Press Releases

    GA/PAL/894
    27 June 2002

    African NGO Workshop on Palestine Question Meets in Morocco

    RABAT, Morocco, 26 June (UN Information Service) -- The Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, Papa Luis Fall, in an address to the United Nations Workshop of African non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on the question of Palestine this morning, called for more intensified efforts by civil society organizations in support of the Palestinian people.

    Particular attention should be given to the protection of the Palestinian people, and the delivery of emergency relief had priority, he added. Member States should be urged through parliaments, NGOs and public opinion to take necessary measures to uphold international law and implement United Nations resolutions. Moreover, the role of NGOs in informing public opinion about the root causes of the conflict and the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people remained crucial, especially when a large part of the international population still did not know the origins of the conflict or had prejudice against the Palestinian cause.

    Presentations by experts at this morning's meeting included statements by a representative of LAW, the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment, Jerusalem, Abd Elaraouf Arnaout; a representative of the Palestine Solidarity Committee of South Africa, Na'eem Jeenah; and the President of the Moroccan Association for the Support of the Struggle of the Palestinian People, Rabat, Ben Jellou Andalouss Mohammed.

    Also this morning, the Secretary of the Committee informed participants that Allam Jarrar, the Vice-President of the Palestinian Council for Justice and Peace, would be unable to make a presentation as scheduled. Mr. Jarrar lives in Nablus where the Israelis had imposed a 24-hour curfew, making it impossible for him to leave. In a letter to the Secretary, Jarrar said it was the responsibility of the United Nations, governments and NGOs to help end Israeli injustice. He called on the Security Council to take practical steps to force Israel to implement Council resolution 1397 (2002).

    Opening Statement

    PAPA LOUIS FALL, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said the Committee was extremely worried about the increasing human casualties caused by Israel's repeated military incursions into Palestinian cities and by the deteriorating living conditions of the Palestinian people. The Committee was particularly disturbed by Israel's continued prevention of access of humanitarian organizations. That represented a clear defiance of international law. The situation called for urgent measures by all layers of the international community to contain the crisis and to bring the parties back to the negotiating table. Civil society had to play a crucial role in the achievement of that goal. For that reason, the Committee continued to strengthen its cooperation with the NGOs, academic institutions, parliamentarians and media representatives.

    He said the Committee was encouraged by the actions of the Israeli peace camp opposing the Government's policy of occupation. Boycott campaigns of Israeli products had attracted increasing attention and were becoming recognized as a legitimate tool for influencing Government policy. As the United States had the greatest influence on the parties to the conflict, the importance of the role of American NGOs was enormous, and could help to change media reports to become less one-sided and more reflective of the real situation. The initiatives by African NGOs were gaining momentum and the Committee was aware of the moves to show parallels between the current Israeli policies and those of the apartheid regime of South Africa.

    He called for more intensified efforts by civil society organizations in support of the Palestinian people. The delivery of emergency relief should be another area of priority. Particular attention should be given to the protection of the Palestinian people. Member States should be urged through parliaments, NGOs and public opinion to take necessary measures to uphold international law and implement United Nations resolutions. Moreover, the role of NGOs in informing public opinion about the root causes of the conflict and the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people remained crucial, especially when a large part of the international population still did not know the origins of the conflict or had prejudice against the Palestinian cause. The Committee was fully committed to assisting the NGO community and would hold an International Conference of Civil Society in Support of the Palestinian People on 23 and 24 September in New York.

    Action by Civil Society in Africa in Solidarity with Palestinian People

    ABD ELAROUF ARNAOUT, representative of the Palestinian Council for Justice and Peace, said that the decision of the Belgian authority to close its case against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon should not deter attempts to bring Israeli war criminals to trial. President Bush's statement on Monday was a flagrant interference in Palestinian affairs. The United States Secretary of State was drawing up the prerequisites for a Palestinian leader and laying down the rules for holding an election. If they did not approve of the leader that the Palestinian people elected, they would withdraw support. The United States condoning of the crimes against the Palestinian people compounded the responsibility of civil society. Civil society must expose Israeli war crimes. It should also stand up for ensuring the Palestinians the right to free elections without any interference. Following the Israeli Government move to isolate the media from the scene of its crimes, NGOs were trying to document Israeli war crimes for use in international courts. Practical steps must be taken to amass documents to be used in trying Israeli war criminals.

    He said an international network of organizations should be set up to establish theme days to influence opinion makers. He also proposed the establishment of a multi-lingual Web site that would, among other things, carry news of the activities of NGOs. Documentaries could be made for broadcasts on national networks. NGOs must find creative ways to have the Palestinian problem shown on all television networks and stress that the core problem was Israeli occupation. NGOs must call for the release of Palestinian political detainees. They should also call on the Security Council to shoulder its responsibility vis-a-vis the Palestinians. The continuation of Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people made the responsibility of civil society organizations an onerous one. At the same time, the Palestinian people were in urgent need of their assistance.

    NA'EEM JEENAH of the Palestine Solidarity Committee of South Africa, said that in general, African public opinion was on the side of the Palestinian people. At last year's World Conference against Racism there had been an unprecedented display of support for the Palestinian people with a lot of coverage by the international media. At the NGO Forum, African civil society had developed a strong declaration. The Palestinian cause lost support following the events of 11 September, which were then used as an excuse for the brutal actions by the Government of Ariel Sharon.

    He cautioned that African public opinion and its support for the Palestinian people should not be taken for granted but must be carefully nurtured and strengthened. NGOs, religious groups and media were extremely important. At the World Conference against Racism, African NGOs had symbolically launched a movement called the International Movement against Apartheid Israel, with the aim of isolating Israel. A move for consumer and trade boycotts received wide support throughout South Africa. An academic boycott had gained ground. There was also talk of mobilizing in South Africa a cultural boycott against Israel. The campaign operated also at the Government level.

    Despite all that been said, he continued, there were African Governments that continued to sell to Israel military equipment or purchase riot gear, apart from other kinds of trade. The world scene had not changed so substantially that exclusion would not work, he said. It must be used as a strategy in the international arena. He asked if the Palestinian Authority and the Arab League were willing to call on governments around the world to support such tactics. It was also important to develop person-to-person linkages between countries. Moreover, there was a role beyond for religious organizations and the media which needed to be used much more effectively to mobilize public opinion. Palestinian solidarity workers must develop a clear platform on which Palestinian solidarity might be based.

    BEN JELLOU ANDALOUSS MOHAMMED, President, Moroccan Association for the Support of the Struggle of the Palestinian People, said the Association had been operational since the beginning of the Palestinian intifada. The Association had collected $400,000 to buy medical supplies for hospitals in the occupied territory. They had encouraged the media to keep track of and publish all relevant events and they had mobilized private channels to broadcast every aspect of the Palestinian struggle. The Association had also encouraged social movements to express support for the Palestinians and to undertake a boycott of all Israeli products. He called for the mobilization of the Moroccan nation to better understand the facts -- that Israel was considered above the law and did not need to implement United Nations resolutions.

    He said all Israeli war criminals should be brought before an international court. Israel, which had always sought to misrepresent the facts and its intentions, had turned its back on all efforts to bring it to the negotiation table. It had tried to liquidate Palestinians and the Palestinian cause as well. When that failed, it tried to destroy the Palestinian Authority itself. Through all of this, the Security Council sat with its hands folded. President Bush's statement was an adoption of Ariel Sharon's goals aimed at undermining the Oslo Accords. Mr. Sharon had attempted to liquidate all elements of resistance and to impose a de facto situation to postpone the establishment of the State of Palestine. The plan as outlined in the statement by President Bush, served as a premise to redraw the borders between Israel and the future Palestine. It was a dangerous precedent.

    Roundup of Meeting

    Representatives of 55 governments, two international organizations, four United Nations agencies, 16 NGOs and 12 members of the media attended the two-day event, which began on June 24. During the meeting, held at the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there were three plenaries involving the participation of 15 experts. It was followed by a United Nations Workshop of African Non-governmental Organizations on the question of Palestine. In the course of that meeting, presentations were made by three speakers.

    The event took place in accordance with General Assembly resolution 56/33 of 3 December 2001, which authorizes the Committee to promote the exercise of Palestinian rights and to emphasize the mobilization of support and assistance for the Palestinian people. To that end, resolution 56/34 of 3 December 2001 specifically addresses the organization of meetings in various regions, with the participation of all sectors of the international community.

    Plenary I considered "The impact of the Israeli military offensive in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem". It focused on Israeli attacks on the Palestinian Authority and its infrastructure; the security situation and the need for protection of the Palestinian civilian population; the destruction of the Palestinian economy and the urgency of assistance to the Palestinian people; the humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory; and international efforts to establish facts about the Israeli military actions in Jenin and other Palestinian cities, in particular by the General Assembly.

    In Plenary II, experts explored challenges to a peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine. Discussion points included ending the Israeli occupation; finding a just and fair solution to the Palestine refugee problem; the illegality of Israeli settlement construction; the status of Jerusalem; and realizing an independent and sovereign Palestinian State.

    Discussions in Plenary III revolved around international efforts at salvaging peace in the Middle East and African support for the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including efforts by Arab States, and the Arab peace initiative in particular; the role of the "Quartet" (European Union, Russian Federation, United States and United Nations) in efforts at restoring a peace dialogue between the Israelis and the Palestinians; the permanent responsibility of the United Nations towards the question of Palestine; action by African States within the United Nations system, the Non-aligned Movement and other intergovernmental organizations; civil society action in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

    At the final meeting, participants adopted a Final Communiqué in which they called on the Government of Israel to honour its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention and immediately terminate all acts of violence against innocent civilians. They also demanded that the Israeli Government immediately cease construction of the system of barriers designed to separate arbitrarily the West Bank from Israel.

    The African NGO workshop reviewed action by African NGOs in pursuance of recommendations made by the August 2001 Non-Governmental Forum in Durban; mobilization of public opinion in support of the Palestinian people; and development of action-oriented proposals by African NGOs and mechanisms for their implementation.

    Committee Background

    The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People was established by the General Assembly by resolution 3376 (XXX) of November 1975. By that resolution, the Assembly gave the Committee a mandate to recommend a programme to enable the Palestinian people to exercise its inalienable rights as recognized by Assembly international resolution 3236 (XXIX) of 22 November 1974. In its first and subsequent reports to the Assembly, the Committee has stressed that a comprehensive, just and lasting solution to the question of Palestine, the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict, must be the relevant United Nations resolutions and the following principles: the withdrawal of Israel from Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, and from other occupied Arab territories; respect for the right of all States in the region to live in peace within secure and internationally recognized boundaries; and the recognition and exercise of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, primarily the right to self-determination. The Committee's recommendations could not be implemented and the Assembly each year has renewed the Committee's mandate and requested it to intensify its efforts.

    The Committee is composed of the following Member States: Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Cyprus, Guinea, Guyana, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Namibia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Romania, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tunisia, Turkey and Ukraine.

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