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Home al-Majdal Defining the Conflict (Spring 2007 )
Defining the Conflict (Spring 2007 )

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Reports and analysis in this issue study the role of the United Nation, which has become a “house-divided” on the definition of the conflict and its solution, and the divorce from international law and democracy premised by the two-state model promoted by the United States, the European Union and other Western players. Articles also provide a critical analysis of the Palestinian understanding of the conflict and strategies to address its discriminatory nature.

Other writers raise the need to redefine the conflict under the terms of Israeli's racist, colonial and apartheid-like regime over the Palestinians in Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territories (OPT).

The applicability of the concept of apartheid to the conflict is addressed by a review of former US President Jimmy Carter's book Peace not Apartheid the latest report of Prof. John Dugard, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights on the OPT, and the concluding observations of the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

General articles include analysis of the Israeli high court's legalization of the Wall and its associated regime, the role of the universal jurisdiction in the fight against impunity, an update on the situation of Palestinian refugees in Iraq, and a report from a recent conference examining the right of return in the context of the refugee cases of Palestine, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Darfur.

An update of recent developments in the global civil society campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel (BDS) and the UN General Assembly resolution establishing the UN Register of Damage caused by the Wall in the OPT are included in the documents section.

Defining and redefining the parameters of the protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict is intrinsic to the conflict, because the ongoing lack of consensus on “what this conflict is about” gives rise to conflicting models of solutions. Recently for instance, proposals have been made to “revise” the Arab/Saudi Peace initiative by diluting its provisions on Palestinian refugees' right of return, in order to accommodate Israel's interest in “re-defining the conflict as a border dispute” (Tzipi Livni, 12 March).

The conflict continues to be defined as religious, ethnic, colonial, apartheid, with models of solutions spanning from a rights-based approach to the politically-driven model based on the principle of 'land for peace'. The UN has been a 'divided house' as to the nature of and solution to the conflict (See 'Known Knowns' and 'Unknown Unknowns': the UN and Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, by Terry Rempel). The role of the international community, particularly the European Union and the United States, in fostering a 'just peace' is being re-evaluated by many who question the commitment of these players to international law and democracy (See The Palestinian People at Cross-Roads, by Ingrid Jaradat Gassner and US Policy and Palestinian Rights: Is there a Way to Shift American Gears? by Nadia Hijab).

For the time being, the fragile Mecca Agreement and the subsequent Palestinian national unity government have restored a sense of direction and hope to the Palestinian people. But will the agreements hold? Will they end isolation, bring back respect and restore the economic and political lifeline of the Palestinian people? What kind of new Palestinian Authority and PLO will emerge? Will the Palestinian people be re-instated as a political actor? All of these questions have yet to be answered, and the answers will determine the fate of Palestinian unity, struggle and leadership in the longer term. In the first months of 2007 a new chapter was added to the tragic annals of the Palestinian people: the international community accomplished in one year’s time what Israel, the major oppressor for almost 60 years, had failed to achieve. A people who had successfully remained steadfast and resisted Israel’s racist colonization, occupation and brutal military assaults for decades, was brought down in 2007 by an international sanctions regime which, for the first time in history, was imposed on an occupied people.

 the UN and Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Presenting his last report to the UN Security Council in December 2006 outgoing Secretary-General Kofi Annan lamented that the ‘greatest irony’ in the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict was that there was ‘no serious question about the broad outline of a final settlement.’ The only thing that was needed was a ‘ew and urgent push for peace’.(1)

 This simple assertion has become soewhat of an 'article of faith' among seasoned diplomats and policy analysts.(2) Former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld might call this assertion a 'known known' or something that we know that we know. Annan's summary of the contours of a final settlement, however, is somewhat more specific than the Road Map, referring specifically to a solution for refugees 'consistent with the character of States in the region.'

early 2007 there seemed to be some movement to revive the Israeli-Arab peace process. United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talked of a “political horizon” for the Palestinians and promised to remain engaged. How should one interpret these moves against the background of decades long US support for Israel? And, in the all too likely event that Rice’s efforts do not lead to a resolution, what should advocates of a just peace between Palestine and Israel do?   The Bush Years

 Rice recently recalled that President George W. Bush was the first American president to make “the creation of a Palestinian state, with territorial integrity, with viability, living side by side with Israel, in peace and security” a matter of policy.(1)

On the ground - March 2007

 Construction of the Wall is proceeding at a rapid pace in Bethlehem district. Palestinians of the towns of Bethlehem and Beit Jala and Palestinian refugees of the nearby village of al-Walaja are about to lose access to all of their open land located in a semi-circle to the West of their densely populated communities:

 Land of the Walaja refugees to be cut off by the Wall. Although confiscated by Israel since 1948, and despite frequent patrols by Israeli border police, local Palestinian residents are currently using the land for agriculture, grazing and recreation. (view from north to south). © BADIL

 View from the top of Beit Jala (Ra's Beit Jala) southwards on Palestinian land to be lost to the Wall, including al-Makhrour, especially dear to Palestinians in the Bethlehem district for its fruit trees, beauty and open pace (view to the south-west). © BADIL

 Since the colonial invasion in the region at the end of the 19th century, intellectual leaders of the Arab National Movement, including the Palestinian movement, have been aware of the links etween Zionism and the western colonial movement. Although early writings about the dangers of Zionism and its role in the conflict, especially those of Palestinian thinkers, pointed at the racist nature of Zionism, they failed to analyze it in-depth. This is evidenced by their failure to effectively manage the conflict and alliances; inadequate theoretical and practical attention to the racist nature of Zionism; and, their failure to assess the reason why the western colonial movement preferred Zionism over the Arab National Movement, although some of its major and dominant streams showed readiness for alliance or cooperation with the western colonial movement.

Two comments are in place at the beginning of this essay: first, criticism presented here should not be interpreted as downplaying the historical role, work and activities of the Palestinian national movement amid an extremely adverse political climate; and, second, it is important to remember that the national movement, which has grown from the conflict, is a dynamic movement which has shaped the course of the conflict while being shaped by it. It has defined its position and place among the Palestinian people by adjusting and adapting to the varying circumstances.

  The Palestinian national movement developed in the 1920s, when Palestine was for the first time defined as one unified geopolitical entity separate from “Greater Syria.” In general, the national movement has since then viewed Palestine as a homeland threatened by a western colonialist campaign that denied, in a blatant manner, the desires and aspirations of the Palestinian people and their right to self-determination.

Dr. Shawqi Khatib is the head of the Supreme Follow-up Committee of the Arabs in Israel, Arabs’ highest and most authoritative representative body, and of the National Committee of the Heads of Arab Local Councils. Recently, he published the “Future vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel”, a document that has attracted national and international interest and elicited a wide variety of responses across the political spectrum of Jews, Arabs and others. The “future vision document” (hereinafter the Document) is the outcome of an initiative launched three years ago by Dr. Khatib. He convened around 40 intellectuals and politicians representing all streams of thought in the Arab community in Israel and received funds from the UNDP to bring them to Jerusalem for four or five weekends to discuss all issues of concern.

 In the meetings in Jerusalem the group of representatives discussed the situation of the Palestinians in Israel in different domains: political, social, economical, educational and cultural. The initiative reflected the assessment that there is a deterioration at three levels in the lives of Palestinians in Israel: first, with the state of Israel since October 2000; second, at the internal level, where social issues are getting more complicated with regard to clan and local politics and the status of women (in fact, six of the eight chapters of the document are devoted to internal issues); and, third, with the Palestinian national movement.

Jimmy Carter, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, Simon & Schuster 2006, 264pp, $27,00.

“One of the major goals of my life, while in political office and since I
was retired from the White House by the 1980 election, has been
to help ensure a lasting peace for Israelis and others in the Middle East.”  If such was Jimmy Carter’s opening statement of his latest book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, why would the Israel-sympathetic words cause uproar among US Jews and elsewhere? And why would the former US president be accused by many Jewish groups of being a liar, a bigot, an anti-Semite, a coward and a plagiarist? And why would staunch protest to the book come from none other than 14 members of the advisory board of the twenty-five year old Atlantabased Carter Center, resigning en masse, stating that ‘we can no longer endorse your strident and uncompromising position.’ The letter of resignation addressed to Carter went on attacking the book as being ‘unfairly critical of Israel and riddled with inaccuracies’. In effect, the most vociferous of protestations were geared against the comparison of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians with South Africa’s gruesome apartheid system of racial segregation.

  In his first direct address to Jewish Americans on his book at Brandeis University last month, Carter said the word ‘apartheid’ was intended to provoke debate about the rights of Palestinians, unfairly treated by Israel.

The saying that occupation exists best in the dark explains one reason for the controversy surrounding the use of the term Apartheid to describe the Israeli system. It also explains why what is a clear and simple fact to those intimately acquainted with the reality on the ground has caused so much confusion or strife among those who are not.

 Generally speaking, there are three sides to the debate about the use of the term to describe Israel’s political system and its comparison with South African Apartheid. Staunch Zionist defenders are completely against the use of the term, charging it as ‘anti-Semitic’, with no thoughtful discussion of the issues. By dismissing the criticism as a personal attack, they fail to account for the basic facts and reality on the ground and reveal their limitations in understanding or wanting to know the severe injustices committed in their name. Then there are activists, academic and legal experts who support the use of the term.

The UN Anti-Racism Committee Questions Israel's Policy of Apartheid in Israel and the OPT and Calls for Equality in the implementation of the Right of Return

 On 22-23 February 2007, after nearly 10 years of evading its responsibility, Israel finally met with the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) to discuss its report on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

The Palestinian Authority and other Palestinian institutions have not developed a clear policy as to whether Palestinians should challenge the Wall and its associated regime in Israeli courts. Moreover, no real evaluation of the consequences of such a decision has ever taken place. Since 2003, however, a large number of Palestinians have brought cases to the Israeli courts (mainly to the Israeli Supreme Court sitting in its capacity as High Court of Justice).

Avi Dichter, the former Director of Israel’s General Security Service (GSS), has been sued in a United States court for his role in the Al-Daraj, Gaza bombing that killed fifteen people and injured approximately 150 others. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), along with CCR cooperating attorneys and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), represent the survivors of the July 2002 bombing in a class action lawsuit against Dichter for war crimes, crimes against humanity and extrajudicial killings.(1)

Palestinian children as young as five years old have been jailed in the United States since early November 2006. They are currently being treated more harshly in the United States than even in Israel. The manner of the arrest and detention of the Palestinian children in Texas contravenes international law. Article 37 of the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child(1) states that detaining children should be a measure of last resort, and that the detention must be for the shortest possible period of time.

All our lives we’ve been refugees. My family fled, we fled. My family stayed in tents. Now we’re staying in tents. They saw war. We saw war.(1)

 Palestinian refugees have reached Iraq in three waves; 1948 (Nakba), 1967 (occupation) and 1991 (Gulf War). The majority of Palestinians in Iraq are 1948 refugees who originate from the villages of Ijzim, Jaba’, and Ein Ghazal as well as other villages south of Haifa and the Galilee. The refugees still have strong ties with their relatives who now live in the West Bank camp of Jenin, Nour Shams and al-Fara’ refugees camps in the West Bank as well as in Israel.

A Comparative Analysis of the Cases of Refugees from Darfur and Bosnia

 Refugees from the Bosnia war have been repatriated under a peace agreement that permitted them to return to their homes. Refugees from the Darfur region of Sutdhaant are assured of a right of return under an as yet unimplemented peace agreement. In both instances, the countries from which the displacement occurred agreed to repatriation, and they acknowledge the nationality status of the displaced.

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel

December 2006 to early March 2007

 John Bergen and 93 Other Authors, Film-makers, Musicians and Performers Call for a

Cultural Boycott of Israel

15 December – The Guardian, London: In a letter published in The Guardian, the 94, including renowned author John Berger, UK musicians and song-writers Brian Eno and Leon Rosselson;

Al-Majdal Authors