KUALA LUMPUR, 29 February — Activism and regional support are vital to achieving the aspirations of the Palestinian people, speakers said today, at the conclusion of the International Conference on the Question of Palestine.
It is important to “ensure the issue of Palestine remains high on the United Nations agenda”, said Nadzirah Osman, Deputy Secretary-General of Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at the closing of the two-day Conference, which brought together more than 300 Government and civil society representatives.
Under the theme “South-East Asian Support for the Rights of the Palestinian People”, the Conference was organized by the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, in partnership with the Government of Malaysia and the Perdana Global Peace Foundation.
Ms. Osman went on to emphasize that the international community cannot sit idly by, watching Palestinians being killed and their land confiscated. It must galvanize efforts to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory, she said.
Riyad H. Mansour, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine at the United Nations in New York, urged States in his closing remarks to help defeat the United States-devised plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because it attacks Palestinian rights on every front.
Today’s session consisted of two panel discussions. In the first dialogue, titled “Civil Society Action”, activists explained their projects. In the second, “Regional Support for Palestinian Rights”, experts explored ways to enhance South‑East Asian solidarity with Palestinians.
Panel Discussion I
The morning panel discussion, titled “Civil Society Action”, featured presentations by Akram Natsheh, Youth Against Settlements, Palestine; Dua’a Qurie, Head of the Palestinian NGOs Network; and Ang Swee Chai, United Kingdom-based long-term activist for Palestine.
Mr. NATSHEH, speaking by videoconference from Palestine, described how Palestinians face daily violence and human rights violations on the part of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, recalling the killing of 29 Palestinians by a settler who opened fire at the Al-Ibrahimi Mosque in the city of Hebron 26 years ago. He went on to say that Israel’s expansion of settlements prompted him to join the non-violent popular resistance against the occupation to make the world aware of the segregation in which Palestinians live. He added that he intends to expand outreach to journalists, activists and parliamentarians so as to raise awareness of the realities in Hebron. Having started a campaign to train Palestinians on how to document crimes committed by occupation forces and publish them in the media in order to the denial of violations by soldiers and settlers, he said his organization also teaches how to cultivate olive trees and repair houses. He said that he seeks to expand the popular resistance movement to other cities, including Jerusalem.
Ms. QURIE, also speaking via videoconference, expressed the Palestinian NGOs Network’s interest in working with Malaysian and other South-East Asian non‑governmental organizations in youth development, raising awareness of human rights and community participation for the Palestinian cause. She said the Network comprises 142 organizations in various sectors and works to make the voices of vulnerable Palestinians heard while promoting their human rights. Noting that the Conference is being held at a time of difficulty for Palestinian people, she said the United States Administration’s support for the occupation — not to mention the declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the announcement of the “Deal of the Century” — is unprecedented. The occupation continues, with settlers transferred into the Palestinian heartland, she said, noting that the Gaza Strip is under siege and describing the enclave as an open‑air prison accommodating 2 million people. She went on to point out that 6 million Palestinians live in refugee camps and that the unemployment rate stands at 35 per cent among Palestinians and 55 per cent among young Palestinians youth, stressing that millions of jobs must be created by 2030. She called upon the international community to help end impunity, apply international law and justice, help realize the right of Palestinians to self-determination and to speak out against the “Deal of the Century”, declaring: “We are not asking for more human rights than others, but we are not accepting less human rights than others.”
Ms. CHAI shared her experiences of the past 38 years, from being an orthopaedic surgeon at the Royal London Hospital in England to working with the Palestine Red Crescent Society as an orthopaedic surgeon to help Palestinians in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. She said that she went to Lebanon in 1982 and saw that country bombed, homes destroyed and children killed. Noting that many Palestinians are born refugees, grow up refugees and die refugees, she said that she gradually learned Palestinian culture, cuisine and language. “They became my family,” she added. Emphasizing that the “Deal of the Century” is about cancelling the refugee status of Palestinians, she said that she keeps hope alive by remembering children who lost their parents and homes making victory signs with their hands in front of their destroyed homes and decaying bodies. “When our hearts are heavy, let’s remember them,” she said. Stressing that just being a doctor was not enough, she explained that she realized her mission was to testify as a witness to brutality. Justice and respect are the essence of peace, stressing that she learned the meaning of justice through her work and reached the height of hope.
When the floor opened for discussion, a participant asked how the internal division between Hamas and the Palestinian National Authority affects the work of non-governmental organizations on the ground. Another question concerned how the 200,000-strong Palestinian population in Hebron face daily threats from 500 settlers protected by Israeli troops.
Another participant described a two-State solution as a mirage and urged the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People to recommend that the General Assembly and the Security Council end apartheid and address human rights violations under the occupation.
Mr. AKRAM, responding, said the division between the two Palestinian factions makes it difficult for civil society organizations to mobilize resources, emphasizing that restoring fundamental rights must be a priority before speaking about a political solution. He went on to state that the lives of 800,000 people, including on the outskirts of Hebron, are affected by settler activities supported by thousands of Israeli troops. The settlers feel free to violate the rights of Palestinians every day, he said, adding that there are hundreds of checkpoints restricting free movement within Hebron.
Ms. QURIE agreed that the internal Palestinian division affects the work of non-governmental organizations. For instance, many organizations have branches in both Gaza and the West Bank, but it is difficult to transfer funds between the two areas. Furthermore, the occupation is profitable while the Palestinian economy is difficult to grow under that occupation, she pointed out.
Ms. CHAI said the two-State formula is not an equitable solution, explaining that it would be one big State versus one whose land area is only 10 per cent of what it originally was. The war is not really a war, but children throwing stones against the fighter planes bombing them, she added. The “Deal of the Century” would make 6 million Palestinian refugees stateless and deny their right to return home.
RIYAD H. MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the United Nations in New York, emphasized that the priority goal is first to end the occupation, explaining that Palestinians cannot attain their rights under occupation. Urging participants not to fall into the trap of holding an abstract debate about a one-State or two-State solution, he called upon Government representatives to fulfil third-State responsibility to prevent annexation.
CHEIKH NIANG (Senegal), Committee Chair, said that entity’s mandate is renewed every year and it represents the voice of the international community. If Palestine has the right to statehood, then there must be a two-State solution. Upholding principles and international norms is of fundamental importance, he added, emphasizing that the “Deal of the Century” is not a deal for peace, but a deal to steal rights from Palestinians.
Panellists also responded to a question about how Malaysian civil society organizations can help Palestinians, saying it would be difficult for them to do so due to the restrictions under occupation. However, they could help to educate the Malaysian public and the wider region on the question of Palestine.
Panel Discussion II
The afternoon panel discussion, titled “Regional Support for Palestinian Rights”, featured presentations by Chandra Muzzafar, Chairman, JUST International, Malaysia; Zulaiha Ismail, Perdana Global Peace Foundation; Sara Saleh, Australian Palestine Advocacy Network; and Stuart Ward, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Thailand.
Mr. MUZZAFAR touched on the level of support for the Palestinian cause in South-East Asia, as well as ways to enhance solidarity. Governments in the region have generally supported the Palestinian cause, he noted. At the civil society level, there is active support in some countries and only passive support in others, he said, adding that, as a whole, the region attained a certain level of support for Palestinians that has neither shot up nor declined. Around the time of the Bandung Conference, support was much more vocal in the region, he recalled, pointing out, however, that, as Israel consolidated power through its association with capitalist prosperity, South-East Asian support for Palestinians declined. Singapore, for instance, established a diplomatic relationship with Israel early on. He went on to state that it is possible to buck that trend, citing the growth of support for Palestinians in Latin America. Cuba was the only country that stood strongly by Palestinians, but others, like Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia, also became allies, he noted. Going forward, the rise of new centres of power may determine the level of regional support for Palestine.
Ms. ISMAIL, explaining how Perdana Global Peace Foundation supports Palestinians, said Malaysians are outraged by recent developments, including the “Deal of the Century”. She said her organization advocates for the Palestinian cause by holding forums and using media, while carrying out projects including the installation of sewage pipes, desalination and setting up university computer laboratories. It built kindergartens and started a rehabilitation centre for Palestinians wounded in the Great March of Return protests in Gaza, she said. Perdana Global Peace Foundation also sponsored publications and participated various missions. As for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement in South‑East Asia, she said there is much to learn from European counterparts. There are several things that civil society can do, among them is countering Israel’s “memoricide” — the destruction of individual and collective memory in an attempt to wipe out Palestinian civilization and identity, as well as countering that country’s institutionalized impunity by holding tribunals, which could lend impetus to the push for action by the International Criminal Court. “We are at the tipping point,” she emphasized, recalling that the downfall of South Africa’s apartheid system occurred unexpectedly. Urging civil society actors to work with United Nations entities, in particular the Palestinian Rights Committee, she described the latter as the only lobby within the United Nations to counter the occupation.
Ms. SALEH said she is focused on elevating young people and helping to build communities of peaceful resistance grounded in the struggles of indigenous peoples for self-determination. She went on to highlight the importance of activism led by grass‑root organizations in South-East Asia and how collective efforts could lead to impactful outcomes for a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Describing the Australian Palestine Advocacy Network as a grass‑root national coalition of organizations advocating for the rights of Palestinians based on United Nations resolutions and international law, she said the opposition of the Government of Australia to the Palestinian right to access justice created much momentum to discuss the question of Palestine. The Network is engaged in building capacity and forming national and regional alliances, she said, adding that it also helps to create new narratives and is good at articulating the problems. The organization started working with Palestinian youth in Australia and New Zealand, holding one-on-one webinars and boot camps, she said.
Mr. WARD described how he started a movement to support the Palestinian cause in Thailand, where he and fellow activists formed Palestine Solidarity Campaign Thailand in December 2007. Only about 20 people, mainly Westerners, attended the inaugural meeting, he added, noting that the group eventually attracted Thai members, including after it reached out to the Muslim Thai community. In conducting advocacy work in Thailand, the Campaign had to take into account and overcome cultural differences between locals and Westerners, he said, recalling that, eventually, it played the role of an honorary Palestinian embassy. He added that he believes the group contributed to Thailand’s recognition of the State of Palestine in 2012.
During the ensuing interactive dialogue, panellists responded to various comments and questions.
Ms. ISMAIL, asked to elaborate how her organization brought water pipes into Gaza, said that Israel’s blockade on the enclave made it difficult to do so, recommending that the Committee work towards establishing humanitarian corridors into Gaza from land and sea.
Ms. SALEH, questioned as to whether the Australian Palestine Advocacy Network enjoyed any successes in lobbying for the Palestinian cause, said that it got nine Labour Party members to travel to Palestine. They returned as strong advocates and played a key role in adopting a resolution in support of Palestinians.
Mr. MUZZAFAR, responding to a question about regional support, expressed concern that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has failed to put forward a united stand for Palestinians.
Mr. WARD, asked whether Buddhism is an obstacle to activism in favour of the Palestinian cause, pointed out that Thailand, a Buddhist country, still recognized Palestine. However, it may be true that there is not enough awareness about Palestine among Buddhists, he added.
Panellists also explored measures that civil society organizations can take to influence Government policy towards Palestine. Asked about the need for peacekeepers in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, one panellist noted that the United Nations decided to deploy peacekeepers in Kashmir, but made a biased decision not to do so in Palestine.
Mr. MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, cited the fourth Geneva Convention in emphasizing the occupying Power’s obligation to protect civilians under occupation. He went on to welcome the release by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights of the list of companies doing business in Israeli settlements.
Mr. MANSOUR said the State of Palestine looks forward to more high-level exchanges with Malaysia. Urging States to shoulder their responsibility to defeat the “Deal of the Century” and support the global plan to end the occupation, based on the pre-1967 borders, he reiterated the United Nations Secretary-General’s position that there is no plan B to a two-State solution. It is the collective responsibility of all, Palestinians and others, to implement the global plan, he emphasized, declaring: “Let’s put the Trump plan to rest.”
NADZIRAH OSMAN, Deputy Secretary-General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia, expressed hope that the international community finds a lasting two‑State solution that allows both sides to live side by side in peace. The “Deal of the Century” is an assault on peace, contradicts United Nations resolutions and no one should accept it, she added. Malaysia will continue to work with Palestinians, she emphasized. Welcoming the release of the list of companies doing business in settlements, she urged all countries to take a closer look at it, stressing that the settlements are illegal under international law. The list sends a clear message to businesses. She went on to state that the International Criminal Court is prepared to open an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Israel. The international community cannot sit idly by, watching Palestinians being killed and their land confiscated, she said, underlining the need for the question of Palestine to remain high on the United Nations agenda.