UNITED NATIONS INTERNATIONAL CIVIL SOCIETY CONFERENCE ENDS WITH CALL TO OPPOSE ISRAELI MILITARY OPERATIONS

GA/PAL/1062
31 August 2007

UNITED NATIONS INTERNATIONAL CIVIL SOCIETY CONFERENCE ENDS WITH CALL TO OPPOSE ISRAELI MILITARY OPERATIONS

31 August 2007
General Assembly
GA/PAL/1062
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

UNITED NATIONS INTERNATIONAL CIVIL SOCIETY CONFERENCE ENDS

 

WITH CALL TO OPPOSE ISRAELI MILITARY OPERATIONS

 


(Received from a UN Information Officer.)


BRUSSELS, 31 August -- The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People joined the European Parliament in calling on the Israeli Government to immediately stop the military operations against the Palestinian people, Paul Badji (Senegal), its Chairman, said as the United Nations International Conference of Civil Society in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace concluded this afternoon.


In his closing statement, he also called for the removal of the roadblocks installed since September 2000, an end to the extension of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and to the building of the wall beyond the 1967 borders, the immediate release of all imprisoned former Palestinian ministers, legislators, mayors and many others, including minors, and the release of the withheld Palestinian tax and customs revenues.


He said the Committee also joined the European Parliament in condemning the killing of innocent civilians by either side and in denouncing rocket attacks against Israel, and called for a cessation of those activities by Palestinian armed groups.  The Conference had highlighted the fact that the occupying Power continued to disrespect its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention.  That had serious implications for the whole international community, far beyond the context of the conflict, by eroding the credibility of the international legal system.  Europe, the main contributor to the framing of the Geneva Conventions, should take the lead in ensuring respect for the Conventions and thus preserving a central instrument of the international order.


The Committee attached great importance to the role of civil society organizations in demanding that the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention act against violations of it, he said.  The Committee called on those organizations to increase their efforts to bring to the forefront of public attention the reality of the prolonged occupation of Palestinian land and the anachronism of the status quo on the ground.  It also called on parliamentarians to mobilize their constituencies and fellow parliamentarians with a view to impress on them the need for concerted action by their respective executive bodies to uphold international law.


Also addressing the closing session, Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, said the brave Palestinian people who had survived almost 60 years after the Nakba and 40 years of occupation were still resisting in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  The Conference participants who had gathered to express their solidarity would support the brave Palestinians, enabling them to continue with their resistance.


He said the convening of the Conference had two objectives:  to stress the importance of Europe, not only because of its weight, but also its genuine friendship with the Palestinian people; and because Palestinians wanted parliamentarians to work in support of their cause.


The notion that international actors had failed was wrong, he said.  The struggle was an ongoing process in which all had a role to play, especially Government representatives at the United Nations.  Common failures would be suffered together and common successes enjoyed together.  The Palestinian people were a very mature population and deserved to have their wishes respected.  It was they who had made a decision to resist the occupation and their decision must be respected.


The Conference also heard closing remarks by Luisa Morgantini, Vice-President of the European Parliament, who said it was a sign of weakness that a conference on international legality had undergone such pressure against convening the event.  That meant that the international community and the European Union were not implementing international legality.  They must not only speak about human rights, but also implement them.  There was a need to work together towards a solution in Gaza, where Israel's policy of closures had been condemned for so long to no avail.


Earlier, the Conference held its second plenary session during which it heard presentations by various civil society activists and academics.  It also heard reports on the outcome of discussions at the five workshops held during the course of the two-day Conference.


Statements


RAJI SOURANI, Director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, apologized for his absence in a letter read by the Secretariat, saying he was one of nearly 1.6 million human beings residing in the Gaza Strip who were caged in a large, open-air prison.  The border crossings were at the mercy of an occupying Power and over the past year and a half, movement in and out of the Strip had been impossible.  Those in Gaza had been disconnected from the West Bank for nearly eight years and could not even visit parts of their own land.


He said the situation was beyond an economic and political siege; it was social and humanitarian strangulation, whereby people could not move to attend to their basic needs.  “As a result, Gaza lives in an unprecedented catastrophic situation.  The international community and Israel are parties to the crime.  At the same time, the occupation's practices and war crimes continue unabated in the West Bank.”


Noting that the current crisis and its implications were likely to continue for years to come, he said an international political decision had transformed the Gaza Strip into “Animal Farm”.  Regrettably, in the fortieth year of Israeli occupation, ending the occupation and stopping its crimes was the last topic of discussion.  “Instead we are talking about food and movement,” he said.


MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI, President of the Palestinian National Initiative and Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Ramallah, said the first step towards ending the occupation was to understand the facts on the ground, including a recognition of the occupation’s complete transformation into fully fledged apartheid, whether people liked that reality or not.  That transformation was illustrated by the fact that illegal Israeli settlers consumed 40 times more water than Palestinians.  Palestine was the only place in the world with roads and streets that were even more segregated than those in apartheid South Africa.


Emphasizing that there was no real peace process, he said Israel was trying to gain time to continue building its wall and annexing more Palestinian land.  In addition, Ehud Barak, the new Defence Minister, was carrying out “settlement laundry” to give legal standing to Israel’s illegal settlements.  There were also attempts to abuse internal Palestinian divisions by trying to demonstrate that the main conflict was not between Israelis and Palestinians but between Palestinian moderates and extremists, a strategy reflected not only in United States policy, but also in that of the international community at large.  The Palestinian problem was portrayed as a need to rebuild the same institutions that had been repeatedly rebuilt and destroyed, including with American money.


He also stressed the need to be alert to efforts to separate the statehood question from final status issues.  Insisting on interim borders was a naked attempt to buy time for the creation of new facts on the ground and those advocating such an approach also tried to justify the forcible annexation of land, which was a straightforward violation of international law.  The aim of the recently proposed peace conference was to convene an event run by a single country that would decide without negotiations who could attend and who could not.  They were trying to reproduce another piece of paper like Oslo, but the question was why another framework was needed when Israel had failed to implement the first.  The whole idea of peace had been substituted with the peace process, which in turn had been frozen.


MICHAEL WARSCHAWSKI, Founder and Director of the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem, said the name of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People indicated that the international community had recognized the Palestinians as a distinct people on the one hand and their rights on the other.  Their duties and responsibilities were always stressed rather than their rights.  The recognition of legitimacy had imposed itself in part through the gigantic anti-colonial effort.


Support on the part of the United Nations as the world had turned its back had meant that sooner or later Israel would have to pay heed, he said.  When that official recognition had finally arrived, the world had turned from decolonization to recolonization by defining a new enemy.  In order to fight that enemy, a new strategy had been needed and the Palestinians had been targeted.  As far as the world was concerned, the Palestinians were merely the residents of the West Bank and Gaza rather than a real people.


JENNIFER LOEWENSTEIN, Member of the Board, Israeli Committee against Home Demolitions, and Associate Director, Middle East Studies Program, University of Wisconsin-Madison, said that, with every action, Palestine was becoming increasingly invisible, a non-entity for non-people.  Among the preconditions necessary for a just settlement were a demand to end Israeli crimes, including its bloody and sadistic actions in Gaza and its atrocities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem; the recognition of Hamas, whether or not it liked them; and the release of legislators whose only crime was resisting the occupation.  The international organizations, so allegedly concerned with adherence to the principles of international law, including the United Nations and the European Union, must enforce them or there would be nothing left to talk about.


She said that, once an international consensus was realized, the Europeans must be pressured to act independently of United States policies and actively ostracize the United States and Israel rather than acting in servile obedience to the world's only super-Power and its principal client.  It was long past time to censure their record-breaking violations of international law.  They upheld the brutal authoritarian regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia as moderate States because their rulers served the interests of the United States and Israel.  Mahmoud Abbas had announced on Israeli television that he would not negotiate with “murderers” and now he and his backers had split the Palestinian national movement in half, making it easier for Israel to exploit the division.


In the ensuing discussion, participants wondered how one could defend the attack on the Palestinian leadership; the “military coup d’etat” by Hamas; how civil society could support non-violent resistance to the occupation, particularly in Gaza, where the humanitarian situation was extremely dramatic; and how there could be a proper dialogue without the involvement of Hamas.


As the panellists responded, Ms. LOEWENSTEIN said she had sought statements from Hamas and Hizbollah but had been unable to get them for technical reasons.  The very voices that the Conference needed to hear were absent.  As for her criticism of President Abbas, she stood by it as she was extremely disappointed in his actions.  Hamas had merely consolidated their victory and, while she supported neither faction, it was a crime to punish Hamas for its victory and an even greater crime for the United States to impose a siege on Gaza, turning it into an area of such desperation and hardship.


Mr. WARSCHAWSKI pointed out that there was a small Syrian population in the occupied Golan Heights that was resisting even more strongly than Hamas and they deserved support and admiration.


Mr. BARGHOUTI said non-violent struggle had been employed in the first intifadah and had forced former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to the negotiating table, but Oslo had swallowed all the advantages gained.  A new strategy was needed.  The Palestinians must turn their energy away from internal struggles and present a unified front.  However, it was crucial that unity be combined with international solidarity, whether through sanctions or divestment.  Such actions must cause Israel pain or it would not care.


Democracy and unity were strongly related, he said.  The link between legitimacy and democracy was clear:  Mr. Abbas, Hamas and all Palestinian legislators had all been democratically elected and must all be respected together.  The biggest interference came from Israel and its supporters, and only the occupation benefited from Palestinian disunity.  It was vital to concentrate on unifying factors.


The Committee then heard reports on the five workshops held yesterday and today, which, respectively, discussed the following topics:  the fortieth anniversary of the occupation; building on action taken by civil society and moving forward -- connecting with worldwide peace and social movements and initiatives to uphold international law; engaging parliaments and parliamentarians, mainstream parties and movement, elected local officials and trade unionists; enhancing European contributions to international peace efforts -- The European Year of Intercultural Dialogue in 2008; strengthening campaigns to end the occupation and to realize the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people; and empowering women and women's organizations to play a decisive role in promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace.


Draft Call to Action


NA'EEM JEENAH, Spokesperson of the Palestine Solidarity Committee of South Africa and President of the Johannesburg-based Muslim Youth Movement, read out a draft call to action by which civil society would strengthen its global campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) as a non-violent effort against Israeli occupation and oppression, and commit itself to a campaign identifying and opposing Israeli policies as violations of the International Covenant against the Crime of Apartheid.


Under a related provision of the draft, civil society would call on the European Union to organize a fact-finding mission to investigate Israeli violations of the International Covenant against the Crime of Apartheid and other international laws in its treatment of the Palestinians living inside Israel, as well as its violations of the Fourth Geneva Conventions in Israel’s isolation campaign against the 1.5 million people of the Gaza Strip. 


According to the draft, civil society would also, with the European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine and others in global civil society, the United Nations, parliaments and parliamentarians and others, join efforts to demand that Governments work to meet their obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention and under other relevant aspects of international law.


Also by the draft, civil society would call on the international community to respect the results of Palestinian democracy and reject the claim that, at a time of internal Palestinian division and crisis, the international community and global civil society must simply stand aside.


By other terms, civil society would build a campaign of education and mobilization to mark 2008 as a year to commemorate Palestinian dispossession and expulsion, and a year committed to reversing those 60-year-old losses.  In particular, the United Nations, the European Union and the Non-Aligned Movement would be called upon to mark 29 November 2007 as an international day to commemorate the 1947 Partition Resolution and its consequences.


Finally, global civil society would be called upon to join Palestinian communities inside Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory in mobilizing for a year of educational work beginning on 29 November 2007.  That year would include 15 May 2008, as a day of global mobilization to commemorate the Nakba, and the continuing dispossession and denial of Palestinian rights.


In the closing segment of the Conference, LUISA MORGANTINI, Vice-President of the European Parliament, said it was a sign of weakness that a conference on international legality had undergone such pressure against convening the event.  That meant that the international community and the European Union were not implementing international legality.  They must not only speak about human rights, but also implement them.  There was a need to work together towards a solution in Gaza, where Israel's policy of closures had been condemned for so long to no avail.


RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, said the brave Palestinian people who had survived almost 60 years after the Nakba and 40 years of occupation were still resisting in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  That resistance had brought all the participants to express their solidarity.  They would give the brave Palestinians their support and enable them to continue with their resistance.


He said the convening of the Conference had a special meaning, adding that it had two objectives:  to stress the importance of Europe, not only because of its weight, but also its genuine friendship with the Palestinian people; and because Palestinians wanted parliamentarians to work in support of their cause.


The notion that international actors had failed was wrong, he said.  The struggle was an ongoing process in which all had a role to play, especially Government representatives at the United Nations.  Common failures would be suffered together and common successes enjoyed together.  The Palestinian people were a very mature population and deserved to have their wishes respected.  It was they who had made a decision to resist the occupation and their decision must be respected.


However, he said it was disrespectful and insulting for a speaker to characterize the elected President of the Palestinian Authority as being “in the pocket” of one or other party.  It was not for that speaker to determine who was in the pocket of whom, but rather for the Palestinians themselves, who had elected their President.  Such people should help the Palestinian people to deal with their struggle, including their internal problems.


Chairman's Closing Statement


PAUL BADJI ( Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, expressed his appreciation to all participants for their contributions to the Conference, with special thanks to the Board members of the International Coordinating Network on Palestine, who served as the Steering Committee and drafted the final documents.  The Committee also reiterated its appreciation to Hans-Gert Pöttering, President of the European Parliament, and the Conference of the Presidents and the staff of the Parliament's secretariat for their cooperation during the preparation and conduct of the Conference.


Aligning the Committee with an important resolution, adopted by the European Parliament on 12 July, he said it called on both sides to implement specific steps towards confidence-building and the resumption of a meaningful dialogue.  The Committee also joined the European Parliament in calling on the Israeli Government to immediately stop the military operations against the Palestinian people; to remove the roadblocks installed since September 2000; to stop the extension of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the building of the wall beyond the 1967 borders; to immediately release all imprisoned former Palestinian ministers, legislators and mayors, and many others, including minors; and to release the withheld Palestinian tax and customs revenues.  The Committee also joined the Parliament in condemning the killing of innocent civilians by either side and in denouncing rocket attacks against Israel, and called for a cessation of those activities by Palestinian armed groups.


The Conference had highlighted the fact that the occupying Power continued to disrespect its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention, he said.  That had serious implications for the whole international community, far beyond the context of the conflict, by eroding the credibility of the international legal system.  Europe, the main contributor to the framing of the Geneva Conventions, should take the lead in ensuring respect for the Conventions and thus preserving a central instrument of the international order.  The Committee attached great importance to the role of civil society organizations in demanding that the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention live up to their obligations to act against violations of it.


He said the Committee called on those organizations to increase their efforts to bring to the forefront of public attention the reality of the prolonged occupation of Palestinian land and the anachronism of the status quo on the ground.  It also called on parliamentarians to mobilize their constituencies and fellow parliamentarians with a view to impress on them the need for concerted action by their respective executive bodies to uphold international law.  Their role in monitoring Governments' compliance with their obligations under the Convention was of paramount importance.


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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.