Press Releases

    GA/PAL/893
    26 June 2002

    EXPERT PANEL EXAMINES IMPACT OF ISRAELI MILITARY OFFENSIVE IN OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORY

    (Received from a UN Information Officer.)

    RABAT, 24 June -- Together, the supporters of peace could increase worldwide public consciousness of the problems and alternatives and urge both sides of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict to strive together for a just, peaceful solution, Israeli peace activist Teddy Katz said this afternoon at the United Nations African Meeting in Support of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People in Rabat.

    Continuing, he said that real peace could only be achieved if both sides stopped looking at each other as enemies with contradictory interests and instead saw each other as partners who shared the interests of living together in coexistence, cooperation and prosperity. As long as people were convinced that they were fighting for their bare existence, they would put everything else aside and stand behind their leader. Israelis were still haunted by the Holocaust and no matter what happened, they saw themselves as the victim, and the enemy as the brutal attacker.

    The Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, Nasser Al-Kidwa, referring to a forthcoming Secretary-General’s report on the recent Israeli assault on the occupied Palestinian territories, said the international community must act to prevent the repeat of such atrocities anywhere, not just in the Palestinian territory. The response to the report must be to ensure respect of the Fourth Geneva Convention by acting on the Declaration of the resumed Conference of the High Contracting Parties of 5 December 2001. Also, there must be an international presence in the territory, established through a proposal by the Secretary-General for a multinational force or other means, to observe the situation and protect the Palestinian people. And, there must be an investigation and prosecution of war criminals on a national level in countries with the appropriate legislation, or regionally or internationally through the establishment of an international court.

    The two-day meeting in Rabat, sponsored by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, heard presentations in a panel on the impact of the Israeli military offensive in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem.

    A member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Kamal Al-Sharafy, and the Assistant Secretary-General of the Arab League for Palestine Affairs, Said Kamal, also made statements.

    Participants will meet again tomorrow morning to hear a panel presentation on "Challenges to a peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine". Discussion points include ending the Israeli occupation; finding a just and fair solution to the Palestine refugee problem; the illegality of the Israeli settlement construction; the status of Jerusalem; and realizing an independent and sovereign Palestinian State.

    Statements by Panel Experts: Impact of Israeli Military Offensive

    KAMAL AL-SHARAFY, Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, reviewed the events of the first intifada leading up to the second intifada, the Al-Aqsa intifada. Referring to the provocations of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, he said that nothing was more telling than Sharon’s remarks that he regretted not having killed Chairman Arafat in 1982. Palestinian resistance had developed in response to the extreme actions of the Israelis, who had destroyed much of the Palestinian infrastructure and institutions. There also had been a devastating impact on the economic and social situation. The Israeli invasion and occupation had resulted in the loss of jobs by large numbers of the population, with 75 per cent of the Palestinian work force being unemployed either partially or totally. Living standards had fallen and 40 per cent of Palestinian families had incomes below $200 or barely $2 a day per person.

    He said the problem was basically humanitarian. The situation of the wounded and invalid, the bombardments of hospitals, the inability of the severely sick to have access to medical care, either locally or abroad, had no acceptable justification. The interference with the freedom of movement affected numerous aspects of life, from the lack of food to the inability of students to complete their education. Occupation was the determining factor in the crisis, which exceeded the original one of 1948, demolishing all the institutions. Any attempt to rebuild the infrastructure could not progress as long as the persecutor was equated with the persecuted, notwithstanding the fact that the persecutor had nuclear weapons.

    The right of the Palestinians to nationhood was clear and the first condition for ending the crisis. There must be an end to the genocide and an understanding that the occupation was the source of the terrorism. Despite all the Israeli crimes, the Palestinian nation maintained its humanity. There were 4 million refugees. Of the Palestinians, they were the poorest and suffered in their daily lives more than any other segment of the society. They were the real force of the intifada. All of their suffering had no other meaning but to foster the hope of ridding themselves of the occupation. The right to return was not one that would lapse. That right had acquired a legal and moral power and all the relevant international resolutions referred to that right. Despite all the international covenants and legal documents that reaffirmed the right to return, Israel rejected it.

    TEDDY KATZ, Israeli peace activist, historian and author, said that almost 55 years after the 1948 war, not only had Israel and the Palestinians not learned their lessons, but also they appeared to have reconstructed those horrors. Suicide bombers, incapable of threatening the existence of Israel, did everything in their power to make Israelis as miserable as possible. Meanwhile, Israel was turning the Palestinian routine into an intolerable chronicle of pain and misery. In Nablus, Jenin, Ramallah and other parts of the West Bank there were people who had had become refugees 54 years ago only to have it happen to them for a second time. He called attention to an article entitled "I made them a stadium in the middle of the camp" that was recently published in a widely circulated Israeli tabloid Yediot Aharonot. In an eyewitness account, an Israeli citizen described how he went to Jenin and was taught in two hours to drive a bulldozer and to make a flat surface. For three days, he said, he just erased and erased, drinking whiskey to fight off fatigue. "I didn’t see dead bodies under the blade of the bulldozer, but I don’t care if there were any", he said.

    He said the war continued because the leaders on both sides wanted it to and because their peoples did not demonstrate sufficient resistance. If it were not for the war, Sharon and his friends could never have reached their high positions. They now used the war to create an atmosphere of a struggle for survival. As long as people were convinced that they were fighting for their bare existence, they would put everything else aside and stand behind their leader. Moreover, Israelis were still haunted by the Holocaust and no matter what happened, they would see themselves as the victim, and the enemy as the brutal attacker. Any suggestion that Israel might do things resembling what had been done in the Holocaust would be classified automatically as an expression of anti-Semitism and treachery.

    Nevertheless, Israelis were sick of seeing their economy collapse, he said. They were desperate and confused. Although the majority was consistently unsatisfied with the safety, political and socio-economic situation, it increasingly supported the Government’s policy and was willing to do anything to make the situation go away. The problem was that many Israelis were raised to see war as a natural condition and the Palestinians as their eternal enemies. Real peace could only be achieved if both sides stopped looking at each other as enemies with contradictory interests and instead as partners who shared the interests of living together in coexistence, cooperation and prosperity.

    Continuing, he said that even though the Israeli peace forces had declined in the past two years, there were still several thousand who kept up the struggle. Recently, the Israeli peace camp had "come to life" and groups of Jewish, Arab and international activists engaged in direct non-violent actions including demonstrations and protest watches, transporting food, medicine and humanitarian aid to besieged areas in the occupied territory and physically preventing the Israeli military from destroying Palestinian houses. The number of conscientious objectors who refused to do their compulsory service in the occupied territory or in the army altogether was increasing. Together, the supporters of peace could increase worldwide public consciousness of the problems and the alternative. They could urge both sides of the conflict to strive together for a just, peaceful solution on the basis of: Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territory to the 1967 borders and ending the Israeli occupation; full evacuation of the settlements; a just and agreed upon solution to the refugee problem; and the foundation of a Palestinian independent State, beside Israel.

    SAID KAMAL, Assistant Secretary-General for Palestine Affairs of the League of Arab States, said the heart of the matter was land and refugees. No one could argue that the Palestinian people had not lived in the region all along. Those who knew the history of the land also knew who had started the acts of terrorism. Such terrorism had begun with the Israeli massacre of Deir Yassin. Documentation was available to show that there had been five waves of massacres by Jewish bands, the last occurring in 1989. Now, all of a sudden, the situation had been turned around to accuse the Palestinians of terrorism and portray the Israelis as the innocent lambs. There must be a review of the history so that the Palestinians could address themselves to the Western public opinion to counter the lies about who were the real terrorists. Who was killing the people? he asked.

    He said he had been the first to enter into dialogue with the Jews. He had proposed to the Israelis "Let us live in peace", but they did not want to do that. To illustrate the mentality of the people who were making the Israeli decisions, he said that Sharon had told former Secretary of State Alexander Haig that he would finish off the Palestinians in a matter of days. He had had all the rabbis tell Israeli soldiers that they were going to Lebanon to rid the area of terrorism.

    Continuing, he said the collapse of the peace process was a most disturbing sign. The situation had moved from interruptions to endless violence. The Arabs, led by Saudi Prince Abdullah, had launched a new initiative that provided for withdrawal of Israeli forces in return for normalization. The Israeli response to the Arab initiative had been to undertake incursions into the occupied territory in order invalidate the initiative. But the peace initiative implied a political vision that transcended the temporary. The original Bush plan called for freezing settlement activities and dismantling the blockade. The idea of a provisional State, however, was meaningless. One could talk about a State without permanent borders, but what happened if the peace option failed? Nations must think of the future. It was incumbent on Israel to declare that it would commit itself to the choice of peace. The current situation might lead to war in the entire area.

    NASSER AL-KIDWA, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, referring to the forthcoming Secretary-General’s report on the recent Israeli incursion into the Jenin camp, said that during their assault, the occupying forces had used civilians as human shields. A number of Palestinian fighters, armed with rifles and in some places with crude explosives, had resisted. The occupying forces had prevented outsiders from entering the camp during its operations and continued to bar entry to international humanitarian agencies, observers or media even after the attacks had subsided. They had not allowed even the delivery of medical assistance to the wounded or sick, including to the elderly or children. Some people were still missing and many more had been traumatized by the event. The incursion into the camp had come as part of the overall Israel military assault that begun on 29 March lasting about 40 to 50 days. The offense was intended to effect the collapse of the Palestinian economy. The political aim was to take the Palestinians to a pre-Oslo situation, with severely deprived living situations for the Palestinian people. There was no doubt that the occupying forces had committed war crimes, as defined in the Fourth Geneva Convention, not only in Jenin but in other areas as well.

    The Secretary-General had reached agreement with Israel on the introduction of a fact finding team to Jenin, but once the Council had acted on a resolution to that effect, the Israeli Government began to backpedal, he continued. The decisive element in reversing the Israeli decision was the position taken by the Israeli Army and the Army Chief of Staff was personally behind that objection. The Secretary-General explained to the Council that the Israeli Government had rejected the fact-finding team. He informed the Council of his decision to disband the team. The Arabs were against disbanding, the United States was for it and the Europeans, as usual, were in between. The Council had completely failed to respond to the situation, in spite of the fact that it was basically a United States resolution.

    There followed a resumption of the tenth emergency special session of the General Assembly which requested the Secretary-General to make a report of what had happened in Jenin and other Palestinian cities based on available information, he said. Although Palestinians had supplied large amounts of documentation to the Secretary-General, the Israelis had refused to cooperate. The conclusions of the Secretary-General’s report must be to: ensure respect of the Fourth Geneva Convention by acting on the Declaration of the resumed Conference of the High Contracting Parties of 5 December 2001; establish an international presence through a proposal by the Secretary-General for a multinational force or other means to observe the situation and protect the Palestinian people; and the investigation and prosecution of war criminals on a national level in countries with the appropriate legislation, or regionally or internationally through the establishment of an international court.

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