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Civil Society and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Beneath the Hideous Veneer of "Security"

by JENNNIFER LOEWENSTEIN

On January 26th 1976 the United Nations Security Council debated a resolution (S11940) introduced by Jordan, Syria and Egypt that included all the crucial wording of UNSC resolution 242. It accepted the right of all states in the region to exist within secure and recognized borders while re-emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force. This resolution added for the first time, however, what was missing from 242: recognition of Palestinian national rights. The phrase "all states" was taken to include a new Palestinian state in the occupied territories.

Israel was, of course, invited to attend the session but refused, preferring instead to have a national tantrum that included bombing Lebanon the same day, killing about 50 people ­in all likelihood a typical "in your face" message to the UN and the world. Unsurprisingly the US vetoed the resolution causing the PLO, which was present at the session, to speak of the "tyranny of the veto." As with similar resolutions since this one, the overwhelming majority of the world’s nations supported it. The two nations that have consistently opposed this and comparable resolutions were the United States and Israel thereby establishing the well-known pattern of rejectionism that persists to this day. As a result, resolutions such as S11940 have vanished from the historical record despite its significance in marking the first time a UN resolution explicitly recognized the inalienable national rights of the people of Palestine.

In the debate leading up to the vote on this resolution, one of the participants remarked that the problem of Palestine is at the heart of the Middle East conflict and must be resolved….We are sorry that Israel stayed away from the debate and has instead been [wreaking] havoc all over and hurling defiance against the alleged bias of the United Nations. In truth it is Israel which is maintaining, by the use of force, and [which] wishes to be left alone to continue, its occupation of the territories of its Arab neighbors. Persistence in this policy of tone and diktat can only breed more violence, engender further bitterness, and make ever more remote the prospect of the peace and cooperation which the Israeli government professes to be seeking and which all the peoples of the Middle East desire and need. (M. Akhund; representative of Pakistan; in transcript of debate following introduction of resolution. S/PV.1879 of 26 January 1976. UNISPAL home; See also: UN DPI multimedia: United Nations. Thirty-first year; 1879th meeting.)

Reading these words, I was struck by a sense of déjà vu and had to double check the source to certify that they were in fact spoken 31 years ago. Unfortunately, however, although the similarities with present day circumstances are remarkable, the situation that we face vis a vis the Palestinian issue today is far more serious.

Noam Chomsky’s response to my upbeat description of last year’s UN’s Conference in Geneva on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People was that if things did not soon improve on the ground in the occupied Palestinian territories, the next such conference "would be a wake." It was a sobering reminder of just how dire the situation has become; how, in Chomsky’s words we are currently witnessing an event almost unprecedented in the modern era: the systematic, deliberate and long-term destruction of an entire nation.

As activists and representatives of civil society NGOs concerned with what is happening in Israel-Palestine, we know the importance of maintaining a realistic level of optimism; of dogged persistence even in the face of what seem to be insurmountable obstacles. I have not given up that hope, nor ­I suspect-have any of you, which is why we are here today.

Nonetheless as important as solidarity work is for us and for the continuation of efforts to effect change in the circumstances facing millions of Palestinians in the territories and beyond, none of us is deluded enough to believe that a Just Peace is at hand. With every killing, every maiming, every act of state-sponsored terror, every home demolition, every arrest, every confiscation of property, resources and identity, every closure, checkpoint, permit, roadblock, or concrete slab put into place along the serpentine Wall that is devouring Palestinian land in its path, Palestine is rendered increasingly invisible, buried behind euphemisms and peace scams ­ a non-entity for non-persons whose continuation as one of the many nations populating the globe today is seriously threatened.

(1) In trying to assess how we can put a stop to this devastating dynamic I came up with three pre-conditions that are necessary before we can even begin a process leading to a just settlement. First and foremost is to demand an end to Israeli crimes. These include, most significantly today, its bloody and sadistic torture of Gaza, but also its continued territorial expansion which it has no intention of ending, an end to atrocities against the people of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, recognition of the right of Palestinians to have free elections ­meaning, in this case, the recognition of Hamas and the establishment of dialogue with it and all other Palestinian political factions regardless of whether or not we like them; the release of Palestinian Parliamentarians taken hostage beginning in the summer of 2006; the release of thousands of prisoners and illegal detainees whose only "crime" was resistance to an illegal occupation.

I should add here that on December 7th, 1987 the United Nations General Assembly passed UN resolution 42/159 which, among other things, authorized peoples living under occupation regimes the right to resist. This is yet another piece of the historical documentary record conveniently forgotten lest it be used to support Palestinian and other just causes.

To reiterate: it is crucial that all of Israel’s ongoing crimes against the Palestinian nation cease; that we in civil society and in world organizations such as the United Nations and the European Union so allegedly concerned with the adherence to and principles of international law take it upon ourselves to enforce it or soon, with regard to Palestine, there will be nothing left to talk about.

(2) The second pre-condition is that the Quartet, which includes the United Nations and the European Union, publicly acknowledge the international consensus as it has existed since January 26th, 1976 and was broadened by the 2002 Arab League Summit in Beirut to include full normalization of relations, in return for Israel’s compliance with international law. As mentioned, however, this consensus has been systematically and often hysterically rejected by the US and Israel whereas virtually all other concerned parties, including Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas, have ­contrary to what the American media would have us believe-explicitly accepted it.

(3) Finally, once the international consensus is acknowledged, civil society activists and organizations must pressure European Nations to have the courage to act independently of US policies, as they can do in many important ways, instead of ­as one activist put it-"toddling meekly behind the Boss and participating in his crimes"(Noam Chomsky; private correspondence). Actions taken by the UN and the EU among other world organizations to ostracize and isolate the United States and Israel rather than kowtow to them in servile obedience must serve as the beginning of constructive change; of sending a message to the world’s only superpower and its principal client that they may, by sheer military force, continue to get their way, but that their actions will no longer be tolerated or ignored.

It is bad enough that the United States and Israel together behaves like neighborhood bullies dictating their whims to both friends and enemies alike; but when their pious appeals to freedom, democracy and justice are heard as tanks, heavy artillery and warplanes devastate the lands and decimate the civilian populations they have occupied it is long past the time to censure their record-breaking violations of international law and basic human morality.

With regard to Palestine, it is important to ask ourselves why Hamas, which won power in free, fair and transparent democratic elections has been deemed a criminal terrorist organization whose carefully planned demise depends on the calculated starvation and suffering deliberately imposed on the Gaza Strip, 50% of whose population is under age 25. We need to understand that brutal, authoritarian regimes such as those in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are upheld as "moderate" and "friendly" states by the US because their first priority is to the Master and his whims.

By understanding this we are forced to confront the sudden cynical embrace by both Israel and the US of Mahmoud Abbas and his disturbing acquiescence in this embrace. Abbas’ illegal government-by-decree has agreed not only to avoid any dialogue or attempts at reconciliation with Hamas; it has also accepted ­ in Orwellian fashion-the US/Israeli designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization. Indeed Abbas himself while lauding the values of freedom and democracy announced on Israeli television that he would refuse to "conduct negotiations with murderers." Surely his Israeli and American backers have satisfied their immediate aims of making him an honorary Warrior on Terror. Thus, with help from his foreign backers, Abbas’ Fatah faction has succeeded in splitting the Palestinian National Movement in half making it easier still for the Israelis to continue to destroy the economic, social, cultural and political fabric of Palestine. Who are these people that they would sacrifice on the altar of celebrity, power and corruption the historic struggle and soul of Palestine? The path on which this cynical triumvirate of power is moving leads inexorably to a fate none of us here would seriously like to contemplate.

Last November I had the pleasure of returning to Gaza to visit friends to whom I owe more than I can ever say. Yet the visit called up the usual mixture of emotions that fill one’s heart with the beauty and anguish that is Gaza today. In the midst of a lovely family gathering, of laughter, warmth and an uncanny sense to me of belonging, the treacherous thundering guns of "Operation Autumn Clouds" commenced in the north, in Beit Hanoun. In the days that followed I visited the Shifa and Kamal Adwan hospitals ­the ICU wards full of badly wounded civilians- and the morgues on which the dead men, women and children lay silently on cold, silver freezer trays.

What was more troubling to me than anything else was not the absurdity and injustice of these deaths; the on-going brutality and barbarism that a state has adopted under a hideous veneer of "security needs." No, what bothered me most was the chilling familiarity of the scenes: Jenin, Rafah, Gaza City, Khan Yunis, Ramallah, Nablus, Beitunia, El-Bireh, Qalandia, Beit Sahour, Hebron I can no longer remember which place bore which of these unspeakable tragedies. All I know is that they show no sign of ending and that, my friends, is why our messages here at this conference must be urgently heeded.

Jennifer Loewenstein is the Associate Director of the Middle East Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is a member of the board of the Israeli Coalition against House Demolitions-USA branch, founder of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project and a freelance journalist. She can be reached at: amadea311@earthlink.net

This essay is extracted from a speech given at the UN’s conference on Palestine this past Aug. 30th-31st.