For information only - not an official document
26 March 2010
Anti-separation Wall Activists Speak up during United Nations Meeting of Civil Society in Support of the Palestinian People
Actions Discussed to Implement ICJ Advisory Opinion on Wall
(Received from a UN Information Officer)
VIENNA, 26 March (UN Information Service) - Representatives of non-governmental organizations, activists and others attending today's United Nations Meeting of Civil Society in Support of the Palestinian People in Vienna reported on actions taken against the wall built by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in an around East Jerusalem, especially around the village of Bil'in, and highlighted the importance of the July 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice regarding the wall.
The one-day event followed the United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People, which took place in Vienna on 24 and 25 March. Both events were held under the auspices of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. With today's meeting, the Committee continued to carry out its programme of cooperation with civil society, as mandated by the General Assembly, by providing venues and opportunities for civil society organization and individuals to exchange views and broaden their international networks in support of the Palestinian people.
In opening remarks, Zahir Tanin, Vice-Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, noting that last month, more than a thousand Palestinian, Israeli and international activists had come together in the Palestinian village of Bil'in to mark five years of popular struggle against the wall despite serious risks, said "We are humbled by what members of civil society are sacrificing personally in order to fight against a great injustice."
At the end of the meeting, Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of Palestine at the United Nations, said: "I am honored and humbled to be in the company of fighters in the field who fight on a daily basis against the wall and the occupation." Noting that civil society and the Palestinian Authority complemented each other, and that all action, big or small, contributed to the struggle of the Palestinian people to end the occupation and establish an independent State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital, he urged participants to "always concentrate on what unifies us and not what divides us."
Saviour F. Borg (Malta), Rapporteur of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, also made closing remarks.
The Meeting consisted of two panel discussions under the themes "Civil society actions against the separation wall in the Occupied West Bank" and "The importance of upholding international law, including with respect to the International Court of Justice's Advisory Opinion regarding the wall".
In sometimes emotional presentations, panellists updated participants on the situation with regard to the construction of the wall; reported on their non-violent actions against the wall; and discussed ways in which civil society could raise public awareness about the impact of the wall on the occupied Palestinian Territory.
Two films were screened: "Walled Horizons", a documentary prepared by the United Nations in Jerusalem and featuring Roger Waters of the band Pink Floyd; and "Refuse to die in silence", which documented non-violent and creative demonstrations in Bil'in.
One Palestinian panellist, Lubna Masarwa, an activist and community organizer, could not attend. She had missed her flight because she had been subjected to four hours of humiliating security procedures at the airport in Tel Aviv. In an e-mail message to the Meeting's organizers, she wrote: "I felt trapped and couldn't handle it anymore."
Welcoming the civil society participants, ZAHIR TANIN, Vice-Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said the Committee continued to carry out its programme of cooperation with civil society by providing venues and opportunities such as the current one for civil society organizations and individuals to come together to exchange views and broaden their international networks in support of the Palestinian people.
He commended civil society organizations for their efforts to uphold international legitimacy regarding the question of Palestine through advocacy and the mobilization of public opinion and for their initiatives aimed at alleviating the plight of the Palestinian people. He encouraged civil society organizations to broaden their base, involving trade unions and other large organizations, and to harmonize their advocacy efforts at the local, national, regional and international levels.
Civil society groups were playing a leading role in highlighting to the world how the separation wall was tearing the fabric of Palestinian life. Last month, more than a thousand Palestinian, Israeli and international activists had come together in the Palestinian village of Bil'in to mark five years of popular struggle against the wall and activists were continuing their protests against the wall despite serious risks. The Committee had been following the arrests and detentions of members of such groups as the Bil'in Popular Committee and the Stop the Wall Campaign. "We are humbled by what members of civil society are sacrificing personally in order to fight against a great injustice," he said.
The Committee had denounced the continued construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem. More than five years after the July 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice confirming the illegality of the construction of the wall on Palestinian land, that ruling had remained unheeded. The Advisory Opinion provided all actors of the international community, including civil society organizations, with a powerful tool to pursue peace efforts at all levels and to strengthen the movement in support of a comprehensive, just and lasting solution of the question of Palestine, he said.
Panel Discussion One
The first panel discussion had as its theme: "Civil society actions against the separation wall in the Occupied West Bank" and was moderated by Fritz Edlinger, Secretary-General of the Society for Austro-Arab Relations in Vienna. Sub-themes included an update on the situation with regard to the construction of the wall; the role of civil society in raising public awareness about the effects of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory; and current civil society activities.
The discussion opened with a screening of "Walled Horizons," a documentary prepared by the United Nations in Jerusalem to mark the five years since the July 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice. The film, narrated by and featuring Roger Waters - a founding member of Pink Floyd and famous for the song "The Wall" - depicted the damaging impact the separation wall had had on Palestinian rural and urban populations. The film also featured Palestinians affected by the wall. Israeli security officials responsible for planning the wall's route were interviewed as well. Mr. Waters, who had donated his services for this documentary, is also active in the Freedom Theatre in Bil'in, the Meeting was told.
RAY DOLPHIN, Humanitarian Affairs Officer and barrier expert at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Jerusalem, said that since the inception of the wall, there had been four official routes. In 2003, the route had incorporated more Palestinian land under Israeli control than the current one. The plan also included a wall down the Jordan Valley, which was dropped later. In 2004, the wall still travelled dramatically into the southern West Bank. In 2005, it followed the Green Line in the Hebron area, but a large area around Jerusalem had been added, which cut off Jerusalem from the West Bank.
He said that the current route, approved in 2006, was about 60 per cent completed and 10 per cent under construction. About 9.5 per cent of the West Bank would be effectively annexed to Israel. Although Israeli officials claimed that it was not a political route, it took in the major settlement blocks in the West Bank, the ones Israel had said it wanted to keep.
Communities closely connected to Jerusalem were physically separated from the city. The six hospitals for the West Bank were all located in East Jerusalem and were now cut off. Muslims and Christians were cut off from their places of worship in East Jerusalem, he added.
The wall would isolate most of the agricultural land in Bethlehem, he continued. About 10,000 Palestinians were living between the wall and the Green Line, in closed area communities, and were required to have permanent residence permits just to live on their land. They had to access the West Bank through checkpoints and were cut off from health and education facilities.
In January 2009, the land between the land and the wall had been declared closed military zones or "Seam Zones". In order to reach their land, farmers now had to get permits to go through gates or checkpoints. In 52 villages of the northern West Bank, only 20 per cent of the farmers, or 3 per cent of the population, were getting permits to access their land. The result was that the communities were no longer agricultural, which had a major impact on livelihood. Of the 10 checkpoints and 62 gates for farmers, only 11 gates were opened on a daily basis. As access was increasingly denied, farmers nowadays refused to apply for permits.
In conclusion he said the wall was one of the Israeli measures to restrict movements and was having a devastating impact on hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, in particular farmers. The wall should be dismantled and reparation should be paid. His Office had called for a freeze on the wall's construction in the West Bank.
Participants then saw the screening of "Refuse to die in silence," produced by Shai Carmeli Pollak, which included scenes from another movie entitled "Bil'in Habibti". It showed the creative and non-violent struggle of the people of Bil'in against the construction of the wall, which had become a symbol for the resistance in the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory. It also showed the reaction of the Israel Defense Forces against those demonstrations, with one demonstrator being shot and killed.
MOHAMMED A.M. KHATIB, Coordinator of the Bil'in Popular Committee against the Wall, who introduced the documentary, said that, as the present situation could not longer be accepted, the local community had taken the initiative to resist. Each Friday in Bil'in and other places, demonstrators came together because, as he said, "We cannot wait for the occupation to become stronger." The demonstrations were non-violent, as only non-violent resistance could draw the necessary attention. Israelis and people from other countries had joined the demonstrations. After all, the resistance was not against the Israelis as a people but against the occupation.
He said he had always lived under occupation and did not know the meaning of living without occupation, but did not want his children to live the same way. The struggle had started locally, but now the resistance was more organized. A coordination committee for non-violent resistance had been established, which was carrying out legal support, media advice and advocacy. Now that the movement had become more effective, Israel was trying to break it through increased violence and arrests, he said.
JONATHAN POLLAK, Media Coordinator of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, Tel Aviv, noted that civil society under occupation was, as a matter of course, in constant friction with the authorities. He added that, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, that friction was manifested in all walks of life - from the hundreds of military checkpoints to the Israeli-only "apartheid roads". Strategically, significant elements of Palestinian civil society chose daily to tread the path of grassroots resistance in unarmed confrontation with the occupation. It was a David vs. Goliath picture of civilians struggling against a brutal military occupation.
He said that recently, the international media had begun referring to the coordinated peace efforts as "the white intifada". But as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spoke only the language of violence, the white intifada had become stained with the blood of demonstrators.
In recent months, Israeli authorities had launched a concerted and politically motivated assault on the Palestinian popular movement, with hundreds of arrests and ever increasing violence on the ground. Faced by growing popular dissent, Israel was trying to squash the movement that aimed to overthrow the occupation. The IDF regularly attacked the demonstrators with lethal violence, resulting in 20 deaths so far. He noted that the previous speaker had been arrested in the middle of the night for incitement and rock-throwing based on falsified evidence. Many others had been jailed on the evidence of people who had been intimidated during interrogation. Bil'in had been declared a closed military zones every Friday for half a year.
He said that one of the strengths of the popular struggle was that its oppression had a political price. The resistance movement's use of the media was wedded to its strategy on the ground. It wanted to make the occupation unmanageable in the media as well, exposing its ills and lies. When Israeli soldiers shot two teenagers last Saturday in Iraq Burin, the IDF automatically claimed in the media that the two were "lawfully" shot with rubber bullets. Although that story was initially accepted by the media, the movement had presented X-rays proving that live ammunition had been used. Thus, the IDF's lies had been exposed in the media.
Although the IDF relentlessly tried to depict the resistance as violence, attacking demonstrators presented the IDF in a violent and ridiculous way. The work on the ground and in the media aimed at exposing the Israeli violence and oppression. For the Palestinian freedom struggle to bear fruit, it was the international community's role to use their work in order to draw the highest price possible from Israel for the occupation.
SAID YAQIN DAWOUD, Coordinator of the Palestinian National Committee against the Wall and Lecturer at the Al-Quds Open University in Jerusalem, paid tribute to an American student who had put herself before a bulldozer to prevent destruction of a house, saying there were still many good people who stood up in the face of the occupation and called it ethnic cleansing. He welcomed the fact that some Israelis were standing with the demonstrators in Bil'in.
While thanking European and other countries who protested the occupation and the ethnic cleansing, he said the occupation only showed its guns. It was an occupation of settlers against indigenous people. The policy of fait accompli which had started in 1947 was still being implemented. The occupation had tried to take parts of Palestine in 1967 and had begun engaging in the crime of destroying villages in a massive campaign of settlements in order to create a fait accompli and prevent the emergence of an independent Palestinian State.
The separation wall was an apartheid wall, he said, and should be called as such. The wall had come forth from the Israeli policy of establishing a purely Jewish state free from Arabs. In 1948, more than 500 Palestinian villages had been destroyed. The modern equivalent was the present destruction of farms in the West Bank. Area C - which produced food and absorbed 70 per cent of the work force - was now behind the wall. That was "a strategic death for the West Bank and the future Palestinian State". The wall was the last link in a new Holocaust, he said.
Panel Discussion Two
The second panel discussion had as its theme: "The importance of upholding international law, including with respect to the International Court of Justice's Advisory Opinion regarding the wall" and was moderated by Hans Koechler, President of the International Progress Organization, Vienna. Sub-themes included: "Political and legislative advocacy - reaching decision-makers and politicians;" and "Participation in international campaigns against the wall."
Mr. KOECHLER said the big problem, as far as international law was concerned, was the gap between legal norms and the situation on the ground. The norms were clear, as had been confirmed by the International Court of Justice's Advisory Opinion. The basic elements of that Opinion were: the construction of the wall was contrary to international law; Israel was under obligation to terminate its construction, dismantle it and repeal all legislative acts that related to it; Israel was under obligation to pay reparations for all damage caused by the wall; all States were under obligation not to recognize any consequences of the wall construction and not to aid such construction; and the United Nations should consider what further action was required to bring an end to the construction.
It was therefore appropriate for the United Nations to organize meetings such as the current one. The implementation of the law was unfortunately something that was left to international politics as international law was not self-enforcing. There stood only two avenues open in terms of enforcement. First, there were compulsory measures under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, which were impossible to use as long as one permanent Member of the Security Council would cast a negative vote. Second, those States that had ratified the Geneva Conventions could take measures, including economic ones, against Israel. The realistic action was to exercise political pressure. That was the predicament the United Nations and the international community were in. It was therefore appropriate that civil society stepped in, especially in the countries that were permanent members of the Security Council.
WESAM AHMAD, Advocacy Officer, Al-Haq - Law in the Service of Man, Ramallah, said that the Fayyad Plan would encounter many obstacles because of the occupation. Meanwhile, a long-standing Israeli plan was being implemented and the wall was part of that. Already in 1967, Israeli officials had urged the emigration of Arabs and worked towards increasing the Jewish population in East Jerusalem. Countering the claim that the wall was being built for security reasons, he showed videos of Palestinians easily climbing over the barrier.
The true purpose of the wall, he said, was the annexation of territory, transfer of the Palestinian population and demographic manipulation. In three videos, he showed how the wall impacted the daily life of one family, one village and East Jerusalem. Those cases were examples of passive forcible transfer, namely creating a situation that forced people to leave, which was prohibited under the Fourth Geneva Convention and under the Rome Statute.
Palestinians must ensure that their rights were not subject to negotiation, he said. They did not turn to the Israeli judicial system as they saw it as one of the pillars of the occupation. Another avenue of action was to challenge third States and private corporations regarding their relations with Israel. Counterproductive actions included permitting Israel to join the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) or holding a Union of European Football Association (UEFA) meeting in Tel Aviv. Those recent actions suggested to the Israeli people that life was normal.
PHIL SHINER, Supervisor, Public Interest Lawyers, United Kingdom, said the Advisory Opinion was extremely helpful as it had identified three different pre-empting norms Israel had breached, explaining that peremptory norms or jus cogens norms were actions recognized in international law that no State was ever permitted to commit, such as genocide, slavery and denial of the right to self-determination. The Opinion was crystal clear that Israel was in breach of international law and set out the obligations of third States.
He said that customary international law was part of the common law of the United Kingdom and part of the jurisdiction of other European States. He had unsuccessfully brought two cases to Court where the United Kingdom was in violation of international law through, for instance, permitting the sale of arms to Israel, which had then been used in the Gaza offensive, and suggested that civil society should identify EU States where legal actions in that regard could be brought.
The EU-Israeli Association Agreement was also in breach of the jus cogens norms, as the Agreement included a provision that said that relations between parties must be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles. That clause required parties to respect customary international law and the principles of the United Nations Charter which prohibits acquisition of territory by force. He was working on a court challenge in that regard and suggested that what was being done in the UK could be done elsewhere.
JAMAL ZAKOUT, Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority and Head of the Civil Society and Media Unit in the Prime Minister's Office, said that third States indeed had a responsibility regarding the Advisory Opinion and civil society organizations should follow the cases being brought. In the eyes of ordinary Palestinian citizens, however, the international community and the United Nations had lost credibility as they saw that despite all the effort exerted by the international community to reach the end of occupation, they were still being denied access to their lands and livelihoods. Despite all efforts, there was still an Israeli blockade on Gaza.
He said the credibility of the international community and international law had to be restored. Palestinians were unable to hold Israel accountable. The Palestinian Authority would use any possible means to prevent further deterioration and to provide the minimum assistance to its people. The EU-Israeli Association Agreement should not be continued. At the domestic level, different parties had a special responsibility. Two years ago, groups who were defending their land had come together to discuss ways on how to enable the Palestinians to hold on to their land. The Palestinian Authority had held discussions with civil society organizations, during which some 200 projects had been suggested.
He said that in addition to asking third parties, the Palestinians had to do everything they could themselves in order to design a programme of resistance. The act of building a house was a form of resistance, just like boycotting the products from settlements. The international community and civil society could play a role in creating a situation where the Security Council could take action. The Palestinian Authority was committed to civil resistance, he added.
RABAB KHAIRY, Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa of the Centre national de coopération au développement (National Centre for Development Cooperation), Belgium, explained the Russell Tribunal on Palestine initiative, set up some five years after the Advisory Opinion. The purpose was to show the complicity of the international community in the perpetuation of ongoing violations of human rights of the Palestinian people. The Tribunal acted as the court of the people, a Tribunal of conscience aimed at mobilizing society. It consisted of eminent persons, among them former United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. A number of international sessions would be organized, the first of which had already taken place in Barcelona. There, the relations between the European Union's Member States and Israel had been investigated.
Reporting on the findings of that Tribunal, she said the EU and its Member States had been found in breach of several provisions of international law regarding their cooperation with Israel, including active assistance to Israel in exporting weapons used in the Gaza offensive. If the European Union and its Member States failed to impose the necessary actions against Israel, the Tribunal would count on European Union citizens to bring the necessary pressure.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, said: "I am honored and humbled to be in the company of fighters in the field who fight on a daily basis against the wall and the occupation." Civil society and the Palestinian Authority complemented each other, he continued. Ending the occupation was a collective endeavour that required from each and everyone to do what was needed. Ways should be found to convince the 25 European countries that had not yet done so to recognize the State of Palestine.
He invited participants to do their part, through, for instance, researching the many issues contained in the ICJ ruling. Help was needed in handling some 60,000 claims for damages caused by the construction of the wall, for instance. All things being done, small or big, contributed to the struggle of the Palestinian people. Some activists were being killed, others sent to prison, others were advancing the ICJ ruling in the diplomatic area. It all added collectively to the struggle of the Palestinian people so that one day they would succeed and could start building their society. "Always concentrate on what unifies us and not what divides us," he said.
SAVIOUR F. BORG, Rapporteur of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said that today, the Committee had learned about activities on the ground aimed at bringing down the wall. "We've learned about your tireless advocacy work, your relentless protests, and your invocations of international law". The messages heard today would be presented to Committee members and, through them, the wider membership of the United Nations.
He assured participants that the Committee stood behind their efforts and encouraged them to keep working towards a just and lasting peace and said: "The Palestinian people have suffered too much and for too long. All of us in every capacity, Governments, the United Nations and civil society, must each play our own role to bring justice back to the Palestinian people."
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