Saturday, September 4, 2010

To make peace a reality

To make peace a reality

After a 20-month hiatus, Palestinian and Israeli leaders came together Thursday for direct peace talks, launched in Washington at the prodding of US President Barack Obama.

Within a year, these talks are supposed to enable the participants to reach a deal that would see the establishment of an independent Palestinian state living next to a secure Israeli state.

The task ahead is arduous. People lost confidence in talks, and they were many, often considering them futile, and that is a reason more for all concerned parties - most importantly Obama himself who has said that peace in the Middle East is a national security interest for his country, but also the many countries around the world, including Europe - to lend support to these negotiations.

Peace in the Middle East will thwart the acts of extremist elements who base their ideology and raison d’گtre on the continued state of conflict in the region.

In his remarks at the White House on Wednesday, His Majesty King Abdullah wisely summed up that conclusion, warning that the failure of the process would give such people the chance to thrive.

“This is why we must prevail. For our failure would be their (radicals’) success, in sinking the region into more instability and wars, that will cause further suffering in the region, and beyond,” said the King.

And this is why the process of negotiating peace should receive all the support it deserves from all parties, from the highest political echelon to the grassroots.

Time is very important and should be used wisely during the negotiations to both end the suffering of the Palestinian people who, for decades, have endured so much pain, and to deprive the enemies of peace of the opportunity to sabotage the process by means of killing, destroying, grabbing land or building settlements.

Peace, as the King said, is the right of every citizen in the region, and to deny this right is an injustice.

There is little doubt that the people of the region - all the people of the region - aspire at anything but a future of peace for themselves and their children. For the parties to the negotiations to make peace a reality, they need to negotiate with goodwill, sincerity and courage.

3 September 2010

Audio slideshow: walking through the heart of Palestine

Walking in Palestine

Walking in Palestine

Palestine is synonymous with violence, but politics takes a back seat on this extraordinary new walking route where the people are welcoming and the countryside stunning

Friday, September 3, 2010

Hope for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - Blog Post

Hope for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - Blog Post

Jordan’s King Abdullah II's official statement at the recently convened Middle East peace negotiations:

L-R: President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, US President Barack Obama, President Mahmud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and King Abdullah II of Jordan walk to the East Room to make statements on the peace process at the White House in Washington, DC (AFP/File/Tim Sloan)

HIS MAJESTY KING ABDULLAH: (As translated.) In the name of God most merciful, most compassionate, President Obama, peace be upon you.

(In English.) For decades, a Palestinian-Israeli settlement has eluded us. Millions of men, women and children have suffered. Too many people have lost faith in our ability to bring them the peace they want. Radicals and terrorists have exploited frustrations to feed hatred and ignite wars. The whole world has been dragged into regional conflicts that cannot be addressed effectively until Arabs and Israelis find peace.

This past record drives the importance of our efforts today. There are those on both sides who want us to fail, who will do everything in their power to disrupt our efforts today -- because when the Palestinians and Israelis find peace, when young men and women can look to a future of promise and opportunity, radicals and extremists lose their most potent appeal. This is why we must prevail. For our failure would be their success in sinking the region into more instability and wars that will cause further suffering in our region and beyond.

President Obama, we value your commitment to the cause of peace in our region. We count on your continued engagement to help the parties move forward. You have said that Middle East peace is in the national security interest of your country. And we believe it is. And it is also a strategic European interest, and it is a necessary requirement for global security and stability. Peace is also a right for every citizen in our region.

A Palestinian-Israeli settlement on the basis of two states living side by side is a precondition for security and stability of all countries of the Middle East, with a regional peace that will lead to normal relations between Israel and 57 Arab and Muslim states that have endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative. That would be -- well, that would also be an essential step towards neutralizing forces of evil and war that threaten all peoples.

Mr. President, we need your support as a mediator, honest broker, and a partner, as the parties move along the hard but inevitable path of settlements.

Your Excellencies, all eyes are upon us. The direct negotiations that will start tomorrow must show results -- and sooner rather than later. Time is not on our side. That is why we must spare no effort in addressing all final status issues with a view to reaching the two-state solution, the only solution that can create a future worthy of our great region -- a future of peace in which fathers and mothers can raise their children without fear, young people can look forward to lives of achievement and hope, and 300 million people can cooperate for mutual benefit.

For too long, too many people of the region have been denied their most basic of human rights: the right to live in peace and security; respected in their human dignity; enjoying freedom and opportunity. If hopes are disappointed again, the price of failure will be too high for all.

Our peoples want us to rise to their expectations. And we can do so if we approach these negotiations with goodwill, sincerity and courage.

ATFP is proud to present the following group of statements made by officials at the recently convened direct Middle East peace negotiations:

Official statements by President Barack Obama, President Hosni Mubarak, Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and President Mahmoud Abbas, dated September 1st, 2010 can be found here.

Official statements by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, PM Netanyahu and Pres. Abbas, dated September 2nd, 2010 can be found here.

Sec. Clinton’s interview conducted by Amira Hanania Rishmawi of Palestine TV and Udi Segal of Israel Channel 2 can be found here.

Abuse of Palestinian children in detention: Palestinian and Israeli organisations write to Netanyahu

Abuse of Palestinian children in detention: Palestinian and Israeli organisations write to Netanyahu

[2 September 2010] - Today, DCI-Palestine, Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) have written a letter to Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, expressing deep concern over continued reports of ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children who are detained and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system.

Each year, approximately 700 Palestinian children from the occupied West Bank are prosecuted in Israeli military courts, and reports of ill-treatment and torture are common place. Out of a sample of 100 sworn affidavits collected by lawyers from these children in 2009, 69 percent of the children reported being beaten and kicked, 49 percent reported being threatened, 14 percent were held in solitary confinement, 12 percent were threatened with sexual assault, including rape, and 32 percent were forced to sign confessions written in Hebrew, a language they do not understand.

DCI-Palestine, Adalah and PCATI call on the Israeli authorities to implement the following safeguards referred to by the UN Human rights Committee and the UN Committee Against Torture in an attempt to reduce the level of abuse reported by Palestinian children held in detention:

Ensure that all interrogations of Palestinian children by Israeli authorities are conducted in the presence of a family member;

Ensure that all interrogations of Palestinian children by Israeli authorities are conducted in the presence of a lawyer; and

Ensure that all interrogations of Palestinian children by Israeli authorities are audio-visually recorded.

DCI-Palestine, Adalah and PCATI call on the Israeli Prime Minister to take immediate action to stamp out what appears to be systematic and institutionalised abuse of Palestinian children held in Israeli custody. The UN Human Rights Committee is scheduled to review Israel's implementation of the above recommendations in July 2011.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Focus on human aspect of Holy Land conflict, says churches' leader

Focus on human aspect of Holy Land conflict, says churches' leader

By: Judith Sudilovsky
Ecumenical News International

Children from Gaza colour together in summer program organized by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan


Politicians need to focus on the human face of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and not discard it in favour of their own political agendas, the head of the World Council of Churches has said in the Middle East.

"Politicians need to act and prevent this human tragedy," WCC general secretary, the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, told ENInews after a visit to Palestinian families who have been evicted by Israelis from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheik Jarrah.

He said that although there are many holy sites in the Holy Land, the people who live on the land are also holy. "This is not about political principles, this is about human beings. It is a shame that politicians are interested more in their own political interests than in bringing basic human rights," said Tveit, a Norwegian Lutheran theologian.

It is Tveit's first visit to the Holy Land as WCC general secretary, although he visited the region several times before taking up his post at the Geneva-headquartered church grouping in January.

In addition to meeting with the leaders of local churches, Tveit was scheduled to meet with the Israeli chief rabbis, representatives of several Jewish group partners and the Jerusalem grand mufti, a representative of Islam. Tveit also travelled to Bethlehem and Hebron.

On the fourth day of his six-day visit to the Holy Land, Tveit noted that meeting with the family members from about 12 families evicted from their homes in the past two years greatly affected his understanding of infringements of Palestinian rights which are taking place.

Nabil Al-Kurd, 67, whose family was evicted from half of his two-building home, told Tveit that Jewish settlers harassed the families, and that the families' sons as young as nine and 12 have been taken in by Israel police for questioning.

Still, he also mentioned that every week a group of Israelis and others who support them protest against the eviction, along with the affected families.

Al-Kurd's 88-year-old mother, Refqa Al-Kurd, recalled how they woke up one day in the other building and found all their furniture from the front building strewn in their yard. She described how she had been attacked by police when she protested against the eviction.

"There can be no peace for both sides if both sides do not have security," Tveit said. "This has nothing to do with religion; it is an abuse of power. How can there be good relations with these people afterwards? If we love God we are also called to love our neighbours as ourselves."

Zakariah Odeh, the executive director of the Civic Coalition for Jerusalem who briefed Tveit on the situation, said the legal case against the families has been before Israeli courts for 37 years. Israeli settler groups claim the land on which the homes are built is Jewish-owned. Odeh said however about 28 Palestinian refugee families had been settled in the area under a 1956 agreement between Jordan, which had control of the area before 1967 and provided the land, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency which built the houses.

"This type of situation also destroys Israel … It is not giving [Israelis] the freedom to live as good neighbours," said Tveit. "Churches around the world have the duty to speak out to [those in power] about the responsibility they have towards taking care of the basic human rights here."

The WCC general secretary said the issue of the presence of Palestinians in Jerusalem, including Christian Palestinians, regarding their residency rights in the city needs to be addressed. He noted the need of support for local churches to keep their young people from emigrating due to a lack of economic and social opportunities, especially in the city of Jerusalem.

Tveit said it is important for the WCC and local churches to foster awareness of the situation, with programmes such as the WCC's Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel. This enables people from outside to the West Bank to experience life in areas under occupation.

The WCC groups 349 churches, principally Anglican, Orthodox and Protestant.

Nablus market : A Palestinian boy eats a fruit as his parents shop in the market of the West Bank city of Nablus for their iftar sunset meal, which breaks the day's fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramdan (AFP/Jaafar Ashtiyeh)

A man rests beside a camel on a promenade that overlooks the Dome of the Rock and Jerusalem's Old City from the Mount of Olives September 2, 2010. Israeli and Palestinian leaders began direct peace negotiations on Thursday, saying it was time to end their conflict but projecting tough talks ahead as hardliners on both sides vowed never to accept a deal. REUTERS/Baz Ratner (JERUSALEM)

PLO: Palestinians want freedom

PLO: Palestinians want freedom

Published today (updated) 02/09/2010 15:34

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas resume direct talks in Washington after a 20-month hiatus, the PLO outlined its positions on the final status issues which the US administration has said it hopes will be resolved within one year.

Freedom means control of our borders.

Consistent with international law, which forbids Israel, or any other state, from acquiring territory by force, the borders of the Palestinian state will be the same as the borders of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza as they stood on the eve of Israel’s 1967 occupation. A territorial link connecting the West Bank and Gaza is crucial to the integrity of the Palestinian state.

The Palestinian state must permanently provide for free and unrestricted movement for people, goods and vehicles between the two geographic areas. The Palestinian state must also have unhindered access to the international community. Palestine’s maritime borders must be equitably delimited, not only with Israel, but also with Palestine’s other maritime neighbors.

Freedom means having our government located in our historic capital—the center of our culture and faiths. Jerusalem does not belong to one faith or people.

For centuries, Jerusalem has been the political, administrative, cultural and religious center of Palestine. Metropolitan East Jerusalem – an area extending from Ramallah to Bethlehem – has for long been the driving force of the Palestinian economy. Without East Jerusalem, there can be no economically and politically viable Palestinian state.

Christian and Muslim Palestinians are committed to respecting the freedom of worship at, and access to, religious sites within Jerusalem for all faiths. All possible measures will be taken to protect such sites and preserve their dignity.

Freedom means respecting the Palestinian refugees’ right of return. Freedom means the ability to choose how that right is exercised. Freedom means no longer being a refugee.

For 62 years, Palestinian refugees have been trapped in exile, separated from their homes, lands and families. For Palestinian refugees, who represent 70 percent of all Palestinians, freedom means being able to live with dignity and hope for the future. Freedom means having their experiences of displacement and dispossession recognized. Freedom means having their properties returned to them. Most importantly, though, freedom means having the right to return to their homes, and choosing how to exercise that right.

Freedom means not having another state building cities and roads in our country, as Israel is currently doing through its settlements on our land.

Colonialism, oppression and systemic discrimination are the hallmarks of Israel’s settlement enterprise. Some 170 Israeli settlements are scattered throughout Palestine, connected by segregated road systems criss-crossing the territory. Hundreds of roadblocks keep Palestinians from accessing our fragmented land, and a 25-foot-high wall snakes through the territory, encircling all of Jerusalem, the most fertile land and the best water sources in Palestine.

Today, nearly half a million Israeli settlers live on land illegally seized from Christian and Muslim Palestinians. The settlements and their related infrastructure control nearly 40 percent of the occupied Palestinian territory. In addition to being illegal, Israeli settlements pose the single greatest threat to a viable two-state solution, and hence, to a just and lasting peace.

Freedom means access to and control of our natural resources, including water.

Since its 1967 occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza, Israel has almost completely controlled Palestinian water resources and deprived Palestinians of access to our rightful share of water, in violation of international law. The attainment of water rights and the fair allocation of water are essential for a viable two-state solution and future stability in the region.

Palestinians must have control of, and access to, our water resources. Palestinians accept the principle of international water law stipulating that both Israel and Palestine are entitled to an equitable and reasonable allocation of shared freshwater resources, including those in the four main aquifers and the Jordan River. Additionally, Israel must pay compensation for the past and ongoing illegal use of Palestinian water resources, as called for by international law.

Freedom means self-determination: the ability to decide our own fate, to work, open businesses, and go to school without fear of another country’s troops. Simply, freedom means being able to go about our lives in our own free country.

Israel’s 43-year occupation has had far-ranging effects on all aspects of Palestinian life. This occupation has been the primary and overwhelming cause of insecurity for the Palestinian people and instability in the region. For decades, the occupation has created a high level of Palestinian dependency on Israel in a number of sectors and has prevented Palestinians from fulfilling our economic potential.

A Palestinian state must overcome this forced dependency. Ending Israeli occupation through full withdrawal from all Palestinian territory, airspace and territorial waters with no residual Israeli presence or control is a basic requirement for the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state, for the resolution of the conflict, and for regional stability.

Successful negotiations will lead to the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Refugees, Borders & Jerusalem...

Refugees, Borders & Jerusalem...

The American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP) Deplores Attacks on Israelis near Hebron

ATFP Deplores Attacks on Israelis near Hebron
Press Release
Contact Information: Ghaith al-Omari
August 31, 2010 - 12:00am

Washington DC, Aug. 31 - ATFP strongly deplores the attack near Hebron in which four Israelis were killed. Such terrorist attacks are morally repugnant and should be vigorously combated and condemned.

ATFP urges the parties to cooperate in identifying and punishing the perpetrators and planners of this crime. ATFP also calls upon the parties to thwart the objectives of the terrorists through renewing their commitment to a negotiated two-state solution that will put a permanent end to the conflict.

In reaction to the attack, ATFP President Dr Ziad Asali said, "This attack is not only a breach of the basic standards of humanity, it is also a political act aimed at sabotaging the negotiations. Those who were behind it aim at feeding the conflict, and at harming Palestinian as well as Israeli national interests. As the parties work together to bring the murderers to justice, the best response to this attack would be to redouble the effort to reach permanent peace through the negotiations that will be launched this week."

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

For Palestinian Refugees at Shatila, 'Going Home' Holds Different Meanings

For Palestinian Refugees at Shatila, 'Going Home' Holds Different Meanings

Elizabeth Arrott | Shatila Refugee Camp, Lebanon 01 September 2010
A tangle of electrical wires and water pipes, and anti-Semitic graffiti line the alleyways of the Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon, 31 Aug 2010
Photo: VOA Photo E. Arrott A tangle of electrical wires and water pipes, and anti-Semitic graffiti line the alleyways of the Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon, 31 Aug 2010

This week's Middle East peace summit in Washington is setting a goal of one year to resolve what are known as final status issues -- the most intractable of Israeli-Palestinian problems. Among them is the right of return, which will determine the fate of millions of Palestinian refugees. Some people have spent decades working for what they feel should be, while others seem resigned to what is.

Farhat Farhat, 62, wishes his family had followed their dog. The refugee says he was lucky enough to be born in Palestine. But in 1948, at seven months old, he and his shepherd parents fled with their sheep and goats and crossed into Lebanon. Their dog turned around and went back home. It was, Farhat says, far more intelligent than they were.

Sitting in a narrow alley of the United Nations camp, Farhat sees no compromise on his right to return to the place of his birth. He says he has no problem with Jews. He says the two groups got along just fine, before those he refers to as the "foreign Jews" came and Israel was created. His solution is simple. The "foreigners" leave and he returns.

Even the Palestinian Authority recognizes Israel's right to exist, so, in the next 12 months, if the peace talks continue, negotiators will try to hash out a compromise.

Right to return?

Although the right of return has been a rallying cry of the Palestinian cause, Israel disputes such a "right" exists. The word does not appear in a key United Nations resolution, a non-binding one at that, which says refugees "should be permitted" to return.

For people like Farhat, it is a right and rights cannot be compromised. He is somewhat of an elder statesman in the camp, although to call it a camp is misleading. It is more a ghetto, built up through the years, blasted away at during conflicts, a series of tunnel-like alleys with little light and less air, all crisscrossed with jerry-rigged electrical wiring waiting for the next accident.

Shatila, along with its sister camp Sabra, was also the scene of a 1982 massacre by Israel's Lebanese Christian allies. Farhat would never call it home.

He says Palestinians have no basic, humanitarian rights. He argues, "People say we live here. But we don't live."

Can Lebanon be home?

Farhat blames not only the Israelis, but the Lebanese, who have warily hosted refugees for generations. Part of Lebanon's argument is that giving Palestinians more rights would weaken the cause. But absorbing them into civil society would upset a precarious ethnic-religious balance and, besides, many are still angry at what they see as the Palestinian contribution to the nation's devastating civil war.

Another problem is the sheer number of Palestinian refugees now -- from some 700,000 who left when Israel was created, to now more than four million, dispersed through the region. Israel would be hard put to accommodate them all and retain its now-insistent description as a Jewish state.

The population growth can be seen in the tumble of children careening through the maze of streets, mixing a game of soccer with a running toy gun battle. Homemade firecrackers compete with the squeal of a child escaping the pretend enemy barrage.

The father of one young boy has tried to make the idea of Palestine real to his son. Walid Taha, 47, was born in Shatila, but tells his son what he knows of the village of his heritage, the names of the streets and the people who lived there.

But as much as Taha says he loves Palestine, he cannot envision himself there. He says he has been here so long, he is different than his brother who remained behind. He says the refugees have become what they have become. Unlike his relatives in Israel, he says the refugees cannot live with the Israelis.

Price of continued conflict

Taha describes how he was born in the small room that is now the family's shop in Shatila. But he says he does not want to talk emotions, rather realities. He would just like to be allowed to set up business outside the camp. He says he is Lebanese.

The shopkeeper argues that it is not up to his generation, which he describes as one of revolution, fighting and blood. But that the next generation -- with Israeli and Palestinian children brought together through special efforts -- will have to learn to live together. He says, eventually, it will happen.

That is not the future Farhat sees. He says he was a resistance fighter for 40 years. He says he fought for his country and what he believed in. He taught his children to have the same national beliefs. He says, if the political path fails, they should fight too. He says he has given them his gun.

The political path now appears to entail stepping away from the ideas held by people like Farhat. It has been seen even in the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, which refers to a "just solution" for the refugees. Among proposals discussed is granting the symbols of Palestinian nationality, such as a passport, while offering citizenship in other countries.

The advantages of moving ahead are mixed, but for Israel and the United States, it would weaken an argument for Islamist extremism. And, it would perhaps undercut the tactic of some Arab governments using the Palestinian cause to deflect attention from problems at home.

Shopkeeper Taha holds a simpler view. He says that, in the end, there is going to be peace -- whether the refugees like it or not. He says there will be continued violence, therefore, he says he hopes peace will come sooner rather than later.

Afif Safieh: Moving beyond peace processes past

"If America and its Quartet partners are willing to let international law — particularly U.N. Security Council resolutions and the Fourth Geneva Convention — rather than Israel dictate the terms of peace, that will make up for the asymmetry of power between the two sides. Even though it would not solve everything, nothing would do more to shore up the American position in the region than a deal that is welcomed by the Palestinians and fully integrates Israel into the neighborhood.

The Palestinians are going into these talks with no illusions, given the bitter experience of past negotiations. But at least we can, through our presence, show that we are still willing to give America a chance to deliver on its commitments. We need peace as Israel is rapidly swallowing up more of our land and water, demolishing Palestinian homes and driving more Palestinians into exile.

Palestinians are not the obstacle to peace. We have respected all our commitments to the international community. It is now up to the international community to respect its commitments to us." Afif Safieh

Moving beyond peace processes past