Middle East Conflict ‘Purely Man-made’, Prominent Activist-Scholar Stresses as United Nation Forum on Question of Palestine Begins

GA/PAL/1407
17 May 2018
Forum on Question of Palestine, AM & PM Meetings

Middle East Conflict ‘Purely Man-made’, Prominent Activist-Scholar Stresses as United Nation Forum on Question of Palestine Begins

Deputy Secretary-General Pledges Continued Support on Road to Peace; Palestinian Rights Committee Chair Urges Diplomatic Mobilization

Seventy years after a General Assembly resolution first sought to partition Palestine into Arab and Jewish States — an anniversary that sparked both joyous commemorations and lethal violence earlier this week — Palestinian and Israeli scholars, legal experts and Government officials today opened a high-level forum aimed at harnessing the region’s difficult historical lessons and forging a new path forward towards peace.

At the outset of the two-day United Nations Forum on the Question of Palestine, participants observed a minute of silence to honour the 62 Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces on 14 May, during protests at the Gaza perimeter fence.  Noting the Forum’s theme — “70 Years after 1948 — Lessons to Achieve a Sustainable Peace” — speakers pledged to use the event as an opportunity to view that tragedy, as well as the longstanding Israeli occupation and the resulting humanitarian and economic crises, through the often-overlooked lens of history.

“This is a purely man-made conflict,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian scholar and long-serving member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).  In opening remarks, she described events that had led to the expulsion of Palestinians from their land 70 years ago this week, saying that the subsequent system of bias and power politics had enabled Israel to continue to strike at the rule of law, generating a culture of hate and oppression.  She went on to outline several important lessons learned in recent decades, emphasizing that the peace process could not be seen as an end in itself.  Indeed, any system in which the occupier was constantly rewarded “just for talking” — and in which Palestine was only threatened and blackmailed — could not persist, she emphasized.

Warning that no nation could expect exceptionalism or impunity for its actions, she underlined that President Donald Trump of the United States had “smashed the negotiating table into splinters” by moving his country’s Embassy to Jerusalem — and declaring his recognition of the city as Israel’s capital — on 14 May.  The United States must recognize that some things were not for sale, she said.  Recalling that, for decades, Palestinians had been negotiating with their own occupier under duress — something specifically prohibited under the Fourth Geneva Convention — she vowed to continue efforts to redefine Palestine’s relationship with Israel, including at the International Criminal Court and by seeking full recognition in an array of intergovernmental bodies.

Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, noted that 2018 also marked 70 years since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which, she said, should guide the search for a lasting solution to the question of Palestine.  The recent violence in Gaza was a reminder of the international community’s failure to do so.  “Instead, the lives of generations of Palestinians and Israelis have been defined and confined by a conflict that has shaped their physical and human landscape under a heavy atmosphere of fear, mutual distrust and despair,” she said.  Unacceptable violence and incitement only exacerbated mistrust, she noted, pledging continued United Nations support for both Israelis and Palestinians on the road to peace.

Fodé Seck (Senegal), Chair of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People — the panel hosting the Forum — said it was difficult to escape the conclusion that Al-Nakba — the Arabic word meaning “the catastrophe” and used in reference to the 15 May 1948 expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland — lay at the very heart of the conflict.  All over the world, revisiting the painful past and asking difficult questions of all parties had been a prerequisite for peace and an inclusive future, he emphasized, warning that if Al-Nakba was not adequately acknowledged and addressed, the search for peace in the Middle East would remain elusive.  He called upon the participants to help mobilize diplomatic efforts towards credible peace talks.

The Forum held two interactive segments featuring high-level panellists from across academia, Governments and civil society.  During the first, under the theme “What Happened in 1948 — Why Does It Matter?”, speakers outlined the events leading up to the adoption of General Assembly resolution 181, which authorized the partition of Palestine.  Panellists debated the merits of the two-State formula, with some underlining its critical role in elevating Palestine on the global stage.  Others argued in favour of a strategy that went beyond territorial borders to emphasize reconciliation and equal rights instead.  Representatives of States and civil society groups commented on the links between Palestine’s history and its present-day reality, while posing questions to the panellists.

This afternoon, a second panel discussion focused on the theme “Displacement as a Continuum: the Ongoing Nakba”.  Panellists examined the internal displacement of Palestinians and the denial of their ability to return, as citizens, to their homes and villages.  A discussion emerged about the term “permanent occupation”, with some participants stressing that no such concept existed under international law and voicing support for the International Court of Justice’s consideration of the issue.  Others noted that Israel’s racist practices were becoming enshrined in law, which made it much more difficult for human rights lawyers and activists to challenge them.

The Forum will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 18 May, to hold two additional panel discussions and conclude its work.

Opening Remarks

FODÉ SECK (Senegal), Chair of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, opened the meeting by asking participants to rise and observe a moment of silence to honour the more than 60 Palestinians killed and the hundreds wounded in the Gaza Strip protests earlier this week.  Recalling that the Committee had convened in 2017 to mark 50 years of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, he said the question of Palestine had nevertheless not begun in 1967.  Seventy years had now passed since the 1948 war and its aftermath, and there had been no tangible progress towards a peaceful solution.  “In the collective memory of the Palestinians and the wider Arab world, that aftermath, Al-Nakba — the “catastrophie” in Arabic — evokes memories from a national disaster involving loss, dispossession, destroyed villages and the displacement of hundreds of thousands,” he said.  That catastrophe had been followed by decades spent in exile and had brought more war, displacement and suffering.

Indeed, it was difficult to escape the conclusion that Al-Nakba lay at the very heart of the question of Palestine, he continued.  If not adequately acknowledged and addressed, the search for peace in the Middle East would remain elusive.  As recognized by the Security Council, a comprehensive approach to sustaining peace must address the root causes of the conflict and acknowledge the links connecting development, peace and security, and human rights.  Pledging to continue to advocate for the Palestinian people, including their rights of return to their homes, he drew attention to the critical role played by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in supporting them in the interim.  While the Agency was today supporting some 5 million Palestinians, it now faced formidable funding challenges, he noted, underlining the utmost importance of Member States providing adequate financial support so that UNRWA could continue its crucial work.  All over the world, revisiting the painful past and asking difficult questions of all parties had been a prerequisite for peace and an inclusive future.  In that spirit, he asked the participants in the Forum to help in mobilizing diplomatic efforts to launch credible negotiations that would lead to a just peace.

AMINA MOHAMMED, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that 2018 marked the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which should guide the search for a durable solution to the question of Palestine.  Underscoring the need for such a solution, she pointed out that the recent violence in the Gaza Strip was a reminder of the international community’s failure to find a just and lasting solution to the plight of Palestinian refugees.  “Instead, the lives of generations of Palestinians and Israelis have been defined and confined by a conflict that has shaped their physical and human landscape under a heavy atmosphere of fear, mutual distrust and despair,” she noted.  The illegal establishment and expansion of settlements was contributing further to displacement and constituted a major obstacle to a two-State solution.  Moreover, unacceptable violence and incitement exacerbated mistrust, she noted, adding that militant activity and the absence of Palestinian unity also constituted obstacles to a negotiated solution.  “The United Nations will continue to support Israelis and Palestinians on the road to peace by helping them to take the historic steps to achieve two States living side by side in peace, within secure and recognized borders and with Jerusalem as the capital of both,” she stressed.  She concluded by describing the perspectives of children affected by the conflict.

Statements

HANAN ASHRAWI, delivering the statement of the State of Palestine, said the Committee had long provided the Palestinian people with the rare commodity of hope.  “We are suffering an ongoing system of injustice,” she noted, stressing that 70 years was far too long for the injustices of expulsion and oppression to exist.  Systematic ethnic cleansing was being carried out in a variety of ways, she said, emphasizing that one nation could not simply be replaced with another with no consequences.  If the current repugnant anomaly of impunity and disdain for the law was allowed to continue, it risked destroying the international system that the United Nations had built, she warned.

Citing the ongoing system of bias and power politics that had enabled the occupying Power to continue to strike at the rule of law, generating a culture of hate and continued oppression, she said:  “Sometimes I feel really angry at having to recite numbers” of those killed or imprisoned.  “We all know the intensity, the degree and pervasiveness of the suffering.”  She called instead for a “different chronicle for Palestine”, representing the triumph of will over adversity, which must be accomplished multilaterally.

Past decades had revealed both successes and flaws, she said, outlining several lessons learned.  The peace process was a means to an end, not an end in itself, and today the process had lost its value.  A system in which the occupier was constantly rewarded “just for talking” — and in which Palestine was only threatened and blackmailed, or charged with being a terrorist threat — could not persist.  The United States constantly exerted pressure, including its threat to “take names”, she said, emphasizing that it was time that country realized that some things were not for sale.  Countries must vote their consciences and no nation could expect exceptionalism or impunity for their actions.  Countless resolutions on the question of Palestine had been adopted at the United Nations, but none had been implemented, and some 43 vetoes had been cast to protect Israel from accountability, she recalled.

Meanwhile, any resistance to Israel was deemed to be anti-Semitism, and movements such as “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions” — known as “BDS” — as well as non-violent protests in Gaza induced only claims of terrorism.  Palestinians were punished when they attempted to seek recourse, she said, adding that they were blocked from taking their situation to such bodies as the International Criminal Court.  While Palestinians enjoyed no security of their own, when they tried to defend themselves, concerns were immediately raised about Israel’s security, she said, pointing out that just this week, that country’s soldiers had killed scores of civilian protesters — including women and children — while claiming they had been forced to do so “in self-defence”.  Meanwhile, obscene celebrations had been held against the backdrop of that massacre, she said, stressing: “Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel.”  No unilateral declaration to that effect would ever be valid, she added.  Today, the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements — which constituted a war crime and threatened the two-State formula — also continued unabated, she pointed out.

Stating that President Donald Trump had “smashed the negotiating table into splinters”, she pointed out that Palestinians had been negotiating ad nauseum for decades, even as a people living under occupation should not — under the Fourth Geneva Convention — be expected to negotiate with their occupier under duress.  Palestinians would not ask Israel for their freedom, which was their right.  The element of absolutist reality, wherein Israel must be accepted as a divinely ordained Jewish State, had now become a part of the political dynamics on the ground.  “This is a purely man-made conflict,” she stressed, calling for a resolution of the conflict, embedded in full respect for internarial law, based on multilateralism and reliant on concrete steps, a binding timeframe and clear objectives.  Business-as-usual could no longer be accepted.  “We are going to redefine our relationship with Israel,” she said, recalling that the issue of settlement expansion had already been referred to the International Criminal Court, while underlining that Palestine would continue to seek recognition in various other intergovernmental bodies.  Against the backdrop of rising populism, isolationism, nationalism and the arrogance of power — especially seen in the United States and the Israeli echo-chamber — people must remain vigilant against hypo-sectarianism and claims to exceptionalism, she cautioned.  It was time to go beyond words and address the roots of the crisis.

Panel I

The Forum then held a panel discussion on the theme “What Happened in 1948 — Why Does It Matter?” Moderated by Eugene Rogan, Professor of Middle Eastern History and Director, St. Anthony’s College Middle East Centre, it featured the following panellists:  Hanan Ashrawi, Member, Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee; Avraham Burg, former Interim President of Israel and former Speaker of the Knesset; Victor Kattan, Senior Research Fellow, Middle East Institute, and Associate Fellow, Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore; and Ilan Pappé, Director, European Centre for Palestinian Studies, Exeter University, United Kingdom.

Mr. ROGAN said the panel would address the situation in 1948, the natural point of departure for any contextualized discussion of the question of Palestine today.  He asked Mr. Pappé to describe the events of 1948.

Mr. PAPPÉ, recalled that, in 1947, the United Nations had appointed a Special Committee on Palestine comprising 13 Member States with very little knowledge about Palestine, and perhaps a misunderstanding of the situation there.  Before the General Assembly adopted resolution 181, thereby partitioning Palestine, the Jewish community had already begun expelling Palestinians from their homes and pursuing a campaign of ethnic cleansing, he said.  In 1948, a controversial Israeli operation aimed at wiping out all Palestinian villages and towns had expelled thousands, and the destroyed towns had been covered over with forests or renamed in Hebrew.  No effective peace process today could ignore what had happened in 1948, he said, emphasizing that instead, it must fully acknowledge the catastrophe, hold Israel accountable for its crimes against humanity, and accept the State of Palestine in any plans going forward.

Mr. KATTAN said the United Nations had become involved with the question of Palestine in 1947 following a request from the United Kingdom.  The Organization had established the Special Committee on Palestine — with a broad mandate that included examining the situation of Jewish refugees in Europe — which had recommended the partition of Palestinian lands and envisioned two sovereign States: a Jewish one and an Arab one.  A separate Palestine Commission had then been created to transition authority from the United Kingdom to those two nations.  However, in January 1948, less than two months after the adoption of the partition plan, the United Kingdom had decided not to cooperate with the process, preventing those steps from proceeding.  As a result, the United Nations — which had only been involved in the issue for 13 months — had also “got cold feet” in carrying out its own plans, he said.

Mr. BURG said his own point of view emerged from a “very privileged side” that had enjoyed 70 years of freedom and prosperity at the expense of the Palestinian people.  Rejecting the notion of Israel’s divine, biblical establishment as well as the theory of “political Darwinism” claiming that Israel had simply won the war, he said 1948 was part of an embarrassing Israeli oxymoron.  On the one hand, Israel had tried to wipe out any history that had taken place before that year, and on the other, it was not ready to relinquish history that had taken place after 1967.  Today, Israel’s privilege was so intense that it was almost absolute.  Melding the fragmented reality into a peaceful two-State solution would be very challenging, he said, declaring: “Every individual between the Jordan and the Mediterranean […] should have the same rights.”  The international community should stop counting States and begin counting rights and values, he added.

Ms. ASHRAWI said Israel had consistently relied on misinformation and myths, including that of a “land without a people for a people without a land”.  Attempts to render the Palestinian people invisible continued, while Israelis continued to claim exclusivity over historical tragedy because they felt the horrors of the Holocaust eclipsed the suffering of everyone else, she added.

Mr. ROGAN, citing several instances of media censorship related to Israel and Palestine, asked Ms. Ashrawi to address such efforts to “silence history”.

Ms. ASHRAWI responding by describing attempts to render history silent as “the refuge of the ignorant”.  History was critical, which was why Israel was trying to silence it.  Instead, it cited biblical religious history from 3,000 years ago, treating ancient texts as geopolitical blueprints for twenty-first century realities, she said.  The fact that history was an ongoing process was being totally denied.

In the ensuing dialogue, national delegates as well as representatives of civil society and others commented on various elements of Palestine’s history and their links to its present-day reality.  Some posed questions about the future of the two-State formula, while others asked the panellists to explore alternative psycho-political solutions that might bring the parties closer together.

The representative of Namibia, drawing parallels between her country’s history and that of Palestine, urged participants to comment on the issue’s wider global context.  Noting that the Holocaust was based on a blueprint carried out in Namibia — in which German troops had decimated two indigenous tribes — she said her country was currently engaged in talks with Germany on reparation talks for those actions, and asked the panellists how they viewed the path forward in Palestine against such a global backdrop.

Ms. ASHRAWI responded by saying that constantly blaming the Palestinians for their current situation was one element blocking forward progress.  Such false narratives formed a barrier to mutual understanding, she added, urging acknowledgement of Palestinian experience and pain.  The parties should also rid themselves of distractions and avoidance, instead going back to the basics of multilateralism and creative thinking about how to dismantle the occupation.

Mr. BURG, referring to reconciliation processes in Southern Africa, said that, in the Middle East, “we are in an almost stupid competition of traumas”.  It was not about whose pain was worse, he said, emphasizing that such narratives blocked any movement towards reconciliation or reparations.

Mr. KATTAN recalled that Namibia had resisted apartheid, having brought the situation to the United Nations at least five times.  While the issue of reparations had not yet been raised in the context of Palestine, the United Kingdom might be involved in future talks on that question due to its early role in the partition process, he said.

The representative of Ecuador asked he panellists to elaborate on the distinction between “sharing” and “partition”.

Mr. BURG said the first step towards sharing, rather than dividing, the contested land was to accept a “different ground level” based on rights rather than national territories.  That approach would go beyond assertions of religious laws and the tenuous reality of nation States, he said, instead allowing both Palestinians and Israelis to define themselves in any terms they chose.

Ms. PAPPÉ said the current reality was the stark existence of a single, all-powerful State.  Concurring that it was time to examine innovative new ideas, he said that was especially true at a time when a huge percentage of Palestinians were under age of 18.  They wanted not just a sovereign State but also more options for a better future, he added.

Mr. KATTAN responded to several specific historical questions, including one about the United Kingdom’s effective annulment of the 1917 Balfour Declaration — which had first announced its support for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine — and about Israel’s consistent rejection of the presence of third parties, such as a United Nations peacekeeping operation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Other participants raised questions about Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons, and about the role of religious extremism, with one speaker asking the panellists whether it was the obligation of the Jewish leadership and people to oppose religious extremism and the propaganda it fuelled.

Ms. ASHRAWI noted that religion was a convenient tool often used by secular leaders to buttress their political arguments.  Nowhere in the world had religion been as badly abused for such purposes as in the Middle East, she said.

The Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine said the United Nations — which had been involved in the situation from the beginning — must remain engaged in the Middle East peace process.  Emphasizing that the balance of power on the ground was severely tipped against the Palestinians, he said that was not the case at the United Nations.  “This is one of the strongest cards we have,” he said, rejecting attempts to unilaterally alter the character of negotiations from seeking a two-State solution to accepting a one-State reality.  There would be no equality between Palestinians and Israelis until the occupation ended and a sovereign State of Palestine was created, he stressed, adding that anything short of that would fail to change the balance of power on the ground.

Also participating in the discussion was the Foreign Minister of Indonesia and representatives of Senegal and Lebanon.

Panel II

The afternoon session began with the viewing of a short clip from the documentary Voices Across the Divide.  The Forum then held a panel discussion under the theme “Displacement as a Continuum: the Ongoing Nakba”.  Mae Elise Cannon, Executive Director, Churches for Middle East Peace, moderated the discussion, which featured three panellists: Seraje Assi, Visiting Fellow, Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (ACMCU); Suhad Bichara, Director, Land and Planning Rights Unit, Adalah-The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights; and Itay Epshtain, Special Adviser, Norwegian Refugee Council.

Ms. CANNON said the discussion would cover the aspects of Al-Nakba and the 1948 displacement that continued until the present day, adding that her ecumenical organization was working actively to promote a resolution of the Middle East conflict and sought to embrace a holistic view in that regard.  The settlement strategy had never been abandoned after 1948 and Al-Nakba therefore remained a reality, she said.

Ms. BICHARA said that after 1948, the Israeli authorities, having nationalized lands, had recently started selling them, thereby undermining the right of refugees to return.  Palestinians were becoming internally displaced and were denied the ability to go back to their homes and villages as citizens.  In the southern part of Israel, Bedouin Palestinian citizens were constantly being forcibly displaced in order to “judaize” the land, she said.  As for the West Bank and East Jerusalem, dozens of annexation bills were currently under discussion in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, which constituted a form of “demographic engineering”.  In 2017, she recalled, the legislature had passed the validation law in order retroactively to validate settlements built on privately owned Palestinian land in the West Bank.  International humanitarian law had been suspended in order to annex land for the exclusive use of Jewish people.  On recent events in the Gaza Strip, she referred to a legal document submitted to Israel’s Supreme Court in regard to the use of live ammunition and snipers against civil demonstrations.  That document gave the authorities greater leeway to act against both combatants and non-combatants using an invented category within international humanitarian law, she stated.

Mr. EPSHTAIN said Palestinians were at risk of violence and forcible transfer and therefore in need of protection.  Internal displacement of Palestinians was caused by various triggers intrinsically related to the Israeli occupation.  The international definition of an internally displaced person was applicable in that situation, he noted.  As of January 2018, at least 230,000 people had been internally displaced, of whom 60 per cent were Palestine refugees.  Noting that destruction of property and other policies were leading to the forcible transfer of households and entire communities, he said that in Area C of the West Bank, more than 50,000 people were at heightened risk of forcible transfer and another 220,000 in East Jerusalem faced statelessness.  At particular risk were pastoralists and Bedouin communities near places designated by Israel as closed military zones, as well as Palestinian residents of Israel-controlled parts of Hebron and East Jerusalem, he stated.

Mass displacement was becoming an increasing concern in Area C and East Jerusalem, he emphasized, noting that 5,500 structures had been destroyed since 2009, including 900 humanitarian assets, with 53,000 people adversely affected.  Israel claimed that the forcible transfer and urbanization of Palestinians within Jerusalem would be to their benefit, but that was false, he said, citing results from a survey.  Despite the adoption of Security Council resolution 2334 (2016), Israel had expanded settlements, with 4,122 housing units approved for construction in Area C since 2017.  Citing the “Trump effect”, he noted that the United States Administration’s statements had emboldened Israel to expand its settlements expansion.  Bills already before the Knesset sought further annexation of lands in the West Bank, with Palestinian communities subjected to forcible transfer, he added.

Mr. ASSI noted that the situation in the Gaza Strip was a refugee crisis first and foremost.  Recent protests in the enclave had hoped to call attention to the humanitarian calamity there.  In 1948, the enclave had been turned into a massive refugee camp virtually overnight, he recalled, adding that two thirds of its population had become refugees and it had resembled a tent city.  “Gaza became a Noah’s Ark for a Palestine that vanished in 1948.”  Israel had uprooted Palestine refugees and then humiliated them with endless military raids and offensives, full-scale wars, and an 11-year-long blockade with no end in sight.  “There is one thing worse than displacement and that is not being able to leave,” he said.  Gaza had been rendered the world’s largest open-air prison, and United Nations reports described Gaza under siege as “unliveable”.  The spectacle of refugee camps continued to haunt the Israeli Administration, explaining why it viewed the impoverished enclave as a security threat.  In 2005, he recalled, Israel’s military withdrawal from Gaza had been branded as having fulfilled its obligations but it continued to control the enclave from air, land and sea, he stressed.  “Israel realized it was cheaper to run the prison from the outside than from the inside.”

In the ensuing discussion, delegates, legal experts and civil society representatives commented on the nature and definition of the occupation, asking questions about potential solutions to the conflict.  Many also asked about the role of the United States Government in the situation.

Mr. PAPPÉ asked whether the term “colonization” would be more suitable in the Israeli-Palestinian than the phrase “permanent occupation”.

Mr. EPSHTAIN agreed that there was no such thing as a “permanent occupation”, because under international humanitarian law, the situation had not been intended as a permanent state of affairs.  One solution would be to devise a test for a substantive time-cap on the occupation, he said, citing a report in that regard.  Israel’s intent was to use the façade of occupation to mask its real intent, which was the acquisition of Palestinian territory and denial of the right to self-determination.

Ms. CANNON asked about that terminology in the context of the recent policy shift by the United States.

Ms. BICHARA said that country’s policy had resulted in unconditional support for annexation attempts by Israeli lawmakers and violations of international humanitarian law.

Mr. ASSI said Israel’s prolonged occupation had become colonial in character.  Its leadership was under the impression that its apartheid policy would prove durable.  The United Nations still considered the Gaza Strip occupied territory but, because the costs of the occupation were paid by others, the Israeli authorities did not have any incentive to change the situation, he said, stressing that the narrative must be shifted from a two-State paradigm to one demanding an immediate end to the occupation.  That was not a political demand but constituted an obligation under international law.

Mr. EPSHTAIN said the United States was bound by Security Council resolutions, noting that Palestinian sovereignty in East Jerusalem had been denied through that country’s recent actions.  In addition, its defunding of UNRWA was about negating the status of Palestine refugees, he said, predicting that President Trump would recognize Israel’s annexation of the West Bank, thereby contributing to the permanency of Israeli domination and control.

Speakers then asked how the United States Government could be held accountable for racism, and about the part played by white supremacism in the Gaza atrocities.

Ms. CANNON said United States policies on the State of Palestine were “atrocious”, pointing out that many citizens of that country were ignorant of the situation.  She called for just policies in that regard.

Mr. EPSHTAIN said that there was a communal interest in ensuring respect for international law.  The Government of Israel had failed to do so, as had other States.  The question was whether States were doing everything within their power to leverage the situation, he said, asking how Israel and the United States could be held accountable.

A representative of the State of Palestine said Mr. Assi’s analysis of the Gaza situation was also applicable to other parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, such as Nablus.  “International humanitarian law is the invention of the Europeans,” he said.  The concept of “prolonged occupation” had emerged from the good intentions of those trying to use the legal option against occupation.  The objective of articulating a question about that issue to the International Court of Justice was to use that advisory opinion to combat the occupation.  Ending the occupation could not be discussed without linking it to the independence of the State of Palestine and to the right of self-determination and statehood, he said, noting that, although some said that United Nations resolutions drafted by his observer delegation in that regard were meaningless, they were nevertheless part of international law and therefore important.

CARMELO INGUANEZ (Malta), Committee Vice-chair, noted that in the case of Palestine, the colonial Power had not come from another country; rather, a new State had been established on the land of another.  Regarding the effects of racism, he said the choice was between a Jewish State and a democratic State.  Israel had long discarded the idea of a two-State solution and was now “on the path to Jewishness, whatever it takes”.

One civil society participant emphasized that the occupation was not an ordinary one and was also not akin to South Africa’s apartheid regime.  Another noted that there were lessons to be learned from the anti-apartheid movement.  Intersectional social movements across the United States were taking up the question of Palestine, he said, noting the consequences of that country’s financial support for Israel’s military.  At the United Nations, many Governments were afraid to challenge the United States, which might threaten trade privileges and aid.  She recalled that the anti-apartheid struggle had been raised at the United Nations long before the United States recognized it.

Ms. BICHARA, recalling that Israel’s Supreme Court had ruled there was no such thing as Israeli nationality, said that as a Palestinian, she was unable to practise democracy in her day-to-day life.  “I am still seen as a threat… My constitutional rights are suspended… this is not democracy,” she stressed.

Mr. EPSHTAIN said the withdrawal of foreign troops was insufficient to end occupation, which required the right to self-determination.  Regarding the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, he said the occupation was abusive, and asked about ways and means to investigate and prosecute breaches of the Geneva Convention, thus expanding the arsenal of measures to end the occupation.

Mr. ASSI said that, by establishing an embassy in Jerusalem, the United States had rewarded Israel for massacring Palestinians.

Other participants asked about interreligious dialogue, the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, violations of international humanitarian law, accountability regarding settlers and the manipulation of borders for land-grabbing purposes.

Ms. BICHARA said Israel was reconstructing international humanitarian law, calling attention to several bills that which created frameworks that were in violation of international law.  Racist practices were becoming enshrined in law, which made it much harder for human rights lawyers and activists to challenge them, especially within the Israeli legal system.  There was no functioning opposition in Israel and it was therefore crucial that the international community create a deterrent, she stressed.

Mr. EPSHTAIN said the initiative to establish the greater Jerusalem municipality was part of an overall negative trajectory.  While underlining Israel’s obligation to conduct the occupation in accordance with international law and bring it to an end, he said that fact did not relieve others of the responsibility to take action to ensure respect for international law.  Member States should consider other measures in that regard, he added.

Mr. ASSI said the recent scene of Israeli soldiers massacring Palestinian protestors was an indication that they did not see the latter as human.  He observed that more than 80 per cent of Gaza’s residents were dependent on humanitarian assistance and called for creative new forms of sustainable development, noting that the enclave had become an economy of survival.

Ms. CANNON said the situation was more critical than ever, emphasizing that the international community must be courageous in applying international law and holding Israel to account.

For information media. Not an official record.