Friday, September 26, 2008

Open Letter to President Mahmoud Abbas: The Rights of Palestinian Refugees and the Final Status Negotiations

From BADIL via Al-Awda:

To: President Mahmoud Abbas

Chair of the Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee

President of the Palestinian National Authority

Re: The Rights of Palestinian Refugees and the Final Status Negotiations

Dear Mr. President,

Greetings of Return

We, the undersigned Palestinian refugee organizations, civil society movements and institutions in the Palestinian homeland and in exile are national organizations working to defend the right of return. We appeal to you now because we are convinced that the alignment of the official Palestinian position and the position of the Palestinian people with regards to the final status negotiation issues is of the highest priority. Foremost among these issues is the cause of the Palestinian refugees.

We are convinced that the alignment of popular and official positions is the main guarantee of a strong Palestinian position in the current negotiation process, which is taking place in a local, regional and global context that jeopardizes the national rights of the Palestinian people. In this context, we are concerned in particular about the rights of Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons to return to their original lands and properties, restitution of their homes, lands and properties and compensation for damages incurred over the past 60 years. Based on the fact that all of these rights are guaranteed under international law, and based on our awareness of the enormous pressures faced by Palestinian negotiators and the tactics of negotiations, such as secrecy with regards to the negotiation proceedings, we call upon you to adopt a negotiation strategy that is based on openness with the entirety of the Palestinian people - irrespective of their current place of residence - regarding all aspects and details of the negotiation process. Implementation of the Palestinian refugees' right of return was and continues to be the main purpose for which the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was established, a purpose which forms the central pillar of the PLO's legitimacy as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Transparency and candidness of our representatives with all sectors of our society will guarantee that our rights are best defended, and strengthen our position in the face of enormous pressures.

It has been clear at all stages of the negotiations that this process aims to eliminate the core issue of the Arab/Palestinian struggle for freedom and justice: the Palestinian refugees and their rights of return and restitution. In fact, elimination of these central Palestinian/Arab demands form the center-piece of both Israeli and US policies. It is also no secret that during the so-called “Oslo Peace Process” these policies have employed insidious tactics in order to nullify these rights altogether. Such tactics include attempts to substitute the return and restitution of the refugees with monetary compensation; to reduce the number of those entitled to exercise these rights from over 7 million Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons to a tiny minority, including so-called “hardship cases” that would be arbitrarily defined by Israel; to suggest that the refugees return to homes located in the areas administered by the Palestinian Authority; and other humiliating “trade offs” whereby Palestinians are expected to surrender the right of refugees to return to homes, lands and properties of origin in exchange for other rights and demands, such as self-determination, borders, the reclamation of Jerusalem and removal of the illegal settlement-colonies. The Palestinian leadership has rejected such degrading bargaining tactics in previous negotiations, notably those known as the second Camp David summit and the Clinton initiative. The late President Yasser Arafat rejected these tactics, and he was made to pay for that with his liberty and his life.

Whereas the rights of return, restitution and compensation are enshrined in international law and specifically affirmed in UN General Assembly Resolution 194 and UN Security Council Resolution 237;

Whereas we see that increasing US pressure aims to force Palestinian negotiators to agree to an obscure framework for a solution that is to be achieved by any means and at the soonest date, and that such a framework is largely for internal US consumption in the context of a US Presidential election;

Whereas it has become clear that the US administration is working on other fronts to market its obscure framework for a solution in the September 2008 session of the UN General Assembly;

Whereas we realize, as a result of our movement's long and difficult experience with Israeli politics, that Israeli political actors seek to solve the internal Israeli political crisis by venting destruction on the Palestinian front through various policies and practices, all of which work to entrench Israeli occupation, colonialism, and apartheid, and aim to attain international recognition of Israel as a 'Jewish State;'

Whereas Western and Israeli election platforms must not be employed to put pressure on the Palestinian negotiators, who should in no way be a party to the political maneuvers of US and Israeli political candidates, particularly in order to protect the legality, legitimacy, and sanctity of Palestinian national rights regardless of who emerges victorious in foreign elections;

Whereas we perceive the retreat of the once principled European position, and the transformation of this position into one that conforms to the US policy of total complicity and support for Israel;

Whereas we clearly see the weakness and inability of the Arab countries to take action or play any effective role;

Whereas we witness the sharp, painful and unprecedented deterioration in the internal Palestinian political arena;

Whereas it has become plain and obvious that powerful external pressures aim to annul Palestinian refugee rights, particularly the right to return to their original lands and properties and the restitution of these lands and properties;

Whereas Israel and the US, according to Israeli officials, are intensifying their efforts to reach a framework for a solution that is acceptable to both Israel and the US and will be viable regardless of the ruling party;

Whereas the primary measure of the legitimacy of any solution remains the extent to which it will lead to the exercise of the right of self-determination by the Palestinian people, including foremost the right of Palestinian refugees to choose to return to their original homes and lands regardless of their current place of refuge,

We approach you with this statement based on our strong desire to chart a way forward that is built on the highest levels of clarity and candidness with the Palestinian people; a way forward that aims to strengthen the Palestinian position in this sensitive stage of the Palestinian struggle; a way forward that ensures that any framework for a solution will include the following principles in clear and immutable language:

  1. The rights of Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons to return, restitution and compensation are fundamental rights under international law and relevant UN resolutions – particularly UN General Assembly Resolution 194 and UN Security Council Resolution 237. The content of these rights is non-negotiable irrespective of the manner in which they will be exercised;

  2. The right of return is an individual right held by every Palestinian refugee and internally displaced person. This right is passed on from one generation to the next, based on the individual's choice on whether or not to return, an inalienable and indivisible right, and not affected by any bilateral, multilateral, or international treaty or agreement. Any such agreement must respect the fundamental precepts and principles of international law;

  3. The right of Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons to return is a collective right that is not limited to one group or another, and it is an integral part of the Palestinian right of self-determination;

  4. The right of Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons to return is not subject to referendum.

May you remain steadfast in our struggle for freedom and dignity

Drafted: August 2008


  1. 194 Association (Syria)

  2. Abassiya Association (Palestine)

  3. Abnaa Al-Balad Center for the Defense of the Right of Return (Syria)

  4. Aidun Group (Lebanon)

  5. Aidun Group (Syria)

  6. Al-Awda Palestine Network (Holland)

  7. Al-Awda Palestine Right to Return Coalition (North America)

  8. Arab Cultural Forum (Gaza, Palestine)

  9. Arab Liberation Front

  10. Arab Palestinian Front

  11. Association for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced (Palestine)

  12. Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights (Palestine)

  13. Beit Nabala Association (Palestine)

  14. Bisan Association (Syria)

  15. Coalition of Right of Return Defense Committees (Jordan)

  16. Coalition of Right of Return Defense Committees (Jordan)

  17. Committee for the Rights of Palestinian Women (Syria)

  18. Confederation of Right of Return Committees (Europe: Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Greece, Germany, France, Holland, Poland, Finland)

  19. Coordinating Committee of Palestinian Organizations Working in Lebanon (Lebanon)

  20. Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine (Palestine)

  21. Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine

  22. Democratic Palestine Committee

  23. Depopulated Towns and Villages Associations (Gaza, Palestine)

  24. Farah Heritage Society (Syria)

  25. Grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign (Palestine)

  26. Higher Follow-up Committee on Prisoners (Palestine)

  27. Higher National Committee for the Defense of the Right of Return (Palestine)

  28. Inevitable Return Assembly (Syria)

  29. Islamic Jihad Movement

  30. Islamic Resistance Movement [Hamas]

  31. Istiqlal Youth Union (Lebanon)

  32. Istiqlal Youth Union (Syria)

  33. Ittijah: Union of Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations (Palestine)

  34. Jafra Youth Center (Syria)

  35. Jimzo Association (Palestine)

  36. Lajee Center, Aida Camp (Palestine)

  37. National Assembly of of Palestinian Civil Society Organizations (Palestine)

  38. National Committee to Commemorate the Martyr Ahmad Al-Shuqairy (Jordan)

  39. National Nakba Commemoration Committee (Palestine)

  40. Palestine Democratic Union [Fida]

  41. Palestine House Educational and Cultural Center (Canada)

  42. Palestine Liberation Movement [Fatah]

  43. Palestine Remembered (USA)

  44. Palestine Right of Return Coalition (Global)

  45. Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (Palestine)

  46. Palestinian Civil Society Coordinating Committee in Palestine and Abroad (Global)

  47. Palestinian Liberation Front

  48. Palestinian National Democratic Movement (Palestine)

  49. Palestinian National Initiative

  50. Palestinian People's Party

  51. Palestinian Popular Struggle Front

  52. Palestinian Refugee Rights Defense Committee (Balata Camp, Palestine)

  53. Palestinian University Professors Union (Gaza, Palestine)

  54. Palestinian Women's Grassroots Organization (Syria)

  55. Palestinian Youth Democratic Union (Syria)

  56. Palestinian Youth Organization (Syria)

  57. Palestinian Youth Struggle Union (Syria Branch)

  58. People's Assembly of the Towns and Villages Depopulated in 1948 (Palestine)

  59. Platform of Associations in Solidarity with Palestine (Switzerland)

  60. Popular Committees to Defend the Right of Return (Gaza, Palestine)

  61. Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine

  62. Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command

  63. Refugee and Right of Return Committee (Syria)

  64. Refugee Camp Popular Committees (West Bank & Gaza, Palestine)

  65. Refugee Executive Office (Palestine)

  66. Right of Return committee (Switzerland)

  67. Ruwwad Cultural Center (Aida Camp, Palestine)

  68. Salameh Association (Palestine)

  69. Secular Democratic State Group (Gaza, Palestine)

  70. Union of Right of Return Committees (Syria)

  71. Union of Women's Activity Centers, West Bank Refugee Camps (Palestine)

  72. Union of Youth Activity Centers, Refugee Camps (Palestine)

  73. Vanguard for the Popular Liberation War [Sa'iqa]

  74. Women's Activity Centers (Gaza, Palestine)

  75. Yaffa Charitable Fund (Jordan)

  76. Yaffa Cultural Center (Balata Camp, Palestine)

  77. Youth Assembly (Gaza, Palestine)

  78. Youth Struggle Union (Lebanon)

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Group vows to continue vigils for peace

Group vows to continue vigils for peace
By Nick Meyer - The Arab American News
Friday, 09.12.2008, 02:15pm

Growing up in what he described as a "conservative Jewish home," Henry Herskovitz was oblivious to the happenings in Palestine.

But a conversation with a stranger in 1985 on the holiday of Yom Kippur wound up as a life-changer for the current social activist.

"I remember him telling me that Israel had the fourth-largest military in the world and I didn't believe him so I just had to go home and look it up," he said.

Herskovitz confirmed that comment to be true and continued to research more about the conflict.

Now, the 62-year old actvist has made it his life's mission to fight for Palestine and to get local Jewish leaders to open dialogues with his group, Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends. He retired from his job as an engineer and now is focusing almost exclusively on this fight.

Every Saturday, the group stages peaceful, silent demonstrations in front of Beth Israel Congregation in Ann Arbor, a Jewish synagogue. Holding signs protesting U.S. aid to Israel and calling for an end to Jewish occupation of Palestinian land, around ten people out of the group's listed 22 members demonstrate from 9:30 to 10:45 a.m. as congregation members trickle in. Members rotate each week for the vigils.

Herskovitz talked about why he chose Beth Israel as the site for his demonstrations.

"They call themselves the house of Israel, so to me it makes perfect sense to protest the atrocities committed in front of there," he said.

He takes issue with the flag of Israel hanging up inside the synagogue and also the fact that there is a prayer in the prayer book for the state.

While Beth Israel isn't happy with the vigils, Herskovitz said that they have the power to end them if they meet certain conditions.

"I say we're willing to go away, but what is the synagogue willing to do to make that decision?" he said.

"Say if they offered to get rid of the flag in the sanctuary, would we go away? I would say maybe. But they have yet to muster any offer to me to consider.

"They play the stonewall card saying there won't be any discussion until we end the vigils. We view that the same as a labor union consenting to end a strike before negotiations begin to renew the contract and it's not going to work with us."

Herskovitz held his first vigil back in 2001 by himself in front of the Jewish student group Hillel in Ann Arbor. When friends within the peace movement heard about it, they told him that his protests were only going to divide people and harden their hearts. But he persevered because he thought his message needed to be heard.

Herskovitz believes that the response was the first step in finding out what he calls a problem in the peace movement, and now believes that he was told to stop originally because some Zionists in the peace movement simply wanted him to go away.

"I'm very frustrated in that there are Zionists within the peace movement which serves as a fifth column to undermine the effectiveness of peace efforts (in Palestine)," he said.

"You have well-placed Zionists in the peace movement. Israel clearly isn't good for Palestinians and also it's not good for Jews, either. Jewish security only comes with the security received by Palestinians and that means everybody's equal, not a master-slave relationship like it is now. That relationship has to be destroyed."

Herskovitz, who said his views are his and don't necessarily reflect the opinions of those in his group. He also referenced the 1975 U.N. resolution that concluded that Zionism is racism. The resolution was rescinded in 1991 but he said that the U.N. had their "arm twisted to overturn the resolution."

"It's not like they did another study that concluded Zionism was not racism," he said.

The resolution was just one of the determining factors in Herskovitz's desire to get issues on the table for discussion with Jewish leaders.

Complaints have been made about cars honking in support of the vigils but Herskovitz said that his group has never asked for cars to honk. He said that people are slowly starting to see things the way he does.

"A lot of Americans are tired of being taxed and having taxes support Israeli apartheid," he said. "I mean, we now have presidential candidates that don't differ in their support of Israel."

While there has been no concession for talks by Beth Israel due to the vigils, Herskovitz and his group plan to continue them for as long as they deem necessary.

A voice mail message left at Beth Israel seeking comment was not returned as of press time.

"To me, the ball is in their court now and they should say something else, but apparently they don't want the vigils to end."

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Arab American News on Oakland Press Editorial

Reposted from Next Year in al-Quds:

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Oakland Press Tortures Truth

In an unsigned editorial last Monday, entitled "Hateful news article hurts chances for understanding," the Oakland Press weighed-in on the Jewish Community Relations Council of Metropolitan Detroit press release condemning the Arab American News (AAN) and Michelle J. Kinnucan for the article, "Detroit Jewish Federation: Celebrating racism and making money at it." The AAN and the author responded with editorials of their own which have both been submitted for publication to the Press. They appear below and in the AAN print and online editons.
Shame on The Oakland Press
Friday, 09.12.2008, 02:00pm

In an editorial this week, The Oakland Press attacked The Arab American News for running an opinion piece by Michelle Kinnucan on the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit's celebration at the Michigan State Fairgrounds of Israel's 60th anniversary. ("Detroit Jewish Federation: Celebrating racism and making money at it," The Arab American News, Issue 1174, August 9-15, 2008, pages 14 and 15.)

The piece was thoroughly documented and footnoted and we believed there was merit to the writer's argument that resources belonging to the people of Michigan were being used to fundraise for and celebrate the founding of a state that does not deserve to be supported.

Consider that Israel confers citizenship privileges based on one's religion, that Israel has no constitution, that Israel has no recognizable borders, that Israel flies in the face of international law as it expands illegal settlements among a captive civilian population, that Israel is slowly starving to death a million and a half people in Gaza, that Israel is constructing a wall between its residents and the Palestinians in the West Bank which runs deep inside Palestinian territory and creates an apartheid state with Palestinians in bantustans.

Consider all the military checkpoints, the barbed wire, the use of live ammunition against women and children, the relentless home demolitions, the repeated military incursions into Palestinian cities and villages, the murder of innocent civilians on a scale far wider than any terrorist incidents, the imprisonment of 10,000 people including pregnant women and children.

Apparently the article hit too close to home for some of Metropolitan Detroit's pro-Israeli activists. And apparently, like Israel, they don't intend to play by the rules.

Instead of contacting The Arab American News by telephone, facsimile, email, snail mail or personal visit, and registering their opposition, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Metropolitan Detroit decided to blanket all area media except us with a press release condemning the paper for printing the article. Only then did our telephones begin ringing as reporters called for our feedback.

The article was clearly identified as an opinion piece under the heading of Other Voices. There was nothing in the article to justify claims by the group lobbying against us that it was a hate-filled piece. We're comfortable with our decision to publish the piece and comfortable with the writer's subsequent repudiation of the claims made in the press release. ("My response to the Jewish Community Relations Council of Metropolitan Detroit," Michelle Kinnucan, The Arab American News, Issue 1177, August 30-September 5, 2008, pages 14-15.

This week, in an astounding betrayal of all tenets of press freedom and fairness, The Oakland Press joined the pro-Israeli activists in attacking our decision to print someone else's opinion. Huh? One newspaper attacks another for standing up for freedom of speech and of the press?

In a poorly written editorial, The Oakland Press accused The Arab American News of "bias (sic) journalism," even as they themselves absconded on the obligation of proving their points. To make outrageous charges but then say it's all too bad to document, which is what the paper did, sounds like the very definition of biased — and cowardly — journalism to us. There was no courtesy call from The Oakland Press to us.

Had anyone at The Oakland Press checked, they would have avoided the mistakes they made which certainly compromise the credibility of their attack on us. They name the wrong sponsoring organization for the original event and they state that The Arab American News employs the writer, which it does not, And then there's this gem: "Other religious and ethnic groups have learned to live together in the United States and the Jews and the Muslims can also, if, particularly in this case, the Muslims are allowed to." What is that supposed to mean? And do they not know the difference between an Arab and a Muslim?

The editorial says: "There may be fighting in the Middle East but we don't need it here. We don't want it here. We don't have to have it here."

But we have to allow one party to the conflict to divert resources away from Americans and toward the conflict without saying anything about it? And we don't expect the families of the other party to the conflict living here to say anything about that? Come on.

We welcome any opportunity for dialogue that does not come laden with the imperative that "we cannot discuss Israel." But that's exactly what we have always heard about dialogue with the pro-Israeli community.

Which, in the end, just goes to prove Kinnucan's point that Israel and its supporters are not held to the same ethical standards of behavior, the same honor code, the same rules, as the rest of society.

Shame on The Oakland Press and no one else.

The Oakland Press tortures the truth

By Michelle Kinnucan - The Arab American News
Friday, 09.12.2008, 02:00pm

One of the gratifying things about the Fair of Shame protest on August 21st was the response of so many of the Israeli youth. As we stood outside the Jewish Federation's celebration of Israel's creation, dozens of big, yellow school buses passed by. Because traffic was backed up the teens inside had a chance to read our anti-Zionist, pro-Palestinian signs, to speak with us, and to tell us where they were from. "Israel," they said, and many of them gave us smiles, peace signs, thumbs-ups, and other signs of approval when they saw what we were doing.

From the ranks of such young people come the hundreds of "sarvanim" or "refuseniks" who show their moral courage by refusing to serve or obey orders in the Israeli military because it violently oppresses Palestinians and people in neighboring countries (military service is compulsory for most young Jewish Israelis). Such young people populate the ranks of groups like Zochrot, which raises "awareness of the Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948," in part, by erecting signs at the sites of the hundreds of Arab villages ethnically cleansed and destroyed by Zionist forces.

I am reminded, too, of another young Israeli I met a couple of years ago: Jonathan Pollak, who was seriously injured when Israeli troops shot him in the head with a teargas canister in 2005. Pollak was working with the International Solidarity Movement in the village of Bil'in where, he says, "Palestinians are protesting, and others with them, against the theft of their land, against the steps the Israeli government and Israeli army are taking to make their lives impossible — basically to commit a quiet ethnic cleansing."

Of course, the young Israelis in the buses were still going to a celebration of the creation of Israel but they suggest that the youth don't necessarily buy all the hoary fairy tales that their elders peddle about Israel. This certainly includes the oft-repeated lies regurgitated in the Oakland Press editorial of September 8, concerning my August 8th article in The Arab American News (TAAN), "Detroit Jewish Federation: Celebrating racism and making money at it."

The Press claims, "Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East … [and] one of the most open and tolerant nations. I put these lies to rest in my response to the Jewish Community Relations Council of Metropolitan Detroit (published in the TAAN on August 29). Suffice to it say, even the State Department's 2007 report on human rights noted, "Institutional, legal, and societal discrimination against Israeli Arabs, non-Orthodox Jews, and other religious groups continued" in Israel. Mossawa, the Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel, has documented that "At least twenty Israeli laws discriminate against the Arab minority …" Further, no country that, as Israel does, militarily dominates and occupies millions of people for more than forty years, extending to them neither citizenship nor any real say in the rule over them, can honestly be called a democracy.

The Press also complains there was no "policy of ethnic cleansing of Arabs from its lands" in 1948 when Israel was founded. In fact, "Plan Dalet" envisioned the "systematic eradication of Palestinian population centers" and was hatched by the Haganah in 1947. Plan Dalet is well-documented by Palestinian and Israeli historians such as Walid Khalidi, Ilan Pappe, and Benny Morris. The infamous April 1948 massacre at Deir Yassin of over 100 Palestinians, half of them women and children, occurred under Plan Dalet.

The Press got one thing right. Israel is "tolerant" … of torture, that is. As Louis Frankenthaler of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel wrote earlier this year, Israel "continues to use torture. … One may choose to believe that torture has been 'abolished in Israel' but it continues with impunity." A 2006 scientific poll for the BBC in 25 countries found: "The largest percentage endorsing torture was found in Israel. … A majority of Jewish respondents (53%) favor allowing governments to use torture … In contrast, Muslims in Israel … are overwhelmingly (87%) against any use of torture." Maybe Israeli tolerance for torture is what inspired the Press to torture the truth so viciously when they criticized the TAAN and my article.

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