Intervention of the Local Committee of Palestinian NGOs in Israel Participating in the WCAR to the WCAR Plenary

 

September 7, 2001

 

 

Honorable Chair, Government Delegates and fellow NGO Representatives,

 

It is my pleasure to stand before you as a representative of the Local Committee of Palestinian NGOs in Israel.  I am here today as a Palestinian, as an Arab and as a citizen of a state which still refuses to grant me full civil and political rights.

 

I am one of over a million Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel.  We are the indigenous people of historic Palestine; Palestinians who remained inside the borders of the new Jewish state after its establishment in 1948.  Almost overnight, we became an unrecognized national minority in our homeland as more than 780,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled in fear of massacres and became refugees in Arab states and beyond.  Over 500 of our villages and towns were demolished; our national infrastructure and institutions destroyed.  One quarter of us were driven from our homes and villages and became internally displaced, denied the right of return and access to our homes, land and property.  Despite our formal citizenship, we alone lived under military rule for 18 years, during which harsh restrictions on our civil liberties and freedom of movement, speech and association were imposed.

 

The military rule imposed on us ended in 1966; the grave violations of our civil and political rights did not.  There are still over 20 racist and discriminatory laws in Israel that address such issues as citizenship, access to land and adequate housing, political participation, respect for culture and language, education, religion, and economic and social rights.  These laws form the legal basis for the systematic and institutionalized discrimination against Palestinian citizens by emphasizing the Zionist and Jewish ethnic character of the state; giving benefits or privileges solely to the Jewish population; or imposing restrictions on the civil and political rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel because of our national belonging or because we do not belong to the majority ethnic group.

 

Perhaps the most striking example of discrimination faced by the Palestinians in Israel is that of the so-called unrecognized villages.  Approximately 100,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel live in tens of villages declared retroactively illegal when the land on which they sit were zoned as non-residential and ownership was claimed by the state.  These villages are afforded no official status: they are excluded from governmental maps, have no local councils, belong to no local governing bodies, and receive little to no governmental services such as electricity, water, telephone lines, or educational or health facilities.

 

The plight of the internally displaced Palestinians must also be addressed here.  Today, they and their descendents number approximately 250,000.  Like the Palestinian refugees, they have been denied the right of return to their homes and villages.  Their property rights have never been recognized, and their land has been confiscated - in most cases for exclusive Jewish use.

 

These are just two examples of a series of discriminatory policies and practices designed to transfer Palestinian-owned and Palestinian-held lands to state control.  In 1947, the Jewish community in Palestine owned just 7% of the land of historic Palestine.  Today, 93% of the land in Israel is state-controlled; most of it is zoned for exclusive Jewish use.

 

Israelís discriminatory policies and practices have enormous implications for the Palestinians in Israel.  Economic indicators illustrate their devastating impact: while Palestinians make up just 20% of the total population, they account for 55% of Israeli citizens living under the poverty line; 52% of the unemployed in Israel are Palestinian.  Palestinian women, in particular, suffer from multiple forms of discrimination: as Palestinians in the State of Israel, as women in Israel, and as women in Palestinian society.

 

Israelís response to the October 2000 demonstrations at the start of the second Intifada also provides a clear indication of the stateís treatment of its Palestinian citizens.  Thirteen Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed and hundreds injured by Israeli security forces during demonstrations in solidarity with Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories that took place in the Galilee and Triangle areas of northern Israel.  The Palestinian demonstrators were unarmed; the security forcesí arsenal included live ammunition and rubber-coated steel bullets.  Jewish citizens have never faced such brutality; their demonstrations have never been met with lethal force.

 

Today, our struggle as Palestinians in Israel is focused on our demand for our full rights, both individual and collective, and for recognition of our status as a national minority.  This recognition must include acknowledgement of our history, our national memory, our historical land claims, our culture and language, and our right to full and equal political participation.

 

We, the Local Committee of Palestinian NGOs participating in the WCAR and representing victims of Israeli racism, came to Durban to draw attention to the institutionalized discrimination we face and to express our deep solidarity and support to other victims of racism around the globe.  By withdrawing from this conference, the State of Israel has shown its contempt for victims of racism everywhere.

 

But we will continue to demand recognition of our civil and political rights and call for the international community to support us in our struggle.  We will continue to call for the repeal of all of Israelís racist and discriminatory laws.  We will continue to demand that Israel uphold its obligations under CERD and other international treaties.  And we will not be silenced.

 

Thank you.