From: "MIFTAH" <miftah@miftah.org>

Statement of President Arafat before the 58th Commission on Human Rights
March 26, 2002

By Hanan Ashrawi

Mr. Chairperson,

May I first convey my deepest appreciation to you, Mr. Chairperson, and
to the indomitable global defender of human rights, High Commissioner
Mary Robinson, whose dedication and integrity have set the highest
standards for this office. Her candor, tenacity, independence of spirit
and unwavering commitment have reached the darkest corners of this globe
with that rarest of gifts-the promise of succor and hope. We all regret
her decision not to renew her tenure, but remain confident that, in
whatever capacity, she will continue to make a difference. May I as well
extend my respects to the distinguished members of the Commission-this
assembly that collectively represents the conscience of the world and the
guardians of the silenced and the victimized, the invisible and the
oppressed, the excluded and the marginalized. As such, I am honored and
deeply touched for this opportunity to join you and to engage in a
forthright discussion on the plight of the tormented Palestinian people
yearning for freedom, dignity, independence and peace in their own land
and throughout the region as a whole.

Allow me also to express our appreciation for the February 13 statement
of the High Commissioner on the human rights situation in the Middle
East, for the report of the UN Special Rapporteur, Mr. John Dugard, whose
recommendations form the reliable road map for concrete action by your
esteemed Commission, and for the comments of the UN Secretary General
that are distinguished by their moral force and courage of conviction. In
addition, we recognize the valuable work being undertaken by the office
of the High Commissioner in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,
specifically in the Rule of Law Program, and would like to press upon you
the urgent need for the expansion of the mandate and activities of this
Office. We remain confident that the focus and direction of these efforts
combined will bear fruit in alleviating the plight of the Palestinian
people and in rectifying their ongoing victimization.

Mr. Chairperson, I address you today with a heavy heart, bearing with me
the pain of a nation in captivity-a people deprived of the most basic
rights and fundamental freedoms and bereft of the protection of
international law both individually and collectively.

Languishing under the last remaining military occupation in history, the
Palestinian people are besieged, bombed, shelled, assassinated, and
terrorized in every possible way. Our lands, our homes, our crops, our
trees, our infrastructure, our economy, the very fabric of our lives-all
have become targets of persistent Israeli military assaults. This
unbridled violence, deliberately unleashed on an already captive and
besieged nation, exceeds all forms of collective punitive measures to
enter the realm of a premeditated infliction of pain as a brutal
expression of a cruel and immoral policy and as an active instrument of
coercion.

In essence, ladies and gentlemen, we have been systematically violated in
the very core of our being-our lives and dignity as human beings, our
homes as shelter, our livelihood as survival, our health and educational
services as basic rights, our freedom of movement as a fundamental life
requisite, and our national identity as an expression of our right to
self determination. Our human space has been invaded and denied,
compressed to the size of a high velocity bullet or a tank shell or an
Apache gun ship and F 16 trajectory that finds its way into bedrooms,
schools, streets, gardens, and any other environment in which vulnerable
human flesh seeks refuge.

Reduced to the level of abstract statistics, Palestinians have been
systematically dehumanized and their lives devalued. The more than 2,300
murdered victims (of whom 836 are children) since September 28, 2000 are
all individuals with identities, loved ones, hopes, and dreams. Each one
is unique and irreplaceable. The more than 43,000 wounded (around half of
whom are children) are the ones who have to bear the scars and
disabilities for the rest of their lives, while many would require the
special care, attention, and resources that would tax whole families and
communities for generations to come. All violent deaths are tragic, but
the cruelty is compounded by the wanton and needless death of those
wounded who were denied medical services, most of whom bled to death as
ambulances and medical staff were denied access or deliberately shot and
shelled on their way to provide their vital assistance.

Our narrative as well has been denied, and eyewitnesses have been
silenced. During the latest incursions into Palestinian towns, villages
and camps, the Israeli occupation army targeted members of the press
corps (murdering one Italian journalist and wounding several others)
while censoring even their own coverage in Israel. Over 50 international
and Palestinian journalists have been wounded and four killed in the past
18 months. Willful ignorance and imposed blackouts are the enemies of
truth and justice, and ultimately they serve to perpetuate the conflict
while undermining the prospects of genuine peace.

Nor are we a "demographic problem," as the prevalent racist ideology
among some circles in Israel is trying to depict us, threatening the
Jewish majority or purity of the state of Israel. We are the people of
the land of Palestine, with a historical, cultural, and human continuity
that forms the sum total of our collective memory as well as future
aspirations. Ours has always been an inclusive and pluralistic society
with a powerful tradition of tolerance and hospitality. The state that we
are intent on building will not only maintain these principles, but will
also enhance them within new global values and realities to generate a
comprehensive, human-based development plan, firmly grounded in the
practice of an active democracy and the rule of law as the essential
requirements of good governance. Such an independent, sovereign, viable
and democratic state of Palestine is not only a right and a redemption of
the inequities of the past, it is a pledge for, and an investment in, the
future. Arab Jerusalem, as its capital, is at the center of a revitalized
human reality wherein all values, cultures, religions, and hopes will
converge.

Tragically and ironically, the current Israeli government seems to be
bent on regression into fundamentalist Zionism. However, the ethnic
cleansing that was perpetrated against the Palestinian people in 1948
must not and will not be repeated. The myth of "a land without a people
for a people without a land" has been debunked forever. It is now
imperative that the historical compromise of the two-state solution be
recognized-a solution that would establish the State of Palestine on 22%
of historical Palestine (i.e. on the West Bank, including east Jerusalem,
and the Gaza Strip or the territories occupied by Israel as a result of
the June 5th, 1967 war). The state of Israel would then have defined
boundaries on 78% of historical Palestine or the 1967 lines that would
constitute the "secure and recognized boundaries" repeatedly called for
by the international community and in accordance with the relevant UN
resolutions, the latest and most compelling being SC Resolution 1397.

It is not coincidental, Mr. Chairperson, that the vulnerable and
defenseless refugee camps have borne the brunt of Israel's most recent
raids and incursions. Dispossessed, expelled, and dispersed the
Palestinian refugees remain the most compelling human embodiment of the
grave historical injustice committed against the Palestinian people.
Denied even the most humble of shelters in the squalor of the refugee
camps, they were helpless before the tanks that demolished their homes,
destroyed their meager infrastructure, and brought violent death to their
loved ones. It is thus imperative that any peace agreement should include
a just and legal solution to the refugee question based on UN resolution
194 and consistent with other precedents pertaining to the forced
displacement of populations in times of war and armed conflict.

The same applies to the issue of the land itself, particularly if we are
to uphold a global rule of law and the applicability of international
humanitarian law and the 4th Geneva Convention to the occupied
Palestinian territory. All forms of land confiscation, annexation, and
settlement activity, for whatever pretext, must cease. Jerusalem, in
particular, must be rescued from prejudicial unilateralism, greed, and
acquisition. We, as Palestinians, have consistently sought the
implementation of UN resolutions and the upholding of international
legality as the basis of any agreement and the framework for an equitable
solution.

Furthermore, and since the convening of the Madrid Peace Conference, the
PLO and the Palestinian National Authority have welcomed all initiatives
and interventions that have attempted to bring about a peaceful and just
solution to the conflict, including the latest Saudi initiative currently
under discussion in the summit meeting of the Arab League. We have
repeatedly called for international monitors and cooperated with all
third-party constructive participation.

Unfortunately, Mr. Chairperson, the fatal and tragic dynamic of the
occupation has been allowed to prevail, threatening to spiral out of
control and to engulf the whole region in yet another period of
instability and violence. While the Arab world has made a strategic
commitment to peace, we are still witnessing an obsolete and
anachronistic mentality among hard line extremists in the Israeli
government that suffers from the illusion that military superiority is
sufficient cause for claiming superior rights. Such a mindset lies at the
root of the conflict. All attempts at demonizing, humiliating, and
brutalizing the Palestinians (and Arabs as a whole) will not only fail,
but will also backfire within Israel itself.

Despite the pain and loss, we have never accepted or "normalized" the
murder of the innocent. And even though our innocent civilians have been
killed with impunity, we have repeatedly deplored all attempts that
targeted Israeli civilians. Mr. Chairperson, the occupation is killing us
all! Instead of dealing with the latest violation or atrocity, instead of
repeatedly blaming and bashing the victims, instead of reducing
international efforts to the level of crisis management and damage
control, and instead of trying to find remedies for the symptoms, I call
upon you to deal with the root causes, with the fatal disease itself.
This can be summed up as the misguided and immoral notion that one state
can dictate its will on another nation by force of arms, that in the
third millennium a colonial situation of enslavement can be maintained,
that the will of the Palestinian people can be subdued and broken by
brutality and bloodshed, or that different values can be ascribed to the
lives and rights of people on the basis of their religious affiliation,
ethnic origin, or national identity.

It is time to speak out courageously on the issue of terrorism, Mr.
Chairperson, whereby state and non-state actors must be held accountable
for their actions pertaining to the exercise of all forms of violence and
violations against innocent civilians for the purpose of achieving
political gains. No individual, group, or nation must be held hostage to
the violent agenda of others. By the same token, defining terrorism and
identifying terrorists can never be the monopoly of the strong nor the
unilateral exercise of power by the dominant force. Subjectivity and self
interest have often tainted the drive to protect the innocent by the
convenient handing out of labels and the brandishing of stereotypical
charges that have often served to distort issues and prevent solutions.
Objective criteria, reliable evidence, and universal instruments must be
available for a global rule of law to prevail on the basis of fairness
and parity.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairperson, we may be held captive by a brutal
physical siege, but the human spirit and will can never be besieged or
degraded. We grieve equally for all loss of life and rights, and we seek
the liberation of both oppressor and oppressed from this fatal and
abnormal proximity of the occupation. While we call upon you to
intervene, to dispatch your observers, to prepare and disseminate
accurate facts and assessments, to enforce all relevant laws and
conventions, and to adopt your own pro-active resolutions, we appeal to
you not to lose sight of the occupation itself as the most comprehensive
and pervasive cause of all violations and injustices. Ultimately, only a
just peace will provide the comprehensive solution, and only such a peace
can become the genuine expression of the ultimate right of humanity as a
whole-the right to a qualitative life nurtured by human security,
dignity, and freedom.

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