|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Civil Society’s Role in Ending Israeli Occupation Spotlighted at United Nations
Meeting in Paris on Israeli-Palestinian Peace
Participants Call for End to Occupation before Normalization
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)
PARIS, 1 June — Civil society organizations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel must play a more active role to bring about a just, stable peace in the region, speakers said today during the day-long United Nations Meeting of Civil Society in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, which took place in Paris.
Entitled “Civil society action towards ending the occupation: harnessing the power of youth and women”, the event featured four workshops that gave civil society groups a platform for empowering youth and women.
Workshop I entitled “Monitoring the situation on the ground and establishing accountability” was moderated by Merav Kahana of Tel Aviv-based Peace Now. Workshop II on “Advocacy groups: disseminating information, mobilizing constituencies” was moderated by Phyllis Bennis, Director of the New Internationalism Project of the Washington, D.C., Institute for Policy Studies, a member of the United States Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and Co-Chair of the International Coordinating Network on Palestine (ICNP), as well as by Mohammed Iqtifan, Campaign Coordinator of the Gaza-based Migratory Letters Campaign.
Workshop III on “Alleviating the suffering of the people under occupation: humanitarian assistance” was moderated by Gila Norich, Director of Development of the Physicians for Human Rights - Israel. Workshop IV entitled “Mobilizing youth and women: achieving change through education and action” was moderated by Wisam Shweiki, Programme Manager of the Ramallah-based Sharek Youth Forum, and Rutie Atsmon, co-founder and Director of Windows: Channels for Communications, based in both Tel Aviv and Ramallah.
The Civil Society Meeting followed a two-day United Nations International Meeting that aimed to mobilize international support for youth and women’s initiatives for achieving a peaceful end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The meetings were convened by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.
In the opening session, Rabiha Diab, the Palestinian Authority’s Minister for Women’s Affairs, representing Palestine, said her Government worked hand in hand with civil society organizations and the United Nations to end the Israeli occupation. Cooperation was at the heart of programmes for women’s education and health, training and the constant struggle to uphold women’s rights in the face of occupation and outdated traditions.
First and foremost, the Palestinian’s inalienable right to freedom must be upheld, she said, extending her hand to all organizations to spawn new initiatives and new ideas. Such endeavours required multilateral cooperation and good coordination so that funding was not wasted, she said, expressing hope that the workshops would “bring together innovative initiatives which will create an enlightened, diverse society”. Moreover, given the extreme right-wing Government currently in power in Israel, the role of the Israeli civil society groups was all the more vital.
“We must make the best use of opportunities if we are to create a country and a region that bears the stamp of peace,” she said. Palestinian women, who, along with youth, bore the brunt of the occupation, had proven remarkable in their ability to adapt to difficult circumstances, but they needed a stable, enabling environment for peace. Aid from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was essential, but it was not a substitute for inalienable political rights.
Abdou Salam Diallo (Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, lauded the work of non-governmental organizations, which had employed new technologies and social media to attract young followers. He cited One Voice, which organized an online conference that enabled young Israelis and Palestinians to communicate with youth in the United States and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, as well as the United States Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, which comprised 380 member groups that lobbied United States congressional leaders on decision-making concerning the question of Palestine.
Ms. Bennis said civil society groups had begun working with the United Nations in defence of Palestinian rights in the early 1980s. In 2003, those groups had formed the International Coordinating Network on Palestine to exchange ideas and coordinate campaigns, with the belief that the United Nations work was central to any kind of just, comprehensive settlement to the conflict. The network had first began challenging construction of Israel’s apartheid wall and lobbying Governments to enforce United Nations resolutions on the question of Palestine as well as the International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion, which ruled that the wall was illegal under international law and should be dismantled.
The network had gone on to launch a campaign for boycotting, divesting from and imposing sanctions on Israel until it complied with international law, she said. It also worked with the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, launched in 2009 to scrutinize the actions of Governments and major industrial companies that violated international resolutions and court rulings on Palestinian rights, as well as with the World Social Forum Free Palestine. As the goal of realizing the rights of the Palestinian people had yet to be achieved, the challenge now was to expand the movement, bringing young people on board, share online resources and inject new ideas to “take back” the General Assembly. “Given the global nature of rights, it is our obligation to take up that challenge,” she said.
Providing feedback from the workshops on the way forward, Ms. Kahana said that during workshop I, there had been some disagreement among participants of the effectiveness of education, but everyone had concurred with the need to educate both sides and end disagreements as soon as possible.
Mr. Iqtifan said workshop II had recommended the creation of media tools to enable Israelis and Palestinians to set up independent media, grants or fellowships for youth to study, as well as a network to coordinate United Nations efforts and promote global awareness that the Israel-Palestinian conflict was not just a bilateral, but a global issue.
Ms. Norich said workshop III had looked at humanitarian aid from a civil society angle, the reality of obstacles to deliver it to populations under occupation, the applications used by United Nations agencies in conflict situations and the need for all organizations to be transparent and efficient in managing funds. Participants had acknowledged that the humanitarian aid field was evolving. Ms. Norich’s own organization, Physicians for Human Rights — Israel, delivered medical services in the West Bank every Saturday. Participants had discussed possible policy changes to its operations.
Mr. Shweiki said workshop IV had focused on how to mobilize the political will to effect just change, in the face of Government pressure from both sides. Palestinian civil society was strong; its youth refused to sit back and accept the unacceptable. The workshop had looked at ways to persuade Israeli civil society to also effect change, particularly in light of Israel’s current right-wing Government. Also discussed had been the fact that, overwhelmingly, Palestinian civil society groups did not want partnerships with Israeli groups because they felt those would create a false sense of normalcy about what was essentially an abnormal situation.
During an interactive session in the afternoon, participants discussed the Yala Peace Conference, held from 23 to 24 January, the first-ever online conference for young leaders in the Middle East. Organized on Facebook by Yala Young Leaders, which comprised youth from throughout the region, the conference had attracted participants in a virtual city square to promote regional peace, social equity and economic development.
Shoruq Morakten, a representative of Yala Young Leaders, said some 87,000 youths from across the region and beyond had joined Yala. During the event, they had proposed an agenda for a peaceful, productive future, which they aimed to achieve through on-the-ground projects in such areas as information technology, e-learning, training and other areas. Global leaders, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli President Shimon Peres and United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, had signed on to the Yala forum with messages of support. Dialogue was not an end in itself, but it certainly was a means to achieve peace.
Ms. Morakten said that every major point in her life — including her birth and graduation from university — had been marked by catastrophic political events, from the Israeli invasion of Lebanon to the second intifada. As an electrical engineer conducting site checks at Palestinian factories for the Palestinian Authority, she saw difficult situations first hand. “I’ve missed out on a lot because of obstacles on the ground. We as young people want to get this message across. It’s important to me to have Governments hear our voice,” she said.
Muath Abu Arqoub, a Ramallah-based youth activist and expert on social media, noted that, already, 97,000 people had “liked” the Yala page, where they discussed not just political concerns, but also interacted socially, sharing music preferences and videos. The Yala page had also attracted coverage from major media such as The New York Times. Since the January conference, young Arabs across the region, Americans and others had communicated through instant messaging and instant chat on their shared agenda and work plans for women’s empowerment, job creation and other goals.
During the ensuing discussion, Minister Diab said the problem was that the Palestinians did not have a partner for peace and, despite their good intentions, many civil society initiatives were just smoke and mirrors. One speaker asked if anything concrete on the ground had resulted from the Yala online dialogue; another asked about Yala’s specific goals, its activities on the ground and who financed them.
Ms. Morakten said that, indeed, there was no Israeli Government partner for peace. Still, young Palestinians were trying to grasp an opportunity and have a political platform to convey their perspective. There was no magic wand to bring about change, which took time, but it was important to get to know and convey the Palestinian people’s suffering to Israelis. “We don’t want to cut ourselves off from the other side,” she said, stressing that Israeli youth partners could be instrumental in changing Israeli Government policy. She said the Tel Aviv-based Peres Centre for Peace was the main source of funding of the Yala Young Leaders.
In closing remarks, Ms. Diab called for mechanisms to foster global cooperation in a way that did not impair achievement of the Palestinians’ fundamental rights, but rather affirmed them and led to their implementation, as called for in international conventions. She warned that not all civil society groups represented Palestinian aspirations and best interest. It was those that did that should be supported.
Mr. Diallo said he would convey the statements made during the Meeting to members of the Committee and Member States at Headquarters in New York. The Committee stood behind civil society’s efforts and encouraged it to continue working towards a just, lasting peace. “Wherever possible, we will provide you with platforms for exchanges, to expand your networks, create new partnerships and facilitate coordinated efforts,” he said.
The Committee would continue to disseminate civil society group’s initiatives and communications through the bi-monthly newsletter, NGO Action News, he said. He encouraged civil society organizations to become part of the Committee’s network, and said they could apply for accreditation online. He also encouraged them to stay connected through social media. He reassured Ms. Diab that the Committee, in cooperation with the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine, carefully screened all civil society organizations that participated in its events.
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