MARKING 40 YEARS OF OCCUPATION OF PALESTINIAN TERRITORY, SPECIAL MEETING SEEKS NORMALCY FOR PEOPLE FACING POVERTY, HUMANITARIAN TRAGEDY, LAND FRAGMENTATION

GA/PAL/1055
7 June 2007

MARKING 40 YEARS OF OCCUPATION OF PALESTINIAN TERRITORY, SPECIAL MEETING SEEKS NORMALCY FOR PEOPLE FACING POVERTY, HUMANITARIAN TRAGEDY, LAND FRAGMENTATION

7 June 2007
General Assembly
GA/PAL/1055
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Committee on the Inalienable Rights

of the Palestinian People

301st Meeting (AM & PM)


MARKING 40 YEARS OF OCCUPATION OF PALESTINIAN TERRITORY, SPECIAL MEETING SEEKS


NORMALCY FOR PEOPLE FACING POVERTY, HUMANITARIAN TRAGEDY, LAND FRAGMENTATION


Palestinian Authority President Calls for Practical Steps, Possible Sanctions,

To Compel Israel to Comply with Security Council, International Court of Justice


Speakers at a special meeting to mark 40 years of occupation by Israel of the Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, today called for an end to the Israeli occupation, which they saw as the root cause of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and a stumbling block to Middle East peace, and stressed that the Security Council should exercise its responsibility to bring normalcy to a people facing poverty, humanitarian tragedy and a fragmentation of their land.


The 22-member Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, established in 1975 by the General Assembly, reports annually to the Assembly and supports the objective of Israeli and Palestinian people living side-by-side within secure and internationally recognized borders, as affirmed by the Security Council in 2002.  The Committee was created to recommend a programme of implementation to enable the Palestinian people to exercise their right to self-determination and to return to their homes and property. 


A statement by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, delivered by the Permanent Observer of Palestine, Riyad Mansour, drew attention to the number of Palestinians who, despite countless United Nations resolutions, continued to live in exile as refugees or under the foreign occupation of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.


Mr. Abbas, who is also Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Israel’s policies towards his people were rooted in an insatiable desire for expansionism.  Those policies had caused a “Judaization” of Jerusalem and obstructed the access of Palestinian people to East Jerusalem, even though the Security Council, General Assembly and International Court of Justice had explicitly affirmed the illegality of settlements on confiscated Palestinian lands, including around Occupied East Jerusalem. 


He said the construction of a wall on Palestinian territory and the establishment of a road network dotted by 500 checkpoints was part of Israel’s “colonization campaign”, which restricted movement and altered the demographic composition of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.  Practical measures, including the possibility of sanctions, were needed to compel Israel to comply with Security Council resolutions and the International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion, which deemed the wall unlawful.  Israel must also abide by its obligations on the protection of civilians in wartime and acknowledge responsibility for the plight of the Palestine refugees and their right of return.


Committee Chairman Paul Badji (Senegal) said it was “appalling” that the occupation had persisted for so long, adding that the number of Israelis settlers -- now nearly half a million strong -- grew at a yearly rate of about 5.5 per cent.  The occupation had also left more that 2 million Palestinians, or 50 per cent of the population, unable to meet their daily food needs without assistance.  The withholding of tax revenues by the Israeli authorities, coupled with a financial boycott of the Palestinian Authority, had further contributed to the poor state of the economy.


Pointing to the global impact of events in the Middle East, Pakistan’s representative remarked that the fate of Jerusalem was a powerful political and emotional issue for millions of people across the world, especially in the Islamic world.  The Security Council had adopted 16 resolutions, including resolution 465 (1980), which had declared that any measures taken by Israel aimed at changing the character of Jerusalem were null and void, and without legal validity.  It was unfortunate that all resolutions continued to be flouted.


The situation surrounding Jerusalem was further clarified by a representative of the Negotiation Support Unit, a civil society organization in Ramallah, who explained that if a Palestinian capital was ever established in East Jerusalem -- an area currently separated from other Palestinian communities -- it would be surrounded by Israeli settlements.  He also pointed out that de facto annexing by Israel of about 45 per cent of the West Bank, through its use of the separation wall and fences built by settlers, had left a fractured area for Palestinians on which to build their economy. 


Echoing the sentiment of many participants, Indonesia’s delegate welcomed the establishment of the Palestinian National Unity Government, adding that positive development at the leadership level would encourage reconciliation at the grass roots.  She welcomed the regular meetings between Palestinian and Israeli leaders, but, like others, warned that it would be “naïve” to expect tangible results without the international community’s active engagement.  The Quartet’s role was vital, while the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 presented a home-grown formula for peace and offered a great opportunity for normalcy in the Middle East.


A representative of Combatants for Peace, an Israeli civil-society organization comprising thousands of former Israeli soldiers and Palestinian ex-fighters, said his organization had drafted a statement declaring that they would put down their weapons and struggle for justice and peace through non-violent means.  “We are not just calling for freedom of Palestinian but also for freedom for the Israelis from being oppressors.”


He said that some people saw the United States using Israel as a testing field for their weaponry.  Addressing the United States, he said: “If you want to see more wars in the Middle East, keep sending us the war machines.  If you want peace and justice, the military support must end immediately.” 


Also today, Egypt’s representative delivered a message from President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak.


Speakers also included the representatives of Cuba (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Morocco (on behalf of the Arab Group), Madagascar (also in her capacity as Permanent Observer of the African Union), Turkey, Malaysia, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, Bangladesh, Tunisia, Nicaragua and Sri Lanka.


The Committee Rapporteur delivered a statement on behalf of the Bureau.


The representatives of Amnesty International, Middle East Children’s Alliance, B’Tselem and the Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights also spoke.


Background


The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People held a special meeting today to mark 40 years of occupation by Israel of the Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.


Statements


PAUL BADJI ( Senegal), Chairman, Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said 40 years of occupation had not thwarted the Palestinian people’s yearning to control their own destiny and to exercise their inalienable rights: “It is, indeed, appalling that the occupation has persisted for such a long time.”  In spite of the continuing efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the goal of an independent State of Palestine was not anywhere in sight.  Since 1967, Israel had created “facts on the ground” –- an intricate network of Israeli settlements and a separation wall.  Today, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, was a confined land.  The Israeli settler population had grown at a rate of about 5.5 per cent annually.  The current settler population was more than 468,000.


He said that in 2002, Israel had started the construction of a separation wall, ostensibly for security reasons, the route of which departed from the 1949 Armistice line and cut into Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  In July 2004, the International Court of Justice in its advisory opinion had reaffirmed the illegality of that wall.  The Israeli occupation was administered through a complex system of politics and practices, which had affected every aspect of Palestinian life and fragmented their land.  Palestinians were subjected to humiliating border checks.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had reported 546 physical impediments in March.


The occupation had driven thousands of Palestinians to resist it, resulting in their arrest and imprisonment, he continued.  Today, there remained some 10,400 Palestinian prisoners.  Of those, 46 per cent had not had a trial.  There were 376 children under the age of 18, and 118 women incarcerated, as well as 40 members of the Palestinian Cabinet and the Palestinian Legislative Council.  There were currently 4.4 million Palestine refugees registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).  In the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in particular, refugees lived in deplorable and seriously insecure circumstances.


He said the Committee had reminded Israel, the occupying Power, that its settlement activities, the annexation of East Jerusalem, any actions to strengthen its hold on the city and the construction of the wall were contrary to international law, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention.  It had called on all Governments to take the necessary steps to ensure that Israel comply with international obligations, and had called on the Israeli Government to release, immediately and unconditionally, all imprisoned Cabinet members and parliamentarians, as well as other Palestinian prisoners. 


“Few people have suffered more constant misery and daily oppression in the last 40 years than Palestinians,” he said.  Since the beginning of the second intifada in 2000, Israeli-Palestinian violence had escalated.  Israeli forces had killed some 4,000 Palestinians, most of them unarmed civilians, including some 800 children.  The occupation had destroyed what little progress had been achieved by the Palestinians.  The rate of unemployment in 2006 had been 34 per cent.  The poverty rates were nearly 50 per cent.  More that 2 million Palestinians, or 50 per cent of the population, were unable to meet their daily food needs without assistance.  The withholding of tax revenues by the Israeli authorities, coupled with a financial boycott of the Palestinian Authority, had further contributed to the downward spiral in the economic situation.


He said that the dismal situation only hardened feelings of hatred and deep despair, which did not bode well for efforts towards a peaceful resolution to the conflict.  It had created extremism and chaos, leading to factional conflicts and general breakdown of law and order.  The Committee had consistently stressed that the occupation was the root cause of the conflict and a contributing factor to instability in the wider region.  The Committee reiterated its call for meaningful negotiations, which would ensure a settlement based on the two-State solution, as laid out in the Quartet’s Road Map.  It had emphasized that the United Nations should maintain its permanent responsibility with respect to all aspects of the question of Palestine until it was resolved in a satisfactory manner.  Until such a time and until the Palestinian people could exercise their inalienable rights, the Committee would continue to pursue the important mandate entrusted to it by the General Assembly.


“The Committee appeals to Israel to heed the urgent call of the international community to end the occupation of the Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem”, he urged.  “A peaceful solution to 50 years of struggle and suffering would not only benefit the Palestinian people, but also the people of Israel and the Middle East as a whole,” he said in conclusion.


The Committee’s Rapporteur, VICTOR CAMILLERI (Malta), read a statement issued by the Bureau, which said that the Security Council, in resolution 242 (1967), had emphasized the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war, and affirmed the need for Israel to withdraw from territories occupied in the conflict.  That resolution and many others adopted since 1967 had not been implemented.  The occupation of the Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, was the root cause of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  A comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the region would remain elusive until the national rights of the Palestinian people had been realized. 


The 40 years of occupation had brought misery, he continued, as Palestinians were subjected to daily abuse, use of excessive force, extrajudicial killings and the destruction of property.  The situation had led to an escalating spiral of violence in the area.


He reminded Israel of the need to fulfil its obligations under international law and to fully adhere to the Geneva Conventions and the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice.  Further, Israel must cease and reverse all illegal actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  On this day, he was noting with great regret that the engagement of the international community had not brought about an end to the occupation.  He called on the Security Council to ensure full implementation of its resolutions and to guide parties with the active involvement of the Quartet and regional actors to a negotiated settlement that would result in an independent Palestinian State.


RIYAD H. MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of Palestine, reading a statement by MAHMOUD ABBAS, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and President of the Palestinian National Authority, said on this solemn occasion, Palestinian people reflected on their past and present with deep sorrow as they continued to suffer for the realization of their inalienable human rights, including their right to self-determination.


Palestinians tragically remained an oppressed people as they continued to live either in exile as refugees or under the foreign occupation of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, he continued.  Countless United Nations resolutions had not brought to an end that suffering.  Instead of complying with the law, Israel had acted with impunity, denying the rights of the Palestinian people.  The basis of all unlawful Israeli policies had been Israel’s insatiable desire for expansionism.


Since 1967, the occupying Power had carried out a colonization campaign throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the Occupied Syrian Golan.  Although the Security Council, General Assembly and International Court of Justice had explicitly affirmed the illegality of settlements on confiscated Palestinian lands, settlement expansion around the Occupied East Jerusalem had been especially intense.  Aside from the extension of the Basic Law in 1980, Israel had carried out policies aimed at the Judaization of the city, and obstructed access of Palestinian people to East Jerusalem.


Israel’s colonization campaign had escalated with the unlawful construction of a wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in East Jerusalem, he said.  The International Court of Justice in its advisory opinion of 2004 had deemed the wall to be unlawful and demanded its dismantlement.  Israel’s establishment of a discriminatory road network, permit system and web of more than 500 checkpoints throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory was intended to restrict the movement of Palestinian people.


All such practices were dramatically altering the demographic composition of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, he continued.  Israel had not ceased its military campaign against Palestinian civilians, imprisoning and arbitrarily detaining thousands.  Further, it had destroyed Palestinian property, and the cumulative impact of those policies had been disastrous.  The Gaza Strip had been severely impoverished, and poverty, hunger and frustration had deepened. 


While the Palestinian side had affirmed its commitment to the peace process, Israel had historically evaded peace efforts, including the recent renewal of the Arab Peace Initiative, he said, stressing that there was no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Military might could not suppress a just cause or deny an entire nation its inalienable rights.  A comprehensive peace, with a two-State solution of Israel and Palestine living in peace on the basis of the 1967 borders, remained the goal.  That solution would be impossible as long as the occupation continued.


Resolution 242 (1967) remained the basis for achieving peace, he continued, and the international community must uphold its responsibilities.  In that regard, he affirmed that the United Nations had a permanent responsibility towards the question of Palestine until it was resolved.  The Security Council had a particularly important role to play and must exercise responsibility to bring about peace.


Practical measures must be seriously considered, including the possibility of sanctions to compel Israel to comply with resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), and abide by its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention and the International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion.  Efforts to resolve the conflict must include Israel’s acknowledgement of its responsibility for the plight of the Palestine refugees and respect their right of return as enshrined in General Assembly resolution 194 (II) of 1948.


The Palestine side had undertaken serious efforts to calm the situation, including maintenance of a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, he said, urging Israel to respect that ceasefire and extend it immediately to the West Bank.  Moreover, the Palestinian side was ready to immediately undertake final status negotiations.  The peace process must be urgently resumed without conditions; all parties, including the Quartet, should seize the opportunity created by the renewal of the Arab Peace Initiative.


Reaffirming the immense gratitude of the Palestinian people for the support extended to them by the international community over the years, he also recognized the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East for its assistance over the years. 


Palestinian people believed that law and peace would prevail, he said.  They hoped that serious efforts would be undertaken to promote a peace that would result in the end of the occupation of all Arab lands, the establishment of an independent Palestinian State and the realization of a just solution to the Palestine refugee question on the basis of Assembly resolution 194 (II) of 1948.


RODRIGO MALMIERCA DÍAZ ( Cuba), on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said the Israeli occupation, in violation of Security resolution 242 (1967), among others, had prevented the full exercise by the Palestinian people of their right to establish an independent State, with East Jerusalem as its capital.  The Non-Aligned Movement had maintained a firm position of solidarity with the Palestinian people and its just cause, based on the recognition of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, the rejection of the illegal occupation of the Arab territories by Israel and the condemnation of the “massive, flagrant and systematic” violation of human rights and international humanitarian law committed by the occupying Power.


He noted the adoption at the Movement’s Fourteenth Summit in Havana in September 2006 of a Special Declaration on Palestine.  While condemning the Israeli practices in the Occupied Territories, the Summit had echoed the demand that the Palestinian people be allowed to exercise their inalienable right to sustainable development, to the return of refugees and to the establishment of a sovereign and independent State.  The Declaration expressed the Movement’s profound concern for the tragic deterioration of the political, economic, social and humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and strongly condemned the ongoing slaughter of and injuries to Palestinian civilians through the excessive and inordinate use of force.


On 20 March, the Movement’s Coordinating Bureau had issued a Declaration welcoming the creation of the Palestinian Government of National Unity, he said.  However, despite the creation of that Government, international assistance to the Palestinians remained blocked.  That state of affairs must cease, as it worked against an eventual solution to the conflict through dialogue and negotiations.  Believing that there was a real opportunity for the resumption of the peace process in the Middle East, the Movement called upon the international community to fulfil its responsibility towards that goal.  It also called upon the Security Council to enforce its own resolutions and take the necessary measures so that Israel would respect international law and put an end to the occupation. 


He reaffirmed Cuba’s aspiration to contribute to a global, just and lasting peace for all nations of the Middle East, without exclusion, so as to guarantee the Palestinian people their right to self-determination and sovereignty in an independent State, based on pre-1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, as well as the right of return home of the Palestinian refugees.


MUNIR AKRAM ( Pakistan) said the sense of gloom was intensified on this solemn day by the fact that 40 years after the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, peace remained as elusive as ever.  That signified the gross failure of the Security Council to fulfil its responsibility to maintain peace, as well as the collective failure of States to bring a just solution to that most grave political dispute.  The fate of Jerusalem had transformed the conflict into a powerful political and emotional issue for millions of people across the world, especially in the Islamic world.  There could be no peace without the recognition of East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian State.


Since 1947, the United Nations had designated Jerusalem as corpus separatum, he continued.  Since 1967, the Security Council had adopted 16 resolutions, including resolution 465 (1980), which had declared that any measures taken by Israel aimed at changing the character of Jerusalem were null and void, and without legal validity.  It was unfortunate that all resolutions continued to be flouted.


Further, excavation work around the Al-Aqsa Mosque threatened its collapse, he said.  He urged Israel to end its illegal settlements, halt all work near Al-Aqsa and reverse construction of the wall.  The pain of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem was symptomatic of the larger problem of Israel’s occupation of Arab lands.  It was clear that peace in the Middle East could only be obtained by Israeli withdrawal from all Arab lands and the realization of two States living side-by-side in peace. 


Today, there was an upsurge of violence in the Middle East, he said, noting that efforts to find a just solution to the conflict had become more difficult in that atmosphere of revived tensions.  There must be a halt to the violence against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.  Further, Israel had an obligation to release Palestinians, including ministers and parliamentarians, cease and reverse the construction of settlements and the wall, release funds due Palestinians and end the humanitarian blockage against them.


He urged the early resumption of peace talks.  To realize the vision of a peaceful two-State solution, the international community must ensure that all resolutions, including Security Council resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973), 1397 (2002) and 1515 (2003), and General Assembly resolution 194 (1948) be respected.  He welcomed the renewal of Arab Peace Initiative, and solemnly pledged resolve in achieving peace in the Middle East.  He expressed solidarity with the Palestinians in their exercise of their inalienable rights, including their right to self-determination.


EL MOSTAFA SAHEL ( Morocco), on behalf of the Arab Group, said today’s meeting was an opportunity to reaffirm concern for a solution of the issue in a legal context.  Despite the efforts of the past decades, the Palestinian issue still had not found any solution, and the situation in the Occupied Territories was still a cause of great concern.  Since the first day of the occupation, the international community had rejected the use of force.  Forty years later, however, the Palestinian issue had deteriorated.  Many Palestinians were refugees, who awaited the exercise of their right to return home.  The economy had been destroyed, and many families lived below the poverty line and lacked educational and health services.  The Israeli army carried out military actions, destroyed houses and imposed serious restrictions on movement. 


He said that Al-Quds ( East Jerusalem) was under the control of the occupying Power, which continued to modify the legal status and demographic character of the area.  He denounced the impact of the construction of the wall and urged Israel to respect the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, as well as all General Assembly resolutions.  He reaffirmed the need to respect free movement of people and goods.  For four decades, Israel had taken over Arab territories, destroyed property and had expanded settlements, including around Al-Quds, in violation of resolutions of the Assembly and Security Council, which called on it not to take any measures that might change the character of East Jerusalem. 


There was no other option than that of political negotiations based on mutual respect, he said.  However, various efforts had failed and United Nations resolutions had not succeeded in ending the suffering of the Palestinian people or allowing them to exercise their rights, owing to the obstinacy of the occupying Power.  The Arab Group was convinced that continuation of the occupation was a continuation of the conflict.  The occupation of Arab territories was a constant threat to peace and security in the region.  He encouraged Israel to return to the pre-1967 borders and to implement the Madrid initiative of 1991.  He also expressed the Group’s total solidarity with the Palestinian and Lebanese people, as well as support for Lebanese efforts to extend authority over all its territory.  He asked Israel to hand over the maps of millions of cluster bombs that had been launched against Lebanese towns and villages, and urged Israeli authorities to free all Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners. 


He said that the Arab Peace Initiative offered an opportunity to put an end to the conflict, as well a strategy for the achievement of a just and durable peace in the region, based on complete Israeli withdrawal from Occupied Arab Territories, and a solution to the refugee question.  History had proven that there was no military solution.  Israel, alone, did not have the right to live in peace and security; it was also the right of the Arab people.  He urged the Security Council and the international community to put an end to the tragedy that had lasted for too long.


MAGED A. ABDELAZIZ (Egypt), expressing support for the statements on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Arab Group, read a letter from his Head of State, Mohamed Hosni Mubarak, which conveyed to the Committee the country’s unwavering commitment and strong support for its efforts to ensure that the Palestinian people would fully exercise its inalienable rights, and that an independent and viable Palestinian State would be established, with East Jerusalem as its capital, side-by-side with the State of Israel in peace and tranquillity. 


Reading from the President’s letter, he said that the memory of the victims who had fallen as a result of the 1967 Israeli aggression should serve as a vivid reminder that the solution of the Palestinian question should be through intensifying international efforts to ensure that the final status negotiations started as early as possible, within the comprehensive peace initiative of the League of Arab States, aiming at the full withdrawal of Israel from the Occupied Arab Territories in Palestine, Syria and Lebanon to the pre-1967 borders, as well as achievement of an acceptable solution to the Palestinian refugees problem.


Until that objective was achieved, he said, the international community and the Committee should work hand in hand to make sure that Israel, the Occupying Power, ceased its unlawful acts against the Palestinian people, especially its attacks against civilians, systematic violations of human rights and international humanitarian law and violations of other inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.  He reiterated Egypt’s commitment to achieving lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East based on international legitimacy, and the relevant United Nations resolutions, as well as the principle of land for peace, and to support the efforts of the United Nations and the Quartet towards achieving the objectives.


LILA HANITRA RATSIFANDRIHAMANANA ( Madagascar), Permanent Observer of the African Union, reiterated without reserve her country’s perfect solidarity with the oppressed Palestinian people.  Indeed, this anniversary invited the Committee to conduct a soul searching.  For Africans, who had suffered the ills of colonization, 40 years of occupation had signalled years of daily frustration.  Nothing could describe the suffering lived daily by men, women and children whose only fault was to have been born on soil blessed by the gods but coveted by man, in spite of the Declaration of June 1967.


She said that 40 years of occupation had also reminded the world of the significant efforts undertaken, particularly through the adoption of Security Council resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973) and 1397 (2002).  The Arab Peace Initiative and Quartet Road Map had also offered opportunities.  She reiterated support for all those initiatives, and called for their genuine implementation, as the international community had thus far been powerless to ensure peace.  International law and human rights continued to be violated, broadening the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ad infinitum. 


United Nations bodies, including the Security Council, General Assembly and the International Court of Justice had affirmed the illegitimacy of Israeli settlements and had called for their dismantling, she continued.  The construction of the wall remained a symbol of the world’s powerless to end such an aberration.  With its 500 checkpoints, the Palestinian Occupied Territory had been transformed into an immense virtual prison.


The African Union reiterated its commitment to combat colonial practices, and it denounced all forms of oppression, aggression and injustice, she said.  No military solution to the conflict existed, only the prompt implementation of international law.  She launched a solemn appeal to Israel to accept the transfer of legitimate funds to Palestinians, and called on the Security Council to urge Israel to abide by its international obligations.  She hoped the next meeting at the United Nations would be to welcome the long-awaited liberation of the Palestinian people.


KERIM URAS ( Turkey) said the grim realities in the Middle East starkly reminded the international community of the centrality of the question of Palestine for regional, as well as global peace and security.  The international community was duty bound, on moral and humanitarian grounds, to help provide a just solution for the Palestinian people.  The vision of two States, living next to each other, in peace and cooperation, as stipulated by the Quartet road map, as well as the relevant agreements and the United Nations resolutions, offered the soundest way out of the present impasse. 


He said that there was no doubt that the Palestinians and Israel must be assisted through bilateral, regional and international mechanisms, in order to generate a change in their respective thinking and policies towards one another.  The Arab Peace Initiative represented a fresh opportunity and a suitable framework to revitalize meaningful negotiations, and merited the support of the international community.  It was incumbent upon the international community to exert every effort to facilitate the implementation of confidence-building measures, to alleviate tensions, and to re-establish a suitable environment for negotiations to commence in earnest.


First and foremost, the security situation on the ground, as well as the miserable living conditions in Palestine should be improved, he said.  It was of fundamental importance that restrictions on the movement and access of Palestinians were eased.  The ceasefire in the Gaza Strip must be renewed and Israel must halt its settlement activities.  Taxes and customs revenues of the Palestinian Authority must be duly transferred by Israel.  It was also critical to preserve understanding and unity among the Palestinian factions, and crucial for the Palestinian Government to respond to developments through a political platform that embraced the Quartet principles.  Efforts to allow the release of the kidnapped Israeli soldier should be intensified.  “At the same time, we must also reiterate our strong stance against violence and all acts of terror, no matter from where it emanates,” he said.


HAMIDON ALI ( Malaysia), noting that Israel’s continued occupation of Arab lands remained the main preoccupation of the international community, called the issue especially important as it would mould the minds and attitudes of future generations.  Moreover, persistent conflict implied that the international community, especially the major Powers, had failed to end the situation.  The loss of lives was staggering.


Today, Israel continued to flout international law and ignore calls to halt violence.  It had destroyed civilian infrastructure and strangled the livelihoods of innocent people.  Thousands of Palestinians had been imprisoned and construction of the wall continued, despite international condemnation.  Further, illegal settlements were encouraged by the Israeli Government, in violation of international laws and norms.


He said that the effects of occupation were not hard to imagine.  After 40 years of being let down by the international community, he wondered what hopes Palestinians would have for their future.  It was shameful to explain to present and future generations how occupation could continue in a modern world.  The lack of political will to push Israel to abide by Security Council resolutions and other international norms gave the impression that the world lacked seriousness to resolve the conflict.  He urged Israel to return to the peace process.


The Quartet process provided a realistic opportunity to find a just and comprehensive solution, and Israel must understand that peace could not be achieved without resolving the Palestinian question, he said.  Israel must release funds rightfully owed to Palestinians, stop attacks and release prisoners who had been arbitrarily detained.  The international community must ensure that Israel comply with the Fourth Geneva Convention and other international standards.  The Security Council must compel Israel to end its occupation, and Israel must withdraw from Gaza.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict would remain a stumbling block to peace in the Middle East and feed terrorism throughout the world.  The inalienable rights of the Palestinian people must be respected.  The world had the responsibility to ensure that their aspirations were fulfilled, and he called for the creation of a sovereign, independent Palestinian State.


DUMISANI KUMALO ( South Africa) said that the Palestinian people had been leading an intolerable life for more than 60 years.  In the 40 years that followed the 1967 war, Palestinians had endured illegal occupation by Israel that had affected all aspects of their lives.  They had suffered “every imaginable violation”, including, among others, the ongoing withholding by Israel of much needed Palestinian tax revenues, and cruel restrictions of movement and access, which underlined the fact that Palestinians remained a stateless people. 


Despite those challenges, the Palestinian inalienable right to self-determination and statehood represented the steadfastness, hopes and dreams of millions of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip: “It represents the yearning for the normality that only comes from being able to call your home –-home,” he said.  Recently, South Africa had been honoured to host the United Nations African Meeting on the Question of Palestine, convened under the Committee’s auspices and held in Pretoria from 9 to 11 May.  The meeting’s final document had concluded that the situation of human rights abuses and discriminatory practices committed against the Palestinian people by the Israeli occupying forces constituted war crimes under the Geneva Conventions.


Continuing, he said that the meeting’s participants were also highly critical of Israel’s routinely disproportionate and indiscriminate military operations in Palestinian population centres, and, in that regard, they had reminded Israel of its responsibilities and accountability under international law.  They had called on all Governments, intergovernmental organizations and others to meet their legal obligations with regard to Israel’s non-compliance, and to take appropriate actions.


He went on to say that the United Nations, particularly the Security Council, carried a special responsibility to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue.  This marked the fortieth year of Israel’s defiance of Council resolution 242 (1967), which had called for a withdrawal of Israeli troops from the territories it occupied after the 1967 war.  It is time for the United Nations to accept that Israel continued to reject with impunity all resolutions by both the General Assembly and the Security Council, and that could not be allowed to continue for another 40 years.


He said that perhaps it was perhaps time for the international community to consider other alternatives to bring about peace, especially in light of the Arab League’s recent reaffirmation of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.  That plan offered Israel full normalization of relations with the League’s 22 members in exchange for full withdrawal from Arab Territories occupied in 1967, together with a negotiated resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem.  Israel must be persuaded to respond constructively and creatively to the Arab Initiative, he said, urging the Israeli Government to consider the plan in interest of all the people of the Middle East and for regional and international peace and security, as well.


RONALDO MOTA SARDENBERG ( Brazil) said that his country supported the establishment of an independent, sovereign, geographically cohesive and economically viable Palestinian State, in peaceful coexistence with Israel, within internationally recognized borders, as asine qua non condition to ensure peace and stability in the Middle East.   Brazil condemned unilateral initiatives and acts of disproportionate reprisal and repudiated terrorism, which was unacceptable and unjustifiable in any case.


He said that regardless of the current uncertainties in the Middle East, the dynamics created by the formation of the new Palestinian Government, the Arab Peace Initiative and the revitalization of dialogue, in particular the recent Quartet meeting and the tripartite talks between Israel, Palestinian Authority and the United States, might pave the way to reigniting the peace process.  His Government expressed its concern over the recent conflicts between different Palestinian groups, as well as the launching of rockets from the Gaza Strip against civilian targets in the Israeli city of Sderot.   Brazil called upon all parties to avoid disproportionate military responses, in order to prevent an escalation of violence.  All parties needed to work to build suitable conditions of the cessation of the conflicts.  The dismantling of the security wall, the freeze in Israeli settlement construction, the reduction of physical obstacles to movement in the West Bank and the release of the detained members of Palestinian Government and legislature would reduce tensions in the region.  He also appealed for the liberation of the Israeli soldier and the British journalist, as an additional confidence-building measure.


In recent years, Brazil had endeavoured to strengthen its ties with countries in the Middle East and expressed its willingness to actively contribute to the solution to the Palestinian question.  His country followed with concern the dreadful humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly in Gaza, which had been only partially mitigated by indirect international assistance to the Palestinian Authority.  The resumption of the transfer of tax revenues withheld by Israel was of fundamental importance to help meet the needs of the Palestinian population.  During its participation in the Stockholm Conference last September, Brazil had decided to donate $500,000, to be invested by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the Palestinian Territory.   Brazil had also renewed its dialogue with the Palestinian National Authority to establish or improve projects of technical cooperation and bilateral assistance to the Palestinian Government and society.  Initiatives were also under consideration in such areas as education, agriculture, fight against hunger and poverty, training of diplomats and student exchange.


In conclusion, he stressed the need to put in motion a political process with timetables for the development of a strategy that, while addressing the underlying causes of the conflict, would bring to fruition the vision of two democratic States -- Israel and Palestine-- living side by side in peace and security.


CLAUDE HELLER ( Mexico) reiterated his country’s full support for international law, noting that a solution to the Middle East conflict could only be found by settling the question of Palestine.  Forty years on, the conflict in the Middle East had acquired new dimensions through armed conflict.  Given the events of recent years, the international community was reminded of the challenges ahead.  A solution to the question of occupation could only be achieved through political dialogue, and that solution must recognize the right of a Palestinian State to exist harmoniously within secure and internationally recognized borders, he said, recalling resolution 1397 (2002).


He said that the acquisition of territory by force was inadmissible and created no rights, he said.  The International Court of Justices advisory opinion of 2004 on the construction of the wall was a valid legal determination that would help find a lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Terrorism would always be morally reprehensible, and dialogue required an absolute renunciation of such practices.


Mexico opposed the use of force beyond that used in self-defence and in a proportional response, he said, calling for respect of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which protected civilians during wartime.  Mexico firmly supported Quartet efforts, and believed the Road Map was a valid way for parties to resume diplomatic contact and re-embark on the peace process.  Further, he supported any progress made on the basis of the 2002 Arab League proposal.  The fortieth anniversary was opportunity to reiterate support for the Palestinian cause and achievement of self-determination.  Mexico again expressed its support for political dialogue and cooperation to ensure peace and security in the region.


YVONNE TERLINGEN, representative of Amnesty International, said on the occasion of the 40-year occupation, Amnesty International had published a report, entitled “Enduring Occupation: Palestinians under siege in the West Bank”.  It called on Israel to end the unlawful settlements, the blockade and other violations of international law.  The report detailed how the occupation had resulted in widespread human rights violations abuses and had failed to bring security to the populations.  Amnesty International acknowledged Israel’s legitimate security concerns, but those could not justify blatant violations of international law and human rights.  The conflict must be addressed within the framework of international law and human rights.  Respect for human rights in the Occupied Territories could, in fact, facilitate the search for a lasting solution. 


She said that the report described the devastating impact of four decades of Israeli military occupation.  It documented, among other things, a wide range of measures that confined Palestinians to fragmented enclaves.  Those measures included the wall, whose construction on Palestinian land had violated international law, according to the International Court of Justice.  If the intention had been simply to prevent suicide bombers from entering Israel, the wall would be located on the green line.  However, 80 per cent was built on Palestinian land, thereby making settlements contiguous with Israel.  Palestinians living in the West Bank were blocked at every turn.  It was unacceptable that people with medical problems had been forced to face delays that could, and had cost them their lives.  


The Security Council must ensure implementation of its own resolutions, she said.  Those included resolution 465 (1980), which called on Israel “to dismantle the existing settlements, and to cease on an urgent basis, the establishment, construction and planning of settlements in the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem”.  International action was urgently needed to address the widespread human rights abuses, which were fuelling resentment and despair among a predominantly young and increasingly radicalized Palestinian population.  She called, among other things, for establishment in the West Bank of an effective international human rights mechanism to monitor compliance by both parties -- Israeli and Palestinian -- with their obligations under international law. 


ADIYATWIDI ADIWOSO (Indonesia), aligning herself with the statement by the Non-Aligned Movement and the Organization of Islamic Conference, said she appreciated the United Nations’ commitment, and that of the Security Council in particular, to addressing emerging threats to peace and security.  However, the Council treated some issues with “more haste than the situation deserved”, which was cause for concern.  The Council’s commitment in the search for a solution to the Palestinian issue seemed to be lacking.  Progress towards peace had been difficult because the Council had demonstrated little interest in compelling Israel to fulfil its obligations under Security Council resolutions.  It might even be said that Israel was emboldened and encouraged by the Council’s attitude.


She said the repercussions of the illegal Israeli occupation over Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, had made the situation in the Middle East “the most volatile situation on the globe today”.  Israel’s intensification of its occupying tactics choked the lives of the Palestinian people, such as through the withholding of revenues, regular incursions into Palestinian territory, assassinations and detention of elected members of the Palestinian Government and legislature.  Checkpoints and the wall surrounding Palestinian territories paralyzed the Palestinian people’s economic and social activities.  She condemned the “harsh militaristic policies of Israel, which contravene the international law”, saying that such acts did not assist efforts to promote a comprehensive and just solution to the issue.


Indonesia welcomed the establishment of the Palestinian National Unity Government and hoped that positive development at the leadership level would encourage the reconciliation process at the grass roots level, she said.  Regular meetings between Palestinian and Israeli leaders were welcome, although it would be “naïve” to expect tangible results without the international community’s active engagement.  The Quartet’s role was vital, and should be complemented by regional stakeholders’ efforts.  The Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, recently reaffirmed in Riyadh, offered a great opportunity for normalcy in the Middle East in the form of a home-grown formula for affirming that the region’s countries take care of their own matters.  To address the humanitarian situation facing the Palestinian people, it was vital for the international community to support the Palestinian Government by providing financial and material assistance to overcome the difficulties of occupation.  Indonesia reiterated its call for the establishment of an independent and viable Palestinian State with the right of return of every Palestinian refugee, as outlined in the Quartet Road Map.


MUHAMMAD ALI SORCAR ( Bangladesh) said the occupation of East Jerusalem by Israel, as well as the issue of Palestine, were the root causes for the spiralling violence and hostilities in the Middle East, the shockwaves of which were being felt around the globe.   Jerusalem was the holy place and confluence of all three monotheistic faiths: Islam, Christianity and Judaism.  The holy city of Al-Quds Al-Shareef and the Al-Aqsa Mosque held special religious sensitivity for the Muslims.  “It is unfortunate that Israel, in brazen violation of the standing United Nations resolutions aimed at preserving the sanctity of the holy city of Jerusalem-Al-Quds Al-Shareef, is unabatedly carrying out its illegal activities with impunity, in the utter disrespect for the religious sentiment of the Muslims all around the world.” The recent demolition of a historic road and excavation works below the Al-Aqsa compound were outrageous and would cast serious doubt on Israel’s sincerity to resume the peace process.


He said he was dismayed at the worsening humanitarian situation and concerned about the recent ceasefire violations.  He called upon Israel to exercise maximum restraint, to bring all its “grisly” policies and practices to a total halt and end the humanitarian and economic blockade imposed on the Palestinians.  He also called upon Israel to immediately stop the construction of the separation wall, reverse the continued expansion of Israeli settlements, release the Palestinian prisoners and resume the transfer of withheld tax revenues.   Expressing support for the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people to a sovereign and independent State, with East Jerusalem as its capital, existing alongside Israel in peace and security, he urged Israel to withdraw its forces from all Occupied Territories and meet all its obligations under international agreements, resolutions and peace initiatives, including the Road Map.


Urging the warring parties to return to talks to negotiate a breakthrough in the current impasse, he said: “On this sad occasion, we remember and mourn the many lives lost in the conflict.  We extend our heartfelt condolences to the families affected.  Despite all odds, we hope to see an end to the suffering of the Palestinians, who had been languishing under the Israeli occupation for generations.”


ALI HACHANI ( Tunisia), noting that the situation of the Palestinian people remained the same after 40 years, said the question of Palestine represented the very core of the Arab-Israeli conflict.  That conflict fed extremism and deepened violence in the Middle East.  Tunisia firmly supported the Palestinian question, as it had hosted the Palestinian leadership and stood by Palestinians in their fight to restore their rights.  Tunisia would continue to assist in finding a peaceful settlement and believed that peace remained a strategic option for the long-running conflict.


Moreover, he said that Tunisia had participated in initiatives to achieve a settlement on the basis of Security Council resolutions and the land for peace formula, noting, in particular, the Madrid conference and the multilateral party meetings hosted by Tunisia.  He reiterated support for the Arab Peace Initiative.  Comprehensive and just peace required the restoration of Palestinians’ rights and that Israel end its aggression against people and infrastructure, as such activities were violations of international law.


Tunisia affirmed the need to protect the Palestinian people and preserve holy sites, especially the Al-Aqsa mosque, he said.  The international community must assume its responsibilities regarding Israel’s continued aggression on the basis of the Road Map and the Arab Peace Initiative.  He looked forward to seeing all parties pursue peace negotiations and end Israeli occupation of Arab lands.


MARIO H. CASTELLON DUARTE ( Nicaragua) said the commemoration of the fortieth anniversary of the occupation of the Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem by Israel, was a sad occasion.  Numerous initiatives and resolutions over the years had not been able to end the suffering of the Palestinian people and to deliver to them their inalienable rights because of the occupying Power’s disrespect for international law, international humanitarian law and human rights.  He was concerned about recent events that could lead to further deterioration, as well as about the serious humanitarian situation, as a result of the illegal practices of the occupying Power and its continuing violations of the right to life. 


He said he was also concerned about campaigns of colonialism and changes in the demographic characters of the Territory, including East Jerusalem.  Also, worrying was the continued construction of the wall, which that prevented the two-State solution and violated the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice.  His country urged the international community and the Quartet to continue to make every effort to give new life to the peace process and to save the Road Map, in order to end the occupation by Israel of the Occupied Palestinian Territory and to achieve the two-State solution.  He also supported the Arab Peace Initiative, the logical consequence which must be the definitive settlement of the issue in all its aspects, including the creation of a sovereign Palestinian State within secure borders.  Until that was achieved, the United Nations must continue to search for such a solution.  


PRASAD KARIYAWASAM ( Sri Lanka) said his country extended its unequivocal support to the Palestinian people and appreciated the Committee’s continuing efforts to promote the full realization of their inalienable rights.  Today’s solemn event to marking the fortieth anniversary of occupation of Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, was another important initiative of the Committee to keep the international community focused on the suffering of Palestinians.


He said that the last four decades had yet to provide lasting solutions to mitigate that suffering; however, the comprehensive settlement envisaged in the Road Map under the auspices of the Quartet was an encouraging development.  For more than 40 years, Palestinians had undergone civil hardship and their human rights had been continually violated under Israeli military occupation.  There was no end in sight, which was a matter of deep concern to all peaceful people.


Sri Lanka’s commitment remained undiminished, he said.  His country believed that only a negotiated settlement among all parties leading to an independent State of Palestine and based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973), 1397 (2002) and 1515 (2003) was possible.


Presentations by Civil Society Representatives


GREG KHALIL, Legal Adviser, Negotiation Support Unit in Ramallah, focusing on the Israeli settlements and the separation wall, drew attention to the fact that, after 40 years, the occupation seemed to have taken on a life of its own and had changed into a new stage of occupation and continued colonisation.  The next few months could determine whether there would be a conflict for the next 40 years.  The last 40 years could be described as Israel’s pursuit of a policy of unilateralism, such as the 2005 unilateral disengagement of Gaza. 


From a Palestinian perspective, he said that the Israeli strategy was to take as much Palestinian land as possible with as few Palestinians, in order to protect the Jewish character of Israel’s democracy.  Any future Palestinian State would be built on 22 per cent of the historical Palestinian land.  The Oslo peace process had created the Palestinian National Authority, which had come into control of 18 per cent of historical Palestine.  However, in many those areas, Israel retained security control, which had been entrenched since 1993, with growing settler populations.  The Oslo peace process was isolating the Palestinian population in kantons and giving Israel control over water resources and East Jerusalem.  He showed maps in a multimedia presentation.


He said that the separation wall incorporated 85 per cent of the settler population into Israel.  Some 85 per cent of the wall was in the West Bank, cutting quite deep, up to 22 kilometres, into the West Bank.  The wall also tried to claim control over water resources.  It would, therefore, destroy any viable Palestinian State.  Many settlements to the east of the wall were also expanding and constructing walls and fences around themselves.  Israel was de facto annexing about 45 per cent of the West Bank and leaving a fractured area for Palestinians to supposedly build a viable economy.  He then described the “closed zones” between the green line and the wall, where Palestinians needed permits, renewable every six months, to reach their lands, while Israelis could go there without any permits, even with the support of the Israeli Government.  As Palestinians would slowly move out of those zones because of all the restrictions, the zones might become a problem during future negotiations, as they could be claimed by Israel.


Jerusalem had been politically severed from the West Bank, he said.  East Jerusalem was separated from other Palestinian communities, and interaction between those communities was impossible.  Even if East Jerusalem became the capital, it would still be surrounded by Israeli settlements.  While the disengagement from Gaza had resulted in the removal of some 8,000 settlers, the construction of the wall continued, and more room had been made for settlers in the West Bank.  There were three principles to ensure that the current anniversary would not mark the beginning of 40 more years of Israeli-Palestinian conflict: creating economic opportunity; saving the two-State solution; and creating a political horizon. 


MONA EL-FARRA, Projects Director of the Middle East Children’s Alliance, Gaza, stressed that, just as the world had called for an end to apartheid in South Africa, it must today call for true justice for Palestinians.  Today, the Committee had heard about Palestinians in Israeli prisons, which included 350 children under the age of 14.  She wondered how many United Nations resolutions must be passed before there was an understanding that Israel continued its aggression, particularly through the building of the apartheid wall.


In remembering Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, the world must not forget Palestinians living as second-class citizens in Israel and those forced from their lands in 1948, she said.  Peace could only be accomplished by supporting the right of return for all Palestinians.  It was time to acknowledge that the two-State solution was not the answer.  She had lived under occupation in Gaza as a child and an adult.  She faced the occupation each day during her work when hundreds of Palestinian patients were denied permits and accessibility to proper medical treatments outside Gaza.  She wondered what was more heartbreaking than children who lacked a healthy atmosphere in which to grow up. 


In recalling stories of hardship suffered by Palestinians living under occupation, she said she also thought of Israeli children, she said.  The international community had a commitment to provide both sets of children with a safe and peaceful environment.  Bringing safety to Israeli children was possible only through a peace based on justice, which meant recognizing the inalienable rights of Palestinian people and a moral responsibility towards Palestinian refugees.  It was fitting, on the fortieth anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, to call on the international community to urge Israel to fulfil its obligations and abide by United Nations resolutions.


EITAN DIAMOND, Executive director of B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, Jerusalem, said he had previously served as an Israeli soldier in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, but now refused to do so.  Describing an everyday occurrence near Gaza as a tank soldier, he said he had routinely fired half-inch shells 15 meters from children, in order to scare them away from the fence.  Only later, upon reflection, had he realized how wrong that was. 


He said that his organization had issued some 130 reports on human rights violations by Israelis that had occurred in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  Policies that resulted in violations were always justified as necessary security measures.  His organization had repeatedly shown that those measures had little regard for the Palestinians’ well-being and that the security concern was just a guise for the expansion of settlements.  The separation wall even compromised security interests in some cases.  Among other violations were the expansion of the settlements and restrictions on the freedom of movement, with devastating consequences on all facets of Palestinian life.  Others were the targeted killings by air constituting a present day “airborne” occupation of Gaza.  Laws to protect civilians were not enforced, which produced a culture of violence against civilians.


There was a lot more that the international community could do, but sometimes well-meaning members of the international community, acting to relieve the suffering of the Palestinians, relieved Israel from some of its duties under international law, he said.  That had been the case with the repair of the power station in Gaza, which Israel had destroyed.  Israel had had a duty to pay for the repairs, but, instead, other States intervened and provided the means.  Such well-meaning acts were very important, but it was also important to hold Israel accountable. 


He also drew attention to violations of Palestinian rights by Palestinians, themselves.  The struggle among different factions in Gaza entailed terrible human rights violations.  There was also corruption at the expense of the Palestinian people.  Palestinian armed groups also violated the rights of members of the international community, some of whom had been kidnapped.  Attacks with Qassam rockets on villages around Gaza were also violations of international law. 


INGRID JARADAT GASSNER, Director of the Executive Committee of the Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, said the debate today marked a crossroads.  There was a vital need to overcome the exclusion of Palestinian refugees from the search for a just peace.  Opportunities to include them existed in the current adverse environment.  For 60 years, Israeli policies had been guided by a desire for land, and, as a result, most Palestinians today lived as refugees or displaced peoples.  More than half of them lived outside Palestine and all retained the right to a remedy that included return and restitution under international law.  Indeed, the United Nations had affirmed Palestinians’ inalienable rights to return home.


She said that the problem lay in the notion that there was a contradiction between the Palestinian right to self-determination and the individual right of refugees to return home.  That notion persisted because those homes were located in what was today considered Israel.  The 1990s peace process had been plagued by a strong perception that refugees were an obstacle to peace.  Today, a practical solution must be found that did not violate their right to return.  Only then could a new quest for peace between Israel and Palestine be sought.


It was important to bring Palestinian refugees into the search for peace, primarily because the inalienable rights of all Palestinians included the right of return of refugees, she stressed.  It was important to recognize that occupation was not the root cause of the conflict, despite that popular perception.  The year 2008 marked the sixtieth anniversary of the destruction of Palestinian society.  Today, the Israeli regime was an apartheid regime, which needed to maintain a Jewish majority to function.


Conferences had been held, which focused on protecting Palestinian refugee rights in a peace process that did not include serious work on the refugee question, and new steps had been taken to work with Jewish Israeli society on those issues, she said.  For the first time in decades, Israeli civil society was trying to raise awareness of the plight of the Palestinian refugees. 


Going forward, a United Nations memorial day could be added to the 2008 calendar to commemorate the Nakba of 1948.  She called for the creation of a commission of investigation to examine the events of the 1948 Nakba, as civil society organizations alone could not make that happen.  Finally, she hoped future conferences would focus on the root causes of the conflict. 


YONATAN SHAPIRA, Former Israeli Air Force pilot and member of Combatants for Peace, Tel Aviv, said it was very sad that Israel’s seat was empty in the room.  He hoped that one day that seat would be occupied by an alternative ambassador of his country.  For many years, he had served as a rescue pilot and had been active in volunteer work to alleviate the suffering of the Israeli people.  Eventually, he had seen the reality on the ground and realized that the occupation and ignoring Palestinian rights was the root cause of all the problems. 


He said that, together with many other air force pilots, he had organized a petition four years ago, which, among other things, had stated that “We, air force pilots, object to perform illegal and immoral orders […] and refuse to harm Palestinian civilians.”  The pilots had many supporters within the army and the air force, but many had been afraid to sign the petition.   His Government tried to prove the value of its “great” democracy by not arresting him.  However, Israel was a great democracy as long as one was a Jew.  Some described it as a kind of apartheid.  He saw it as a “bombocracy”.


Later, he said he had understood it was not just important to refuse illegal orders and not take part in war crimes.  The second step was to go to the Occupied Palestinian Territory and to meet the people he had oppressed.  Two-and-a-half years ago he had, together with thousands of other people refusing military service in Israel, along with Palestinian ex-fighters who had served in jail, formed the Combatants for Peace, and drafted a statement that said they had decided to put the weapons down and struggle for justice and peace through non-violent methods.  “We are not just calling for freedom of Palestinians, but also for freedom for the Israelis from being oppressors,” he said.  Members of the group refused to be part of violence, which was only an excuse for the other side to use more violence.


He said everybody knew Israel was the fifty-first star on the flag of the super-Power.  Addressing the United States, he said: “If you want to see more wars in the Middle East, keep sending us the war machines.  If you want peace and justice, the military support must end immediately.”  According to some, the United States was using Israel as a testing field for their weaponry, and Israelis and Palestinians had had enough of that testing-field syndrome.


Participants should give up the hope that his Government would change its policies, he said.  Out of love for his country, he called for direct and “smart” sanctions against his Government.  The international community had to learn to say no to the imperialistic policy of the ongoing occupation.  There were many other organizations in the region that were doing amazing jobs, in cooperation with Palestinian activists.  “If we, as fighters, who literally wanted to kill each other in the past, can now work together, if we can work together for peace and liberation, everything is possible,” he concluded. 


Taking the floor again, Mr. MANSOUR expressed appreciation to the Chairman for organizing today’s gathering to reflect on 40 years of Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the tragedy that continued to unfold for Palestinian people.  He expressed gratitude to all speakers who represented groups, including the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the African Union, and thanked all countries that had participated.  He called particular attention to the experts who had reflected on the different aspects of occupation, the policies and practices of Israel, the construction of an illegal apartheid wall and collective punishment of Palestinian people.


Additionally, he thanked the Palestine Division of the Secretariat for its help in making today memorable, and hoped the media would transmit as many stories as possible about today’s special meeting.  The Palestinian people deserved a different sort of meeting -- one to celebrate a viable State of Palestine.  Indeed, he hoped to open new chapters for peace and reconciliation between Palestine and Israel, which included mutual respect.


In closing, Mr. BADJI, Committee Chairman, thanked all participants in the special meeting to mark the 40 years of occupation.  The statements had reflected in detail how the longest occupation in modern history had affected every aspect of the lives of the Palestinian people.  It had become abundantly clear that the international community considered the occupation of the Palestinian Territory as one of the root causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 


He said the occupation had lasted for too long and needed to be brought to an end without further delay.  The past 40 years had been marked by a complete disregard, by the occupying Power, of international humanitarian and human rights law, as well as the relevant United Nations resolutions.  The High Contracting parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention had an obligation to ensure compliance with its provisions as a matter of urgency.  The United Nations membership must ensure that the relevant resolutions were implemented, especially Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973).  Not acting now could have serious consequences on international peace and security. 


At demonstrations and rallies, public forums and conferences, on television and the radio, tens of thousands of supporters of the Palestinian people, including many friends of Israel, demanded an immediate end to the occupation, he said.  All had a moral obligation to work towards an urgent end to the occupation; towards the establishment of an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian State living side-by-side with a secure Israel and its neighbours; and, as a consequence, a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the region and in the world at large.  In that regard, he renewed the Committee’s determination to continue pursuing the important mandate entrusted to it by the General Assembly.


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