Marking Anniversary of Nakba, President Tells Palestinian Rights Committee ‘Tragedy Constitutes a Scar on Humanity’
Voicing solidarity and support to the Palestinian people, speakers today reiterated their calls for intensified efforts towards a just and lasting solution, as the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People held a high-level special meeting to commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Nakba.
The epicentre of the Palestine tragedy, the Nakba is a moment in time in 1948 when a majority of a nation was displaced almost overnight, with hundreds of thousands fleeing for their lives as thousands were killed and hundreds of villages and communities were destroyed. However, the Nakba did not end in that moment — to this day, it remains the name given by Palestinians to their dispossession, displacement, collective punishment and the denial of their inalienable rights.
Mahmoud Abbas, President of the State of Palestine, urging the United Nations to restore the rights of his people and establish 15 May as an international day to commemorate their plight, said: “This tragedy constitutes a scar on humanity.” With Palestinians around the world commemorating this anniversary, the Palestinian narrative is only now starting to find its way into the consciousness of countries by countering the false Israeli narrative. A national commemoration monument is being built in the State of Palestine as a witness to this human tragedy. Yet, Israel continues to deny the Nakba and build settlements on lands that are recognized and accepted as Palestine while imposing an apartheid regime.
Despite more than 1,000 resolutions adopted on this issue since 1947 by the United Nations General Assembly, Security Council and Human Rights Council, not a single one has been implemented, he pointed out. Israel’s membership in the Organization, he reminded, was predicated on the implementation of Assembly resolution 181 on the establishment of the State of Palestine and Assembly resolution 194 on the return of Palestine refugees. As such, Israel must either respect these resolutions or have its membership in the United Nations suspended, he asserted, spotlighting the double standard within the Organization on implementing resolutions.
By planting another entity in the Palestinian homeland for their own colonial goals, the United States and the United Kingdom bear a political and ethnical responsibility for the Nakba, he emphasized. In detailing the ongoing struggle of the Palestinian people, he noted, among other points, that Palestinians had lived in the area for thousands of years. Palestine was one of the most civilized lands in the Arab region, with a vibrant culture, libraries, newspapers, printing houses, many agricultural exports, green land, lakes and rivers. With weapons from London, the Zionists established the State of Israel, committed massacres, demolished 530 villages and displaced around 957,000 refugees, according to the United Nations. Israel has since repeated its false claims which date back to its denial of the reports issued by the League of Nations, continues to violate holy sites and denies Palestinians the freedom of worship at mosques. Moreover, that Government has not only violated resolutions but also occupies by force with its ongoing blockade of Gaza and nearly 750,000 settlers in occupied land.
“[Israel] continue[s] to lie until people continue to believe their lies,” he said, stressing that the biggest lie is that Israel is the only democratic country in the Middle East. He then took to task the false claim that Palestinians do not want peace by pointing out that they have accepted a State on 22 per cent of its historic land and are ready to not only carry out peaceful negotiations but also live alongside Israel in peace and security. In noting that Israel is celebrating the seventy-fifth anniversary of its independence, he asked: “Independence from who[m]?”
He went on to note that the officials of that occupying Government are calling for the killing of Palestinians and the demolition of their homes. Explaining that this situation is reminiscent of the Nakba in 1948, he called on the international community to shoulder its responsibility. “Why aren’t you protecting us,” he asked, urging Israel to be held accountable. Unless that Government acknowledges its responsibility for the Nakba, provides compensation and apologizes for its actions, the conflict’s root causes will remain. In that vein, he called for courts to uphold Palestinian rights, asked for full membership at the United Nations and appealed to the Organization to implement its resolutions.
In opening remarks, Cheikh Niang (Senegal), Chair of the Committee, stressed that the resilience of the Palestinian people should not absolve the international community from its obligations and responsibility. Reminding the world about the Nakba and the ongoing suffering of the Palestinian people is needed now more than ever, he asserted, highlighting the current dire situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. In the continued absence of a just solution, the Committee continues to strongly support the mandate of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and appeals for the Agency’s sufficient and predictable funding, he stressed. It regrets that the reports of entities actively engaging in promoting a just and lasting peace are all pointing towards increasingly negative and worrying trends on the ground, he said before condemning the ongoing escalation in Gaza and the loss of civilian lives from the recent Israeli military operation. “Violence, in whatever form, only takes us further away from the international consensus to achieve a just peace in the Middle East as outlined in international law and countless [United Nations] resolutions — such violence is not the answer,” he underlined.
He went on to voice the Committee’s grave concern over Israel’s de facto creeping annexation as well as its dismay over the grave human rights abuses and discriminatory policies imposed against the Palestinian people. In that vein, Israel must reverse the dispossession and forcible displacement of Palestinians as well as the transfer of its population to that occupied land. Pledging that the Committee will continue to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people, uphold its mandate and make its notable goals a reality, he stressed: “Peace will be achieved by bringing an end to the injustice of the Nakba.”
Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, voiced her deep concern over the continually diminishing prospects towards a two-State solution. Violence remains pervasive as evictions, demolitions and seizures of Palestinian-owned property continue unabated — actions which continue to undermine the prospects for the establishment of a viable, continuous Palestinian State. In detailing several recent incidents of violence, including those occurring inside or near Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the loss of life from Israeli air strikes and Palestinian rocket fire, she reiterated her call for respect for the status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem, in line with the special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. She also echoed United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres’ call on all sides to observe the ceasefire and appealed to Member States to ensure sufficient and predictable funding for UNRWA.
The question of Palestine is intimately linked to the history and the Charter of the United Nations, she pointed out, explaining that respect for international law and human rights, self-determination and the peaceful resolution of conflicts constitute the Organization’s raison d'etre. As Palestinians deserve a life of justice and dignity, the Organization’s position is clear: the occupation must end and a two-State solution that will bring lasting peace and security must be achieved in line with international law, United Nations resolutions and previous agreements.
Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA Commissioner, speaking via videoconference, emphasized that the 1948 war was the beginning of a very long journey of waiting and uncertainty. Against that backdrop, today is a day to highlight how the United Nations and its partners have made a difference in the lives of Palestine refugees, he said. In full acknowledgement of their right to protection and assistance, UNRWA was established in 1950 to continue the vital work that other relief partners had started in 1948. Over the years, more than 2 million girls and boys have graduated from UNRWA schools and the Agency has greatly improved basic health through universal vaccination and excellent mother and child health care. Beyond direct assistance, it also serves as the custodian of records and memories for Palestine refugees, he noted.
“It is our obligation and our duty at the United Nations to help those impacted by crisis and those in need — Palestine refugees are no different,” he underscored. However, the serious financial crisis facing UNRWA risks undoing the progress made in human development for millions of Palestine refugees. Even though it needs sustainable financial footing, UNRWA is not the solution. “There simply is no alternative to a political solution for all,” he explained, adding: “Until such a day, there is no alternative to UNRWA.”
Salem M. Matug, Representative of the Office of the Permanent Observer of the African Union, speaking on behalf of Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, noted that Palestine refugees continue to face serious protection challenges due to the ongoing occupation, armed conflict and displacement. They are sinking deeper into poverty and desperation, he said, also highlighting the consequences of illegal settlements which have contributed to forced displacement, severely limited access to basic resources and prolonged a system of structural inequality. As such, the international community must intensify its efforts to find a just and lasting solution based on the two-State solution. Pointing out that war has brought nothing but death, destruction and widespread trauma throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel, he underscored that African support to the Palestinian cause is based on the values of freedom, justice and humanitarian principles. All stakeholders must commit to relaunching the peace process in the Middle East, he stressed.
Sulaiman Mohammed S. Alanbar, Permanent Observer for the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, pointed out that Israel’s activities are an extension of the Palestinian Nakba, the longest colonization issue. This is a sad moment in the history of the Middle East and the world, he observed, adding that it is also a cause of desperation and anger for Arab Palestinians. As such, regional and international actors must undertake every effort to immediately end Israel’s provocations which are being repeated on a daily basis on Palestinian territory. Highlighting recent examples such as the indiscriminate and violent killings of civilians, he stressed that these actions only exacerbate the current desperation and make the calls for peace in region far-fetched. As ending the conflict and its regional repercussions cannot take place unless Israel implements its commitments, he called for international efforts to hold Israel accountable, move forward with a political process and achieve a historic solution.
Yusnier Romero Puentes (Cuba), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, demanded that Israel halt its confiscation of Palestinian property, expansion of settlements and the wall, demolition of Palestinian homes, mass dispossession of Palestinian civilians and all annexation measures. He called for full respect of international law and all relevant resolutions as he expressed his concern over the continued severe restrictions on planning, building and natural resources access. In Gaza, the illegal blockade and repeated military aggressions have notably made development goals ever more elusive. Against this backdrop, he reaffirmed the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and the population of the occupied Syrian Golan. He also called on the occupying Power to cease the exploitation, damage, loss, depletion and endangerment of natural resources in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the occupied Syrian Golan. For its part, the international community must shoulder its responsibilities, protect the Palestinian people, exert pressure on Israel to cease its repeated attacks on innocent civilians and infrastructure, advance the realization of a political horizon and preserve the prospects of a just and lasting solution.
Maged Abdelfatah Abdelaziz, Permanent Observer for the League of Arab States, reading out a message from Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, said that this day reminds all that international justice is still lacking. In that vein, States and organizations seeking peace must come together to bring an end to the historic injustices of the Palestinian people; they must continue pleading for the Palestinian cause, including by bearing witness before the International Court of Justice on the illegal nature of Israel’s occupation and its impacts. Moreover, the international community must ensure that the extremist tendencies of Israel’s Government fail, he underlined. For their part, the Court must bring an end to impunity and the United Nations must fully assume its responsibilities. “The occupier may control the land but can never suffocate memory or hide historical truth,” he underscored, pledging that Israel’s occupation, like all others throughout history, will unavoidably be brought down.
Hameed Ajibaiye Opeloyeru, Permanent Observer for the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), speaking on behalf of Hissein Brahim Taha, Secretary-General of OIC, reiterated the call for action to restore peace to the land of peace. The international community’s intervention is now more urgent than ever to address past mistakes and silence while preventing the addition of a new grim chapter to the Nakba. To that end, it must help the Palestinian people achieve their rights and hopes for peace, freedom, justice, equality, development and self-determination. It must also intensify its efforts to force the occupying Power to assume its political and legal responsibility under relevant United Nations resolutions, especially Assembly resolution 194. With an extremist Government which continues its policies of colonial settlement, construction, terrorism, incitement and violence at an alarming rate, international actors must urgently engage in a multilaterally sponsored peace process to end the Israeli occupation and achieve a just and lasting peace, he underscored.
Leyla Novruz (Azerbaijan), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, repeated its longstanding calls for the international community to uphold its obligations towards the Palestine question until it is justly resolved. Despite the Palestinian people’s decades of good-faith participation in peace efforts, proven commitment to the two-State solution, adherence to international law and painful compromises, their plight has regrettably worsened with millions still deprived of their rights and suffering continued oppression, displacement and hardships. Against this backdrop, she demanded the full and immediate lifting of the illegal blockade on Gaza and voiced her grave concern over the lack of accountability for the countless violations committed by the occupying Power. The absence of justice only leads to greater impunity and the recurrence of crimes, thereby diminishing the prospects for peace by destabilizing the situation on the ground, she pointed out. “After 75 years, the prolonged international paralysis on this issue is inexcusable,” she stressed, calling for the restoration of the inalienable rights of the heroic Palestinian people.
Nyle Fort, Assistant Professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies at Columbia University, said he learned about the struggle for justice in Palestine by participating in the 2014 protests in Saint Louis, Missouri, following the killing of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer. “Ferguson opened my eyes to the ugliness of American racism — Palestine made me weep over the brutality of American Empire,” he said, explaining that it was in Hebron nearly a year later where he bore witness to the ongoing reality of the Palestinian Nakba. As a United States citizen, he is haunted that his tax dollars are being used to keep people in prisons in his country and in Palestine. “What is our moral responsibility to address the political misery that is the Israeli apartheid? What are we going to do?” he asked.
Answering, he urged Member States to end all aid and military cooperation with Israel. For its part, the Organization should undertake the same measures it did to document South Africa’s human rights violations and isolate the apartheid regime until it fell, including by reopening the Special Committee Against Apartheid. The Charter of the United Nations, he continued, must go beyond observing violations by ending them through concrete actions which can include voting to end the blockade of Gaza and updating the United Nations database on companies profiting from and supporting Israel’s illegal settlements. “Silence in the form of inaction is adding your voice to the orchestra of oppression,” he emphasized, adding: “There are no seats available in a theatre of war, so how will you use your voice?”
In closing remarks, Mr. Niang, announcing that the Committee has received messages of support and solidarity, read out a list of those messages in the order in which they were received from the Heads of State of Algeria, Venezuela, Kuwait, Indonesia, Senegal, Tunisia, Türkiye, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan and Iran; from the Heads of Government of Cuba, Namibia, Guyana, Lebanon, Malaysia and Bangladesh; from the Ministers for Foreign Affairs of Bahrain, Nicaragua, China, South Africa, Syria and the United Arab Emirates; and from the African Union, the League of Arab States and the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf. All messages received will be posted on the Organization’s website on the Question of Palestine maintained by the Division for Palestinian Rights.
On behalf of the Committee, he expressed its sincere appreciation for all those messages of support and solidarity, as well as to all participants for their persistent efforts which, through 55 years of Israeli occupation in the Palestinian territory, aimed at achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the question of Palestine. He also thanked everyone who made the meeting possible, in particular, the staff members of the Division for Palestinian Rights in the United Nations Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management, the Department of Global Communications, the Office of Central Support Services, interpreters and everyone who worked “behind the scenes”.