UNITED NATIONS MEETING OF CIVIL SOCIETY
IN SUPPORT OF ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN PEACE
Engaging civil society in Latin America and the Caribbean
for peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians
Montevideo, 31 March 2011
List of speakers
1. The United Nations Meeting of Civil Society in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace was held in Montevideo on 31 March 2011 under the auspices of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (hereafter “the Committee”) and in accordance with the provisions of General Assembly resolutions 65/13 and 65/14 of 30 November 2010. The theme of the Meeting was “Engaging civil society in Latin America and the Caribbean for peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians”. The meeting immediately followed the United Nations Latin American and Caribbean Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, which was held at the same venue on 29 and 30 March 2011.
2. The Committee was represented at the Meeting by a delegation comprising Abdou Salam Diallo (Senegal), Chair of the Committee; Zahir Tanin (Afghanistan); Oumar Daou (Mali), Carmen Zilia Pérez Mazón (Cuba); José Luis Cancela (Uruguay); and Riyad Mansour (Palestine).
3. The Meeting consisted of opening statements and a morning, afternoon and closing session. Presentations were made by nine experts. The Meeting was attended by 28 representatives of 15 civil society organizations from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and by representatives of Governments, intergovernmental organizations and the media.
II. Opening remarks
4. Ricardo González Arenas, General Director of Political Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uruguay, spoke on behalf of the host Government. He said that Uruguay’s aim in hosting the Meeting had been to contribute towards the achievement of peace. He expressed hope that the debate would contribute to further understanding between Israelis and Palestinians and help to restart the peace process, since there could be no peace without the existence of two sovereign States. On 15 March 2011, Uruguay had recognized Palestine as an independent, sovereign State, with the realization that the Palestinian people had a legitimate right to live in an economically viable State and in peace with Israel. In that regard, two days earlier, Uruguay and the Palestinian Authority had established diplomatic relations and opened representative offices in Ramallah and Montevideo.
5. In order for peace to exist, both Israel and Palestine needed to be able to live together in peace, within secure and established borders, in an atmosphere of cooperation. In that context, he condemned all terrorist attacks, which threatened peaceful co-existence. He supported the Palestinian Authority’s two-year State-building plan. Regarding the role of civil society, it played a fundamental role in building a culture of peace and encouraging political players to restart negotiations. Civil society increasingly played a constructive role in conflict resolution, and its influence was growing internationally, including in intergovernmental bodies, and including with respect to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
6. Zahir Tanin, Vice-Chair of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, noted that earlier that month, in San José, the Arias Foundation and the Global Foundation for Democracy and Development had convened a conference on Middle East peace. In the final declaration, participants stressed that Latin America had a crucial role to play in enlarging the global constituency for Middle East peace and bringing additional actors into the peacemaking process. The Committee echoed the idea that Latin America, including its vibrant civil society, could contribute to a just solution between Israelis and Palestinians.
7. Such civil society actors included Latin America’s Palestinian and Jewish communities. More people of Palestinian origin lived in Chile than in Lebanon or Egypt. Meanwhile, more Jews lived in Buenos Aires than in the Israeli city of Beersheba. However, unlike in Israel and Palestine, Jews and Palestinians in Latin America were not separated by a concrete wall. They did not attack each other and they did not fear each other. In that regard, there were lessons to be learned form Latin America and the Caribbean.
8. The Committee commended civil society for its advocacy work, its efforts to mobilize public opinion and its peace-promoting initiatives. It also encouraged civil society organizations to broaden their base and to focus and harmonize their efforts at the local, national, regional and international levels.
III. Panel discussions
9. Carmen Zilia Pérez Mazón, Ambassador of Cuba to Uruguay, moderated the first panel discussion entitled “Perceptions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Latin America and the Caribbean”. Sub-themes included “The responsibility of the media”; “The impact and educational role of academic institutions and think tanks”; and “The work of political parties, trade unions, foundations and other civil society actors in promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace”.
10. Mario Casartelli, a Paraguayan journalist and author of Palestine: The key between the rocks, began by telling the story of indigenous farmers in Paraguay whose land had been stolen by powerful landowners. Instead of returning the land to the farmers, the landowners had said they would negotiate with the farmers first and then return the land, which they never did. Because of the landowners’ influence on the local media, news stories gave biased coverage in their favour. He saw similarities between the indigenous Paraguayan farmers fighting the invading powerful landowners and the Palestinians struggling against an occupier.
11. All of South America, except Colombia, had recognized the State of Palestine. That was not just a symbol, it was a significant first step, and all great events, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, had started off as dreams. Moreover, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not just about those two sides. Everyone had a stake in the peace process. Depending on how it was presented, information could either instigate and justify wars or foster peace. In that regard, powerful media had a role in manipulating, magnifying or minimizing certain events. He had interviewed ordinary Israelis and Palestinians who believed that peace was possible if moderate voices were listened to and allowed to make decisions. However, thus far, their leaders had been unable to make that goal a reality. Peace was not the absence of tension; it was the presence of justice, and it must be based on international law. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had argued that the occupation would end when the Palestinians gave up their struggle. On the contrary, peace would prevail when colonization ended.
12. The Palestinians were suffering greatly, while their land was occupied by others, and they were subjected to a separation wall, checkpoints and scarce access to water, medicine, jobs, and education. Jews had also suffered in the past and had also been victims. But their descendants had forgotten that past. He wondered to what extent it was possible to understand another person’s suffering and to put oneself in their shoes. That was essential to achieving peace and justice.
13. Pedro Brieger, an Argentine Buenos Aires-based journalist and sociologist, discussed inconsistencies and inaccuracy in the media coverage of the Meeting, which demonstrated how the media could reflect specific political interests and, more specifically, the degree of influence that Israel had over media worldwide. For example, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz had quoted Secretary-General Bank Ki-moon at the Meeting’s opening session, but he had not attended the event. In addition, an article published the previous day in the Uruguayan newspaper El País had focused on the speech by Uruguay’s Foreign Minister and claims that Israel would closely scrutinize the Meeting, as if pressuring the Uruguayan Government to support Israel’s stance. El País had also inaccurately quoted a speaker as having called for a boycott of Israel. The speaker had, in fact, only asked for a boycott of products produced in Israeli settlements.
14. An Uruguayan television station had falsely quoted the Israeli Ambassador to Uruguay as saying that the two-day Meeting had not been organized by the United Nations and that it was an “anti-Israeli” event. Meanwhile, the Uruguayan newspaper Ultimas Noticias had given coverage to the Israeli Ambassador only, as if no Palestinian officials had spoken. Finally, a columnist in the Uruguayan paper República had described the Meeting as an “anti-Israeli” forum. Calling on participants to pay close attention to such activity by the press, the speaker also criticized the tendency to claim that anything that did not support Israel was anti-Semitic.
15. Mr. Brieger criticized the media’s use of the term “international community”. Illustrating his point, he noted that at a recent conference on Libya in London, a number of actors, including India, Latin America, the Russian Federation, sub-Saharan Africa and even the Libyans themselves, had not been invited. In that regard, he wondered why media coverage of that event had referred to efforts and declarations of the “international community”. He also said it was important to acknowledge the growing international importance of Latin America, including the formation of new blocs such as the Union of South American Nations.
16. Elisenda Ballesté, Professor and Director of the Bachelor of International Relations Programme at the Puebla campus of Mexico’s Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, said that education taught people about the concepts of peace, acceptance, tolerance, respect and fairness, which were extremely important in understanding such conflicts as the one between Israeli and Palestine. Academic institutions had great influence over Government decision-making, in particular in Israel, where they were subsidized to research national security. In some cases, they tried to validate Government action that was not well regarded by the international community or that discriminated against the Palestinians. At the same time, Palestinian institutions had boycotted any form of cooperation with Israeli scholars, impeding the possibility for joint academic cooperation to resolve the conflict. Local and international scholars had analysed from different perspectives, the two-State solution, the possibility of a binational State, Israel’s democratic processes and Palestine’s democratic processes, among other topics, to encourage a just, lasting peace. However, they all used traditional methodology, which did not allow them to analyse the conflict from another perspective and excluded important actors such as civil society.
17. Scholars needed to focus more on presenting each party’s perception of the conflict since current school textbooks tended to perpetuate a negative image of “the other”, which bred intolerance. Nevertheless, there were some positive developments in the area of education, including efforts to tell both sides of the story in primary school textbooks. In that context, Ms. Ballesté cited the work of the Peace Research Institute in the Middle East. Another school, Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, which had scant support from the Israeli Ministry of Education, had developed a bilingual, Arabic-Hebrew curriculum for Palestinian and Jewish children. They learned about each other’s traditions and celebrated religious holidays together. “This school is a clear example of how to develop strong community links between the two nations,” she said, adding that it would “create leaders that will be more inclined to peaceful coexistence and maybe someday peace.”
18. Non-governmental organizations also had an important role in education. The Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem, which promoted non-violent resistance to end the occupation of the West Bank, proposed a democratic Palestine and condemned Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. It sought to improve the lives of Palestinian children through its peace and reconciliation youth programme. Both Israeli and Palestinian authorities should do their part and stop sponsoring academic institutions that simply validated their policies.
19. Pedro Armengol, Executive Director of Unified Workers’ Central, Brazil’s main national trade union, said that the Union had worked to liberate the working class from imperialist forces. It had always stood in solidarity with the Palestinian people and their just right to liberation and enjoyed good relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization, which it had always recognized as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. On 28 January 2011, it had issued a declaration in solidarity with the Palestinians, condemned Israel’s occupation policies that violated United Nations resolutions and international law, and recognized the thousands of Palestinians in Israeli prisons and the destruction of Palestinian homes.
20. Mr. Armengol urged unions and social and popular movements to create a boycott campaign and sanction occupation policies and noted that, during the second half of 2011, Unified workers’ Central would sponsor a conference in Brazil in solidarity with the Palestinian people. He encouraged all unions and civil society organizations to participate.
21. He regretted that Brazil was a large importer of Israeli arms and stressed that it needed to suspend bilateral agreements and military ties with Israel. He also voiced opposition to the free trade agreement signed between the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) and Israel. He condemned the continued violation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the brutal attack the previous year on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, the convoy of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, which had had a Brazilian citizen on board.
22. The theme of the second panel discussion was “Bringing civil society together to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process”. The discussion was moderated by Arlene Elizabeth Clemesha, Professor of Arab Culture at the University of São Paulo and Director of International Relations at the São Paulo-based Institute for Arab Culture. The sub-themes included “Reaching decision-makers and politicians”; “Pursuing common goals and isolating extremists: the importance of appeals for a just peace and participation in international campaigns against violence and human rights violations”; and “The role of communities in the region, including Arab and Jewish communities”.
23. Abdullah Abu Rahmah, coordinator of the Bil’in-based Popular Committee against the Wall, recounted the story of his West Bank village’s non-violent resistance to the Israeli separation wall that cut through the village. On 14 March 2011, he had been released from an Israeli jail after serving 15 months for organizing weekly demonstrations against the 760-kilometre wall, in which scores of unarmed Palestinian, Israeli and foreign activists had regularly participated. He paid tribute to the other 7,000 Palestinians who remained behind bars.
24. Mr. Abu Rahmah and other villagers had formed the Popular Committee in February 2005, after Israel began building the wall, which cut off Bil’in’s water resources and land from its residents, destroying the livelihood of local farmers. Other West Bank villages had also formed popular committees, which used the Internet and the media to spread the word about their non-violent resistance. They invoked international law and the International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion on the wall. Israeli soldiers responded violently to the peaceful protests, a move that “gave us power”. As a result of the non-violent demonstrations, 5,000 people had been injured, 50 had been killed by Israeli bullets, including two members of Mr. Abu Rahmah’s family, and 500 had been arrested. Since 2005, Mr. Abu Rahmah had been arrested four times.
25. In 2009, human rights groups and officials, including the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, expressed concern about Mr. Abu Rahmah’s welfare and the popular committees’ cause. In 2008, the Berlin-based International League for Human Rights had awarded him the Carl von Ossietzky medal for outstanding service in the realization of basic human rights. During the panel discussion, Mr. Abu Rahmah showed the Meeting the film “Bil’in My Love”, which documented the non-violent resistance of Bil’in and other West Bank villages. The film was available at http://www.bilin-village.org.
26. Lina María Eraso Quintero, Project Director of the Mexico City-based Centre for Civic Partnership, noted that her organization worked on conflict resolution; she called on civil society groups to organize and engage in multi-stakeholder dialogue for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Dialogue was not easy. It awakened great passion and rattled nerves. However, it could bring together people with vastly different perspectives to reach a common objective and understand their interdependence. It also gave civil society leaders the ability to positively influence governments. Once dialogue advanced, it would be difficult and counterproductive to return to violence. Dialogue was particularly important for diaspora communities.
27. Ms. Eraso spoke about ways in which civil society groups could reach decision-makers. Some parliamentarians were strongly against making any type of concession. For such figures, dialogue was unacceptable because they could not impose their will. Nevertheless, crafting national policies on complex themes required the ability to form coalitions, generate options and reach consensus. Parliamentarians who had these abilities could be important allies in efforts to advance dialogue processes in the legislative arena.
28. Promoting forums for multi-stakeholder dialogue in civil society could contribute to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. As the representative of an organization that promoted dialogue and consensus-building, she invited the civil society groups present at the Meeting to begin engaging with each other and working together in an integrated manner. Such engagement could change the balance of power, create a strong new voice, and produce integrated perspectives that the leaders of the two sides would have to listen to. The present Meeting was an example of a forum that had been provided to hear various options and exchange ideas. Now was the time to create a common agenda.
29. Pablo Lumerman, Director of the Buenos Aires-based Foundation for Democratic Change, stressed the importance of non-violent resistance in the Middle East. He saw parallels between the struggle of the Palestinian people and that of other diasporas. He stressed the importance of forging inter-religious, multi-ethnic and multicultural dialogue. He identified himself as an Argentine Jew whose grandparents had escaped from the Russian pogroms. He was an advocate of democracy, who believed in people being involved in the decisions that affected their lives. He also believed in God, which was important to note since many fought in God’s name. Lastly, he was a Zionist but one who believed in the establishment of a Palestinian State.
30. “Bil’in My Love”, the film that had been shown earlier that day by Abdallah Abu Rahmah, was a powerful tool to promote non-violence and should be shown widely, since non-violence was key to achieving peace. Latin America had an important role to play in creating a new world order, based on multilateralism. It could lead by example, since it had suffered from terrorism and a lack of democracy but had been able to transform itself. It could export peace, democracy, experience and dialogue to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, where the current conflict was asymmetric and complex.
31. Mr. Lumerman and other members of the Jewish and Arab Argentine communities had formed a “Cousins Club” to work together to export peace to Israel and Palestine. The Jewish and Arab communities in Latin America should not import the conflict but should work to create a path to peace for people of all religions. He praised “Abraham’s Path”, a multi-religious tourism initiative that traced the footsteps of Abraham or Ibrahim through the Middle East and aimed to provide a place of meeting and connection for people of all faiths and cultures. Civil society could make a significant contribution to peace; it should not aim to replace Governments but rather to complement their work. He invited all participants in the Meeting to continue discussing concrete solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in conjunction with the Israelis and Palestinians who were working together on the ground for peace.
32. Juan Raúl Ferreira, President of the Montevideo-based Uruguay-Israel Cultural Institute, stressed the importance of inter-religious and multi-ethnic dialogue. He noted his strong ties to Uruguay’s Jewish community and the fact that he had grown up in a household that was deeply involved with the State of Israel. Nevertheless, his children were Arab. He said he was at the present Meeting because it offered a wide forum for dialogue, and dialogue between people of opposing views was useful, even when they did not reach agreement, since it forced people to at least hear the others’ views. Dialogue always enriched people, and it was important to regularly put oneself in the shoes of others.
33. It was timely that the Meeting was being held in Uruguay, where there was religious tolerance and opposing political parties were able to freely express their views. Uruguayan State policy had recognized that the only way to reach a peaceful solution was to recognize both Israel and Palestine, although certain sectors had not originally agreed with that conviction. Uruguay could and should export its tradition of religious and political tolerance and coexistence to the Middle East. He called on all civil society organizations to actively work together to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
34. Ruben Elías, President of the Commission for Support of the Palestinian People in Uruguay, said peace could not be imposed; it had to be built and required several steps. Currently, there were two paradigms that could not be ignored: human, economic, social and cultural rights and environmental rights. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was rooted in a breach of all those rights, with Israel having abused water resources and having caused much suffering to the Palestinian people. Remaining silent did not help; it only turned everyone into accomplices.
35. Israel was not a democracy. Furthermore, the Israeli Government said it wanted peace but continued to build settlements and commit crimes against humanity against the Palestinians. Israel was broadcasting a false history and was bent on creating misinformation and confusion and on portraying patriots as terrorists. There were lessons to be learned from the slow, painful process of rebuilding societies in Latin America, following their own dark period of dictatorships, State terror and disappearances.
36. Israel was preaching human rights but was not practicing what it preached. Mr. Elías condemned all violations against the Palestinian people and stressed that their right of return was still valid today. Civil society must be proactive and enable people to overcome their situation. He called on the international community to boycott Israel as it had boycotted South Africa in protest of its previous racist apartheid Government.
IV. Closing remarks
37. Zahir Tanin, Vice-Chair of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, wrapping up the Meeting, said that, after hearing the speakers’ experiences, analyses and strategies for achieving peace, the Committee understood that the physical distance between Latin America and the Middle East was not an issue. The Committee stood behind civil society’s efforts and encouraged such organizations to keep working towards a just, lasting peace. He encouraged civil society groups to stay connected with each other and the United Nations by joining the Committee’s civil society network.
List of speakers
Abdullah Abu Rahmah
Head, Popular Committee against the Wall, Bil’in
Executive Director, Central Única dos Trabalhadores
(Unified Workers' Central)
Professor; Director, Bachelor in International Relations Programme
Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education
Journalist and sociologist
Journalist and writer
President, Comisión de Apoyo al Pueblo Palestino-Uruguay
Juan Raúl Ferreira
President, Uruguay-Israel Cultural Institute
Lina María Eraso Quintero
Project Director, Centro de Colaboración Cívica
Director, Fundación Cambio Democrático
Note: For a complete list of participants, please refer to the Report of the United Nations
which was held in Montevideo, Uruguay, on 29 and 30 March 2011.
* * *
Document Type: Meeting report, Publication, Report, Spanish text
Document Sources: Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP), Division for Palestinian Rights (DPR)
Subject: Economic issues, Fence, Inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, Land, NGOs/Civil Society, Occupation, Palestine question, Peace process, Separation barrier, Wall
Publication Date: 31/03/2011