Jul 15, 2008

Human Rights in the Middle East — A Voice from Palestine

What I will do today will be to serve as a voice for a people whose heritage I share, with the hope that in articulating the suffering of that one group of people I will be shedding light on all types of suffering being experienced by human beings all around the world. I know very well that when I am addressing SYLFF fellows, I am actually addressing souls who are ardently debating issues in societies where the hum of human voices is, in fact, heard. I and others of my generation have the obligation to be the voice of our people because these people have lacked a voice, especially in the United States, and I believe that the current generation of young people around the globe who are like-minded need to be a collective voice for the oppressed wherever oppression occurs. Being a voice is important, but it is not enough. After giving rise to ideas and then articulating them in words, a person or group must recognize the need for action.

When formulating human-rights laws, four points should be kept in mind: (1) UN Charter Article 55 (the UN Bill of Rights, including universal respect for human rights), and making clear the relationship between peace and human rights; (2) These rights are universal; (3) World conferences on human rights issues help to raise awareness of these issues and how important they are; and (4) It is necessary to proliferate these rights by making them more precise and utilizing realistic implementation mechanisms.

I believe that my people have not had their human rights respected since being subject to Israeli occupation 40 years ago. Close your eyes and imagine with me. Imagine yourself tied to a pole with your hands cuffed behind your back and tied to that pole. Your feet also are tied to it. Your eyes are blindfolded and your mouth is taped shut. How would you feel? How would you feel being completely under the control of someone else, having no control of yourself or anything around you? How would you feel being so completely helpless? This is exactly what occupation has done to my people, who are not merely being controlled by the environment around them, but rather being subject to an invasion and control of their souls. This coercive control of the physical and spiritual elements of Palestinians individually and collectively has resulted in widespread violations of their human rights and also has failed to bring security to either the Israeli or Palestinian civilian populations.

That control has manifested itself in various forms, including:

    • Israel’s land grabbing and water grabbing by building the apartheid wall, confiscating arable land, and building and expanding settlements. The wall has created cultural and social divides between the Palestinian people such that a family cannot even get together for a social event.
    • The Israeli checkpoint system is another physical manifestation of the control. Around the West Bank there are about 500 checkpoints, manned by Israeli soldiers. Palestinian people are treated very badly at these checkpoints.
    • There are around 11,000 Palestinian soldiers being held in Israeli jails and detention centers. Some prisoners have been held in “administrative detention” (without being charged with crimes, and without legal recourse) for years. Some 200 female Palestinian prisoners are held inside Israeli jails, some of whom have had to give birth to their children while in captivity, with their children kept imprisoned with them until they are two years old.
    • Israeli settlements are an outrageous grab of Palestinian land and resources. There are 410,305 Israeli settlers living on occupied Palestinian land.
    • About 4,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces and settlers since the beginning of the Second Intifada in 2000.
    • The Israeli practices and the current international boycott placed on the Palestinian people in the wake of the latest Palestinian elections for the legislative council have led to dire humanitarian conditions all over the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In order to deal with such grave violations of human rights, I believe that there is first a need for courage and vision. The mechanisms implemented by the international organizations—such as monitoring, state reporting, and treaty committees—are essential because they document such violations and raise the international community’s awareness of the violations. It is extremely important to hold countries to their commitments as enshrined in international and bilateral agreements, and such agreements should include clauses that respect and safeguard human rights. I wish to conclude by quoting the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy, who rightly said, “United … there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided … there is little we can do … for we dare not meet a powerful challenge, at odds, and split asunder.” Together we, SYLFF fellows and young leaders, can achieve a great deal in facing perpetrators of human-rights violations.

Thank you.

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