By Michael Gillespie
People for Justice in Palestine hosted a presentation titled “A Long Wait for a State: Palestine on Hold” at the Iowa City Public Library on September 15. Dr. Patrick Hitchon, an Iowa neurosurgeon; Shams Ghoneim, Coordinator of the Iowa Chapter of the Muslim Public Affairs Council; and John Dabeet, President of Americans and Palestinians for Peace, spoke to an audience of about 60.
Hitchon spoke first providing his listeners with an overview of the history of Palestine from its earliest period to the present.
“The state of Israel was never a negotiated settlement between Arabs and Israelis,” said Hitchon.
“It was approved and divided by the United Nations, thousands of miles away from the land of Palestine,” said Hitchon, noting that Palestinian Arab interests were not adequately or fairly represented in the process. Hitchon quoted U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk saying, “‘The pressure and arm-twisting applied by American and Jewish interests in capital after capital to get that affirmative vote is hard to describe.’”
“About 700,000 to 800,000 Palestinians were forcefully expelled,” said Hitchon, who noted that his own family was among those forced to leave Palestine.
“These people did not leave of their own accord,” said Hitchon, adding that in many cases Israelis demolished Palestinian homes and villages while expropriating other Palestinian homes for use by Israelis.
Hitchon quoted Israeli historian Ilan Pappe to document his claim.
“‘Israelis made a concerted effort to forcefully expel and terrorize 800,000. They demolished 530 villages, and 11 urban neighborhoods were displaced. This is a true example of ethnic cleansing.’ I’m not saying this was ethnic cleansing. Ilan Pappe, a Jew who was a professor of history at Haifa and who now teaches at the University of Exeter in the UK, says this was ethnic cleansing,” said Hitchon.
“These refugees are now scattered in more than 50 refugee camps across the Middle East. They’re in Lebanon, they’re in Syria, they’re in Jordan, and they’re in Gaza,” said Hitchon.
Hitchon reminded his audience that United Nations General Assembly Resolution (UNGAR) 194 declares the refugees right to return to their land and homes and if not they have a right to compensation.
Many Israelis scoff at USGAR 194 because General Assembly resolutions are recommendations that lack the force of international law, unlike Security Council resolutions (UNSCR), which are binding upon member states. UNSGR 273 admitted Israel to the United Nations on May 11, 1949 after Israel consented to implement other UN resolutions including resolutions 194 and 181.
“Israel has refused to accept a single Palestinian refugee back to his homeland or to provide compensation. The US has done nothing to enforce [the resolutions.] Similar resolutions 242 and 338 after the 1967 war again stated that it is inadmissible to acquire territory by military means. Israel should withdraw from acquired territories and acknowledge the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of the indigenous population,” declared Hitchon.
“Dealing with Israel on a one-to-one basis has taken us nowhere. I think it’s high time we go ahead and apply for full membership to the United Nations just like Israel did,” said Hitchon.
Ghoneim, who is originally from Egypt, spoke about her experiences and about interfaith relations.
“The world is actually at the dawn of a potential new age in the history of the Holy Land,” said Ghoneim, “one that, if Israel and Israeli voices everywhere in the world are smart, they will take advantage of. It’s an opportunity, and it can be lost very soon.
“The region, all around the state of Israel, is flowing with freedom seekers, from Egypt to Tunisia to Libya to Jordan to Bahrain and the list goes on. Those who are for equity and a two-state solution – it’s not too late – really think that there is no way under heaven the status quo will remain,” said Ghoneim.
Intransigence on the issues of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine and Palestinian self-determination and sovereignty is only increasing Israel’s isolation in the international community, said Ghoneim, who called her listeners’ attention to the fact that in most of the countries where the Arab Spring has broken out, the protests are peaceful, even in the face of violent repression, “guns and bullets.”
“I believe, from looking at what has happened in Egypt and Syria, that the time has come for people to come together and get really serious,” said Ghoneim.
Pointing out the obvious, Ghoneim characterized the Palestinians effort to be recognized as a state by the UN as, “another way – a peaceful way – of resolving their long-running struggle for freedom.”
Noting that interfaith conversations are vitally important in times of great social and political change, Ghoneim gave credit to and encouraged Christians and Jews to continue speak out in behalf of peace and cooperation.
It is difficult for Muslims to speak to Jews about issues related to Israel if the Jewish person has always looked at the matter from one side, and the same is true vice versa, said Ghoneim, not least because the issues are very emotional ones in the aftermath of so much violence, so many wars, and so much death and destruction since the founding of Israel in 1948.
Everyone in the region, Muslim, Christian, and Jew, has been touched by loss and has a story of loss, said Ghoneim.
“It takes patience, but once you build respect and trust, I believe it is possible,” declared Ghoneim.
Dabeet, a Palestinian American who recently returned from Ramallah and consultations with Palestinian leaders, addressed many of the political issues involved in the Palestinian bid for statehood recognition.
“Palestine’s bid for United Nations statehood has the intention of peace and is not a declaration of war,” declared Dabeet.
“We need everyone to know that we are standing for justice. We are standing for self-determination. We are standing to live side-by-side, but in dignity – and that’s very important – in dignity and in freedom,” said Dabeet.
Dabeet described different scenarios that Palestinian leaders are evaluating and considering. Palestinian leaders may apply for full UN membership through the UN Security Council, but the United States has vowed to use its veto in the council to block recognition there. Were nine of the fifteen members of the Security Council to approve of the Palestinian application for full membership, and were there no veto, Palestine could then be admitted upon a vote of two-thirds of the General Assembly. Second, Palestinian leaders may decide to apply to the UN General Assembly for non-member state observer recognition, which Palestine would be granted upon the vote of a simple majority of the member states of the General Assembly, which is seen as very likely because about 120 nations have already recognized Palestine as a state. The UN General Assembly currently has 193 member states. At present, there is only one non-member state observer, the Vatican, said Dabeet.
“With [non-member state observer recognition], you get a lot of advantages,” said Dabeet, who noted that, currently, the Palestinians can only take an issue before the UN by going through a member state, asking that member state to speak in behalf of Palestine.
“If we become a non-member state observer, we can go straight to the issue. Not just that, this will give us the advantage of serving on many, many organizations that are part of the United Nations,” said Dabeet.
Dabeet said he is confident that Palestinian leaders will present a request to the United Nations very soon.
During a Q&A that followed their formal remarks, Dabeet declared, “I don’t think that there is any Palestinian refugee living in a camp in poverty and squalor who wants to continue living as a refugee.”
Ghoneim spoke about Palestinian unity saying, “I think it is very important for the Palestinian people to have a unity government.”
PJP is a nonpartisan group of people from the Iowa City community who have joined together to support a just and lasting peace for the peoples of the region on the basis of their understanding that a lasting peace is impossible while the Israeli occupation continues