Symposium "Bridges to Palestine"
Site as PDF
On 23rd March Dar
al Janub Union for Antiracism and Peace Policy in cooperation with
the Society for Austrian Arab Relationship organised the symposium Bridges
to Palestine - On the Humanitarian And Political Situation After The Imposed Sanctions
On The Palestinian People.
bridges to Palestine?
More than one year after the
parliamentary elections in Palestine the humanitarian situation is disastrous.
The policy of siege, which has been implemented on economic and political levels,
has severely undermined Palestinian society. The European Union once again faces
a dilemma. Although the EU has tended to play a more positive and objective role
in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than the USA, it has failed to propose new
perspectives or show leadership in dealing with the newly elected Palestinian
government. Rather than seriously consider Arab and Palestinian initiatives for
dialogue, the EU responded to Palestines democratic elections by joining
the US in a brutal boycott of Palestinian society.
The EU has placed demands
upon the Palestinian government while cutting off financial support that the government
needs in order to function. The European Union kept quiet when the Israeli army
arrested Palestinian ministers and deputies, and when the Israeli army killed
innocent civilians in the Gaza strip on a daily basis. Not even the well-documented
massacre of civilians in Beit Hanoun has been condemned. Thus the EU has been
conducting a policy of double standards, making demands on the Palestinian side,
but not protesting against the Israeli policy of occupation.
Against this backdrop the symposium
"Bridges to Palestine" focused on exploring the possibilities for new
perspectives and strategies to open new paths of dialogue between the European
Union and Palestine.
Dar al Janub organised this symposium because it is more
important then ever before to build bridges from Europe to Palestine and not allow
the Palestinians to be isolated behind walls.
Presenters at the Symposium included:
Ahmed al Kord
Mayor of Deir al Balah, Gaza strip, former
employee of UNRWA and coordinator of humanitarian projects and development cooperation
in Gaza strip for many years.
- Dr. Helga Baumgarten
of Political Science, author, University of Birzeit, Palestine
Palestinian Return Center, Author und Journalist,
Editor in Chief of Palestine Chronicle, Author of "Searching Jenin"
and "The Second Palestinian Intifada", USA
Secretary general of the Palestinian NGO
Palestinian Organization for the Right of Return - FIRM, lives and
works in the Palestinian Refugee Camp Rashidiyah, Lebanon
Unfortunately it was not possible
for Mayor Ahmed al Kord to attend the symposium in person because the Israeli
authorities would not allow him to pass through the Rafah checkpoint between the
Gaza Strip and Egypt.
(It should be pointed out, that thanks to the correctness
of the Austrian authorities, Dr. Ahmed Al Kord did get a Visa for his visit in
Austria). Although Israel officially retreated from the Gaza strip in August 2005,
the border crossing in Rafah is still controlled by the Israeli military. Even
though the checkpoint at Rafah is supposed to be under the control of EU, Egyptian
and Palestinian authorities, in practice the only possibility for Palestinians
to leave Gaza depends on the decision of the Israeli army. The case of Dr. Al
Kord is representative of the situation of thousands of Palestinians, who spend
days or weeks holding out at the checkpoint Rafah, waiting for permission to enter
or leave. This degrading and economically destructive practice is symptomatic
of the broader occupation, which brings untold suffering upon the Palestinian
people who live in appalling conditions in the Gaza strip. For this reason Gaza
can be accurately described as the largest outdoor prison in the world.
day before the symposium, the Austrian daily newspaper Kurier (www.kurier.at)
published an interview with Dr. Al Kord, in which he spoke about the humanitarian
situation in Gaza, the sanctions, and the new unity government. Although Dr. Al
Kord could not participate in the symposium Dar al Janub organised a live telephone-conference
to Deir al Balah. In his speech Dr. Al Kord discussed how the continuation of
the boycott policy is targeting the Palestinian people and undermining the institutions
of civil society. He also discussed the role of NGOs in supporting Palestinian
society, the obstacles these organizations face from the USA and European Union,
and how to overcome these obstacles.
Dr. Helga Baumgarten focussed
in her lecture on the relations between Palestine and the EU since the Palestinian
parliamentary elections in January 2006. She took the opportunity to mention the
50th anniversary of the EU to reflect on what the EU has achieved in its five
decades of existence. She mentioned both the attainments of the EUfifty
50 years of peace and wealthas well as its failures, such as how its policies
in the Middle-East have not helped to generate the same peace and prosperity Europe
Before the parliamentary elections democratization of the Middle-East
seemed to be the key to a peaceful future in the region. Many international politicians
who monitored the Palestinian elections, like Jimmy Carter, pointed out that they
had been both democratic and transparent. More than 80% of Palestinians participated
in the voting, the majority of whom were women. Given all the talk about democratization,
it is worth noting that this election was one of the freest, fairest, and most
representative ever held in the region. But the Palestinians, as Baumgarten
said, did not behave as the West expected them to do.
explained how the EU on one hand congratulated the Palestinians on their democratic
elections, but on the other hand coupled this with strong demands from the newly
elected Palestinian government. Hamas had already shown its willingness to comply
with the conditions of the quartet, for example by building a Palestinian state
within the borders of 1967, which meant recognition of Israel. Furthermore Hamas
had been sustaining a truce, which meant disavowing violence and declaring respect
for past agreements. But, as Baumgarten explained, the quartet ignored these moves
toward peace and dialogue, and instead began a massive political and economic
Baumgarten also discussed the divisions and contradictions underlying
European support for the embargo. Although the EU has supported the sanctions
in order to undermine the Palestinian government, it was not willing to let the
Palestinian people starve, as the American and Israeli governments would have.
At the same time that the EU has supported the policy of boycott, it has also
rendered large amounts of humanitarian aid, such as direct aid for hospitals,
provision of electricity and water supply, and for the neediest Palestinians the
EU also donated 150-200 Dollars to more than 150 000 persons. At great expense
the EU organised TIM (temporary international mechanism) in order to provide humanitarian
assistance in a manner that bypasses the new elected government.
the European Union is giving a lot of money, it doesn´t follow an independent
policy to ensure its goals are sustainable. During the past several years the
EU has often stood by silently as EU-financed civil infrastructure was destroyed
in Israeli attacks with weaponry supplied by the US.. Formulating a more independent
policy toward Israel-Palestine would help stop EU investments from being wasted.
On the other hand, whereas the EUs reputation in Palestine had been
comparatively good, this too has now been undermined since the EU joined the embargo
and ceased funding for infrastructure and democratization projects.
Ramzy Baroud stated in his
lecture that the question of Palestine is not just a humanitarian question, or
a question of salaries for civil servants, but rather it is first and foremost
a political question, one that urgently needs to be resolved. The media, claimed
Baroud, approaches the issue as if Hamas were the main problem. So he first posed
the question of how the situation had been before Hamas came to power, and then
explained that Hamas came to power precisely because of the difficult situation
that had been created by the so-called peace process. Baroud further stressed
that this is not a religious question. Hamas was elected to power because it had
refused to play along the American and Israeli line. This role could have been
filled by the socialists, the communists or anybody else.
Baroud then explained
the conditions imposed on the newly elected government by the quartet and asked
whether they are truly fair:
1. Recognizing Israel:
with recognizing Israel, so said Baroud, is that Israel has not defined its final
borders. Israeli television continues to refer to the areas of the West Bank by
the biblical names Jehuda and Samaria, implying a vision of Israel that encompasses
all of the Palestinian territories. He further exposed the problem that the Palestinians
are being occupied, and at the same time are being asked to recognise their occupier.
How can I recognise someone who does not recognise me?
2. Denouncing violence:
Baroud elucidated, that more than 4000 Palestinians had been killed in the
last years, with an additional 10 000 wounded. There is absolutely no security
in the life of any Palestinian in the West bank or Gaza, but Palestinians are
nonetheless expected to place security for their occupier above security for themselves:
Never in history has the occupied nation been demanded to ensure security for
a violent occupier.
3. Honouring past agreements
issue, Baroud directed attention to the fact that Israel was the one who rejected
all current agreements. Ariel Sharon himself said that they were no longer relevant.
For decades the Palestinians have pleaded to the international community, the
EU and the USA: Help us out here, we cannot attain our national independence
because Israel will not allow it! The longstanding Palestinian claim that
Israel should be boycotted by the international community for its perpetual violations
of international law has absurdly ended in a situation whereby the international
community is instead boycotting the Palestinian people. Baroud concluded his speech
by remarking upon how the Palestinians have withstood the pressure of the boycott
and Israels most recent escalation. Meanwhile, Israels recent misadventure
in Lebanon has highlighted the limits of its military power. For the first time
Israel failed to translate its military power into political victory.
Dr. Ali Hweidi began his presentation
by discussing the recent Palestinian elections. Although held under conditions
of occupation, the polling occurred peacefully and
democratically. Hweidi pointed
out that by participating in the democratic process, each voter regardless
of his or her political position had in fact cast a vote for Palestine.
He further stressed that Palestinians condemn the hypocritical double standards
of the Quartet, which has demanded that the Palestinian National Unity Government
renounce violence, recognize Israel and respect international treaties, while
failing to demand the same from the government of Israel.
Hweidi argued that
after a year of sanctions, the international community had not achieved its goals
of marginalizing the Palestinian political process. On the contrary, the recent
formation of a Palestinian National Unity Government under the Mecca agreement
reflects the resolve and increasing unity of the Palestinian people. For the first
time in history, there exists fully a representative government for all Palestinians
both those inside and outside of the West Bank and Gaza.
lastly directed attention toward the Palestinian refugees outside of Palestine.
He focused especially on the very dangerous situation faced by Palestinians in
Iraq, who have been subjected to killings and torture. The Palestinian refugees
in Iraq should be evacuated temporarily to neighboring countries until end of
occupation. Peace and justice in the region will continue to prove elusive without
a solution that grants Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes
in historical Palestine, in accordance with international law.
European countries face the challenge of incorporating their own avowed principles
into their Middle-East policies.
Europe is still generally seen as an objective
mediator in the Arab world, but there remain large gaps in Europes understanding
of the issues, as well as a notable lack of sensitivity in dealing with the precarious
destiny of the Palestinian people.
Public discussion in Europe rarely questions
whether the demands and conditions placed on the Palestinian people are balanced
and morally justifiable. Palestinians are daily portrayed in the European news
media as victims of the Israeli occupation, but at the same time the Palestinians
are expected to guarantee the security of an oppressive occupying force. Many
countries already recognize and maintain normal relations with the democratically
elected government in Palestine, including European countries like Switzerland
and Norway. Such positive actions as diplomatic recognition respect the legitimate
democratic process in Palestine, and they are important steps in realizing a peaceful,
just, and democratic solution to the conflict.
Dar al Janub - The Union for
Antiracism and Peace Policy organized this event with such a goal in mind. We
seek to support and strengthen constructive initiatives toward a just peace, demand
more positive action from Europe, and above all take a stand against the siege
and the isolation of the Palestinian people. Furthermore, by opening new channels
of dialogue between Europe and Palestine we hope that Europeans will be able to
hear more authentic Palestinian perspectives, which remain chronically underrepresented
in the media.
Approximately 100 visitors attended
the symposium. After the presentations the audience had the opportunity to pose
questions. After the discussion the buffet was opened, the proceeds of which will
benefit Palestinian Aid Projects in the Gaza strip.
for donations for Palestine
For the support of humanitarian projects in
the gazastrip, the proceeds will be handed within a delegation to Deir el Balah
(Gazastrip), organized by the Union for Antiracism and Peace Policy.
Verein für antirassistische und friedenspolitische Initiative
use: Help for the Gazastrip
Account number: 92 160 350
bank code number:
Thanks to all donors.