UN Skewers Israel in "Solidarity Day" with Palestinians
By Melissa Radler
December 2, 2001
UN ambassadors in New York, Geneva, and Vienna marked the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People on Thursday by denouncing Israel and calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
"At the start of the new millennium, the Palestinian people should finally be allowed to exercise their inalienable rights, including the right to self-determination and to a state of their own," said Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
On Friday, Annan released a statement saying he was "troubled" by "attacks in northern Israel and murders of Palestinians in Gaza."
The annual event, which marked the 54th anniversary of the UN partition plan, brought together a group of mostly Third World leaders who voiced support for peace with Israel, while at the same time, calling on the international community to differentiate between terrorism and what they referred to as "legitimate Palestinian resistance against the Israeli occupation."
Israel's adherence to the Geneva Convention was also questioned, and speakers pledged to take the Jewish state to task for alleged human rights violations against the Palestinians at a meeting of the High Contracting Parties of the Fourth Geneva Convention next week in Switzerland.
Israel boycotted Thursday's event.
Following the morning's events, Israel's representative to the UN, Yehuda Lancry, addressed the General Assembly's annual debate on "The Question of Palestine" with a plea to the Palestinians to end the violence in deeds rather than words.
"We expect that this week's attacks will finally move the Palestinian leadership to do more than merely issue the occasional condemnation, when it is politically convenient to do so," said Lancry, who also used the podium to apologize for the accidental deaths of five Palestinian children in Khan Yunis, killed 10 days ago by an Israeli bomb.
"We expect that action will finally be undertaken, in accordance with signed commitments, to bring Palestinian terrorists to justice, and that the Palestinian leadership will stop supporting, encouraging, inciting, and harboring terrorists," he said.
But before Lancry had a chance to defend Israel, speakers spent the morning reading out a succession of anti-Israel statements. In a message from Palestinian Authority Chariman Yasser Arafat read out by Palestinian representative to the UN Nasser Kidwa, Arafat urged the international community to protect the Palestinians from "Israeli aggression."
Arafat also urged the 15-member Security Council to become more involved in conflict resolution in the region. "This intervention will provide serious support for the efforts that are being exerted now with the purpose of resuming the peace process and putting it back on the right track so it can reach its goal of a permanent and just peace in the Middle East," Arafat's message read.
In Geneva, Palestinian ambassador Nabil Ramlawi lambasted the Sharon administration as "one of war and bloodshed, not peace."
"Israel has set up a real apartheid-type policy in the occupied areas," said Mali's representative to the UN, Moctar Ouane, who spoke on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. "Mosques and churches are profaned daily because of the occupying forces," he said, and claimed Israel "is openly making plans to murder Mr. Arafat and other Palestinian leaders."
Some groups, such as the Organization of African Unity, headed by Zambia, refrained from laying blame for the violence, and instead called for "peace and love [to] prevail over hate and violence in the Middle East."
Other leaders, including Arab League Secretary-General, Amr Moussa, accused Israel of everything from famine to massacres and murder. He also accused the media of "intellectual terrorism" against the Third World.
"We stress the need to differentiate between terrorism and the legitimate right of resistance to end the occupation," said Moussa in greetings read out by an Arab League representative.
Various leaders also cited UN Resolution 194, passed on December 11, 1948, as the basis for the Palestinian right of return to Israel. The resolution states, in part, that "refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date," and it calls for "repatriation, resettlement, and economic and social rehabilitation of refugees and payment of compensation."
In 1948, all Arab states voted against the resolution.
In a documentary film screened during the event titled Gaza Under Siege and sponsored by the Ford Foundation, a narrator summed up the current violence in one sentence: "Almost daily, children go to throw stones at checkpoints. Many get shot."
The film also featured Israeli journalist Amira Hass - who in June was ordered to pay NIS 250,000 to the Jewish residents of Hebron for intentionally vilifying them in press reports -lamenting Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.
Numerous people interviewed in the film stated that international law, including resolution 194, supports a Palestinian right of return to Israel; the film includes repeated references to Israel as a "racist" state. Israel's response to terrorism, including border closures and road blocks, was shown, while Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israel were not mentioned.
The UN's Chairman, International Coordinating Committee for NGOs on the Question of Palestine, Don Betz, summed up many of the speakers' grievances with Israel in his demand for an immediate apology from Israel to Palestinian refugees. Israel, said Betz, has yet to admit "that they have built their homeland, their state, and their lives on someone else's homeland, some else's history."
On Friday, two draft resolutions were introduced by Egypt into the General Assembly demanding Israel's withdrawal from Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, and deliberations on the Middle East were scheduled to continue into this week.