could be discussed.


MARCIA FREEDMAN of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, said that the mission of her organization was to work for a just negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The organization of American Jews was only two years old, but it was already 18,000 strong, with 30 local chapters around the United States.  Without substantial commitment on the part of the United States to act as an honest broker and within an international framework to secure peace for Israelis and Palestinians, there could be no progress towards resolution of the conflict.  To even-handedly exercise its power to bring the parties to the negotiating table, and keep them there, any United States Government, no matter who was President, would need the support of the American Jewish community.


She said:  “Our support for Palestinian statehood and self-determination is understood in terms of Israel’s well-being, as well as our commitment to justice and peace.  So, too, our opposition to the occupation, the incursions of the wall into occupied territory, and our call to bring the settlers home to Israel”.  Brit Tzedek had been established on the basis of founding principles that included the evacuation of settlements; a complete end to the occupation in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem; the establishment of a viable Palestinian State alongside Israel, based on the pre-1967 borders, with whatever adjustments both sides agreed to; the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of both States; and a just resolution of the refugee issue that was agreed upon by both parties.


It was understandable that those who worked in support of the Palestinian national cause had heard the mantra of Israeli security and the narrative of Jewish suffering replayed so often as to produce an attitude of “here they go again”, she continued.  Politicians regularly manipulated a traumatized collective’s fears, as was clearly happening in the United States.  But behind the buzzwords and the slogans, there was a psycho-political reality that anyone attempting to affect public opinion among a traumatized collective ignored at the price of failure.  For the people of that collective, fear was never far away.


“Is it good for the Jews, or is it bad for the Jews?” was the question her grandparents, who had come to America as teenagers to escape the pogroms of Russia, asked.  Though she had been at some pains to override the voice in her that asked her grandparents’ question, she understood and empathized with its source.  Members of Brit Tzedek had learned not to speak around, but to speak directly to it.  It was a clearly “pro-Israel” organization, but it wanted to see an Israel that thrived, not only survived.  It did not believe that was possible without the establishment of a viable, independent PalestinianState alongside Israel.


The organization urged the end of the occupation because it believed that the often brutal requirements of military occupation ultimately brutalized those who were required to implement them, because it was immoral and unjust and because Israel could not afford the $1.5 billion yearly cost of expanding and protecting the settlements, she said.  Brit Tzedek supported those in the Israeli army and air force who refused to serve in an occupation army.  The Jews of the diaspora had also been negatively affected by the occupation, the settlements and the military practices necessary to sustain them.


There was a clear correlation between the resurgence of anti-Semitism and the increasing isolation of Israel in the international community as a direct consequence of its policies, she continued.  At the very least, increasing isolation of Israel and its identification with the Bush administration’s occupation of Iraq and so-called war on terror were fuelling enmity for the Jewish States and the Jewish people around the world.


The voice of dissent in the American Jewish community was ripe for organizing, although it was a difficult task, she said.  Poll data made clear that at least 50 per cent of American Jews supported a negotiated two-State solution, the evacuation of settlements and territorial compromise based roughly on the 1967 border.  That voice had not yet been heard by the White House or by Congress, and it was Brit Tzedek’s work to amplify it sufficiently for it to be heard.  There were encouraging signs of change in the American Jewish community, and the climate of silence and denial could be shifting toward more openness.


The reform movement, representing 1.5 million people, had come out with a strong statement against the settlements, the route of the security barrier and home demolitions, she said.  The statement also criticized Congress for being insensitive to Palestinian humanitarian issues.  At best, particularly if there was a change in the administration, it was important that there be a strong American Jewish voice critical of the expansionist goals of the current Israeli Government and committed to the security of Israel as a Jewish State.


Discussion


In the ensuing discussion, one speaker brought up the right of return of Jews to Israel, while Palestinians were denied the right to their own homes in Palestine.  She saw a need for a Jewish State as a refuge for Jewish people in the event of persecution.  The law of return should be changed into a law of refuge.  However, the issue of the position of Palestinians living in Israel had been somewhat neglected by the solidarity movement.


In that context, some speakers questioned whether the two-State solution was correct, and whether one secular, democratic State in which Islam and Judaism were protected would not be better.  Others disagreed with that idea, saying a democratic secular State moved away from international law and the position of the United Nations.  A point was made that within both Israel and Palestine, a large majority supported a two-State solution, and talk about a one-State solution seemed unrealistic in 2004.  Reconciliation was impossible without a political solution.


A panellist said he did not oppose political pressure on the Government of Israel, but in real political terms, some wrongs could not be made right.  There could be a PalestinianState -- Israeli society was ready for it.  If there were a Government willing to withdraw from occupied territories and dismantle settlements, a big majority would support such moves.  However, he did not think Israel’s society was prepared to give up its national identity.


Some speakers took issue with the analogy of the struggle against apartheid and the one for Palestinian rights.  The differences between the two struggles were great.  One only had to look at the difference in the amount of support for the apartheid regime and the support for Israel.  One participant, however, stressed that, although there were many differences, the principle which the anti-apartheid struggle had used, namely, sticking to the decisions of the liberation movement, was also valid for the Palestinian struggle.


Many brought up the partnership between the United States and Israel, saying there was no such thing as an honestly brokered peace agreement.  Other issues should be focused on, as well.  One speaker, however, countered that without a political settlement, other issues could not be resolved.


While the Jewish people had suffered in the past, the danger of extermination was now upon the Palestinians, a speaker said.  However, a sense of urgency was missing in addressing their problems.  The international community could not remain silent about that.  The United Nations and non-governmental organizations should not be accomplices in a strategy to split the Palestinian movement and get rid of its leadership.  It was important to support the Palestinian liberation struggle, for the people of Palestine had been pressed against a wall.


In that connection, a panellist said that, when they heard about the efforts to expel Arafat -– which would have probably meant killing him -– some Israeli citizens were prepared to act as human shields protecting him.  That was one of the reasons that plan had been abandoned.


Many debate participants addressed the issue of anti-Semitism and the conflicting approaches of Jews fighting versus those escaping it.  Historically, Jews in the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century had wanted to fight anti-Semitism where they were, a panellist said, and there were some successes.  After the Second World War, however, overwhelmingly, the idea of escaping anti-Semitism and creating a separate Jewish State had prevailed.


It was also pointed out that today that there were more Jews around the world than in Israel.  In 2004, Jews both in Israel and around the world were safer than in the past, but they still felt insecure.  A speaker said she believed that, having suffered for several decades, the Palestinians would also feel scarred for many years.


Closing Remarks


At the opening of the final segment, PHYLLIS BENNIS, presented the proposed plan of action to support Palestinian rights to be adopted by the Conference.  She also introduced members of the Steering Committee and read the names of participants who had been denied visas by the United States, saying that it was an illegal act by that country’s Government, which should not be allowed to decide whom the Conference could and could not hear.


She said that this year, the drafters of the plan of action had tried hard to identify and narrow the scope of what the network of civil society and non-governmental organizations represented at the Conference was.  The civil society representatives who gathered at the United Nations had a very specific reality that shaped their actions –- they focused on international law, the role of the United Nations and attached great importance to the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice.  They did not represent the entire global movement for Palestinian rights and would not try to do that.


She added that the draft action plan presented some ideas about the activities that civil society in various countries could support.  While the document incorporated ideas presented during the deliberations, some initiatives had not been reflected in the text.  For example, there was a petition that proposed changing the focus of attention from an end of occupation to ending Israeli colonization of occupied territories.  However, as the Conference came together under the auspices of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, that petition should be directed to the Committee in preparations for next year’s event.  She also hoped that the workshops that would be held this afternoon would come up with some additional ideas that could be incorporated in the final text.


Suggestions to improve the text were made from the floor, including one not to refer to “illegal settlements”, as all settlements were illegal; to include the International Court of Justice opinion’s phrase about implementation of the Fourth Geneva Convention; and to include a demand to end the siege of the compound of President Arafat, as well as a demand that Israel allow humanitarian workers and activists to work in the occupied territories.


Participants were informed that the plan of action was just a guideline.  It did not want to exclude other activities of specific non-governmental organizations in various countries.   In workshops following the Conference, various ideas and reports could be included in the Plan of Action.


In closing remarks, PAUL BADJI, Chairman, Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said that, over the past two days, there had been many well-argued and thought-provoking presentations on the various aspects of the question of Palestine.  Representatives of civil society, Member States and intergovernmental organizations alike shared an overriding and sincere desire to see a just and lasting solution to the question of Palestine.  One lesson from the Conference was that “we, working together, as a diverse yet cohesive group, can make a difference as we try to bring peace in the Middle East one step closer”.


He said participants had spoken about the ever-worsening situation on the ground and the appalling human cost of violence and the mounting casualty toll, both for the Palestinians and the Israelis.  The construction of the separation wall had been discussed, as well as the unrelenting settlement expansion and the severe economic recession in the occupied Palestinian territory.  A litany of gross violations of human rights had been heard that went unpunished and had become so commonplace as to be almost unexceptional.


Against that bleak background, he said, there had been rays of hope.  The landmark advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice had provided civil society with a solid legal foundation from which to build campaigns to mobilize Governments and public opinion.  “In fact, declarations of international legality were but an empty letter unless governmental and non-governmental actors alike fully discharge their responsibilities”, he said.


He had learned with appreciation about the many initiatives that civil society had spearheaded in the past year, which were aimed at alleviating human suffering, mobilizing public opinion in support of the Palestinian people, and finding a peaceful solution to the decades-old conflict.  Although not a substitute for the political process between governments, civil society initiatives had been pushing the envelope of what had been hitherto thought possible, proving wrong the sceptics and nay-sayers.  In times of prolonged conflict, it was important for voices of reason to be heard, voices which sometimes could be drowned out by the “strident clamour of extremist rhetoric”.


He expressed the hope that the plan of action would serve as a catalyst for new, broad-based campaigns of action by civil society, with the Conference Steering Committee continuing to play a vital coordinating role.  “After all, civil society becomes much, much more than a sum of its constituent organizations if they share a common purpose and strategy and coordinate their actions”, he said.


* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.