Friday, November 20, 2009

UN News Centre: Palestinian children mark 20th year of UN rights treaty with video testimony

Palestinian children mark 20th year of UN rights treaty with video testimony

Gaza schoolchildren

20 November 2009 – Tens of thousands of Palestinian refugee children in United Nations schools in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria have been clicking away with flip cams to create the region’s first ever online video yearbook to mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The project, launched yesterday, is organized by the United Kingdom-based non-governmental organization (NGO), Hoping Foundation, together with the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the main body caring for some 4 million Palestinian refugees.

The “Hopes and Dreams” project encapsulates the youngsters’ aspirations, bringing together on-line a community divided and scattered by decades of statelessness and exile.

Each student is recording a 30-second message. These will form the basis of a living network for the future, to be added to each year. The yearbook has been endorsed by Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, who is marking the Convention’s anniversary at an event at UN Headquarters in New York.

The segments show the youngsters outlining their hopes in various situations – in the classroom or library, sitting by the roadside, kicking a soccer ball.

“Twenty years on, what difference has it made in the lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestine refugee children?” UNRWA asked in a news release on the anniversary of the Convention.

News Tracker: past stories on this issue

UN goodwill ambassador Mia Farrow visits bomb-blasted children in Gaza, Israel

Related Stories

My letter to the Mercury News RE "U.S. should stand against apartheid in Israel" by Sam Jadallah

RE: Opinion: U.S. should stand against apartheid in Israel Special to the Mercury News By Sam Jadallah

Dear Editor,

Thank you for publishing the clear and sensible op-ed "U.S. should stand against apartheid in Israel" By Sam Jadallah.

Jimmy Carter did the world a huge favor with his ground breaking book "Palestine, Peace not Apartheid", although many do argue that the world Apartheid is misleading as it can't even start to explain the situation- and the very real plight and suffering of the Palestinians. Extremists and hate mongers take advantage of this dire and dangerous situation, making matters even worse. For everyone's sake we need to help empower a just and lasting peace in the Middle East... A Golden Rule Peace for the Holy Land, a Golden Rule Peace where all children have a chance to grow up knowing compassion and decency- and the rule of fair and just laws.

Anne Selden Annab

A Palestinian toddler holds a balloon during an event organized by UNICEF to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Friday, Nov. 20, 2009. Twenty years after the U.N. adopted a treaty guaranteeing children's rights, fewer youngsters are dying and more are going to school, but an estimated 1 billion children still lack services essential to their survival and development, UNICEF said Thursday. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

My letter to the New York Times RE Dimming Prospects for Mideast Peace?

Palestinian girls release balloons with messages attached, during an event organized by UNICEF to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Friday, Nov. 20, 2009. Twenty years after the U.N. adopted a treaty guaranteeing children's rights, fewer youngsters are dying and more are going to school, but an estimated 1 billion children still lack services essential to their survival and development, UNICEF said Thursday.(AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

RE: Dimming Prospects for Mideast Peace?

Dear Editor,

Kudos to the letter writer Susan Hussein for her perfect letter and her reasonable approach in countering Cohen's cynicism.

Prospects for peace would not be dimming if our fourth estate was really doing its job and fully presenting all the facts concerning the Israel/Palestine conflict. For instance that Israeli made 'security' wall: Its convoluted path has been a land grab engineered to divide Palestinian communities and families, and farmers from their fields.
Many of Israel's moves are all about creating divisions and radicalizing and/or demoralizing the besieged people of Palestine. We need to take that seriously- and do what we can to make sure that Israel is held accountable for its sovereign violations of international law and the Palestinians basic human rights. Some smaller newspapers dare publish more revealing columns on the situation. Please note:

"Americans who fought Jim Crow or apartheid must reject today's version in the occupied Palestinian territories. America's leadership is based on promoting freedom and equality around the world, and we must start with our allies. " U.S. should stand against apartheid in Israel By Sam Jadallah

"Our administration, just as the International Court of Justice did should condemn the West Bank barrier. We should support U.N. Security Council Resolution 446 which, affirmed the illegality of Israeli settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, and stated that Israel should not “transfer parts of its own civilian population into the occupied Arab Territories.” In accordance with U.N. Resolution 194, we should demand repatriation and compensation for the Palestinian refugees expelled by Israel and living in UN-supported camps throughout the Middle East." U.S. should pressure Israel to tear down its wall by Patrick Hitchon

International law should matter- so should basic human rights and UN Resolutions... all of them, starting from the beginning with 1948's 194.

Anne Selden Annab

Thursday, November 19, 2009

House demolitions create fear for Palestinian family

House demolitions create fear for Palestinian family

By Gladys Terichow

Nov. 19, 2009, ANATA, East Jerusalem—A Palestinian family here is clinging to the hope that their newly rebuilt home won't be demolished as it was 10 years ago.

"I live in fear—I expect any second that the bulldozer will be here to demolish the house," said Dalal Duwaik, a mother of six children.

Her fear is shared by many Palestinian families whose houses have been demolished or who live under the threat of demolition.

Studies show that more than 24,000 Palestinian houses have been demolished in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza (Occupied Territories) since 1967, said Jeff Halper, founder of Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), an Israeli peace and human rights organization committed to stopping the demolition of Palestinian homes in the Occupied Territories.

It is nearly impossible for Palestinian residents to get building permits because of Israeli government building policies that systematically discriminate against Palestinians, he said. The Duwaik's first house was demolished because authorities said it was built without the proper permits.

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has been supporting ICAHD activities since its inception in 1997.

"Based on our Christian faith, MCC works towards justice and peace for all people, and we partner with Palestinian and Israeli organizations who share our concern for justice and peace for all people," said Rick Janzen, director of MCC programs in the Middle East.

Duwaik recalls the excitement she and her husband Mohammad felt in 1998 when they invested their savings to buy a plot of land (800-square metres) on the outskirts of Anata and started building a 150-square metre house.

They had been living in a one-room apartment in the basement of a house owned by her husband's parents and wanted to raise their six young children in a house with windows located on a yard with a garden.

Two months after moving into the house it was demolished.

"I was the only one at home," she recalled. "I opened the door and was shocked to see all the soldiers. They told me to get out. I was a woman on my own. I couldn't do anything, so I just left the house."

Following the demolition the family moved back to the basement suite. Ten years later, in 2008, the family was notified that ICAHD would rebuild the house.

"When my husband told me that ICAHD would rebuild the house, I didn't believe him," she said. "I was so happy the house would be rebuilt."

The new house is much smaller than the first one. It is only 50 square metres but has natural light and is not as damp as the basement suite where they had been living with their family, which now includes a daughter-in-law and two grandchildren.

But once again, while the house was still under construction, the family received a demolition order because the new house was also built without a building permit from the Israeli authorities.

Israelis and Palestinians working together to resist the demolitions and rebuild houses is a form of non-violent resistance to Israel's discriminatory housing policy, said Halper. Although it is almost impossible for Palestinians to get permits, the growth of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories continues, said Halper.

Israeli settlements that are considered illegal under international law now cover 25 per cent of the West Bank and 34 per cent of East Jerusalem. These settlements strategically carve up the Occupied Territories and undermine efforts to create an independent Palestinian state within pre-1967 borders.

This non-violent resistance is also part of a larger effort to pursue a just and sustainable peace based on equality of all people—an idea that Halper has been supporting since joining the Israeli peace movement in 1973 when he emigrated to Israel from the U.S.

"If we don't link our commitment to justice and peace and love with opposing real injustices in the world, then our commitment is hollow and it doesn't mean anything," he said. "If we don't oppose injustices then what is the point of saying that we support justice?"

Duwaik is hopeful that solutions will be found before her new house is demolished. "Where will we go if our house is demolished?" she asked.

Gladys Terichow is a writer for MCC.

My letter sent RE U.S. should pressure Israel to tear down its wall By Patrick Hitchon

RE: U.S. should pressure Israel to tear down its wall BY PATRICK HITCHON

Dear Editor,

Delighted to see the excellent op-ed "U.S. should pressure Israel to tear down its wall"! Straight to the point- we really do need to honor and implement ALL UN Resolutions in order to create a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.... including but not limited to UN Resolution 194 from 1948 clearly affirming the Palestinian refugees inalienable right to return to live in peace: Palestine is crucially important- and so is full respect for international law and basic human rights.

Anne Selden Annab

U.S. should pressure Israel to tear down its wall


Last week, we commemorated the 20th anniversary of the demolition of the Berlin Wall. The Wall was built in 1961 to prevent the mass exodus from the communist German Democratic Republic to the Federal Republic of Germany. President Ronald Reagan had called for the dismantling of the Wall two years earlier in his memorable speech, saying “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

Today, the world and our government complain in silence about Israel’s West Bank barrier, or — as it is known in the Middle East — the Wall of Territorial Theft. This wall, as approved by the Israeli government stretches more than 400 miles, nearly four times the length of the Berlin Wall. This barrier does not follow the United Nations partition lines outlined in Resolution 181, or Green Line of 1967 between Israel and Palestine. Instead, it includes illegally built settlements and intrudes into Palestinian territory, carving off another 10 percent of the West Bank.

In 2003, an emergency session of the General Assembly overwhelmingly approved Resolution 10179 on the situation in the Middle East, demanding that Israel stop and reverse construction of the wall being built in the West Bank. The assembly adopted the measure by a vote of 144 to 4. The Federated States of Micronesia, Israel, Marshall Islands, and the United States opposed the resolution.

On July 9, 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled 14 votes to 1 that the barrier is “contrary to international law” and implored Israel to dismantle the wall. The lone objector was the American judge, Thomas Buergenthal.

Today, Palestinians living along the route suffer the consequences of the barrier. Families are separated from each other, and farmers are isolated from their land. Palestinians require special permission to reside or cross into this so-called seam zone. Of course, Israelis are excluded from these restrictions.

Like the illegal settlements built before it, the barrier was built under the pretext of “security.” Israel now expands the settlements, claiming expansion is “natural growth.” I suppose the wall will also annex Palestinian territories to compensate for “natural growth.” I wonder if the Noble Sanctuary, the Dome of the Rock, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque will be annexed in the name of “security” and later for “natural growth.”

Our administration, just as the International Court of Justice did should condemn the West Bank barrier. We should support U.N. Security Council Resolution 446 which, affirmed the illegality of Israeli settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, and stated that Israel should not “transfer parts of its own civilian population into the occupied Arab Territories.” In accordance with U.N. Resolution 194, we should demand repatriation and compensation for the Palestinian refugees expelled by Israel and living in UN-supported camps throughout the Middle East.

Until U.N. resolutions are enforced, there will be no peace in the Middle East. The world is tired of roadmaps, agreements, and accords that lead nowhere. Negotiating with the likes of Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman is a nonstarter.

If the United Nations was good enough to create Israel with Resolution 181, then we should enforce all U.N. resolutions.

Patrick Hitchon, M.D., was born in Amman, Jordan, and grew up in Beirut, Lebanon. He is a professor of neurosurgery and bioengineering chief of neurosurgical service at the Iowa City Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Remember me

OPT: Remember me

Full_Report (pdf* format - 990.7 Kbytes)

Help us to end the pain of Gaza's children

The words and pictures collected in this leaflet tell a terrible story – the story of a generation of children growing up amongst the horror of war and the struggle of extreme poverty. A generation of children that is suffering.

Through our psychosocial care programme, MAP is helping the children of Gaza to recover from their psychological wounds, to be children again. The drawings in this pamphlet, just some of the horrors to which the children have been exposed, were drawn by children between the ages of eight and thirteen.

My comment online RE Washington Post " In Palestine, a ray of light A state-building plan that deserves the endorsement of the U.S" by David Ignatius

A demonstrator waves a Palestinian flag near tear gas fired by Israeli troops (not seen) during a protest against the controversial Israeli barrier in the West Bank village of Nilin near Ramallah, November 13, 2009. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

RE: In Palestine, a ray of light A state-building plan that deserves the endorsement of the U.S by David Ignatius Ramallah's road map to statehood

Dear Editor,

I was startled to see the online headline "In Palestine, a ray of light A state-building plan that deserves the endorsement of the U.S" Kudos to
Ignatius for noticing Palestine in such a positive way.

I first heard of the Fayad plan from the ATFP-
The American Task Force on Palestine. ( ATFP is dedicated to advocating that it is in the American national interest to promote an end to the conflict in the Middle East through a negotiated agreement that provides for two states - Israel and Palestine - living side by side in peace and security. The Task Force was established in 2003 to provide an independent voice for Palestinian-Americans and their supporters and to promote peace. AFTP’s Board of Directors is made up of a large group of noted Palestinian-Americans who agree with these principles. )

"This is a very powerful way of effectively resisting the occupation without doing anything violent. Israelis may fool themselves into thinking that this is just economic peace, but it's not; it's Palestinians preparing for independence." Hussein Ibish

Citizenship is a right- and a responsibility: I very much like the idea of putting energy into positive efforts to support a real Palestine- a firm facts on the ground Palestine where Palestinians (and their supporters) can focus in on what needs to be done in a day to day way to help Palestinians stay on their land right now- and to help establish an independent, sovereign, and viable Palestinian state as soon as possible... for everyone's sake.

Anne Selden Annab

A Palestinian man sells goats on a street ahead of the holiday of Eid al-Adha, in al-Buraij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip November 19, 2009. Muslims around the world celebrate Eid al-Adha to mark the end of the haj by slaughtering sheep, goats, cows and camels to commemorate Prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail on God's command.REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Following another 'painful year' in Middle East, Secretary-General tells meeting on Palestine refugees 'we need to see two states living side by side

Following another 'painful year' in Middle East, Secretary-General tells meeting on Palestine refugees 'we need to see two states living side by side in peace'


Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's message, delivered by Bader Al-Dafa, Executive-Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Hosts and Donors Meeting, Dead Sea, Jordan, today 18 November:

It is a pleasure to send warm greetings to all the participants in this important annual gathering.

You meet near the end of what has been another painful year for Palestine refugees and, indeed, all the people of the region. The tragic conflict in Gaza and southern Israel has left an extremely grave situation, which remains unresolved. I was deeply grieved by the loss of life and the extent of the damage I saw when I travelled there in the immediate aftermath of the conflict.

In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, divisions still run deep between Fatah and Hamas, despite sustained mediation efforts by Egypt, and the gulf between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is widening. Meanwhile, Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem continues, and the Gaza blockade remains in place. These are serious obstacles to the realization of our shared goal of an independent, contiguous and viable state of Palestine.

Under the leadership of the United States, and with the full support of the Quartet, there have been serious efforts aimed at a resumption of negotiations between the parties, including for a solution to the refugee issue in accordance with international law and relevant United Nations resolutions. Palestinians have waited too long for an end to occupation and a state of their own. Israelis have a right to live in peace and harmony with their neighbours. More than ever, for both peoples, for the region, and for the international community as a whole, we need to see two states living side by side in peace and security.

On 8 December, UNRWA will mark the sixtieth anniversary of its establishment by the United Nations General Assembly. At the commemorative event held at United Nations Headquarters in September, I was impressed by the political support expressed for the Agency and its vital services. I hope this support will be translated into greater financial assistance.

Finally, I would like to thank my good colleague and friend, Commissioner-General Karen Koning AbuZayd, for her nine years of service to UNRWA, and 19 more with UNHCR. Under her leadership, UNRWA has undertaken ambitious internal reforms that have strengthened accountability, efficiency and the empowerment of staff and management. As she concludes her wise and steady stewardship, I salute her and wish her all the very best in her future endeavours.

Please accept my best wishes for a successful meeting.

For information media • not an official record

Obama: Israeli Settlement Construction Could be 'Dangerous'

Obama: Israeli Settlement Construction Could be 'Dangerous'

18 November 2009

A Palestinian boy sits in the yard of his house with a new housing development in east Jerusalem's Jewish neighborhood of Har Homa in the background, 21 Sep 2009
A Palestinian boy sits in the yard of his house with a new housing development in east Jerusalem's Jewish neighborhood of Har Homa in the background, 21 Sep 2009
U.S. President Barack Obama says Israel's latest decision to authorize the construction of new settlements in occupied east Jerusalem does not make Israel safer, and could complicate peace efforts.

In an interview Wednesday with U.S. news station Fox News, Mr. Obama said additional settlement building could make it harder for Israel to make peace with its neighbors.

He added that he thinks such action, in his words, "embitters the Palestinians in a way that could end up being very dangerous."

Israeli officials announced plans Tuesday to construct 900 new housing units in east Jerusalem.

Nabil Abu Rdaineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said Israel's decision shows it does not want peace.

Mr. Abbas has said negotiations cannot resume until Israel freezes construction in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Israel annexed the mostly Arab east Jerusalem in the 1967 war, in a move that is not internationally recognized.

A U.S. official who did not want to be identified said U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell had urged Israeli leaders to block the proposed settlement construction during talks Monday in London.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement Tuesday "deploring" the Israeli decision. He said it undermines efforts for peace and casts doubt on the viability of the two-state solution.

Britain also criticized Israel's action, saying a credible peace deal involves Jerusalem "as a shared capital" and that expanding settlements on occupied land in east Jerusalem "makes that deal much harder."

Officials close to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday he is willing to show "restraint" in settlement construction in the West Bank, but will not accept any restriction on building in Jerusalem.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.

Voice of America Trusted Source of News & Information since 1942 About VOA

My letter to the LATimes RE Jerusalem housing plan draws U.S. fire

RE: Jerusalem housing plan draws U.S. fire,0,3631131.story

Dear Editor,

Fostering peace talks and a better way forward for the people of Israel and the people of Palestine is not easy- but it is the right thing to do... for everyone's sake. There is, as ATFP's Dr. Hussein Ibish (on his most recent Ibishblog post) so adeptly phrases it "a small mountain of Security Council resolutions and other international instruments of legality" for Palestine.

There is also The Arab Peace Initiative "Reaffirming the resolution taken in June 1996 at the Cairo Extra-Ordinary Arab Summit that a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East is the strategic option of the Arab countries, to be achieved in accordance with international legality, and which would require a comparable commitment on the part of the Israeli government"

And there is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from 1948 clearly pointing out that "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

Palestine and peace need our support- and all our best efforts to help make sure that a Golden Rule Peace might have a chance to take hold in the Holy Land... a Golden Rule Peace where people are empowered to be good neighbors and law abiding citizens, regardless of supposed race, religion or nationality.

Anne Selden Annab
American homemaker & Poet

My letter to the Washington Post RE Housing plan for Jerusalem neighborhood spurs criticism

RE: Housing plan for Jerusalem neighborhood spurs criticism

Dear Editor,

Thank you for headlining " Housing plan for Jerusalem neighborhood spurs criticism". I very much hope that American leaders continue to support the idea of a Palestinian state and a peaceful negotiated end to the Palestine/Israel conflict.

Anne Selden Annab

My letter to the CSM RE Middle East peace: Is two-state solution kaput? By John V. Whitbeck

A map of Jerusalem showing the main Israeli settlements. Israel approved the construction of hundreds of new housing units in annexed Arab east Jerusalem on Tuesday, driving another stake into troubled US efforts to restart Middle East peace talks. (AFP/Graphic/File)

RE: Middle East peace: Is two-state solution kaput? If a two-state deal isn't reached by 2011, then Palestinians should push for a one-state solution. By John V. Whitbeck

Dear Editor,

"Palestinian divisions, both geographic and political allow Israel to dominate all agreements and negotiations." Gaza: A World Away by Britain Eakin for MIFTAH

(MITAH is The Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy)

Fragmenting the conversation away from firm support for Palestine and the Arab Peace Initiative, 1State VS 2State allegiances become yet another way to divide Palestine's supporters. Here in America, with our constitution ensuring that we really do become a more real democracy, it is VERY easy to be convinced that a feel good one state "solution" to the Israel/Palestine conflict will stop the conflict... but will it?

Will a one state "solution" magically inspire full respect for basic human rights and a more real democracy or will it mainly mean that Zionist politicians, investors, and propagandists learn how not to be so obvious about institutionalized bigotry... Will a one state "solution" really stop the longest running refugee crisis in the world today, or will even more Palestinians be impoverished and displaced- minus the official status of refugee.

We need to be noticing that if a two-state deal is not reached that is the end of a place called Palestine and the dreams of many who really do not want to be Israeli. Will that help calm down the region- or will it enrage and empower extremists everywhere?

Anne Selden Annab

A Palestinian workers walks by an empty construction site of a housing development in the neighborhood of Gilo, in Jerusalem, Tuesday, Nov. 17. 2009. A top Palestinian official says there is no point in negotiating while Israel expands Jewish neighborhoods in the part of Jerusalem the Palestinians want for their capital. The rebuke from negotiator Saeb Erekat came as the Jerusalem district planning commission deposited a plan for building 900 more housing units next to an existing Jewish neighborhood in east Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

ATFP Expresses Deep Concern over Israeli Plans to Build 900 Units in Jerusalem

Press Release
Contact Information: Ghaith al-Omari
November 17, 2009 - 12:00am

Washington, DC, Nov. 17 -- ATFP expressed deep concern over Israeli plans to build 900 additional housing units in East Jerusalem. These plans contradict the United States’ policy of seeking a freeze on settlement activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and gravely complicate the efforts to resume peace negotiations.

ATFP commends the White House’s statement expressing “dismay” over these plans, and supports its call to all sides to refrain from taking actions “that could unilaterally preempt, or appear to preempt, negotiations”, as well as the US’s objection to “other Israeli practices in Jerusalem related to housing, including the continuing pattern of evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes”.

In commenting on these developments, ATFP President Dr. Ziad Asali said: “Any action that aims to change the nature of Jerusalem risks not only alienating the Palestinians, but also inflaming emotions throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds. These actions can only serve extremism and harm the quest for a negotiated peace agreement. We hope that the Israeli government overrules the Jerusalem municipal planning committee and rescinds these plans. We wholeheartedly support the Administration’s position on these plans and hope that reason will prevail.”

al-Majdal 42: "Nakba Education on the Path of Return"

al-Majdal 42: "Nakba Education on the Path of Return"

The Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights is pleased to announce the publication of issue the Autumn 2009 issue of al-Majdal (issue #42), titled Nakba Education on the Path of Return.

The issue looks at Nakba education: education in its various forms on the history, culture, geography and society of Palestine over the past sixty one years.

The authors in this issue of al-Majdal, are directly involved in the process of Nakba Education in various places, directing their work at different communities, and cover various aspects of the topic.

Rami Salameh looks at education in Palestinian elementary and high-school classrooms and the need to develop the pedagogical methods in Palestinian Authority schools.

Said Barghouti examines the way Israeli history textbooks over the past forty years have presented the history of the land to Palestinian students.

Dan Walsh examines the way the “Middle East Conflict” is taught to U.S. high school students, suggesting that Palestinian poster art can be used to present this topic in a more accurate and student-empowering way.

Also in the U.S., members of the Palestine Education Project describe their work with students in Brooklyn to learn about the experience of Palestinians and draw connections with their own lived experiences.

Nidal al-Azza shares his reflections on teaching Palestinian refugee rights under international law to Palestinian law students.

Also looking at education in the classroom, Amaya Galili describes How do we say Nakba in Hebrew? a recently launched resource packet developed by Zochrot in Hebrew for teachers wishing to engage Jewish-Israeli students about the Nakba.

Other authors focus on Nakba education outside of the classroom. Khaled al-Azraq, a political prisoner for the past twenty years, tells us how the Palestinian prisoners' movement has educated its cadre.

Mo'ataz al-Dajani looks at the efforts of al-Jana Center in Lebanon to engage Palestinian children and youth in the writing of their own history by engaging with older generations and with their surroundings, while Rich Wiles describes the educational activities of refugee community centers in the Bethlehem district.

While the articles in this issue provide a small sample of the forms that Nakba education can take, the experiences and work described by these authors offer a useful guide for others engaging in this field.

Sharing and learning from the experiences of others is one of the ways educators can learn, and this issue of al-Majdal aims to be a contribution to this shared learning process.


Click here to visit the al-Majdal homepage
Click here to read this issue online
Click here to download the full PDF version of this issue of al-Majdal

Annual subscriptions to the printed version of the magazine are available for Euro 25 (4 issues).

Click here to subscribe to al-Majdal online
or through email requests addressed to the editor at

Palestinians denied access to water - 14 Nov 09

This exclusive report from Al Jazeera shows Israeli occupation forces dismantling a farmer's water pipes in the agricultural village of al-Baqa.

My letter to the New York Times RE A Mideast Truce By Roger Cohen

RE: A Mideast Truce By Roger Cohen

Dear Editor,

Rather than wallowing in pessimism Roger Cohen should have pointed out (and firmly condemned) Israel's ongoing flagrant violations of international law and the Palestinians basic human rights in his op-ed "A Mideast Truce"... He should have also noticed
The Arab Peace Initiative which emanates from "the conviction of the Arab countries that a military solution to the conflict will not achieve peace or provide security for the parties".

61 years of Israel consistently usurping Palestinian land, rights and life during both war and peace does make the process of peace more difficult- but never say never: There are gentle heroes everywhere working hard to help shape a just and lasting peace in the Middle East: "The ensuing decades have not diminished the sharpness of the collective Palestinian memory of the pain of dispossession. As their refugee condition has persisted, passing the sixtieth milestone last year, so has the demand for their rights remained strong. In keeping with the universal refugee ethos, the passage of time and the succession of generations are powerless against the strength of the desire for justice and for a principled solution, which includes, at least as an option, the possibility of re-connection with the place they call "home"." A Regional Perspective on Conflict and Exile: Reflections on the Palestine Refugee Experience by Karen Koning AbuZayd, UNRWA Commissioner-General

Israel tried but totally failed to convince the world that there was no such thing as a Palestinian. Palestinian men, women and children are obviously very much trapped and tormented by Israel's anti-Palestinian walls and polices, but an intriguing treasure trove of Palestinian art, poetry, songs and stories has been crossing all borders world wide bit by bit, reaching everywhere to convince strangers to pause and believe in Palestine... and the very real possibility of peace.

Anne Selden Annab

Israel must end Gaza blockade, evictions, alleged abuse of young Palestinians – Ban

Israel must end Gaza blockade, evictions, alleged abuse of young Palestinians – Ban

16 November 2009 – Israel should end the blockade of Gaza, cease evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes, and ensure that the rights of children are respected and that all allegations of torture and ill-treatment are promptly investigated and perpetrators prosecuted, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in an annual report released today.

“In particular, the Government of Israel should allow unimpeded access to Gaza for humanitarian aid and the non-humanitarian goods needed for the reconstruction of properties and infrastructure,” he writes in the report to the General Assembly on the human rights of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.

“Israel should also address effectively and immediately the water, sanitation and environmental crisis in Gaza,” he stressed, citing the devastating damage stemming from Israel’s military action against Hamas last winter and its blockade of many materials other than foodstuffs, medical supplies, stationery and some industrial or electrical appliances.

“Those heavy import restrictions, coupled with a near total prohibition on exports, have had a devastating effect on the Gaza economy. The blockade has also severely impaired the realization of a wide range of economic, social and cultural rights, as well as civil and political rights.”

Mr. Ban says the reported ill-treatment of children includes beatings, being forced to stand or sit for long periods in extremely painful and harmful positions, in most cases with hands tied together and eyes blindfolded, threats of sexual abuse and hooding the head and face in a sack.

He cites one case documented by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), in which a 14-year-old-boy from the village of Qatanna was arrested in March by soldiers after other children had thrown stones at an army vehicle. While being transferred to an Israeli military camp, soldiers slapped him several times, handcuffed and blindfolded him.

The boy stated that the handcuffs were too tight and caused him great pain and that the blindfold may have been coated in tear gas since his eyes were burning the entire time. After repeated appeals at the police station, a soldier noted the boy’s hands were turning blue and took off his handcuffs and blindfold. He was then subjected to interrogation for four hours, during which an interrogator beat his face and ears with the back of his hand, approximately 40 times.

“All parties to the conflict should abide scrupulously by their obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law,” Mr. Ban writes in an overall recommendation, calling for all allegations to be investigated by credible, independent and transparent accountability mechanisms. “Equally crucial is upholding the right of victims to reparation.”

On the West Bank, he reiterates that the wall which Israel says it is building to keep out Palestinian suicide bombers and other attacks, should be dismantled where it is in occupied territory, in accordance with an advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice.

Israel should also issue viable zoning plans and a less cumbersome process for issuing building permits in a non-discriminatory manner for all in East Jerusalem and other places in the West Bank. “Until such time, the evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes should cease,” Mr. Ban stresses. “Victims of forced evictions should also be afforded the possibility of effective redress. Punitive demolitions should cease immediately.”

In East Jerusalem alone from January to July 2009 at least 194 persons were forcibly displaced as a result of home demolitions. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in August cited “conservative estimates” of more than 1,500 pending demolition orders in East Jerusalem.

Some neighbourhoods face the prospects of mass demolitions. In the Silwan neighbourhood of East Jerusalem, some 90 houses are threatened, potentially displacing about 1,000 people. In Sheik Jarrah, an area in central East Jerusalem, 475 residents could face potential eviction as the ownership of their homes is contested by Israeli settlers.

News Tracker: past stories on this issue

Ban calls on Israel to halt eviction of Palestinians in East Jerusalem

Jerusalem must be capital of both Israel and Palestine, Ban says

UN calls on Israel to halt demolition of Palestinian homes

Monday, November 16, 2009

USA's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration - Inauguration of Zarqa Girls' School in Jordan

Inauguration of Zarqa Girls' School

Eric P. Schwartz
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
Zarqa Camp
Zarqa, Jordan
November 16, 2009

Thank you. It is wonderful to be here in Jordan. I would like to thank UNRWA Director Richard Cook for organizing today’s inauguration ceremony, and to recognize and commend UNRWA Commissioner General Karen AbuZayd for her leadership of the agency over the past four years. I also wish to thank my colleague Ambassador Beecroft for the embassy’s support of UNRWA’s activities.

On behalf of the Obama Administration, I’m gratified to be here today to officially open the new Zarqa Preparatory Girls’ School, which will benefit over 700 Palestinian children and their families. In 2007, the U.S. Government contributed $1.48 million toward the reconstruction of three separate schools, now housed in this one building. I anticipate that the students and their parents will be, like families the world over, delighted with the prospect of a new school.

UNRWA is well known for providing quality, universal education in all its operational fields. I am confident that the Zarqa Preparatory School will be a place where girls will have a chance to learn how they can become full members and leaders of their community. As I look out at the many bright young faces in the crowd today, so eager to learn and take advantage of the opportunities that will be afforded by this fine school, I’m reminded of my own two daughters and the hopes and aspirations their mother and I have for their educations and their futures. I’m proud to be here today among the many parents who are hoping that the opening of this school will mark a bright time in the lives of the many girls here today and those that will attend this institution in the years to come.

We believe this school will help to build the capacity of the future Palestinian state by educating its future leaders. I truly believe I’m standing today among young women who will become the doctors, teachers, scientists, government workers and politicians who will help lead the Palestinian people to a prosperous and peaceful future.

I’m here today to reinforce the message that the U.S. Government and the American people are working with you to meet that goal, and we will remain committed to helping meet the needs of Palestinian refugees in the region until there is a just and lasting solution to the current conflict.

The United States partnership with UNRWA is longstanding and strong; the U.S. Government is UNRWA's largest bilateral donor. We contributed nearly $268 million this year. A significant portion of our contribution supports the almost 2 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan. As part of our support, the USG contributed $1.8 million in funds this year to support the reconstruction of UNRWA's health clinic in Wahadat Camp, which provides health services to over 50,000 refugees.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to recognize and thank the Jordanian government for hosting Palestinian refugees for the past 60 years. You have generously welcomed them and provided them with opportunities and tools to help recognize their full potential and build a better future for their families.

Thank you once more for involving me in this welcome event.

A Regional Perspective on Conflict and Exile: Reflections on the Palestine Refugee Experience by Karen Koning AbuZayd, UNRWA Commissioner-General

A Regional Perspective on Conflict and Exile: Reflections on the Palestine Refugee Experience

Director Rami Khoury,
Distinguished faculty, distinguished guests,
Colleagues and friends of UNRWA:

I thank the Issam Fares Institute and the American University of Beirut for organizing this event and for the opportunity to share a few thoughts with you tonight. At the end of this year, I shall retire as Commissioner-General of UNRWA, bringing to a close 28 years in the service of refugees, the last nine of these working with Palestine refugees in this region.

In preparing for this lecture, I found myself looking back at some of the refugee experiences I have witnessed first-hand and the high points of major refugee operations in which I was involved with UNHCR. I thought about the complex ways in which these experiences and operations reflect - and diverge from - the challenging conditions of Palestine refugees.

Time and again, I have seen played out in many scenarios the progression of refugee situations from the stage of persecution and conflict, which trigger flight, to the period of asylum and exile, to the phase of durable solutions through which the refugee plight is resolved. No two refugee situations are identical. Still, there is a likeness to some aspects of the refugee experience, particularly as regards the initial circumstances of flight and the ultimate stage where refugee status is resolved.

When people are compelled to flee, abandoning their homes and livelihoods and becoming estranged from their roots, the resulting pain and trauma are the same, regardless of the geographic location or national origin of the people seeking refuge. Wherever armed conflict features among the triggers for flight, we see similar patterns of suffering as the distress of forced dispossession is aggravated by death, injuries and the painful memories thereof.

The implications of refugee flows extend beyond the adverse human effects. In every instance of forced dislocation across national borders, the existence of refugees generates international consequences. The international community’s legal obligations to assist and protect refugees are engaged, and the provision of a temporary place of sojourn for refugees entails sacrifices by the countries and peoples offering refuge.

During the period of asylum or exile, the international community, including host countries and communities, are duty bound to ensure for refugees the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, to the fullest extent possible. The conditions under which refugees live should meet minimum standards stipulated in human rights instruments and access to health, education, social services and other facilities should assure reasonable human development prospects for refugees and their families.

There is a well-established international framework of instruments, principles and practice for protecting refugees [during exile], whether they live in or outside camps. These are of universal application because they draw their inspiration from United Nations values, human rights law and from the laws of war which protect civilians from the effects of armed conflict. There are, however, wide variations in their actual application. The extent to which refugee conditions meet the required standards depend on the capacity and willingness of the host government, the international community and concerned agencies to ensure the realization of these standards. This is an issue to which I shall return.

As with the circumstances of flight, the common features of the global refugee experience are apparent when, following interventions on the political level, conflicts are peacefully resolved through negotiations. Over the years, many disputes of the most intense kind have eventually been brought to a peaceful end, usually with the involvement of the international community and within the framework of international accords.

As combatants lay down their arms, conditions are created that enable refugees to avail themselves of one or another of three durable solutions – resettlement in third countries, integration in the host community, or return to their homes and places of origin—the preferred solution. Each of these solutions establishes a foundation on which refugees reclaim some of what they lost and lay to rest the burdens of dispossession and exile. Durable solutions offer the means by which refugees restore their sense of self and seize the prospects for normal lives of dignity and opportunity.

When we set the situation of Palestinians and Palestine refugees against the backdrop of these global norms, we see points of intersection principally in the human impact of the events surrounding the original displacement. In common with other refugees, Palestinians suffered during the onset of their exile – or the Nakba - in 1948.

The ensuing decades have not diminished the sharpness of the collective Palestinian memory of the pain of dispossession. As their refugee condition has persisted, passing the sixtieth milestone last year, so has the demand for their rights remained strong. In keeping with the universal refugee ethos, the passage of time and the succession of generations are powerless against the strength of the desire for justice and for a principled solution, which includes, at least as an option, the possibility of re-connection with the place they call "home".

In other aspects of what is often called "the refugee cycle" - the circumstances of exile and the stage of solutions – the Palestine refugee experience deviates, often significantly, from the trends and patterns elsewhere. The major areas of divergence are the conditions of Palestinian exile and the protracted elusiveness of a solution.

With regard to the conditions of exile, we would be hard pressed to identify in the Middle East a place where Palestinian refuge fully satisfies the minimum standards of human rights, human security and equal opportunity for development. Allow me briefly to consider the situations Palestine refugees face across the region.

Jordan and Syria

Refugees residing in Jordan and Syria enjoy the broadest spectrum of freedoms. They have economic rights and access to the employment market, and the stability of these countries means they are spared the trauma and risks associated with armed conflict. In both countries, refugee choices are constrained more by poverty, and UNRWA’s own lack of funds to maintain the quality of its programmes, than by any restrictions imposed by the authorities. Among the most fortunate are the refugees in Jordan who enjoy the privileges of special categories of Jordanian passports.

The advantages flowing from residence in Jordan and Syria, welcome and beneficial as they are, do not obviate the vulnerability inherent in the status of Palestinians as refugees. The benefits cannot substitute for a just and lasting solution.

The occupied Palestinian territory

In the occupied Palestinian territory is an example of human rights denied and fundamental freedoms trampled. A military occupation of over forty years combines with systematic abuses to create tragic conditions of conflict and exile.

Palestinians in the West Bank are overwhelmed by a plethora of physical impediments and the rigid application of harsh policies and laws. They are segregated and contained in zones whose boundaries are marked by the illegal separation barrier, and some 592 checkpoints and roadblocks. Israeli settlements consume large tracts of Palestinian land for settler housing, settler farms, security areas, buffer zones, access roads and bypass roads from which Palestinians are barred.

As a consequence of these measures and the invasive infrastructure of occupation, Palestinian residents are effectively confined in a mosaic of enclaves. Freedom of movement for Palestinians and their goods does not exist – certainly not in the sense in which human rights instruments intend. They are unable to fully access their land, their work, and in some cases, health care, schools, their families and places of worship. Palestinian livelihoods are held captive and their social and economic lives smothered. Poverty, unemployment and the absence of dignity have become fixtures in a bleak existence.

In outlining the climate of abuses in the West Bank, I must mention the practice of demolishing Palestinian homes and evicting Palestinians. Some observers see a systematic approach, gradually reducing the Palestinian population in and around East Jerusalem, which may well result in a zone of significant size completely free of Palestinians.

I must also mention the frequency with which Palestinians are arrested and imprisoned, often without trial. Arbitrary arrests and invasions of personal liberty and freedom disproportionately affect young Palestinian males, although the over 8,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons include 60 women and 390 children.

The evidence on the ground and the absence of any normalcy in the lives of Palestinians and Palestine refugees provide little cause for optimism. In a report published last month, the World Bank expresses reservations about reports of recovery in the West Bank, noting that the steps to ease restrictions in the West Bank "lack permanence and certainty and can easily be withdrawn or replaced with other restrictions." If so much gloom hangs over the West Bank, what might we say about Gaza?

Since the onset of the second intifada, Palestinians in Gaza have been assailed by an array of adverse experiences. The closure of Gaza’s borders since June 2007 and the 22-day war last winter are only two of the most recent low points in the lives of Gazans. The blockade preceded the recent war and intensified after it. Food, medical supplies and humanitarian aid are allowed in, but only in quantities carefully regulated to remain well below basic needs. Headline news is made by announcements that tea, coffee and 3,000 cows will be allowed into Gaza ahead of the coming Eid Al-Adha holiday.

The economy – such as it is – now revolves around the entrance and exit of goods through a complex of underground tunnels, and the construction industry is experimenting with the manufacture of building materials from mud and the recycling of rubble from the recent conflict.

However, no amount of ingenuity can mask the malnutrition, deep poverty affecting 80 per cent of the population, unemployment and collapse of public services which are the legacy of the deliberate isolation of Gaza. Poverty surveys conducted by UNRWA’s social services department show that the number of abject poor – those completely unable to support themselves without humanitarian assistance – has tripled in recent months to reach 300,000 (out of 1.1 million refugees).

The economy and the conditions of siege are not the only sources of misery. The firing of Qassam rockets from Gaza into Israel continues, although at a very low frequency, while the response from the Israeli side remains robust, frequently causing death and injury. In Gaza a ceasefire does not necessarily mean the silence of guns, the cessation of hostilities or an end to the civilian casualties. All too often, periods of quiet have turned out to be opportunities to prepare for further eruptions of violence.

Distinguished colleagues:

Allow me now to focus on Lebanon. Here, currents of vulnerability are very much in evidence. From UNRWA’s vantage point, there are several strands that converge to threaten the well-being of refugees today.

Prominent among these is the memory of the role Palestinians played in Lebanon’s history of internal unrest and civil conflict. Closely connected with the Palestinian influence and Lebanon’s civil wars is the complex fragility of the country’s ethnic and religious constitution and the fine compromises that are necessary to achieve and maintain national stability.

Into this mix must be factored the susceptibility to intrusions by regional and international forces, both state and non-state actors, each with its own priorities and agendas and quite ready to exploit, including by military force, any frailties. Within the Palestinian camp itself there are divisions and struggles for political power, some of which reflect the internecine splits between Fatah and Hamas, generating their own ripples of instability.

Amidst this intricate matrix sits the community of Palestine refugees, itself reflecting the complexities, while, at the same time, reinforcing them. The camps in which some fifty per cent of the refugees reside are a stage on which Lebanon’s complex realities are played out. In the years since the early 1990’s, there has been a progressive isolation of Palestine refugees in Lebanon, both in a physical sense of limiting their presence to the camps and in terms of the constriction in the scope of economic and civil rights they enjoy.

Palestine refugees are not ascribed a legal status in Lebanon. Beyond what UNRWA can provide with its limited means and stretched facilities, the refugees have little access to medical care and social safety-net assistance. Prior to 2005, Lebanese law specified 70 some professions from which Palestine refugees were excluded. The Minister of Labour has since reduced the number to 20 professions and vocations, with medicine, pharmacy, law and engineering still prohibited, and the easing of the employment ban yet to take real effect. Over the years these restrictions have contributed to a high incidence of chronic poverty and high unemployment among Palestine refugees, which in turn compounds their marginalization.

This fundamental insecurity is reinforced by the dim prospects of a just and durable solution to their plight. In Lebanon’s climate of constant political jousting, some political factions exaggerate the risks of tawtin, thus stoking these fears for their own ends.

Sporadic episodes of violence in the refugee camps play to long-standing national anxieties regarding the Palestinian presence. The armed conflict in Nahr El Bared in 2007, which resulted in the total destruction of the refugee camp and the forced displacement of its 27,000 residents, demonstrated the vulnerability of Palestine refugees on a scale not seen for many years, while also underlining the close interlocking between their interests and those of the Lebanese communities which host them.

At the same time, there are undoubted advantages to a gradual opening up the refugee camps. Marginalization and entrenched poverty have never served the ends of security or stability. On the contrary, restrictions breed radicalism and create an atmosphere in which disaffected youth become receptive to the call of militancy and violence. Boosting economic activity, raising standards of living and expanding life choices are goals whose benefits will extend beyond the camp boundaries. These benefits will eventually include the fostering of a climate in which camp residents define and seek their common security in non-belligerent terms. It is UNRWA’s hope that it will be possible to build on the positive signals from the government, and others, to generate agreement on a programme to accelerate the liberalization of economic opportunities for Palestine refugees in Lebanon. To achieve this, a broad consensus across political lines is essential, as is the consent and support of the refugees themselves, obtained through a process of genuine consultations.

It will also be vital for the objectives of liberalization to be framed along lines that are neither political nor adversarial and which steer clear of pre-conditions that might play into the hands of confrontational elements or risk triggering militant reactions. Ensuring that refugees enjoy living conditions that meet human rights standards is a discrete, non-political, international legal obligation. It is a goal whose pursuit is justified in and of itself by considerations of humanity, and cannot be confused with naturalization or any other durable solution.

These observations apply to all refugee camps in Lebanon, and they have a particular relevance to the rebuilding of Nahr-El Bared to enable its residents to reclaim the dignity of lives free from dependence on humanitarian assistance. Since the tragic events of 2007, and notwithstanding the frustrations in the slow pace of the reconstruction effort, there have been indications of constructive attitudes among a range of interlocutors, and with them the potential for the re-building of Nahr El Bared to serve as a catalyst for new beginnings. There is the possibility, for example, that in a newly re-built camp, security and policing arrangements could depart from the prevailing practice and be based on genuine cooperation between refugees and the Lebanese government.

The donor conference in Vienna in June 2008 raised some $120 million of the $445 million appeal for the reconstruction effort. The pledges fell below our expectations even though they are adequate for the purpose of commencing the construction process. Nevertheless, we appreciated the supportive statements of the majority of delegations, including from the Arab world, most of which acknowledged, without reservation, the refugees’ entitlement to have their community re-built, and recognized the link between reconstruction and the security of the Lebanese communities around Nahr El Bared.

Not only in connection with the re-building of Nahr El Bared, but also more generally, UNRWA is heartened by the efforts of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC). In spite of its constraints and the impediments to discharging its mandate, the LPDC’s very existence testifies to the possibilities for bridging decades of distance, and placing the Lebanese-Palestinian relationship on a cooperative footing of consultations, mutual trust and shared interests. The Committee’s focus on concrete, practical steps to enhance Palestinian living conditions is particularly welcome.

There has been a constructive attitude of the Lebanese government since 2005 and its readiness to confront difficult issues of Palestinian rights in new and courageous ways. Support from government – unequivocal, consistent support - is an indispensable ingredient in ensuring assistance and protection to refugees, particularly in the fraught environment of Lebanon. The effectiveness of the humanitarian and human development role of UNRWA and other agencies wholly depends on this.

Distinguished colleagues:

The Palestine refugee condition is severely challenged across our region.

[In the West Bank, Palestinians are fenced in. Their lands are expropriated and their living space constantly shrinks. In Gaza, similar results are achieved by other means, as the blockade and the effects of recurrent armed conflict impoverish and decimate the foundations of normal life. In Jordan and Syria, poverty and undercurrents of vulnerability remain. And in Lebanon, Palestine refugees are constricted as much by history and perceptions as by the curbs placed upon their freedoms.]

The gloom of the Palestinian condition of exile is matched by dim horizons for a just and durable solution to their plight. In the normal course of things, endeavors to end conflict and to create solutions are shared responsibilities lying squarely in the political realm and shared by the refugees, the country of asylum and the country of origin, along with the international community and one of the refugee agencies, and, peculiar to the Palestine refugee situation, by a hostile neighbour and occupying power.

Ideally, Israelis and Palestinians should be in the vanguard, exerting good faith efforts, restraining their recourse to the force of arms and actively exploring areas of compromise. The international community should be playing an enabling role, ensuring balance, serving as a trusted, impartial guarantor – if not enforcer - of international law, bringing even-handed leverage to bear equally on both sides and fostering an inclusive negotiation climate in which relevant constituencies are given a fair opportunity to contribute to a representative outcome.

This ideal scenario is not an impossible, utopian vision. Over the last two decades, such a vision has played out in reality in several conflicts and refugee situations around the globe. Yet there have been precious few occasions when this ideal tableau could be said to reflect the actuality of the negotiation process in the Middle East.

As things currently stand, the disparity between the peace process as it is and as it ought to be is as wide as it has ever been. The defects on all sides are many and grave. Deep divisions among Palestinians deny them the unified front they need and looming uncertainties about the future leadership of the Palestinian Authority give new voice to the question, "who speaks for the people of Palestine?" On the Israeli side, the stance on the settlement issue remains rigid and at odds with the spirit of compromise, as presumed US support fuels confidence in the ability to hold Palestinian demands at bay.

The international community, for its part, has for some time abdicated its proper role as custodian of a principled, inclusive process that is governed by a genuine concern for the long-term interests of both Israelis and Palestinians. Instead, we have seen a peace process in name, but not in substance, in form but not in content. We have seen the position of "honest broker" fall vacant and remain unfilled for long months. In its place is the inclination to refrain from holding both sides equally to account, while providing an open license for abuses that threaten the Palestinian soul and irreversible corrode the foundations of a Palestinian State.

From my perspective as the head of UNRWA, I am deeply concerned by lack of attention to the refugee question, stemming partly from its designation as a final status issue to be addressed at a later stage of negotiations. The slow pace and erratic progress of these negotiations means, however, that final status matters, including the refugee issue, are in effect indefinitely postponed. From the vantage point of refugee protection, to shunt the refugee issue into the shadows is counter-intuitive and contrary to the lessons learned from conflicts long-resolved. Refugees are the human manifestation of the pathological effects of conflict. As long as their situation is not definitively addressed, the conflict remains extant. By the same token, taking early steps towards resolving their state of dispossession could contribute significantly to tackling the roots of the conflict.

There are other considerations arguing for early – rather then delayed – attention to this matter. Genuine processes of consultation with refugees themselves must be at the heart of any effort to identify solutions. Refugee interests must be clarified and their concerns determined, and they must be provided with the information they need to make informed choices. Given the foreseeable operational complexities and bearing in mind the present size of the refugee community, a timely beginning to the consultation process would be wise.


The picture of conflict and exile I have sketched is not a pretty one. However, it represents the reality, as I see it, of the trials in exile that Palestinians and Palestine refugees endure across our region. Yet these trials are not theirs alone. They are ours as well because when through negligence, acquiescence or indifference we – as an international community - deny to Palestinians their rights and freedoms, our own culpability is engaged.

Palestinian questions are not in a world apart. They impinge on our world, our interests and our security. If the prospects are ominous for Palestinians, then the outlook is bleak for us as well. The converse also holds true. If we could only fulfill the legitimate and enduring Palestinian demand for a State of their own, and if we could work with fresh urgency to secure with Palestine refugees a solution that is just and lasting, then all of us – Palestinians, Israelis and the international community - would reap the fruits of a more peaceful, prosperous region and a more stable world. That day cannot come soon enough.