International YMCA Team - Visit to Palestine - 12-16 November 2000

Report and findings

We are an international team of YMCA people, coordinated and sponsored by the World Alliance of YMCAs, who have been in Palestine for five days from the 12th to 16th November 2000. Our visit is part of our continuing involvement with the YMCA and peoples of Palestine over many decades during which we have joined their search for a just and comprehensive settlement to the Palestinian Question. The visit was prompted by serious concern over what is clearly a deteriorating situation for the Palestinians in the wake of recent aggressions by the Israeli Government, its army and settlers in the Occupied Territories of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. It is, therefore, a preliminary step, to be followed by more visits of solidarity with the Palestinian people, towards making a YMCA contribution for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

The International Delegation, together with members of the Gaza YMCA

Our visit also coincides with the YWCA-YMCA World Week of Prayer and World Fellowship whose theme for this year is "My Peace I give to you". Many YWCAs and YMCAs around the world will focus on their activities for the week around the issues of peace and justice for the Palestinians.
The purposes of the visit were:
1. To express our solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Palestine who are victims of a failed peace process and Israeli oppression.
2. To develop a new global YMCA strategy in addressing the question of Palestine.
During our stay we visited and met with a wide cross-section of society in the different areas of Palestine including East Jerusalem, and the districts of Bethlehem, Ramallah, Jericho, and Gaza. The people we met included Palestinian officials, Palestinian Legislative Council members, YMCA staff and volunteers, partner organizations, religious leaders - Muslims and Christians, medical personnel, and civil society leaders. We visited a field hospital in Ramallah for victims of the innumerable clashes between the people and the army and the settler community, which is run by the Red Crescent Society. We were also in the homes of people who have lost loved ones, and met those whose homes were demolished and/or burned down by Israeli shelling.

The walls of a home that was bombed 13 times and left in ruins in Beit Jala

Based on these visits and encounters with people, we arrived at several conclusions:
1. There are systematic and widespread human rights violations being perpetrated on the entire Palestinian population. These take the form of demolishing houses, shooting at ambulances and blocking their rapid passage to hospitals even when they are carrying severely wounded or sick patients, detention of people without charges, killing people without provocation, and placing entire villages and cities under a state of siege.
2. There is use of massive force against unarmed protestors and completely innocent people, mainly women, the elderly, and children.
3. There is serious and widespread concern about the indifference and inaction on the part of the international community in not implementing relevant United Nations resolutions which guarantee the Palestinian people the right to statehood and identity. In this connection, most people were surprised and angered by the voting pattern in the UN Human Rights Commission concerning "grave and massive violations of the human rights of the Palestinian peoples by Israel". Many western countries - notably Germany, France, Norway, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, Canada, and the USA voted against this resolution. This was a vote on a resolution condemning illegal actions in occupied East Jerusalem and the occupied Palestinian territories. This was viewed as a situation in which Western nations are adopting double standards in relation to Israel, whereas in other situations of conflict the United Nations and Western nations have acted more decisively and with a sense of urgency. The actions and inaction of Western governments - whose decisions can make a fundamental difference to the situation - contradict their claims about pursuing values of justice, freedom and democracy in all situations. In the case of the Palestinian question, there seems to be selectivity, partiality, and a tendency to discard the will of the international community which, in fact, must be the democratic base of resolving the situation.
4. There was biased and one-sided media reporting on the crisis, which left the Palestinian side generally outraged. Palestinians refuse to accept the situation as one of armed conflict. Armed conflict, they argue, involves two parties. This is a situation where the Israeli Government and the settler community have created war-like conditions in the Occupied Territories. The Palestinians have neither an army nor the level of weaponry that the Israelis possess. But the media is biased not only in describing the conflict. It is sympathetic to Israeli claims and positions and draws images of the Palestinian people as irresponsible, and unwilling to dialogue, even accusing Palestinian mothers and fathers of sending their children to die in battle. The facts are different. After decades of occupation, and seven years of a failed peace process, the people feel a sense of urgency. They cannot be asked to wait for too long. They fear that delay can lead to extremist trends, which can only exacerbate the situation.
5. The crisis has been further compounded by the increase in settlement activities. The Oslo Accords were to put a freeze on the expansion of settlements. In fact it would require a reversal of the policy of settlements. The blatant violation of this understanding and the increasing militancy of the settlers is cause for grave concern and urgent action. In summary, the situation is best described as one of repression and far short of being anything close to normal.

But these are only some of the problems that emanate from the crisis. There are other issues too and the list is long, but it is necessary to point out some of the major issues. These include the disruption of normal economic activity. Due to closures, workers have been out of work for more than two months in the whole of Palestine. Agricultural activity has come almost to a standstill due to army and settler activities. Medical services have been severely hampered. The majority of children who live in the affected areas suffer from trauma and psychological after-effects of the frequent shelling and army activity. In many areas, educational services have also been disrupted by curfews, and the virtual state of siege of towns and cities. The Vocational Training Services of many NGOs have also been hampered. The work of the East Jerusalem YMCA in the areas of vocational training, rehabilitation, and emergency services have also been dislocated. In this connection we saw first hand the damages to buildings caused by shelling in the YMCA premises in Beit Sahour.
It was clear from all our encounters that the people of Palestine live in anguish, uncertainty, and anger. Even though they are conscious of having to confront a much stronger military force, they remain determined to carry on their struggle and fight until the day when peace with justice can be achieved. For the Palestinian people, they will stop at nothing short of a Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital. They are convinced that Israel will have to come to terms with the fact that Palestinian statehood and national identity are absolutely non-negotiable issues. Furthermore, the Palestinians consider that peace cannot be achieved by force or superior armament access. It must be accompanied by dignity.
We heard many heart-wrenching stories, and feel compelled to highlight a few of these, simply because they were so shocking. Further, they serve to highlight the all-pervasive tactics of intimidation and intent to bring the Palestinian people into submission.
We were at a place of mourning in Beit Sahour where an entire community had gathered to share their collective sense of loss over the death of two women who had been killed by shelling from an army helicopter. One of them had visited the home of her sister to express and share her sense of sadness and to console her at the demolishing of her sister's home. She was accompanied by her neighbour. On their way home, they were hit by a missile from a helicopter. It was clear from the injuries they sustained that their chances for survival were minimal, but they were rushed to hospital and their relatives informed. In a few hours they were both dead.
We also heard about a vicious and savage attack by settlers on three elderly women, 75, 72, and 65 years of age, while they were picking olives in fields close to an Israeli settlement in Nablus. It was three o'clock in the afternoon and they chose to do the task themselves rather than send their children, assuming that it was safe for them to be at the site of the olive farm. The settlers arrived in a group and the women were beaten with iron rods until one was killed and the other two severely injured. It took some time before Palestinians could come to their rescue and take the injured women to hospital. The injured women lie in a state of shock, with acute injuries.

For the community in particular and the entire Palestinian people, these incidents only serve to underline and confirm the increasing brutality of the Israeli army and the settlers. In Gaza, we once again visited the father of a 13 year old boy who had been killed the previous day by gunfire from a settler community situated several miles away from where the boy was shot. The father, and indeed the entire community, were astounded by the killing of an innocent youth - just one of many other youth who are silenced by death only because they chose to protest against their occupation and the violation of their human dignity day in and day out. The father described how the son was born 13 years ago shortly after his own imprisonment during the first Intifada. He described the present Intifada as one which has been met by greater repression from the Israeli Government. This time, it meant a death in his family. But, he pointed out, the Palestinians remain steadfast to their goal for freedom and justice. Only then can there be any meaningful peace, he pointed out. Indeed, the message everywhere seemed to be: "Peace cannot be found in the graveyards or under the barrel of a gun."

At a Popular Art Centre in Ramallah, a young girl expresses her aspiration for an independent Palestine
The international YMCA community has to take firm and coordinated action along with churches and other concerned people as a matter of urgency. The one-sided nature of the conflict demands that the YMCA take the side of the oppressed Palestinian people. Our Christian obligations require that we work to seek justice so that genuine peace is served. The violation of the rights of the people is an affront to their dignity and a violation of the will of God who seeks justice and fullness of life for all. Palestinians suffer gross injustices and aberration of human rights. We are reminded that we must work for a world where "righteousness and peace will kiss each other".
Even in the midst of grave difficulties and suffering, and contrary to the media-created stereotype of the Palestinians, it is a fact that they aspire for and seek peace built on political dialogue. They want to break the cycle of violence so that future generations of Arabs and Israelis can live together in harmonious co-existence and serve the cause of development - human and economic - in a spirit of cooperation and mutuality.

In the light of the above understanding, and in support of the aspirations of the Palestinian peoples, we demand that the international YMCA community join forces with the World YWCA and other concerned people and organizations to work towards realizing the following stated aims:

· Support for an independent international investigation/commission on the causes and effects of the recent acts of violence unleashed by the Israeli army and the settlers, and that NGOs, civil society groups, academics, intellectuals, social workers, and affected people and communities be involved in this investigation.
· Creation of an international protection force with immediate effect.
· Concerted, urgent action by all member states of the United Nations to implement all UN resolutions, particularly UN resolutions 242 and 338 that call for a withdrawal of Israel from all occupied territories as pre-conditions to achieving a just and lasting settlement to the Palestinian question. (Issues to be settled first must include dismantling of settlements, acknowledging the right of return of all refugees, guaranteeing of borders - including the return to borders as of 4 June 1967 - and the fair distribution of resources.)
· Launching of a new and revised peace process with a broader base of concerned parties sponsoring and/or involved in the mediation.

Proposed Action Plan for the World Alliance of YMCAs on Palestine

1. To establish an office for an Observer as part of the World Alliance staff for a period of 3-6 months with special responsibility to:
· monitor human rights violations against the Palestinians - economic, social and humanitarian; a particular focus on youth will form part of the mandate of the observer
· monitor settlement and settlers' activities;
· monitor Israeli media, official and press statements;
· report on Palestinian humanitarian needs;
· maintain daily contact with different human rights organizations working in Palestine;
· work closely with the East Jerusalem and Gaza YMCAs on the above issues;
· monitor the international press on its reporting on the situation in the territories and issue statements clarifying facts on the ground;
· work closely with the YMCAs in East Jerusalem and Gaza YMCAs using an appropriate coordinating mechanism;
· move physically to the different areas affected by the Israeli measures, and assess needs as they emerge, and report to partner YMCAs and other organizations and the World Alliance office.
This appointment should be considered as urgent and the person to be selected may be chosen on the following broad criteria:
· Some experience and knowledge of the Middle East.
· Commitment to human rights.
· Have a YMCA background.
· Preferably from a European country or the USA.
· Somebody who could work under pressure and in conflict areas.
· Have a proactive and progressive political understanding of events in the Middle East.

2. The World Alliance of YMCAs to co-ordinate a global YMCA response to the humanitarian needs in the area which are addressed by the YMCAs in Palestine. These needs should lead to immediate action measures, and might be in the areas of:
· detainees
· injured, anguished and traumatized children and youth
· forcefully displaced
· families suffering from loss of income
· families victimized through demolishing of their houses

3. The YMCA movement should use all available means to advocate on the immediate critical situation in Palestine and also on the long-term struggle for justice and peace for the Palestinian people. In this effort various target groups should be addressed. This could be achieved in the following ways:
(a ) Influencing YMCA constituencies
· "Speaking Tours" - representatives from Palestine visiting other countries to present the current situation to YMCA communities, churches, NGOs, civil society groups, and other concerned people whose opinions can make a difference to the situation.
· Utilizing information technology (phone/fax, e-mail, web-sites) for sharing of information, emergency appeals and for various other campaigns (e.g. signature campaigns) etc.
· Introducing a separate "Solidarity and Prayer Day" (possibly relating this to the "International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People" organized by the UN on 29th November).
· Organizing a theological conference on the issue, in line with the recommendation from the 14th World Council Meeting and in conjunction with meetings of SABEEL - an ecumenical organization in East Jerusalem - in February 2001.
(b) Key political persons and policy-makers
· Urge local, national and regional YMCAs (especially in the USA and Europe) to network with relevant lobby groups and networks. Co-ordination and support for this task should be provided.
· Provide information to parliamentarians and political parties on the emergency situation and human rights/justice issues in Palestine with a view to obtaining their support.
(c) Identify key people and groups - including "silent converts" - in the civil society to increase and enhance their involvement.
· Develop systems for a media-watch on the Palestinian issue on the global level (by the World Alliance of YMCAs in co-operation with the World YWCA and the World Student Christian Federation), and at the national levels (through the information desks of the YMCA movements).
· Produce an information pack to be used to address the general public. This package should be comprehensive but brief and attractive, and be used as an advocacy tool. It could contain the following elements:
- Brief history, and updating on the current situation.
- Major UN resolutions.
- The situation for Palestinian refugees.
- The system of Israeli settlements.
- Maps of the area indicting the geographical changes .
- A list of additional information resources.
- A documentary film/video on the situation

4. The World Alliance to initiate a process with the YMCAs in Palestine to review its organizational status and structure and examine its status in the world movement.

Into the future - a new vision must unfold
Our conviction is that peace is much more than an option to be explored. It is an urgent imperative and necessity. And yet, such a peace cannot be hurriedly pursued: it must be founded in a spirit of the search for equality, mutuality, and reconciliation, the pre-condition of which is justice.
We affirm the Palestinian vision of peace that is built on the foundations of dignity and equality. Only then can there be the possibility of peaceful coexistence between the people of Palestine and Israel.
To this peace with justice, freedom and dignity for all we commit ourselves.
'Peace is the perfect soil in which love can grow, and thus too, hope, forgiveness, reconciliation, health, justice, equity and an end to war.'
Jane Lee Wolfe, President, World YWCA, and
Martin Vogler, President, World Alliance of YMCAs.
Delegation members:
Eilert Rostrup ( Norway- Delta International), Bram Dekker ( Netherlands), Norberto Rodriguez ( Argentina), Steffano Tomarelli ( Italy),
Ranjan Solomon ( World Alliance of YMCAs)