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Peace and reality?

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report, letter of resignation, UN, Jadaliyya, Rima Khalaf, Virginia Tilley, Richard Falk, PalestineReport ‘also provided fresh insight into the cause of the Palestinian people and into how to achieve peace.’

In recent years, some have labelled Israeli practices as racist, while others have warned that Israel risks becoming an apartheid State. And a few have raised the question as to whether in fact it already has.

Among them the woman who was until recently United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) Rima Khalaf, who said that Israel, encouraged by the international community’s disregard for its continual violations of international law, has succeeded over the past decades in imposing and maintaining an apartheid regime that works on two levels.

First, the political and geographic fragmentation of the Palestinian people which enfeebles their capacity for resistance and makes it almost impossible for them to change the reality on the ground.

Secondly, the oppression of all Palestinians through an array of laws, policies and practices that ensure domination of them by a racial group and serve to maintain the regime.

She also stressed that the importance of this report is not limited to the fact that it is the first of its kind published by a United Nations body, clearly concluding that Israel is a racial State that has established an apartheid regime.

It also provided fresh insight into the cause of the Palestinian people and into how to achieve peace.

Khalaf said that the report shows that there can be no solution, be it in the form of two States, or following any other regional or international approach, as long as the apartheid regime imposed by Israel on the Palestinian people as a whole has not been dismantled. Apartheid is a crime against humanity.

Not only does international law prohibit that crime, it obliges States and international bodies, and even individuals and private institutions, to take measures to combat it wherever it is committed and to punish its perpetrators.

The solution therefore lies in implementing international law, applying the principles of non-discrimination, upholding the right of peoples to self-determination and achieving justice.

And Khalaf concluded that the report recognised that only a ruling by an international tribunal would lend its conclusion that Israel is an apartheid State greater authority.

It recommended the revival of the United Nations Centre against Apartheid and the Special Committee against Apartheid, the work of both of which came to an end by 1994, when the world believed that it had rid itself of apartheid with its demise in South Africa.

It also called on States, governments and institutions to support boycott, divestment and sanctions initiatives and other activities aimed at ending the Israeli regime of apartheid.

And Khalaf pointed out that it is not an easy matter for a United Nations entity to conclude that a State has established an apartheid regime.

Her remarks were made during a press conference held at the UN House, in Beirut, when she launched a report by ESCWA on “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid.”

The report was prepared, at the request of ESCWA, by two specialists renowned for their expertise in the field, Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley.

Richard Falk is a former United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 and professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University; and Virginia Tilley is a researcher and professor of political science at Southern Illinois University with a wealth of experience in Israeli policy analysis.

Two former special rapporteurs on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, Falk and his predecessor, John Dugard, had raised in their reports the issue of whether Israel has actually become an apartheid State and recommended that it be examined more closely.

And about two years ago, member States requested that the ESCWA secretariat prepare a study on the matter.

At the Commission’s twenty-ninth session, held in Doha, Qatar, in December 2016, member States adopted a resolution stressing the need to complete the study and disseminate it widely.

The report concluded that, on the basis of scholarly enquiry and overwhelming evidence, that Israel has imposed a regime of apartheid on the Palestinian people as a whole, wherever they may be. A regime that affects Palestinians in Israel itself, in the territory occupied in 1967 and in the diaspora.

During the report’s launch press conference Khalaf gave the floor to Falk and Tilley, who participated by video conference.

Falk said that this study concluded with clarity and conviction that Israel is guilty of the international crime of apartheid as a result of the manner in which exerts control over the Palestinian people in their varying circumstances.

It reached this important conclusion by treating contentions of Israeli responsibility for the crime of apartheid by rigorously applying the definition of apartheid under international law.

Falk added that the study calls, above all, on the various bodies of the United Nations to consider the analysis and conclusions of this study, and on that basis endorse the central finding of apartheid, and further explore what practical measures might be taken to uphold the purpose of the Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.

It should also be appreciated that apartheid is a crime of the greatest magnitude, treated by customary international law as peremptory norm, that is a legal standard that is unconditionally valid, applies universally, and cannot be disavowed by governments or international institutions.

For her part, co-author Dr Tilley noted that it has become entirely clear that “we are no longer talking about risk of apartheid but practice of apartheid.

“There is an urgency for a response as Palestinians are currently suffering from this regime.

“There are many references to apartheid in polemics on the Israel-Palestine conflict.”

She added that reference for a finding of apartheid in Israel-Palestine is not South Africa but International Law.

She concluded that the key finding is that Israel has designed its apartheid regime around a strategic fragmentation of the Palestinian people geographically and legally.

You can read the full English report here.

Khalaf has since resigned after saying the UN had pressured her to withdraw the report accusing Israel of apartheid over its treatment of Palestinians, the BBC reported.

Her resignation letter is worth a read. According to Jadaliyya, it said:

Dear Mr. Secretary-General,

I have carefully considered your message conveyed through the Chef de Cabinet and assure you that at no point have I questioned your right to order the withdrawal of the report from our website or the fact that all of us working in the Secretariat are subject to the authority of its Secretary-General. Nor do I have any doubts regarding your commitment to human rights in general, or your firm position regarding the rights of the Palestinian people. I also understand the concerns that you have, particularly in these difficult times that leave you little choice.

I am not oblivious to the vicious attacks and threats the UN and you personally were subjected to from powerful Member States as a result of the publication of the ESCWA report “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid”. I do not find it surprising that such Member States, who now have governments with little regard for international norms and values of human rights, will resort to intimidation when they find it hard to defend their unlawful policies and practices. It is only normal for criminals to pressure and attack those who advocate the cause of their victims.  I cannot submit to such pressure.

Not by virtue of my being an international official, but simply by virtue of being a decent human being, I believe, like you, in the universal values and principles that have always been the driving force for good in human history, and on which this organization of ours, the United Nations is founded. Like you, I believe that discrimination against anyone due to their religion, skin color, sex or ethnic origin is unacceptable, and that such discrimination cannot be rendered acceptable by the calculations of political expediency or power politics. I also believe people should not only have the freedom to speak truth to power, but they have the duty to do so.

In the space of two months you have instructed me to withdraw two reports produced by ESCWA, not due to any fault found in the reports and probably not because you disagreed with their content, but due to the political pressure by member states who gravely violate the rights of the people of the region.

You have seen first hand that the people of this region are going through a period of suffering unparalleled in their modern history; and that the overwhelming flood of catastrophes today is the result of a stream of injustices that were either ignored, plastered over, or openly endorsed by powerful governments inside and outside the region. Those same governments are the ones pressuring you to silence the voice of truth and the call for justice represented in these reports.

Given the above, I cannot but stand by the findings of ESCWA’s report that Israel has established an apartheid regime that seeks the domination of one racial group over another. The evidence provided by this report drafted by renowned experts is overwhelming. Suffice it to say that none of those who attacked the report had a word to say about its content. I feel it my duty to shed light on the legally inadmissible and morally indefensible fact that an apartheid regime still exists in the 21st century rather than suppressing the evidence. In saying this I claim no moral superiority nor ownership of a more prescient vision. My position might be informed by a lifetime of experiencing the dire consequences of blocking peaceful channels to addressing people’s grievances in our region.

After giving the matter due consideration, I realized that I too have little choice. I cannot withdraw yet another well-researched, well-documented UN work on grave violations of human rights, yet I know that clear instructions by the Secretary-General will have to be implemented promptly. A dilemma that can only be resolved by my stepping down to allow someone else to deliver what I am unable to deliver in good conscience.  I know that I have only two more weeks to serve; my resignation is therefore not intended for political pressure. It is simply because I feel it my duty towards the people we serve, towards the UN and towards myself, not to withdraw an honest testimony about an ongoing crime that is at the root of so much human suffering. Therefore, I hereby submit to you my resignation from the United Nations.

Respectfully

Rima Khalaf

  1. UN – either endorse the UN-ESCWA report on Israeli apartheid or disprove it. https://goo.gl/C1zsEv

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