Palestinian NGO Bulletin 1 - World Conference Against Racism

1. Editorial
2. On the Ground News from Palestine
3. Developments in Durban
4. Frequently Asked Questions
5. Contacts

1. Editorial

This is the first daily bulletin from the Media Team of Palestinian non-governmental organizations attending the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Other Forms of Intolerance to beheld in Durban, South Africa, this month. This bulletin offers news from Palestine, developments in Durban and briefings and updates on the World Conference Against Racism, the Youth Summit, the NGO Forum and the Governmental Conference. In the weeks preceding the WCAR it will be sent daily from Palestine; as of August 27 it will be sent from Durban.

The Palestinian NGOs WCAR Media Team consists of delegates from variousPalestinian NGOs in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

This bulletin will appear in English, Arabic, French and Spanish and is disseminated to various organizations, institutions, delegates and the international media.

We welcome your feedback and any suggestions you may have as to how we can improve this bulletin. Please send comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

2. On the Ground News from Palestine

Last week the news was dominated by Israel's 9 August seizure of the Orient House and several other Palestinian institutions in occupied East Jerusalem, an action claimed by the Israeli government to have been "in response" to the Sbarro bombing in West Jerusalem last week. This explanation, however, ignores the broader context of Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem which, since 1967, has sought to establish, maintain and expand exclusive Israeli control over the city as a whole. This goal necessarily results in the systematic implementation of racist policies designed to dominate and discriminate against Palestinian residents of Jerusalem.

The closure of the Palestinian institutions and confiscation of Palestinian public and private property is only one example of these policies. Since 1967, one third of the area occupied in 1967 has been expropriated for "public interest". Most of the confiscated Palestinian land has been used to build Jewish settlements and bypass roads. Fifteen settlements have been established in occupied East Jerusalem since 1967. Several measures are used to promote these settlements amongst the Israeli Jewish population, including loan subsidies and exemption from municipality taxes for five years.

These settlements are not accessible to Palestinians, as most are administered by quasi-governmental Jewish organizations (such as the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency) for the exclusive use of the Jewish population.

In contrast to the rapid growth and expansion of illegal settlements, the building and expansion of Palestinian neighborhoods has been restricted in all possible ways. One means of restricting the growth of Palestinian residential areas is to designate swathes of land as "Green Area", which means that land is allocated for environmental or recreational purposes only. At least 40 percent of occupied East Jerusalem has now been designated "Green Area".

Palestinians, meanwhile, are confined to the land they already live on. Moreover, it is almost impossible to obtain a building permit in Palestinian neighborhoods. Between 1990 and 1997, 93% of the homes build in Jerusalem (18,443 units) were built in Jewish neighborhoods. Only 1,484 units (7%) were built in Palestinian neighborhoods. One consequence of this discrepancy is that the Palestinian population faces an enormous housing shortage - and is therefore forced to build "illegally" on a large-scale. Measures taken by the Israeli government and the West Jerusalem municipality to combat so-called "illegal building" include imposing high fines and demolishing part of, or entire, homes such as the case in Shu'fat refugee camp last month. These measures target only Palestinian areas.

There have also been concerted efforts over the past five decades to 'cleanse' Jerusalem of its Palestinian residents. This racist ambition is now most obviously pursued through the confiscation of the Jerusalem ID cards of Palestinian Jerusalemites, the Israeli refusal to register children in the population registry, and the Israeli refusal to permit Palestinian family reunification. These examples form part of the 'Center of Life' policy, implemented in 1995 by the Israeli Interior Ministry, which is exclusively aimed at the Palestinian population and demands vast administrative evidence of residency in the city for seven continuous years. Because of this policy, 3,212 Palestinians were stripped of their Jerusalem identity cards and residency rights, including all social insurance, education and other social benefits.

Furthermore, there is a wide gap between the eastern and western part of the city in terms of municipality services, facilities and infrastructure development. These differences are immediately noticeable: a visitor need only look at the facilities and services available to determine in which part s/he is standing. Less than 10% of the total municipality budget is allocated to Palestinian neighborhoods although they comprise 32% of the total population of Jerusalem. In spite of this discrepancy in spending, and in spite of the large difference in average income, municipality taxes are equal for Palestinians and Jews. Many Palestinians are not able to afford the taxes and have therefore been subjected to punitive measures varying from fines to seizure of property and imprisonment.

Finally, the closure and siege imposed on Palestinian towns and villages has literally separated Jerusalem from the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territories using a series of military checkpoints around the city. To enter Jerusalem, Palestinians without a Jerusalem ID must apply for a permit. Procedures and requirements to obtain a permit have been made increasingly complicated in recent years and are now virtually impossible for the vast majority of Palestinians to meet. Furthermore, Israel can choose at will to unilaterally impose a total closure of the city. This closure policy has had a devastating impact on the Palestinian economy in Jerusalem as well as in the rest of the Occupied Territories.

These are just some examples that demonstrate that basic principles – such as the right to freedom and equality - are being violated in numerous ways for Palestinians in Jerusalem. Indeed, different aspects of Israeli policy contain elements that can be compared with apartheid. Therefore, with regard to the upcoming World Conference Against Racism in South Africa, it is important to analyze these developments in Jerusalem in a broader context than just as "security measures": that is, as examples of systematic racial discrimination, colonialism and apartheid.

3. Developments in Durban

Background to the Palestinian participation in the WCAR

At the two previous World Conferences, held in 1978 and 1983, two countries with discriminatory regimes were singled out for attention by the rest of the international community: apartheid South Africa and Israel. It was understood on each occasion that South Africa and Israel were not the only two discriminatory regimes in the world and that their victims of discrimination were not the only victimized or oppressed people. In both cases, however, it was agreed that it was in the interest of the entire international community to expressly focus on these countries and counter the root causes of their various and numerous human rights violations - namely, discrimination, in all its insidious and extreme forms including apartheid and colonialism.

Israel's institutionalized system of racial discrimination, colonialism and apartheid is destabilizing the entire region and poses one of the greatest threats to world peace and security. This system includes ongoing dispossession and destruction of Palestinian land, agriculture and homes, denial of residency rights, separation of families and communities, severe restrictions on movement (including closures, besiegement and curfews) and, more recently, virtual imprisonment through the use of trenches and iron gates with keys held by Israeli soldiers.

The methods used by the State of Israel achieve the Government's desire for "more land, less Palestinians" include practices of dispossession, displacement, separation and the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinian population and attempts to obliterate their national identity and deny their right to self-determination. Israeli policies, practices are also designed to impoverish the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza (currently more than one million Palestinians are living under the poverty line) and strangulate their economy through restrictions of movement, the denial and the hindrance of access to humanitarian aid and assistance, food and water, medical supplies and aid, hospitals, work and educational institutions. Israel's colonial practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territories include attacks on the civilian population, collective punishments, a failure to protect civilians, amounting to violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention and acts that can be defined as war crimes.

In 1983, the World Conference declared that "apartheid as an institutionalized form of racism is a deliberate and totally abhorrent affront to the conscience and dignity of mankind, a crime against humanity and a threat to international peace and security." It is therefore that our common humanity demands that these abhorrent forms of racism - including Israel's new form of apartheid - be tackled.

Palestinian NGOs and the WCAR

Whether they reside in Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories or in exile, Palestinians are discriminated against in a variety of forms and denied equal individual rights on the grounds of their descent and national origin. In their joint position paper, Palestinian NGOs therefore state their conviction that "ending the cycle of ongoing and systematic human rights violations perpetrated by states, including Israel, cannot be effective until the root causes of such violations are recognised and combated."

The Palestinian NGO Position Paper can be found at: www.lawsociety.org/Apartheid/palngo.htm

Palestinian NGOs are currently preparing themselves to attend the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Other Forms of Intolerance in Durban, South Africa. It is widely hoped that this conference will help to ensure Israeli compliance with its obligations under human rights, humanitarian law and United Nations resolutions with the view to ending this institutionalised system of racism, apartheid and colonialism as a step forward towards peace and reconciliation in the region.

Representatives from a number of Palestinian NGOs traveling to South Africa have recently returned from the third preparatory committee meeting in Geneva. At these meetings Palestinian delegates reaffirmed their commitment to the ideas stated in their position paper and put their efforts in securing that the need to combat racism, racial discrimination and new forms of apartheid and colonialism is integrated in the language of the documents.

The right to enjoy fundamental freedoms and human rights (including civil and political, economic, social and cultural rights) free from discrimination is a basic human right in itself, and an integral concept underlying all key international human rights instruments. Another related principle, namely the recognition of the inherent dignity and right to equality of all human beings, is also reaffirmed by international law and international human rights agencies.

Accordingly, Palestinians, like all other peoples around the world, are entitled to enjoy all their human rights and fundamental freedoms, free from discrimination and to assure their right to equality. In the interests of peace and justice in the region, The World Conference Against Racism must help to ensure Israeli compliance with its obligations under human rights, humanitarian law and United Nations resolutions with the view to end the institutionalised system of racism, apartheid and colonialism to which the Palestinians have been subjected for more than five decades.

The current NGO Declaration can be found on the website of the NGO Forum at: www.racism.org.za/documents/declaration/index.htm

4. Frequently Asked Questions

In this section, we answer frequently asked questions related to the World Conference Against Racism and the Palestinian NGO position. Since the United States has recently threatened tboycott the World Conference Against Racism because of language in the draft documents that deal with Israel, in this first bulletin we answer the frequently asked question:

What is your opinion about the American threat to boycott the World Conference Against Racism?

It's not surprising that the United States threatens to boycott the World Conference Against Racism to be held in South Africa. At the 1978 World Conference Against Racism, the United States led a boycott of the WCAR, and was followed by a number of EU States, because the document of that conference referring to apartheid-South Africa also included a condemnation of Israel's systematic violations of Palestinian rights. In 1983, the same states again voted against any measures being taken against South Africa.

The position of the United States is clear. To date, within the United Nations Security Council, the United States has used its veto 73 times. The vast majority of US vetoes were cast in support of Israel an apartheid-South Africa (others American vetoes focused primarily on defending the country's own actions in Central America).

The United States and Israel's allies are trying to prevent any criticism on Israel's human rights record. Israel tries in a number of ways to keep the eyes of the world closed. For example, Israel objects international protection - or even international observers - because it does not want the world to know the truth about what is happening on the ground.

By threatening to boycott the first international conference in ten years aiming at combating racism around the globe, the United States is sending the world a dangerous message: that its desire to silence criticism of Israel's appalling human rights record is considered a higher priority than international efforts to combat racism and protect universal human rights.

Palestinian NGOs participating in the WCAR strongly believe that, as in the case of South African apartheid, the Israeli discriminatory regime must be tackled by the international community both because of the implications of its actions for regional and world peace and security reasons and because of the abhorrent nature of the racist system itself. As the World Conference declared in 1983: "Apartheid as an institutionalized form of racism is a deliberate and totally abhorrent affront to the conscience and dignity of mankind, a crime against humanity and a threat to international peace and security."

Editors Note: If you have any questions you would like addressed in the 'Frequently Asked Questions' section of this bulletin, please let usknow. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

5. Contacts

This bulletin is prepared by the Palestinian NGOs WCAR Media Team consisting individual delegates from Palestinian NGOs attending the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Other Forms of Intolerance. Members of this Media Team are: Arjan El Fassed (LAW - The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment, Jerusalem); Victoria Metcalfe(Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Gaza); Monica Tarazi (Ittijah - Union of Arab Community Based Associations, Haifa); Sasha Evans (LAW – The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment, Jerusalem); and Ghassan Aghbariah (Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Shfa Amar).

Contact: Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Note: The contents of this Bulletin do not necessarily reflect the official positions of all of the organizations with which members of the Media Team are affiliated.