The four items below all touch on the sidelined, yet crucial and smoldering predicament of Palestine's refugees.
The first item reports on a joint call from Christian Palestinian leaders to churches around the world to join the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel led by Palestinian civil society organizations. It notes that this call or Kairos, "an ancient Greek term meaning the right or opportune moment … inspired by the liberation theology, especially in South Africa where a similar document was issued," is being made sixty-one years to the day after December 11th 1948, the date of "the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 … calling for the return of the Palestinian refugees to their homes of origin 'at the earliest practicable date.'"
The second item is a brief interview, "without diplomatic kid gloves," as journalist Akiva Eldar put it, with Karen Koning AbuZayd, the departing deputy commissioner of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). "It is particularly vexing," AbuZayd noted, "that the prevailing approach fails - or refuses - to accord the refugee issue the attention it deserves. Over 60 years, dispossession has faded from the focus of peace efforts. The heart of where peace should begin is absent from the international agenda, pushed aside …" She went on to emphasize that "not a single conflict of contemporary times has been resolved, no durable peace achieved unless and until the voices of the victims of those conflicts were heard, their losses acknowledged and redress found …"
Today as well, Israel's dispossession of Palestinians is ongoing. As AbuZayd observed, "forced displacements continue across the West Bank [… and] Palestinians are evicted from their homes in East Jersualem." She continued, "I ask a simple question. Is it not time for those engaged in the peace process to muster the will and the courage to address the Palestine refugee question?"
Meanwhile, some of the Palestinian and Israeli activists striving to place this question precisely on the public and government agenda were severely brutalized yesterday afternoon by Israeli police. The third item is an announcement circulated on Saturday, December 12th, 2009, on activist lists in Israel in both Hebrew and English, briefly reporting on events occurring the previous day (Friday, Dec. 11th) in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, and announcing another protest on Saturday evening.
Finally, this is followed by a report on the protest and arrests from today's Ha'aretz.
BNC Welcomes the */*Kairos*/* Document of Leading Christian Palestinians:
"A moment of truth–A word of faith from the heart of Palestinian
Occupied Palestine: 11 December 2009
Today, prominent Christian Palestinian leaders are releasing a historical /Kairos/ document, calling on Churches around the world "to say a word of truth and to take a position of truth with regard to Israel's occupation of Palestinian land." Unambiguously endorsing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) as one of the key non-violent forms of solidarity that international faith-based organizations are urged to adopt, the document affirms: "We see boycott and disinvestment as tools of justice, peace and security …"
/Kairos/ is an ancient Greek term meaning the right or opportune moment. The Palestinian /Kairos/ document is inspired by the liberation theology, especially in South Africa where a similar document was issued at a crucial time in the struggle against apartheid. Informed by a lucid vision based on the universal principles of "equality, justice, liberty and respect for pluralism," Palestinian Christians issue this document today to explore a morally sound way out of the "dead end" reached in the Palestinian tragedy, "in which human beings are destroyed."
The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) salutes the moral clarity, courage and principled position conveyed in this new document, which emphasizes that resisting injustice should "concern the Church" and is "a right and a duty for a Christian," adding that it is "a resistance with love as its logic."
The BNC keenly notes the importance of releasing this historical call on this day, December 11^th , which marks the 61^st anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194, issued in 1948, calling for the return of the Palestinian refugees to their homes of origin "at the earliest practicable date." Whereas Palestinian refugees are still awaiting their return six decades later, we share the message of hope in today's Palestinian /Kairos/: "One of the most important signs of hope is the perseverance of the generations and the continuity of memory, which does not forget the 'Nakba' (catastrophe) and its significance. This land is our land and it is incumbent upon us to defend it and reclaim it."
Particularly praiseworthy is the /Kairos/'s emphasis on urging all churches to positively respond to the call by Palestinian civil society, including religious institutions, for "a system of economic sanctions and boycott to be applied against Israel," which, the document clarifies, "is not revenge but rather a serious action in order to reach a just and definitive peace."
*The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC)
For the full text of the Palestinian /Kairos/ document, see:
Last update - 23:31 11/12/2009
UNRWA chief: Peace talks must deal with Palestinian refugees
By Akiva Eldar
Early in the second intifada, Karen Koning AbuZayd, then the newly appointed deputy commissioner general of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) traveled to Rafah, in Gaza, to observe firsthand the situation of Palestinian refugees whose houses had been razed by bulldozers of the Israel Defense Forces. AbuZayd saw an old woman sifting through the ruins. The woman stretched out a hand to the visitor so that she would not trip over the pieces of rubble. According to AbuZayd, who has headed UNRWA since 2005, this was typical Palestinian behavior: They are incredibly patient, she says and notes, with a sigh, that she sometimes even became angry with them because they never raise their voice.
Apparently, no one in the world is as knowledgeable about refugees as AbuZayd, a fair-skinned woman from Chicago who arrived here after having provided shelter to the refugees of the horrible war in the Balkans. Before that, she was busy with the refugee camps in Africa. (AbuZayd is the name of her husband, a Sudanese professor who recently died.) In an interview on the eve of her departure from her post at UNRWA, she speaks as a major advocate of the Palestinian refugees and, for the first time in her career at the United Nations, without diplomatic kid gloves.
"From my perspective as the head of the Agency mandated to assist and protect Palestine refugees," she begins, "it is particularly vexing that the prevailing approach fails - or refuses - to accord the refugee issue the attention it deserves. Over 60 years, dispossession has faded from the focus of peace efforts. The heart of where peace should begin is absent from the international agenda, pushed aside as one of the 'final status' issues, one that belongs to a later stage of the negotiation process. As forced displacements continue across the West Bank, as Palestinians are evicted from their homes in East Jersualem, I ask a simple question. Is it not time for those engaged in the peace process to muster the will and the courage to address the Palestine refugee question?
"Make no mistake, not a single conflict of contemporary times has been resolved, no durable peace achieved unless and until the voices of the victims of those conflicts were heard, their losses acknowledged and redress found to injustices they experience. In addition, it has been a truism of peace making in recent times that all parties to a conflict are given a seat at the negotiating table. Failing to engage with the refugee issue and consciously shunting it to one side has served only to disavow the refugees' significance as a constituency with a prominent stake in delivering and sustaining peace. This has left many with a dangerous cynicism about the peace process, thus strengthening the hands of those who argue against peace itself."
What is unique about the plight of the Palestinian refugees?
"Palestine refugees are unique in the contemporary refugee experience, as they have no state to return to, nor are they allowed to return to their homes. But the Palestinians are also in a unique place for other reasons. The world community talks about reducing and eliminating poverty, and yet in Gaza an occupied people is under extreme trade and economic sanction as a matter of political choice. And in the West Bank the closure regime - part of the military occupation - is leading to the continuing rise in poverty rates.
"The observance of human rights is seen as a given in all peacemaking efforts. Yet Palestinians are being deprived of a full spectrum of human rights - some as a result of deliberate political choice - to an extent unequaled elsewhere. The occupation, now over 40 years old, becomes more entrenched with every infringement of human rights and international law in the occupied Palestinian territory. Political actors hold in their hands the power to redress the travesties Palestinians endure. Yet, the approach has been, at best, to equivocate over the minutiae of the occupation - a checkpoint here, a bag of cement there - or, at worst, to look the other way, to acquiesce in or even support the measures causing Palestinian suffering."
In light of her years of experience working with refugees, does AbyZayd believe that there can be a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli dispute without the implementation of a "right of return" for the Palestinian refugees?
"The right of individuals to return to their country is a fundamental human right found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. Resolution 194, adopted in 1948 by the General Assembly, is understood by many jurists and by the refugees as affirming the right of the refugees to choose whether to return to their ancestral homes or receive compensation for lost property. The claim to a right of return continues to constitute part of the refugees' identities and aspirations. UNRWA does not have a mandate to search for durable solutions for the refugees, but I believe that, for a resolution to be sustainable, it will have to be perceived as fair and just by major constituencies, including the refugees. This may very well require that the principle of the right of return be recognized or that other acknowledgments be made in a peace
agreement, but to know for sure, we must talk with the refugees."
AbuZayd is highly critical of both Israel and the international community. What does she have to say about the extent of the solidarity that Arab leaders have expressed with their refugee brothers and sisters?
"In 2009, Arab countries contributed only 1 percent to our regular budget, namely the general fund that covers our basic services, primary education and primary health care, some 70 percent of which is for salaries for our 29,680 staff. This is far short of the 7.8 percent, which is the target set by the Arab League itself 20 years ago.
"But there are some genuine misconceptions in Israel - and elsewhere - about how generous the Arab states have been, especially as far as our emergency programs are concerned. Kuwait's $34 million for the Gaza Emergency Response is one of the largest single donations the Agency has ever received .... The Saudi Committee for the Support of the Palestinian People has pledged over $10 million this year for Gaza, more than most governments, Western or Arab .... The King of Saudi Arabia has pledged $1 billion for the reconstruction of Gaza, and other Gulf leaders have offered similarly large amounts. Much of this is for destroyed or damaged buildings. All that is preventing Arab leaders from being tested on these pledges is the Israeli government's refusal to allow the entry of construction materials into Gaza. It is worth mentioning as well the contribution of the host countries - Jordan, Syria and Lebanon - to infrastructure and services for the refugees."
Every Friday for the past few weeks, there has been a march to Sheikh Jarrah to protest the eviction of Palestinian residents from their homes. During the demonstration yesterday, the police stormed the crowd with unprecedented force, wounding ten demonstrators and arresting twenty-four. The detainees spent the night in the Russian Compound, and will be brought before a judge to be arraigned this evening. The harsh police response seems planned in advance in order to suppress the mounting protests and to silence the public opposition to the policy of judaizing East Jerusalem. Brutal suppression of legal and nonviolent demonstrations will not silence the opposition.
We will not be silent.
We will not stand by while the Sheikh Jarrah residents are evicted and their protest silenced.
Tonight at 7:00 PM
Demonstration in front of the magistrate court.
For details- Maya 0547423044
For transportation from Tel Aviv- Haggai 0523-881213
Last update - 01:25 12/12/2009
21 left-wing activists arrested in violent East Jerusalem clashes
By Nir Hasson, Haaretz Correspondent
Six Israel Police officers were lightly wounded and 21 left-wing activists were arrested Friday during a demonstration that turned violent in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem.
The demonstrators were protesting the eviction of Palestinian families from their homes.
The protesters on Friday marched from the city center to Sheikh Jarrah, where police said they tried to enter a home that is partly occupied by Jews before being stopped.
Police were instructed to disperse the demonstration, but the protesters refused to leave. Police then used force and tear gas to disperse the crowd.
The entry of the Jews into the home follows a court order ruling in early December that the Arab al-Kurd family, which lives in a portion of the house, had no right to occupy an addition that they had built onto the house. The court rejected the al-Kurd family's petition seeking to prevent the Jews from moving into the building.
In recent months, three Palestinian families have been evicted from Sheikh Jarrah homes. Activists accuse settlers of trying to take over 28 homes in the neighborhood, which would allow them to create a Jewish community at the heart of the mostly Arab vicinity.
Jewish Peace News editors:
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Lincoln Z. Shlensky
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