The Steering Committee of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation extends its sympathy to the Palestinian people on the death of President Yasser Arafat. The international focus on his last days reminded the world that he has his place in Middle East history and politics, in spite of attempts by Israel and the United States to marginalize him by confining him to his destroyed office compound and to demonize him as an obstacle to peace.
While the spotlight focuses on Arafat, the daily lives of Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem remains defined by Israel’s illegal military occupation. Over the course of a two-week period in September and October, Israel killed more than 130 Palestinians in the Jebalya refugee camp and partially or completely destroyed hundreds of houses there.
Arafat will be remembered as the leader who forged a unified Palestinian people from the despair of dispossession and put the question of Palestine back on the map after the creation of Israel in 1948.
He will also be remembered as the leader who signed peace agreements with Israel but was powerless to challenge Israel’s expanded pace of settlement-building and refusal to recognize or realize Palestinian rights. In the end, he served as a convenient scapegoat for a peace process bankrupted by Israeli policies of colonization.
Our movement can draw lessons from Arafat’s legacy in the endeavor to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine and to achieve justice for the Palestinian people and peace, security and human rights for all.
We are right to remain focused on the occupation and to build a national and international movement to end it. The balance of power remains heavily weighted on Israel’s side. Since the Oslo Accords of 1993, Israel, under both the Labor and Likud governments, has set the pace, timing, and nature of its withdrawals from occupied territory – culminating in the Sharon plan for unilateral disengagement from Gaza, which will maintain an Israeli siege around the territory and consolidate Israel’s hold on the West Bank. Without a national and international movement against the occupation we cannot shift the balance of power.
We are right to remain focused on challenging those U.S. policies that sustain the occupation. Israel could not keep up the occupation without U.S. aid worth over $3 billion a year, loan guarantees of $9 billion, and the latest military weaponry and equipment. Israeli violations of international law are protected by the U.S. veto at the United Nations that prevents the implementation of international laws applicable to this conflict and the dispatch of an international protection force to protect the Palestinians. We must educate people and mobilize to change these facts so they can hold their elected officials accountable.We are right to frame our work using human rights and international law. The principles of international law have just been eloquently restated by the International Court of Justice in its ruling on the illegality of the Wall in July 2004. The ICJ has also reminded the international community that international law must underpin the efforts to resolve this conflict, and we are acutely aware of its absence from the Oslo Accords, the Camp David talks, and the Road Map.
Israel, as a member of the state system, is protected by the same set of laws that we are working to uphold for Palestine. However, Israel cannot demand the protection of international law while undermining it.
The powerful principles of international law not only show us what we are fighting against – the occupation – but also what we are fighting for: freedom and self-determination. As the ICJ itself declared, there is a Palestinian people and it has a right to self-determination, and we must support that right.
Through exercising their right to self-determination, Palestinians can decide – as the occupation is ended – whether they want to live in one state alongside Israel or in a binational state, or in some other arrangement.
We work too for the right of Palestinian refugees to make their individual choice to return or compensation as guaranteed by international law and U.N. Resolution 194.
The Palestinian people face serious challenges ahead: maintaining national unity; avoiding the trap of endless negotiations about occupation while Israel colonizes the last pieces of Palestine; and articulating a strategy to guide their struggle to a just and lasting peace.
We in the international movement can already draw our guidance from the clear principles of international law as we mobilize to hold our representatives accountable for the law in U.S. policies towards this conflict and in the U.S. position at the U.N.
More than ever, the Palestinian people need our solidarity in their quest for freedom, democracy, statehood, and self-determination. November 29th is the international day of solidarity with the Palestinian people, an annual commemoration marking the U.N. plan to partition historical Palestine into two states. The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation has joined an international call for action on November 29th, and we urge you to take part in this day of solidarity.
Together, we will help achieve Palestinian human rights – we will hasten the day when Palestinians will no longer die so far away from home and know not where they may be laid to rest.
The Steering Committee of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupatio