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Insights into the Durban Review Conference
Four Palestinian voices

Why Israel’s Racism and Zionism cannot be honestly questioned? The UN Review Conference which took place from 20 to 24 April 2009 in Geneva to assess the progress made since the 2001 “World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance” held in Durban, was the theatre of the division orchestrated by the countries that refuse to describe Israel as a racist, apartheid state, and the countries and organisations which do not accept an open debate about Israel’s racist laws and policies vis-à-vis non-Jews.

Under the pressure of some Western States, the Palestinian Authority accepted to cancel any mention of Palestine and Israel. The mention of "the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation" which recognized "the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination” disappeared from the final Declaration. We asked some prominent Palestinians whether they were surprised to see France, the country of the Declaration of Human rights, to take the lead of other European delegations [1] in order to bring about an open confrontation against President Ahmadinejad. And whether, finally, this conference against racism does not appear as a new defeat for all the people around the world who call for justice and reparations?

Dr Haidar Eid [2] living in Gaza, Hazem Jamjoum [3] living in Bethlehem (West Bank), Jamal Zahalka [4] living in Israel, and Omar Barghouti [5] living in Jerusalem (West Bank), all genuine Palestinian voices, interviewed by Silvia Cattori, give their answers.

Haidar Eid: We, Palestinians, are absolutely fed up with the so-called “International Community”. Has the Geneva Durban Review Conference been a failure? Well, if we still believe in the role of Western governments, especially those with colonial legacy, in playing a positive role vis-à-vis the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, we are, then, fooling ourselves. It is the power of people that we must bank on, exactly like what happened against Apartheid South Africa, where a sustained global BDS campaign forced the same governments to boycott the Pretoria racist regime. Durban II was a reminder that whether it was Bush, or Obama, the Empire is the same.

One of the major differences between crimes committed by the South Africa apartheid regime and those of apartheid Israel is the way, as evidenced by the Durban Review Conference sham, the latter gets away with its crimes equipped with unprecedented impunity. Israel could not have carried out its genocidal war on the people of Gaza without a green light from the international community.

The idea of the citizen in Israel is totally missing. Israel is the only state in the ’modern’ world in which citizenship and nationality are two separate, independent concepts. Israel is NOT the state of its citizens, but the state of the Jewish People. Moreover, Israel does not have a constitution. So, these are the FACTS avoided by those countries that have boycotted, or hijacked the Durban Review conference. Unsurprisingly, most, if not all, of these countries are, historically, either racist, settler-colonialist, or have a legacy of slavery.

Hazem Jamjoum: Overall, the conference was a step backwards for the global struggle against racism. As a result of US, Israeli, Canadian and European criticism of the 2001 Conference, and in the lead up to this Durban Review, it has been quite clear that the measure of success, as far as the UN has been concerned, has been that the conference would focus on making all STATES happy at the expense of tackling serious issues of racism, discrimination and xenophobia. As such, all mention of specific perpetrators and victims of racism have been avoided by the states which have instead focused on "themes". This attempt to keep all states happy, and specifically to appease Israel and its backers, has meant that a World Conference against Racism has failed to effectively tackle the issue of racism.

Furthermore, as you will see from Badil’s recent press releases [6] the UN has effectively barred side events dealing with specific issues of racism. This includes two side events that were to focus on the connection between the Palestinian struggle against Israeli racism with other antiracist struggles around the world, to also use the space to share and discuss the rapidly growing and increasingly sophisticated legal analysis of Israel as a state that has been committing the internationally defined crime of apartheid. Instead, several officially sanctioned side events discussed the issue of racism, including anti-Semitism, which was then used as a way to shield Israel from criticism by misconstruing criticism of the state of Israel as a form of racism!

On the issue of whether or not this was a defeat, the 1948 Nakba was a defeat. The Durban Review was the international system working largely in the same way that it has worked with regards to Palestine as it has in recent decades. Israel enjoys backing from the United States and other very powerful states, and this has worked to shield Israel from scrutiny and prevent other actors from holding it accountable for its inhumane crimes.

In the context of the Durban Review, these powerful states and institutions have worked to prevent a discussion on the racism as a root cause of the oppression of Palestinians, the evident reality that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid. The European delegates who walked out at the first mention of Israel has shown that there is an even more dangerous dynamic at play, that the word “Israel” has become one that cannot be mentioned in any critical context. On the other hand, the citizens of the world, global civil society, do realize the crimes that Israel has and continues to commit as evidenced in the growing international movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law. At the Durban Review Conference, civil society organizations have defended the Palestinian cause as their own cause, whether they hail from Africa, Asia, Latin America and even Europe and North America — the solidarity expressed in action among the members of global civil society has been a very moving success.

France is among the states that have tried to shield Israel from scrutiny and criticism; as such the role of the French government does not necessarily come as a surprise. This is an ongoing struggle not only for Palestinians, but also for the French, and other people who are struggling themselves for justice in their communities. It is no coincidence that the same regimes that are repressing dissent and movements for social justice in Europe and North America are also the regimes that are actively supporting Israeli apartheid in Palestine.

Jamal Zahalka: Israel and the United States did not succeed in preventing the Conference from endorsing the decisions of Durban I. For that reason they decided to boycott it.

Also the Palestinian delegation (representing the Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah), under pressure from Israel and other Western States, accepted to delete any mention of Israel. But they did not get anything in compensation; they lost twice: these countries did not attend the Conference and Palestine was not mentioned.

The Palestinian and Arab States should not have accepted the omission of any reference to Israel and Palestine. They made a mistake. For that reason I consider that this Conference was only a semi-achievement for those who are struggling against racism all over the world; and for the Palestinian people.

The Israelis always try to steer the debate with the help of so many people who work for their interests, in order to make the world oblivious to the reality in Palestine and the suffering of the people, especially in Gaza. We saw their activists in action during the gatherings organized here in Geneva by the Zionist movement. The Zionist organisations brought more than one thousand activists from all over the world - mostly from European countries and from the United States - but they did not succeed in smothering the Palestinian issue from the debate.

The Israeli tactic at this Conference was to avoid any mention of the Palestinians. They did not want to argue and to reply to accusations regarding the Palestinians. They wanted to make Iran the target of this Conference. For that reason, Israel and their fellow-Zionists wanted to focus the debate on « anti-Semitism » and « Holocaust ».

In this way, the Israelis tried to redirect the agenda of the Conference. Hence, it can be said that this conference was about the Jewish people and not about the suffering of the Palestinian people as a result of Israeli policy. They succeed to a certain extent; for that reason, I call that conference a semi-achievement. We did not get anything but we did not lose everything either.

The Zionist organisations made so many efforts here to divert the attention of the Media towards Iran and not to allow any criticism against Israel. But despite that, the Durban decisions were a failure for Israel; they did not succeed to abort Durban: which is why they boycotted the Durban Review Conference.

But in the end, nobody can avoid or ignore the Palestinian issue. The statements of the NGO’s were very positive in support of the fight of the Palestinians.

When France walked out followed by other European delegations, it was shameful. They did not have to agree with what Ahmadinejad said! Every country has freedom of speech, as any European country; every representative is free to say what he wants, and all the delegations present in the UN have to listen.

The Western countries have to argue in a civilized manner with every one. To stage that kind of show simply because Israel was mentioned in the Iranian President Statement, was deplorable. This show was pre-arranged. What the Europeans did was to send an offensive message to the Palestinians; which means that they are condoning Israel’s racism towards the Palestinians. This is the message that the Palestinians received from their unjust attitude.

I want to ask them: Why did they not express themselves in a similarly strong fashion when the Israeli army was killing Palestinians in Gaza? They were not as angry when the Israelis killed more then 1400 Palestinians in Gaza, and they did not make any statement! So this « shows » us that they are not truly inclined to give peace a chance. This tells us that, with this kind of powerful support by Western States to the Israeli racist Government - which is a very extremist Government - nothing will change.

I do not think that the Western world can go on acting like this. I hope that, after their shameful performance here at the UN, they will be able to reconsider their position, and take steps in favour of Palestine; otherwise they are declaring war against the Palestinians. They have to strike some kind of balance.

Omar Barghouti: This is primarily a defeat for the UN and for the primacy of international law. By bowing to US and Israeli pressures, the UN is losing more of whatever is left of its credibility. The UN Secretary General is increasingly sounding like a junior employee of the US State Department and a lawyer defending or whitewashing Israel’s violations of international law. This will only undermine the crucial role that people of conscience around the world were hoping the UN would play to bring about justice and peace.

The European representatives at the Durban Review Conference just added a theatrical element to their already revolting complicity in Israeli crimes and hypocrisy, which were most evident throughout Israel’s illegal siege of Gaza and its recent criminal war of aggression against it. European leaders who celebrated with Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, Israel’s "victory" in Gaza cannot be expected to uphold the rule of law or to be moral in any way. Their stunt in Geneva merely presented further incriminating evidence of their complicity in Israel’s grave violations of international law.

Whether or not one agrees with Iranian president Ahmadinejad’s statements here and there, one cannot find any reasonable fault in the factual statement he made in Geneva, when he referred to the Israeli government as a racist government. How else can one describe a government whose primary ministers advocate ethnic cleansing of the indigenous, "non-Jewish" population of the land, perpetrate a system of institutionalized racial discrimination, or apartheid [7], against the state’s Palestinian minority, and maintains a colonial regime that is enshrined in racism?

Consecutive US State Department Human Rights reports have accused Israel of "institutionalized discrimination" against the Palestinian minority. The US, of course, is in no position to lecture anyone on human rights, given its horrifically criminal record in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention Vietnam, Latin America, Hiroshima, etc. Still, for the US State Department to accuse Israel of institutionalized racial discrimination means a lot, given the blanket, unconditional support that the US has provided Israel with for decades.

Also, reports by UN agencies as well as major human rights organizations have consistently accused Israel of institutionalized racial discrimination against its Palestinian citizens. So what is new o inaccurate in Ahmadinejad’s statement in Geneva?

Silvia Cattori

Thanks to Julie Franco for her collaboration

[1Mr. Sarkozy has appointed as "ambassador for Human Rights" Mr. François Zimeray, known for his support to the Israeli Apartheid State. With Mr. Bernard Kouchner, he was deeply involved in the destabilisation of the Conference. Mr. Kouchner and Mr. Zimeray adopted a very aggressive position at the Durban Review Conference targeting and intimidating those who wanted to put the Israeli Apartheid on the agenda.

[2Dr Haidar Eid, resident of Gaza City, is an associate Professor in the Department of English Literature, Al-Aqsa University, and an independent analyst and commentator. He is also on the steering committee of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (http://PACBI.org) and a founding member of the One Democratic State Group (http://odsg.org/co).

[3Hazem Jamjoum is the Communications Officer of the «Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights» in Bethlehem, Palestine, and the editor of al-Majdal, Badil’s English language quarterly magazine. He was present in Geneva.

[4Jamal Zahalka, born in 1955, is an Arab Israeli politician member of the Balad Party, elected in the Knesset from 2003 and reelected in 2006. He was present in Geneva during the UN conference.

[5Omar Barghouti is an independent Palestinian political and cultural analyst whose opinion columns have appeared in many publications. He is a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, PACBI (http://www.PACBI.org), involved in civil struggle to end oppression and conflict in Palestine.

[6See: http://www.badil.org/Publications/Press/2009/press501-09.htm
BADIL is a non governmental organisation based in Bethlehem, which aims to achieve a situation where Palestinian refugees and IDPs can exercise their right to return as part of durable solutions and reparations. Badil is working to enable the Palestinian people to exercise their right to self-determination, in accordance with international law and UN resolutions, so that all people in the country can enjoy justice, equality, peace, and security.

[7See: “Omar Barghouti: No State Has the Right to Exist as a Racist State”, silviacattori.net, 6 December 2007.