- Opening session - 1h19min
- Plenary I part 1 - 43min
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service ·
23 September 2002
Committee on Inalienable Rights
of the Palestinian People
Civil Society Conference
CIVIL SOCIETY CRUCIAL TO PROTECTION OF PALESTINIAN PEOPLE,
SAY PARTICIPANTS IN PALESTINE COMMITTEE CONFERENCE
Calling for greater efforts by civil society organizations in support of the Palestinian people, the Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People said that civil society had a crucial role to play in protecting the Palestinian people.
Speaking at the opening of the two-day session of the United Nations International Conference on Civil Society in Support of the Palestinian People, Committee Chairman Papa Louis Fall (Senegal) said that politics was no longer a matter for governments alone. Civil society had a crucial role to play in achieving the peaceful coexistence of Israel and an independent Palestinian State. For that reason, the Committee was determined to strengthen its cooperation with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), academic institutions, parliamentarians and the media.
Commending the international activists who helped protect Palestinian civilians facing Israeli incursions into their cities, international humanitarian aid organizations, the Israeli opposition and American NGOs, he said that greater efforts by civil society organizations in support of the Palestinian people were needed. In view of the daily violence directed towards them, particular attention must be paid to their protection. The delivery of emergency relief should be a priority and Member States should be urged through domestic channels to uphold international law and implement the relevant United Nations resolutions. The role of NGOs in educating public opinion about the root causes of the conflict and the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people remained crucial.
Reading an address by the United Nations Secretary-General, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Kieran Prendergast, said renewed tensions had threatened to undermine peace and security in the Middle East region. Violence in the past several months had caused great suffering among innocent civilians on both sides of the conflict. Until last week, there had been some six weeks of relative calm in Israel itself, but during the same period in the occupied territory, some 54 Palestinians had been killed in Israeli military operations. The essential objectives of security and humanitarian relief could not be achieved in isolation. It was necessary to return to the search for a just and comprehensive solution.
Humanitarian assistance for the suffering Palestinian population was urgently needed, he continued. Civil society could play an important role in that regard. While the International Conference was in support of the Palestinian people, it acknowledged the Israeli people’s longing for peace and coexistence. The conference pointed to a way out of the impasse for both peoples, namely the need to deal with the root causes of the conflict. The inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including the right to self-determination and to a State of their own, must be restored to them.
The Observer for Palestine, Nasser Al-Kidwa, said the Palestinian people had, over the years, had to face the denial of their existence, massacres and the confiscation of their properties. Over the past two years, the occupying forces had not stopped carrying out extrajudicial killings, destroying houses, spreading terror and death, kidnapping Palestinians and the massive destruction of property and agricultural lands. They had prevented the movement of people, goods, NGOs and humanitarian agencies. Closures had continued, as had the pressures exerted on thousands of Palestinians. The Israeli occupation forces had not stopped their actions even in periods of calm, he said. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s intentions were clear, and included the destruction of the Palestinian Authority and breaking the will of the Palestinian people.
In a panel discussion that followed, entitled “The daily face of occupation”, speakers raised various issues facing civil society actors in fulfilling their humanitarian responsibilities to the people of the occupied territories.
Panel moderator Phyllis Bennis said Israel must be held responsible for upholding the standards of the Geneva Convention, and the international community must take up its responsibility for protecting the Palestinian people in light of Israel's abnegation of responsibility. The unequivocal focus of the International Conference was ending the occupation and discussing how to implement that goal.
During the discussion, speakers highlighted the difficulties of living under occupation and curfews, suggesting ways to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people. Several participants stressed the need for a stronger United Nations presence in the region.
The conference will meet again this afternoon at 3 p.m. to take up the theme “civil society and occupation”.
The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People met this morning to open the United Nations International Conference of Civil Society in Support of the Palestinian People. The two-day Conference is convened in accordance with General Assembly resolutions
of December 2001. In the plenary meeting that follows the opening session, the Conference is expected to discuss the theme “The daily face of occupation”.
KIERAN PRENDERGAST, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, reading a statement by the Secretary-General, said the situation in the Middle East and the question of Palestine had been on the United Nations agenda since the Organization's earliest days. Despite hopes raised by the peace process and the Oslo accords in the 1990s, renewed tensions had threatened to undermine peace and security in the Middle East and the violence in the past several months had caused great suffering among innocent civilians on both sides. Until last week, there had been some six weeks of relative calm in Israel itself, but during the same period in the occupied territory, some 54 Palestinians had been killed in Israeli military operations. The essential objectives of security and humanitarian relief could not be achieved in isolation. It was necessary to return to the search for a just and comprehensive solution.
Today, Palestinians were confined to their towns, villages and refugee camps, without a State or a functioning economy of their own, he said. The Secretary-General was dismayed at the excessive use of force, which had caused the deaths of so many Palestinian civilians, including children, but he had also strongly condemned the killing of innocent civilians on both sides, irrespective of the provenance and motives of the perpetrators. Stifling curfews and closures resulted in mounting economic hardship for the Palestinian population, while recent military operations had caused great damage to the Palestinian Authority and its institutions. They had further weakened the Authority’s capacity to provide basic services to its people.
Noting that the United Nations had been providing assistance to the Palestinians for more than half a century, he said the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was the longest-running relief effort undertaken by the Organization in any part of the world. It remained a lifeline to some 3.9 million Palestinians. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with its programme of assistance to the Palestinian people, also had a long history of participation in Palestinian development efforts. In spite of all such endeavours, peace seemed as far away as ever. To bring it once again within reach, numerous factors had to be propitious, and pressure had to be brought to bear from many sides. The political leadership of both parties had to be encouraged in the direction of accepting difficult compromises.
The way people on both sides of the conflict thought about themselves, each other and the region had to change, he continued. Joint grassroots initiatives between Palestinian and Israeli non-governmental organizations (NGOs) should be encouraged. The public around the world, especially within the most influential countries, had to be informed so that it could grasp the broader picture and the issues at stake. Humanitarian assistance had to be provided urgently to the suffering Palestinian population. Civil society could play an important role. While the Conference was in support of the Palestinian people, it acknowledged the Israeli people’s longing for peace and coexistence. It pointed the way out of the impasse for both peoples, which must be to deal with the root causes of the conflict. The inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including the right to self-determination and to a State of their own, must be restored to them.
He said the ultimate shape of a Middle East peace settlement was well known. It had been defined long ago in Security Council resolutions
. Its Israeli-Palestinian components were spelt out even more clearly in resolution
, namely land for peace; an end to occupation; an end to terrorism; two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side within secure and recognized borders. While both parties accepted that vision, it could only be achieved through rapid movement – in parallel – on all fronts. The United Nations had been working to find ways of doing that with its partners in the “Quartet” the United States, the Russian Federation and the European Union. The Quartet, in its recent meeting at the United Nations, had agreed to continue working with the parties and key regional actors on an implementation road map, which could lead to a final and comprehensive settlement within three years.
It was essential and urgent to make both peoples more secure by bringing an immediate end to violence and terror, he said. However, that must be done within the context of an overall plan, which must address the political, economic, humanitarian and institutional dimensions of the problem. Reciprocal steps to be taken by both sides must be spelt out in each phase. The road map would be in three phases, with progress from each phase to the next based on the parties’ compliance with performance benchmarks to be monitored and assessed by a mechanism of the Quartet.
The first phase would see a Palestinian security reform, Israeli withdrawals and support for Palestinian elections to be held in early 2003, he said. An ad hoc liaison committee meeting in November would review the humanitarian situation and identify priority areas, including the reform process for development assistance in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In the second phase, during 2003, the focus would shift to the option of creating a Palestinian State with provisional borders and based on a new constitution as a step on the way to a final and comprehensive settlement. The final and comprehensive settlement should emerge in the third phase, from 2004 to mid–2005, through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Palestinian reform and political process were essential, but they must be accompanied by Israeli measures to improve the lives of Palestinians, he emphasized. That included the resumption of economic activity and the movement of goods, people and essential services; the easing or lifting curfews and closures; the return of tax revenues owed to the Palestinian Authority; and an immediate stop to all Israeli settlement activity in the occupied territory. The Palestinians must work with the United States and regional partners to reform their security services and combat terrorism. Both sides should work to enable the civilian population of the West Bank and Gaza and to re-establish security cooperation. The Quartet was continuing to discuss the timing and modalities for an international conference and remained committed to the search for a just, lasting, comprehensive settlement in the Middle East, including the Syrian-Israeli and Lebanese-Israeli tracks.
PAPA LOUIS FALL (
), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said that the second intifada had shown that a piecemeal solution to the question of Palestine was not possible. The core problem was the continued Israeli occupation and the series of illegal acts associated with it, which had dehumanized both peoples and defeated the stated objective of security for Israel. The situation had led to the growing alienation of the two peoples and empowered the most extreme elements to pursue their zealous goals.
Left to their own devices, he said, the two parties could not extricate themselves from the conflict. Yet, despite the many international actors offering their good offices and concrete assistance, the conflict had escalated due to the lack of determination on the part of some major actors to insist on a permanent settlement of the question in accordance with international legitimacy. The most powerful United Nations Member States had ignored the contempt shown by Israel for the resolutions and decisions of the Organization's organs, and the relevant Security Council resolutions had not been implemented.
The international community must take up its responsibilities and intervene more forcefully, he stressed, saying that the first step was to build a more robust international presence in the region to guarantee the safety of both Palestinian and Israeli civilians. Moreover, there must be a concrete plan tied to a rigid three-year time frame for the realization of two States, within the pre-1967 borders, including a step-by-step mechanism covering the political, economic and security fields. Such a plan required Security Council approval without delay. Yet politics was no longer a matter for governments alone; civil society had a crucial role to play in achieving the peaceful coexistence of Israel and an independent Palestinian State. For that reason, the Committee was determined to strengthen its cooperation with NGOs, academic institutions, parliamentarians and the media.
He commended those international activists who had stepped in when other sectors of the international community had been unable to provide protection for Palestinian civilians facing Israeli incursions into their cities. A large number of international humanitarian aid organizations had continued to support the basic needs of the Palestinians, while boycott campaigns of Israeli products had attracted international attention and recognition as tools for influencing governmental policy. The actions of the Israeli peace camp were also encouraging, as was the number of Israeli soldiers who had refused to serve in the occupied Palestinian territory. Finally, the importance of American NGOs in mobilizing public opinion should be noted, as the United States had the greatest influence on both parties.
Aware of the challenges, he said, the Committee called for greater efforts by civil society organizations in support of the Palestinian people, with particular attention to their protection in view of the daily violence directed towards them. The delivery of emergency relief should also be a priority and Member States should be urged, through domestic channels, to uphold international law and implement the relevant United Nations resolutions. Moreover, the role of NGOs in educating public opinion about the root causes of the conflict and the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people remained crucial.
THOMAS NEU, speaking on behalf of the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA), said that although NGOs were usually constrained to leave politics to others, the tragedy of the Middle East situation impelled them to speak out on a number of urgent issues. Living and working in Palestinian communities tended to focus the mind on practical matters. For the last several years the most pressing issue had been the restrictions on movement. Instructions from his colleagues in the field had been to maintain the focus on access.
He said the local population had lost the ability to provide for themselves because they were not allowed the freedom to go to their offices, work sites or fields; the potential of the next generation, who could not go to school on a regular basis; their health, as they were without ready access to clinics and hospitals; the ability to travel between Palestinian communities; and the ability to express their own views about ending the oppressive force of occupation, as they were unable to congregate. Not only were Palestinian leaders unable to travel and speak freely, but the term "curfew" did not adequately express the plight of families, locked in their houses for days and given only a few hours to dash to stores and relatives' houses.
The objective of international NGOs working in the West Bank and Gaza was to enable the resumption of normal human progress, with Palestine's own parents, community groups, national NGOs and government agencies addressing the development needs of the society, the economy and the political system, he said. However, there should not even be a need for international NGOs in a country with such a well-educated population, a deeply-rooted sense of national solidarity and a strong local network of NGOs, nor should there be a need for relief programmes. Few countries had fallen so far, so fast. However, rapid growth in the number of jobless, penniless and nearly hopeless Palestinians indicated that the help of international NGOs would be necessary for some time to come. The need for direct assistance had placed too great a burden on the service sector, which was in danger of collapsing under the load. Civil society institutions also found themselves under attack.
He said that although international NGOs did not intend to assume the responsibility of local NGOs or public services, there was a gap that must be filled. Palestinian communities needed considerable assistance to return to the resources and rights they had two years ago. Yet, that would not be sufficient progress. The predicament in which the international NGOs found themselves was directly linked to the occupation; the only solution was to end that occupation.
NASSER AL-KIDWA, Observer for Palestine, said the Security Council was meeting this morning to examine the serious situation in the occupied Palestinian territory. The meeting had been requested following the serious criminal actions by Israeli forces, in particular the invasion by Israeli forces of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s compound, where the occupying forces were continuing to destroy buildings and exert pressure. A number of statements had been made by Israeli leaders calling for the arrest of a number of people within the remaining standing building. That was totally unacceptable to the Palestinian Authority as it represented a new attempt at humiliating the Palestinian people and their leaders. The Security Council had been asked to demand Israel’s withdrawal from the area surrounding the compound, to stress the need to find a solution to the humanitarian crisis and to call for the immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces to their positions before September 2000.
He said the Palestinian people had, over the years, to face the denial of their existence, massacres and the confiscation of their properties. Over the past two years, the occupying forces had not stopped carrying out extrajudicial killings, destroying houses, spreading terror and death, kidnapping Palestinians and the massive destruction of property and agricultural lands. They had prevented the movement of people, goods, NGOs and humanitarian agencies. Closures had continued as had the pressures exerted on thousands of Palestinians.
The Israeli occupation forces had not stopped their actions even in periods of calm, he said. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s intentions were clear. They included the destruction of the Palestinian Authority and breaking the will of the Palestinian people. Mr. Sharon and his supporters outside Israel did not wish to see an independent Palestine in place but rather the absence of Palestinian leadership. He did not want to see a lasting solution to the conflict and had recently reinterpreted Council resolution 242 in a newspaper article, saying that the Oslo accords were “outdated”. Mr. Sharon was pushing the region to the brink of a huge catastrophe by undertaking an international campaign based on lies to mislead international public opinion.
Israel was giving the impression that its actions were in reaction to suicide bombings, he said. That was far from the truth as the first suicide attack had taken place in 1994, some 27 years after the Israeli occupation. Acts of terror were not responses to suicide bombings. It was the occupying forces that had created the suicide bombers in the final analysis. Israel’s actions were in total disrespect of international law. The occupying forces had rejected all resolutions, including those on violations by the occupying forces in Jerusalem, in the settlements and colonies and those relating to protection of Palestinian civilians. Israel was the only country that was still involved in colonizing others in a post-colonial period. It systematically violated international and humanitarian law and publicly rejected Security Council resolutions. Israel, moreover, was the only country in the region which illegally possessed nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.
The only way to end the tragedy was to find the road to peace, he said. A comprehensive approach must not only look at economic, security and poltical issues but must also achieve a declaration of intention. That approach must not only focus on the principle of two States, but also decide on the actual borders between the two States. That was the only way to guarantee majority support for a solution by the Israeli and Palestinian populations. A multinational force in the context of Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter was also needed. The recent United Nations report on the events at the Jenin refugee camp reflected a gap between the legal position of the United Nations and the real situation. He expressed dissatisfaction with the report, saying it contained a basic imbalance.
PHYLLIS BENNIS, Moderator of the plenary session, said the Conference was being held under very dire circumstances, in which the Middle East region stood on the verge of a United States-created war. The unequivocal focus of the Conference was ending the occupation and discussing how to implement that goal. The work focus, already outlined by the speakers of the first panel and the Secretary-General’s statement, was to look at the question of international protection. Israel must be held responsible for upholding the standards of the Geneva Convention, and the international community must take up its responsibility for protecting the Palestinian people in light of Israel's abnegation of responsibility. As the Security Council had been blocked by the threat of a United States veto, the loci of action had been moved to the General Assembly and civil society.
The subject of the first panel, she said, was to examine the daily face of occupation. That, it was hoped, could provide a framework for looking at how to take the information provided and using it to craft a global strategy for building international protection to challenge the occupation.
GABI BARAMKI, President of the Palestinian Council for Justice and Peace, Ramallah, said the occupation had only grown worse in the past years. Life in Ramallah, compared to life in other cities in the occupied territories, was fairly straightforward. But normal life had become harder due to the imposition of full-day curfews, according to the whims of the occupiers. The world community was oblivious to the fact that, during curfews, the Palestinian people felt imprisoned in their own houses. But after the curfews were lifted, they were faced with a bigger prison due to the roadblocks, which, rather than providing any measure of security, were meant only to frustrate and humiliate. There were now 260 such "chokepoints" which prevented any sort of normalcy.
He said that travelling anywhere in the West Bank, one could not help but see the destruction wrought by the occupation. The most dangerous behaviour was the continued support for settlements. Armed settlers terrorized the Palestinian people in the surrounding neighbourhoods, planted bombs and committed murder; yet their actions went unchecked by the Israeli army. Mr. Sharon had used the violation of human rights and war crimes as tests of the international reaction. In view of the international community’s inaction, he had concluded that he could go ahead with his grand plan for a "Greater Israel" -- ethnic cleansing through population transfers into neighbouring Jordan. If he succeeded with that plan, there would be a great catastrophe, yet, if the Palestinians refused to move, genocide awaited them. Action could not wait, he said, stressing the need for international protection, under United Nations auspices, while pressing for an end to the occupation.
JESSICA MONTELL, Executive Director of B’Tselem, said that alongside the severe deterioration in the human rights situation was an equally disturbing phenomenon: the dehumanizing nature of the occupation. Over the past two years, there had been a severe deterioration in all aspects of human rights. Since the beginning of the intifada in October 2000, more than 1,400 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli forces, the vast majority of them civilians. About 40 people had died following delays in reaching medical treatment. The number of families living below the poverty level had tripled, largely as a result of the restrictions on movement. Israel’s human rights were also increasingly compromised with a dramatic increase in suicide bombings that had killed more than 500 people.
Since the beginning of the intifada, she said, human rights organizations had received reports from Palestinian and Israeli Defence Force (IDF) soldiers regarding the IDF’s use of civilians as human shields. In some cases, soldiers had forced Palestinian civilians to enter houses to check to see if they were booby-trapped or to remove suspicious objects from the road. The very notion of turning a human being into an object could not take place without the prior dehumanization of the victim. If Israelis recognized Palestinians as full human beings they could not justify that policy. On the Palestinian side, Israelis had also been dehumanized as illustrated by the widespread popular support for suicide bombings and other killings of Israeli civilians.
She said that, as the weaker party to the conflict, Palestinians might view respect for Israeli human rights as a luxury they could not afford. Whatever the justification, Israelis were not being targeted for specific acts that individuals might have committed. Like Israel’s sieges or demolition of houses, Palestinian suicide bombings were a collective punishment. Israel’s use of human shields and Palestinian suicide attacks were only two symptoms of the fact that both sides had lost sight of the basic humanity of the other. The challenge of civil society was to put a human face and human cost to the suffering. International civil society had an important role to end the dehumanization of the occupation.
FAHED ABU-AKEL, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America, said that institution had been supporting Israel since 1948 while at the same time working with Palestinian refugees for their freedom and independence. The theological basis of its work was that the Holy Land was God’s gift to Palestinians and Israelis. They must live justly and mercifully and be good stewards of it. Faithfulness to God obliged all to work for justice, peace, forgiveness, reconciliation and healing.
The moral basis for the Presbyterian Church’s work was that it acknowledged the sufferings imposed on Jews by the West, especially those inflicted in the Holocaust, he said. That, however, did not justify the injustices committed against Palestinians. Israel had, by force, displaced the Palestinians and destroyed their villages and towns, denying them basic human rights and illegally dominating and oppressing them. Palestinian refugees had the right of return according to General Assembly resolution 194. The Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, were occupied territories and the Israeli forces must withdraw from them.
The focus of NGOs on the ground was crucial to educating peoples from the different religious groups, he said. The media must also accurately portray the situation on the ground. When CNN aired videotapes of young Palestinians with guns, it established the understanding that Palestinians had guns. That was not the case. No one had the guts to say that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza were civilian populations, he noted.
Urging the participants to be brief and efficient, Ms. Bennis, the moderator, said that the focus of this discussion was the protection of the Palestinian people. Participants should take into consideration that the situation was currently dire, but that it could get much worse very soon. War in Iraq would lead to far graver violations of human rights than had been seen in two generations. The discussion must consider the protection needs for the situation that currently existed and for the one that might exist in the future.
One representative said that the conference should be focused on the theme of international protection so that the participants could leave with some concrete action steps to take so as to bring together the efforts of all. The participants needed to join together to push forward using the good offices of the United Nations. There had been some discussion of Chapter VII and international protection, she said, but given the example of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, which was completely useless, she did not want that effort reproduced. There was, however, a need to create a campaign for effective, United Nations-sponsored protection.
Another representative said that if United States President Bush attacked Iraq, there were indications that Sharon would go inside Gaza. She expressed concern, in this instance, for the reconstruction work undertaken by the NGO community.
An Indian representative made three points. One, that the statement by the Secretary-General was deeply appreciated and should be given wide circulation -- in India, his organization would work to see it circulated in both English and one or two other important languages. Two, there needed to be support for the peaceful coexistence of the two peoples. People-to-people interactions were very important. In that, the United Nations had a decisive role to play. Three, the youth of India, he said, were not well informed. Once they had been better informed, support for the cause of coexistence would increase.
A representative of the World's Citizen Foundation said that the conference needed to recognize that the current situation was a problem of perception -- a war for minds and public opinion, especially in the United States. Israel's secret weapon was the perception of it as democratic. However, the Palestinians could remedy that distinction very easily. They should not be the prisoners of old patrons. Moreover, democracy could be used in the peace process itself. People-to-people interaction did not really exist in the current negotiations, but a broader process comprising one to two hundred people -- including parliamentarians, academics and business leaders -- on each side could make decisions on a more representative basis.
A representative of the Palestinian American Congress said that it was important to recognize that the cities in Palestine were besieged and under curfew, including the city of Nablus, where malnutrition was evident and catastrophe imminent. While the whole world wanted the situation to end, whenever Arafat was besieged, the city of Nablus had been under siege for over 90 days and the media had not covered it. He also posed two questions: one, were there programmes to discourage the settlers and encourage them to move back to Israel; and two, did Mr. Abu-Akel support the right of refugees to return or did he only want the creation of an independent State?
In response to the first question, Ms. Montell said that while it was true that some settlers were armed, not all 200,000 Israelis living in the occupied territories were armed. It was the case that there was a strong lobby among settlers for increasing the violence and repressive measures used against Palestinians. Her organization had recently issued a comprehensive report on the settlements, which now comprised 42 per cent of the West Bank. She called on the Israeli Government to dismantle all settlements.
Mr. Abu-Akel said that the printed copy of his speech clarified all his positions, but that he did support the right of the Palestinians to return.
Another speaker made three points. One, this conference, in adopting a plan of action, needed to have a clear-cut understanding of what was happening. There was a systematic plan to liquidate the Palestinian Authority politically and physically, and to create non-contiguous areas led by Palestinian “collaborators”. Two, unlike the Secretary-General, he refused to condemn the suicide bombings. The violence of the oppressors and the reaction of the oppressed should not be put on the same level, he said. Israel might be a democracy, but it was racist. The Palestinian Authority had to take a stand against the suicide bombings, but as a member of the international community, he saw that the young men involved had given up their lives so that Palestine might live one day. While it was intolerable to see the deaths of innocent Israelis, it should be realized that they were the victims of Sharon, of United States imperialism -- which used innocent Israelis as human shields for its aggression in the Middle East -- and of their own narrow settler mentality. Three, it was important to fully trust the Palestinian people. They were the ones who should decide whether reform was needed; they were expressing their democratic will to be free and independent.
Adding to the discussion, panelist Pierre Galand proposed that it would be useful for all members to contact their delegates on the Security Council to send a message about the necessity for a resolution on the protection of the Palestinian people. Also, the conference needed to be attentive to the idea of country-by-country effort in the programme for action. In each region, well-targeted objectives were needed.
The moderator, Ms. Bennis, added her voice in urging each representative individually to contact their Missions to the United Nations, making it clear that they were participating in the conference along with 400 others. Also, on behalf of conference as a whole, she intended to request a meeting with the President of the Security Council, presently Bulgaria, probably for the next day.
A representative of an NGO said that her organization had been working to help Palestinians rebuild homes and to resist Israeli occupation. While it did not solve the immediate crisis, rebuilding homes would have a significant impact.
A representative of the “Church of Humanism” said that suicide bombers should be called self-sacrificing martyrs.
Another speaker said it was no secret that the occupation cost billions of dollars. Individual Israelis should be responsible for the occupation. It was a battle for perception in the minds of United States citizens, said a speaker. Another speaker asked what could be done to prepare for the consequences of a possible United States invasion of Iraq.
A representative of the African Union said the situation in the Middle East and the question of Palestine had long been a subject of concern for the Organization of African Unity (OAU). The OAU had always had an agenda item on Palestine. The Durban Summit had adopted a resolution which reflected the African Union’s position on the question of Palestine. World public opinion must be mobilized to help alleviate the humanitarian situation of the Palestinians.
Pressure must be brought to bear on the Security Council, especially those members with veto power.
Responses by Panelists
Mr. Neu said he was worried about what could happen in Palestine as a result of a possible war with Iraq. It was time to work together. The international community must be pressured for the creation of an international force for the protection of Palestinians.
Ms. Montell said that given the severe deterioration on the ground, it was hard to envision an effective protection force for the Palestinians that followed the observer model. Public shaming of Israel was the key. There was no lack of information on the situation, but government-level force could have positive benefits.
Mr. Abu-Akel saluted Israeli Jewish organizations that worked for the establishment of a Palestinian State. He encouraged United States churches to support Israeli and Palestinian activists. The Israeli military had failed. The suicide bombings had failed. He was concerned about the spiritual, moral and ethical condition of the Israeli people as well as that of the Palestinians under occupation. He was concerned about the children of Israel and Palestine. He hoped that Palestinians would gain independence through the power of non-violence. He called on the clergy of the three faiths to work together for justice and healing of people.
On the issue of a United Nations presence in the region, Ms. Bennis said there were precedents within the United Nations system that allowed the General Assembly to take action when the Council failed to. The power of the media with the cameras of the world could significantly change the political dynamics in the Middle East.
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For information media - not an official record