Statement of President Arafat before the 58th Commission on Human Rights
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.