Friday, May 11, 2007
UN meeting in South Africa addresses Palestinians' inalienable rights, the deepening humanitarian crisis, and apartheid
"Bethlehem - Ma'an - Diplomats, parliamentarians, representatives of the United Nations and other intergovernmental organizations, along with civil society and media personnel, gathered on Wednesday in Pretoria, South Africa for the UN African Meeting on the Question of Palestine.
The two-day meeting, which was sponsored by the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People-Africa, aims to bolster African solidarity with the Palestinian people, as well as build on recent international and regional momentum to bring the Israeli and Palestinian sides back to the negotiating table," according to press statements.
“South Africa firmly believes in the Palestinian peoples’ inalienable right to self-determination and the fact that there was no military solution to the conflict,” Essop Pahad, a minister in the office of President Thabo Mbeki, said opening the meeting on Wednesday, according to a press statement. He added that South Africa firmly believes that there can be no peace in the Middle East unless a sustainable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is found......
"We believe that the country of Oliver Tambo, of Nelson Mandela and other renowned freedom fighters is the appropriate venue for holding this meeting,” the Senegalese chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, Paul Badji, said at the meeting, taking place in post-apartheid South Africa.
Many other participators did not hesitate to draw parallels between apartheid-era South Africa and the situation today in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Mr. Pahad of the South African president's office said, "Comparing the situation of Palestinians in the Occupied Territory with the situation of South Africa’s during apartheid, while Israel denied such intention or purpose, its oppressive actions -- closures, checkpoints extrajudicial killings, among others -- in contravention of international humanitarian and human rights law, certainly belies that stance."
The press statement added, "In a poignant address Gideon Levy, columnist for Ha'aretz, Tel Aviv, said it was very unpleasant to sit and hear accusations against one's country, but it was much more unpleasant to sit and listen to such accusations knowing that they were justified."
Levy also said that the similarities between the occupation and apartheid, as well as the differences, should rightly be on the table. “Roads” in the occupied Palestinian territory are not really roads, he said, because they are impassable. Israel's legal system metes out different punishments to different people and there are different rules for Palestinians and different rules for Israelis, he added.
Yasmin Sooka, the executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights in Pretoria, said the situation of the Palestinian people had a huge resonance with South Africans, "for those who had lived under apartheid had believed that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would have been solved long before the back of apartheid had been broken," the press statement said. However, she had hope, she said, particularly since the world had witnessed “old enemies” in Great Britain and Ireland sitting down at the same table after so many years of tension. She stressed that the solution to the question of Palestine should be based on the search for justice.
The two-day meeting will be followed on Friday 11 May by the UN Public Forum in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, to be held at the University of Pretoria. "