Press Releases

    GA/PAL/887
    22 April 2002

    NGOS URGE SECRETARY-GENERAL TO VISIT
    OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORY

    Plan of Action Holds Israel Responsible for Reparations to Palestinians

    (Received from a UN Information Officer.)

    NICOSIA, 18 April -- At the close of its one-day session, the United Nations Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Meeting in Solidarity with the Palestinian People today underlined the responsibility of the Bush Administration in the escalation of the war in the Middle East.

    Participants adopted a Statement and a Plan of Action in which they also said that the stand of the European Union was so far insufficient, and called on the Union to take a coherent, effective and independent position. They also appealed to Arab governments to take stronger and concrete measures to support the Palestinians.

    The Meeting agreed that the Israeli occupation was an act of continuing violence against Palestinians and must end now. They supported the right of Palestinians to resist Israeli aggression and to protect themselves and their children. Holding the Israeli Government responsible for the suffering and deprivation of the Palestinian people, they demanded that Israel pay reparations for all damages to the Palestinian people and their property.

    At today’s meeting, participants heard panel discussion on the role of civil society in time of crisis and action by international civil society in support of the Palestinian people.

    The Vice-Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, Ravan Farhâdi (Afghanistan), made opening and closing statements.

    Panellists in the discussions were Salwa Hudeib of the Jerusalem Centre for Women; Hannah Safran, Coalition of Women for a Just Peace; Theocharis Papamagaris, European Coordinating Committee for NGOs on the Question of Palestine; Morad Ghaleb, Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity Organization; Mercia Andrews, South African NGO Coalition; and Don Betz, International Coordinating Committee for NGOs on the Question of Palestine.

    Also participating in the discussion were representatives of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem; Indo-Arab Friendship Association; Cyprus Solidarity Committee, Egyptian United Nations Association; Portuguese Council for Peace and Cooperation; World Federation of Democratic Youth; Presbyterian Church; Arab Lawyers Union; World YWCA; Campaign for Children of Palestine and Association Najdeh.

    Opening Statement

    RAVAN A.G. FARHADI, Permanent Representative of Afghanistan and Vice-Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said that in the 18 months of violence and destruction in the occupied Palestinian territory, economic deprivation had reached catastrophic proportions. Urgent and intensified action by all sectors of the international community were needed. Solidarity with and support for the Palestinian cause by the international community was of paramount importance. Friends from Grassroots International Protection for the Palestinian People were risking their lives in Palestinian cities under siege to act as human shields for hospitals, schools and refugee camps. Activists of the International Solidarity Movement, together with their Palestinian friends, had dismantled Israeli checkpoints. Religious organizations played an increasingly active role, and voices of protest in Israel against the Government’s policy in the occupied territory were regaining strength. The role of civil society in educating their constituencies on the question of Palestine and in mobilizing public support for the Palestinian cause remained important.

    He said there was a greater need for sustained campaigns aimed at informing public opinion about the root causes of the conflict and the legitimate rights of the parties, and promoting national and international action in support of effective steps to end the crisis and resume negotiations. Emphasis should be given to mobilizing wide support for measures to protect the Palestinian people. Governments should be encouraged to take immediate steps to uphold the Fourth Geneva Convention. In the months to come, civil society should support initiatives mounted with a view to restoring a political process that would eventually lead back to the negotiating table. Providing emergency relief and other assistance to the Palestinian people and rehabilitating the deconstructed Palestinian economy should be another priority. Much of the success of NGO endeavours would depend on their ability to mobilize the broadest possible constituencies for specific initiatives.

    He stressed the importance of receiving information from NGOs about their work. The Division for Palestinian Rights, under the guidelines of the Committee, maintained a Web site for NGOs that served as a useful tool for mutual information and networking. It had the potential to become the bulletin board of civil society action in support of a just and lasting solution of the question of Palestine.

    Plenary I: Role of Civil Society in Time of Crisis

    SALWA HUDEIB, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Jerusalem Centre for Women, said that women on the two sides of the conflict lived in different cultural, economic, social and political conditions. However, the conflict affected their daily reality in both similar and different ways. Decades ago, as Palestinian women activists were involved in the national political struggle for liberation, Israeli women activists were involved in the quest for equality in a society divided between secularism and religion. More than 10 years ago, prominent political activists on both sides broke the taboo to form the Jerusalem Link. Dialogue between the two mirrored the power relationships in each community. Over the years, the group shared the principles that supported the establishment of a Palestinian State within the 1967 borders; sharing Jerusalem; illegality of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories; respect for international law; and realization of a political peace that would lead to mutual understanding, trust and security for both sides. Moreover, women must be central partners in the peace process. Significantly, no agreement was reached on the question of refugees.

    She said specific strategies were aimed at changing public opinion and personal attitudes on both sides but not much had been achieved. Each side worked within the framework and structures of its own political parties and affiliations. Regarding women’s substantive yet limited effect on national politics toward peace-building on both sides, one had to consider each community’s internal politics. On the Palestinian side, patriarchal cultural heritage did not provide fertile ground for women’s participation in community and political life. During the previous intifada, which erupted in 1987, women were encouraged to participate in all aspects of the uprising. Despite recognition of their central role, however, women’s contribution to decision-making was limited. On the Israeli side, decisions were made through compromise between the representatives of the different political perspectives.

    Because the Israeli public was moving to the political right, she said, the Jerusalem Link was in crisis. It took the Israeli peace camp over a month before it had reacted positively towards the Palestinian intifada for independence. On the Palestinian side, emotions were tense due to the rapid increase in the number of martyrs and injured. All joint projects had been stopped since the beginning of the intifada. The Jerusalem Centre for Women was now seeking to reach an agreement over political principles with no room for misinterpretation. Only then could joint activities be resumed. She listed a number of recommendations, including a call for a boycott on Israeli products. She also urged participants to hold a sit-in in front of the Israeli and United States Embassies in Nicosia.

    HANNAH SAFRAN, Co-founder of the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace in Haifa, said there were many voices of protest in Israel but it was difficult to bring their message to the public. Israelis were also suffering and felt obliged to follow their Government. If there was hope for change, it lay with ordinary men and women in Israel. The Coalition, which was composed of nine women’s organizations, was one of about 50 NGOs that struggled to organize demonstrations against the Government and to help those under occupation. She listed the members of the coalition and their activities, noting that the Coalition received little attention in the Israeli press and thus was unable to disprove the widespread idea that there was no peace movement in Israel. It was, however, slowly gaining recognition and becoming known internationally. She reviewed the principles of the coalition, which called for an end to the occupation, the establishment of a Palestinian State with recognition of Jerusalem as the shared capital, and a just solution for Palestinian refugees. The principles also called for equality, inclusion and justice for Palestinian citizens of Israel; equal rights for women; full involvement of women in peace negotiations; and social and economic justice for Israel’s citizens and integration in the region.

    She said the tasks facing activist women in Israel, both Jewish and Arab, were not easy. The Coalition was unique in its attempt to face questions of peace and at the same time address the inequality of women in society. Only in recent years had Israeli society begun to realize the role and importance of civil organizations. The organizations themselves had not fully realized their potential or used their power. The women’s organizations had joined as a coalition so as to become visible and exert their point of view. The members did not have to agree on every point before working together. The Coalition’s example of working together despite differences might serve as a model to other sectors within Israeli society. The Coalition planned to attract activists and organizations together to change the agenda of Israeli society. It demanded not only an end to the occupation but a change in the agenda of both peoples.

    The representative of Palestine, FAYEZ YOUNES, read out a letter to the meeting from Archimandrite ATTALA HANNA, spokesman for the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, in which he said the Palestinians needed an independent State with Jerusalem as its capital. As he wrote, he said, he heard bullets overhead. There was a humanitarian disaster and Palestinians were deprived of their most basic rights. Where was the United Nations and the international community? More action was expected of them. There must be true and intense pursuit of human rights in the Palestinian territory. They must be helped to overcome what had been destroyed by the occupation. Israel had been offered a shield to allow it to perpetrate State terrorism. It was unfortunate that the national liberation movement of Palestine should be labelled a terrorist movement. Resistance to occupation was a duty of all those who suffered from occupation. The Palestinians were not asking for a gift but to have their land and usurped rights back. He urged the Committee to work actively to rescue the Palestinian people and to support them in their efforts to liberate themselves and get ready for peace.

    Following a short discussion period, the Oscar-nominated documentary "Promises" was screened for the participants in the meeting.

    MORAD GHALEB, President of the Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity Organization (AAPSO), said the main task was to support the Palestinian people fully. The tacit support given to Israel by the United States and the European Union should be exposed. Without it, the Israelis could not continue their actions. The international community should refuse to give money to pay for the destruction wrought by the Israelis. Instead, Israel should be made to pay. The Government of Israel should be treated like the Pinochet Government of Chile and the apartheid Government of South Africa. Moreover, a demand should be presented to the competent bodies of the Nobel Prize to strip Shimon Peres of his peace prize. The cold-blooded slaughter of the Palestinian people would kindle violence, hatred and terrorism in the entire Middle East for many generations to come. It would prejudice the national security of the Arab countries and undermine the prospects for peace and stability in the region.

    Currently, he said, demonstrations had erupted worldwide calling for a halt to the blockade of the Palestinian President, Yasser Arafat; an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from all Arab territories; the imposition of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the protection of civilians in time of war; and the search for a means to compel Israel to implement General Assembly resolution 194 (III) on the return of the Palestine refugees. The United Nations should be ready to counter Israel’s anticipated rejection of any Security Council resolution with the imposition of sanctions. The current President of the European Union had declared that the possibility of sanctions was not to be excluded. Belgium had severed its commercial relations with Israel and had decided to bring Sharon and other Israeli leaders to trial as war criminals. Meanwhile, the Arab States were trying to expedite the entry into force of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court so as to seek the prosecution of Sharon and other Israeli war criminals.

    Those demands sought to reflect the attitudes of international public opinion and the views of international civil society, he said. They endeavoured to restore credibility to the organs of international legitimacy, headed by the United Nations. They also sought the establishment of international peace and security, fairness for the weak and the other worthy goals for which the United Nations was established and on which the Charter was based. If the NGOs organized a real campaign to reveal the truth of what the Israelis had done, it would mobilize public opinion.

    MERCIA ANDREWS, President of the South African NGO Coalition (SANGOCO), said it was time to break the silence and say enough is enough. Despite the demands for an end to the military incursion, the Israeli Prime Minister had said he would withdraw when his mission was completed. What was his mission? Nothing she had read or seen on television prepared her for her recent visit to Palestine. The media did not reflect the brutality of bulldozers crushing the homes, the spirit and livelihoods of people. The curfew did not allow people to go to work, to school or to get medical treatment. People were without water, food and the basic necessities to survive. What was the strategy of the Israeli State? The number of killed in the latest attacks could not be confirmed because people were put into mass graves or transported to secret storage places. Yet the leaders of the world stood by watching the crisis unfold.

    Africans knew well about the ability of world leaders to act decisively against some countries but not against others, she said. The unequal response created a crisis of legitimacy for international institutions and leadership. Ordinary people were beginning to see the injustice, inequality and inability of their struggle to defend their rights. It was important to ensure that the issue of Palestine was not simply seen as a Muslim problem. The apartheid regime and many South Africans had historical links with Israel and Zionism. The challenge now was to build solidarity for Palestinians based on human rights. She noted that there were many parallels between Palestine and apartheid South Africa. She expressed surprise that no State had broken relations with Israel, even when their ministers had been publicly humiliated. Like Israel, South Africa had enjoyed the protection and support of powerful leaders. South African liberation forces had been asked to disarm, but the South African army was never asked to do the same.

    She said change would come only if the pressure from below gained momentum. There was no need for more resolutions and declarations: punitive measures were needed now. Israel was an apartheid State and its policies were inherently racist. Palestinians must be given every opportunity to win friends and lead the solidarity movement. The world needed to ensure that Palestinians were able to build a broad-based movement that united all across all barriers and appealed to all who believed in peace and justice. Money given by individual countries to buy bullets for Israel must be stopped. She called for a campaign to isolate Israel beginning with an immediate arms embargo and severing of diplomatic ties. Israelis must learn what it was like to live in an enclosed settlement where they could not move.

    DON BETZ, Chairman of the International Coordinating Committee for NGOs on the Question of Palestine (ICCP), said the events of 11 September 2001 and the subsequent United States-led war on international terrorism propelled the question of Palestine onto centre stage of popular discussion. The broader public, especially in the United States, had started to ask questions about the occupation of Palestine, its historical background and the possible resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Those issues had not been raised before. There had been no effective efforts by Palestinians, Arabs or the United Nations to rectify misinformation. The immediate priority and responsibility must be the most fundamental: to protect the people and to tell their stories.

    Over the past year, he said, there had been several proposals for the placement of external witnesses in Palestine. Regardless of what they were called, their roles were vital. The safety and security of the Palestinian people were an international obligation, as accepted by the United Nations, and it was incumbent upon all Member States to protect those people. The most recent invasion of the West Bank had ignited widespread popular reaction around the world. The outcry of condemnation of Israel and the concomitant support for Palestinians were heard in the major world capitals and in small gatherings in town halls, churches and universities.

    The majority of people, especially in the United States, did not know the origins of the conflict. The occupation of Palestine and accompanying repression of the Palestinian people living there was not well understood. The United Nations, NGOs and others had serious work to do. Until now the Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims had not been winning the information war. Another contemporary Middle East mythology, as understood by the American public, was that Palestinians were the aggressors and it was Israel that was defending its homeland against a bloodthirsty people, all of whom were terrorists. The media never ask, "Why is there this intifada?" Palestinians were not portrayed as an occupied people struggling to establish their sovereignty in an independent State. He recommended that it was time for the Palestinians to "out-Netanyahu" the Israelis. It was time to send in media-savvy spokespersons.

    THEOCHARIS PAPAMARGARIS, President of the Greek Committee for International Democratic Solidarity and Vice-Chairman of the European Coordinating Committee for NGOs on the Question of Palestine (ECCP), read a statement on behalf of PIERRE GALAND, Chairman of the ECCP, who said his organization had arranged a number of missions to Palestine that had allowed it to mobilize broad international support for sending civilian observers and groups for the protection of the Palestinian people. It was now receiving support from a broad sector of the European public.

    He said he did not support kamikaze attacks, but State terrorism was more criminal than the terrorism of individuals and movements. Palestinians were entitled to self-defence and resistance against the occupiers. The denials of the rights of the Palestinian people were some of the most serious violations in the post-Second World War period. It was a "made-in-Israel" remake of war, colonialism and apartheid. He expressed concern at the complicity Mr. Sharon enjoyed in the West that was endangering all the work done by civil society. Concerted efforts should be undertaken to force Israel to respect international law, including the suspension of European Union-Israeli Associations Agreements; an embargo on shipments of arms to Israel; a buffer force and international observers for the occupied territories; and measures to suspend scientific, technical and cultural cooperation agreements between European States and Israel.

    Major support must be organized to rescue the civilian population affected by the war and the International Red Cross must be given free access to provide relief for the victims, he said. Emergency assistance must be given to the Palestinian Authority and local relief associations. Resumption of the negotiations at the point where they were broken off in 2000 must become the demand of the international community.

    * *** *