looks good on paper…

on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the united nations declaration of human rights on 10 december 1948 dr. sami al arian had this to say:

As we approach the sixtieth anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, issued in December 1948, in the aftermath of a devastating world war, it is fitting to recall some of its essential promises to humanity. Its preamble recognized the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world. It was an utter repudiation of the tremendous abuse and cruelty to which oppressed people throughout the world were subjected.

This declaration also emerged only months after the wholesale expulsion of the Palestinian people from their ancestral homeland. Yet, millions of Palestinians today are still denied justice, freedom, peace, and security – and consequently their human rights – after so many decades in exile or subjugation within their own homeland.

it is a bit ironic that when people talk about the history of this declaration they only remember what happened to europeans, to jews during world war ii when they search for a context to give this declaration meaning, to decide why such an agreement is important. perhaps it is not ironic. perhaps this is normal. this is what we have come to expect: that white people’s rights are always those that matter. it has always been people of the north over the people of the south.

there are 30 articles in this declaration–a declaration that looks good on paper, but because there has never been a mechanism to ensure that human rights are enforced, human rights are consistently violated. this is especially true here in palestine from before the signing of that declaration until today. when you read through the document it is quite clear that the zionist state has violated and continues to violate this document. i am not going to quote the entire document–you can click here to read it and you should–but i want to highlight a few that i have been thinking about over the course of my trip this week to 1948 palestine with friends of mine who are not legally allowed to travel there because they are palestinian refugees. here are a few that strike me as relevant:

Article 13.

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 16.

(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 17.

(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.

(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

let’s take the first item. palestinians who live in the west bank and gaza cannot move freely in their own area let alone the rest of what is–and should be–their area: 1948 historic palestine. palestinians inside 1948 are also not entirely free with respect to freedom of movement. palestinian refugees who live inside israel–“present absentees” as israeli law refers to them–in particular are subjected to such restrictions. in driving around nasra this week we would pass signs for the village of saffuriyya each day. renamed tzippori it was a town of 4,500 palestinians and 55,000 dunums of land in 1948. most people fled to lubnan in 1948, but a few hundred stayed; they were later forced out and many moved to the neighboring nasra and their land was confiscated by the israelis. like many palestinian internal refugees they spend yom an nakba by going to their villages. in nasra there is a saffurian heritage society that continues to fight for their right to return. and after the israeli-kata’eb massacres in shatila refugee camp and the neighborhood of sabra they renamed a street in nasra “sabra and shatila street” (though i could not find it when i looked for it–i was told it has now been renamed once again). isabelle humphries’ essay “‘a muted sort of grief’: tales of refuge in nazareth 1948-2005)” in the anthology catastrophe remembered: palestine, israel and the internal refugees offers one such example of what happens when palestinian internal refugees visit their villages:

But visits by refugees are not trouble-free. As the Saffuriyyans were filming, police and security were called three times by today’s occupying Jewish residents. Refugees have been arrested trying to see where they used to live, or to visit a family grave. “One Romanian living here started accusing us of trying to set fire to his house. But when we talked further, I saw that it was not this that he was afraid of. Looking at us, he was afraid that we wanted to come and take back our homes.” (160)

while certainly palestinians from saffuriya fight for their right to return in israeli courts their rights are connected to the right of return held by people from saffuriya who are living in lebanon as well. nevertheless, these visits to their villages are often mired by these fears which in turn inhibit palestinian freedom of movement when it comes to returning to one’s village–especially when there are settlers living there.

marriage, too, is not a right that palestinians living in 1948 have free access to. my friend’s mother in nasra told me that palestinians in 1948 can marry whomever they want–including other arabs from other countries. she told me she knows a woman who is married to a syrian man, for example and they both live in 1948. but if one wants to marry a jordanian, for example, that spouse must prove that they have no palestinian blood–and they need to prove this going back 7 generations. it reminds me of the miscegenation laws in the u.s. before the supreme court case loving vs. virginia. but it is even more difficult for a palestinian from 1948 to marry a palestinian living in the west bank or gaza strip as nasra-based journalist jonathan cook points out:

Applications for family unification in Israel invariably come from Palestinians in the occupied territories who marry other Palestinians, often friends or relatives, with Israeli citizenship. One in five of Israel’s population is Palestinian by descent, a group, commonly referred to as Israeli Arabs, who managed to remain inside the Jewish state during the war of 1948 that established Israel.

As there is no principle of equality in Israeli law, human rights groups who challenged the government’s 2003 amendment were forced to argue instead that it violated the dignity of the families. Mixed Israeli and Palestinian couples are not only unable to live together inside Israel but they are also denied a married life in the occupied territories, from which Israeli citizens are banned under military regulations.

you can see the kafka-esque situation that palestinians are put in by being denied the right to marry.

and then, of course, there is the right to own property. or the lack thereof here. more than that: there is the lack of a right to get your property back once it has been confiscated by a colonial regime. this process began in earnest in 1950 with israel’s enactment of the “absentees’ property law.” nur masalha’s “present absentees and indigenous resistance,” also in the book catastrophe remembered, explains what this law means for palestinians:

Since 1948 Israel has enacted some thirty statutes that expropriated and transferred land from Palestinian citizens to state (Jewish) ownership. There is little doubt, however, that the major expropriations of lands belonging to Palestinians (internal and external refugees) were carried out under the Absentees’ Property Law, 1950. This statute was used after 1948 to transfer Palestinian properties to Jewish hands via the Custodian of Absentees’ Property, who subsequently transferred them to the Israeli Development Authority. The law was preceded by the Defence (Emergency) Regulations dealing with “absentees’ property.” On the face of it, the declared objective of the Absentees’ Property Law of 1950 was to “protect” the property of absentee owners, and to facilitate use of this property for the development of the Israeli economy and the state. In reality, however, under this law, with all its amendments, millions of dunums of Palestinian refugee land and billions of dollars’ worth of Arab property were seized by the state of Israel. (33)

just to be sure about the language and its legal meaning here, masalha defines absentee in relation to israeli law as follows:

Critical examination of this definition [of absentee] reveals that a person may be an “absentee” under the law, even though he was present in Israel when his property was deemed to have become “absentees’ property.” In other words, if a person was an “absentee” at any time between 29 November 1947 and 1 September 1948, his property becomes “absentees’ property,” whether he is still an absentee or not. (34)

to fight these laws palestinians in 1948 created an organization called the national association for the defence of the rights of the internally displaced (adrid). they have a manifesto and since they started in 1992 they have been working to organize palestinians inside 1948 to vocalize their rights–this was specifically in response to the way that palestinians inside 1948 felt that the so-called “peace process” underway in madrid was selling them out. here is the text of their manifesto:

Manifesto – National Committee for the Rights of the Internally Displaced

(First issued in 1992 and reconfirmed in the meeting convened at the Galilee Society, Shafa ‘Amr, 19-11-1999)

“As we enter the third millennium, the Palestinian refugee issue created by Zionist conspiracies and occupation institutions has remained unresolved. Fifty-one years after 1948 Nakba, Palestinians still live in exile and displaced in their homeland. Since the establishment of the Israeli state, achieved with the support of international Zionism and imperialist forces, consecutive Israeli governments have rejected our internationally legitimized right of return. These governments have continued to destroy our villages and desecrate our holy sites, and have transformed us from a people with land into a people without land. By means of ethnic legislation, they have confiscated our land, robbed our properties, changed the historical sites of our homeland, and built on the remains of our villages. Our people has struggled, during these long years, against Zionist policies and sacrificed for our legitimate right of return.

The 1991 Madrid Conference excluded reference to UN resolution 194, which emphasizes our right of return, and neglected the existence of the Palestinian Arab minority in the homeland. In response, internally displaced embarked on an initiative, in 1992, to gather and unify our struggle for the right of return to our villages and towns of origin.

A first popular meeting of the internally displaced at Qasr al-Salam/Tamra on 11-3-1995 resulted in the establishment of the National Committee for the Rights of the Internally Displaced Palestinians in Israel mandated “to follow up, and lead the struggle for return”. On 16-3-1995, the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee adopted our cause and re-affirmed our right of return to our destroyed villages.

Since the 1993 Oslo Accords and the follow-up agreements, the terms of peace have been defined and spread by Israeli governments and their allies, terms which reject the implementation of collective Arab-Palestinians rights, especially the right of return. We internally displaced stand at the threshold to the third millennium, deeply concerned of a so-called final status solution which will cancel our rights. Aware of what might be cooked behind the scenes, and knowing that Barak’s “Nos” will not bring a just peace, we wish to re-affirm the following:

* We the some 250,000 internally displaced, part of the Palestinian Arab minority, citizens of this state, did not fall from the sky. We are not immigrants, but natives in our land. The Israeli government is not allowed – on ethical, moral, legal, and political grounds – to keep us displaced in our homeland, far from our towns and villages of origin. International law and principles protect our natural right of return.
* We warn the Israeli government not to neglect our issue and demand that our file be opened. We demand the cancellation of the Absentees’ Property Law which defines us as “Present Absentees”, as well as the cancellation of all other laws providing for ethnic discrimination, and to return the displaced to their homes.
* The National Committee demands to maintain the holy sites in all destroyed villages and to protect our historic sites.
* We call upon all political institutions, national parties, and our people to stand on our side.

As part of the entire Arab-Palestinian people, we wish to declare:

* The refugee issue is the heart of the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
* The Palestinian refugees’ right to return to their homeland and homes is a sacred right whose implementation must be based on UN Resolution 194.
* We warn of the consequences of conspiracies against Palestinian refugee rights, whether conducted openly or behind closed doors. We state with a loud voice that there will be no just solution without a solution of issue of the refugees and the internally displaced.”

i think it is important to understand people in 1948 in this context. last summer when nizar hassan showed his films in beirut so many of us were disturbed by the way he portrayed palestinians in 1948. i do not dismiss that there are certainly those who have assimilated, whose minds have been colonized. but that is not the whole story. yes, those people exist, and my friends in nasra bemoan the sort of 1948 palestinians who assimilate–who “try to be like israelis” to use her words. she means that they dress like them, behave like them, and some are even “choosing” to enter the israeli terrorist army. but those are the few. the many are those who feel like their voice isn’t heard in concert with palestinians fighting for their rights elsewhere. this is why it is so amazing to travel around 1948 with a group of friends who are from 1948 and who are refugees. to see these relationships and connections and the desire to fight together for those rights. to refuse to be separated by bulls*&^ laws and borders that enforce this separation.

there are so many layers to this story. one question that we constantly discussed while driving around looking for and stumbling upon palestinian ruins in what used to be palestinian villages is the question of why. why do the israelis keep these mosques, churches, homes, or ruins of these buildings? i mean, the bulldozed so much: why leave these reminders of their ethnic cleansing around for everyone to see? and what do israeli jews think of these physical reminders–particularly those who live in the palestinian homes now–homes that are so obviously palestinian. eitan bronstein offers somewhat of an answer in the book catastrophe remembered, though not one that is very satisfying:

During our first visit to al-Majdal we met a Jewish woman who sells burgers in a luxurious Arab building. Although the arches along the front of the building are an example of classical Arab architecture, the woman working there knew nothing about Arab al-Majdal. This total ignorance is common amongst many Jews, who know nothing of the Palestinian history of the country, even in relation to places in which they live. This typical attitude of ignorance is also reflected by the fact that the presence of al-Majdal in today’s city landscape is completely overlooked. A typical example of this Israeli attitude is found in the Museum of the History of Ashkelon, which was built inside what until 1948 used to be al-Majdal’s largest mosque. It is only reasonable to assume that a history museum would tell the story of al-Majdal, especially since it is located in a building that was central to al-Majdal. Yet there is no mention of the mosque in the museum. In one of the exhibitions there is a great deal about “the liberation of Ashkelon.”

In light of Edward Said’s seminal work on Orientalism, this Israeli denial of the Nakba–and of al-Majdal–can best be described as typical “Israeli Orientalism”: using the so-called “oriental” sites and scenery to give a place a feeling of aesthetics and authenticity, but without reference to the realities and lives of those Palestinians who had once lived in what became Israel and are now refugees scattered all over the world. The Israeli-Jewish domination of this space is symbolized by the keeping of the mosque of al-Majdal standing. This gives the impression that the place is ancient, deeply-rooted in the soil–even though the roots belong to people who no longer share this space; they simply remain faceless. (218-219)


these are questions i’ve wondered about lifta for some time now. lifta is a village that i think about often partially because it is so visible–there are so many palestinian homes remaining. just sitting there. beautiful villas. and shockingly no jews have confiscated them thus far. but that has recently changed. an organization called f.a.s.t.: foundation for achieving seamless territory has been working to save lifta. they have a specific website/blog they keep updated about their saving lifta project. there was a court case a few months ago and many palestinians from lifta showed up with their title deeds and keys to protest the fact that now there are actual plans and insurance has been purchased to confiscate this land. they did not win their court case. they will now begin renovating palestinian homes for the exclusive purpose of jews. moreover, a few months ago many of the people from lifta, who now live on french hill on the other side of al quds near hebrew university, were removed from their homes once more. why? because the zionists wanted to build new dorms for their students. here is one man from lifta telling the story about his home, a home that will soon find jews living in it in spite of the fact that he has papers attesting to the fact that it is legally his.

these are rights that have been violated continuously for sixty years. the un declaration of human rights shares a birthday with the palestinian nakba. and just as the declaration deserves to be implemented in a way that ensures it is carried out and that there are practical steps for those states that violate it, so too must palestinians be granted their rights and those who violate them must also suffer the consequences. otherwise international law will remain what it is: some quaint set of documents that look great on paper but are in reality meaningless.

i’m thinking about this too with respect to other violations of human rights by the zionist state. for instance, its detention of 11,000 political prisoners, including children. here is one such case about mohammad ahmad khalil balbol requires immediate action:

Mohammad was arrested from the family home in Bethlehem at 2:00 am on 25 July 2008. He was woken by the sound of an explosion as units of the Israeli army blew open the front door of the house.

Mohammad was immediately blindfolded and handcuffed by the soldiers and thrown on the floor. He was beaten four times on his back with the butt of a rifle, whilst a soldier shouted at him to tell them where a weapon was kept. He told the soldiers that he did not have a weapon. The soldier who beat him also threatened his family with abuse.

Mohammad was transferred to Etzion Interrogation and Detention Centre, near Bethlehem where he was kept for eight days without interrogation. After eight days, Mohammad was transferred to Ofer Prison where he was informed that he had been issued with a four month administrative detention order.

Mohammad was interrogated in Ofer Prison where his interrogator threatened him with a long prison term unless he became an informer for the Israeli authorities. Mohammad refused to become an informer and the interrogator then told him that he was accused of possessing weapons and belonging to Islamic Jihad, a banned organisation. The interrogator told him that there was a secret file on him.

On 6 August 2008, twelve days after being arrested, Mohammad saw his lawyer for the first time. He was taken before the administrative detention court in the Israeli military base at Ofer. The Israeli military judge ordered that Mohammad remain in administrative detention until 24 November 2008.

On 24 November 2008, Mohammad was issued with a second administrative detention order for six months. Mohammad is now likely to remain in prison until 24 May 2009. Mohammad has not been charged with any offence, or been given the benefit of a trial.

Background information

On 12 March 2008, Mohammad’s father was killed, along with three others, by an Israeli special unit in Bethlehem. The Israeli human rights organisation, B’Tselem, investigated the circumstances of the killing and reported that in defiance of an Israeli High Court ruling, there was strong evidence to suggest that the operation was a targeted assassination.

Mohammad was then arrested by Israeli authorities on 16 April 2008 and taken to Mascobiyya Interrogation Centre and Prison in East Jerusalem (‘The Russian Compound”). He was interrogated and accused of being a member of Islamic Jihad but was released without charge on 7 May 2008, only to be arrested again on 25 July 2008.

Administrative detention

Administrative detention is detention without charge or trial and is often based on “secret evidence.” Israeli Military Order 1226 empowers military commanders to detain Palestinians, including children as young as 12, for up to six months if they have “reasonable grounds to presume that the security of the area or public security require the detention.” The initial six month period can be extended by additional six-month periods indefinitely. This procedure denies the detainee the right to a fair trial and the ability to adequately challenge the basis of his or her detention.

There are currently at least 569 Palestinians being held by Israel without charge or trial in administrative detention, of which five are children, including two girls. For more information visit the DCI-Palestine website at Freedom Now.

Recommended action

Please send Urgent Appeals to the Israeli authorities urging them to:

* Immediately cease the practice of holding persons under the age of 18 in administrative detention; and

* Immediately and unconditionally release all persons currently held in administrative detention, or charge them with a recognisable criminal offence and promptly try them in a proper court of law with internationally accepted standards for a fair trial.

Prime Minister
Office of the Prime Minister
3 Kaplan Street, PO Box 187, Kiryat Ben-Gurion, Jerusalem, 91919, Israel
Fax: +972- 2-651 2631
Email: rohm@pmo.gov.il, pm_eng@pmo.gov.il
Salutation: Dear Prime Minister

Ehud Barak
Minister of Defence, Ministry of Defence,
37 Kaplan Street, Hakirya, Tel Aviv 61909, Israel
Fax: +972 3 691 6940
Email: minister@mod.gov.il
Salutation: Dear Minister

Minister of Justice, Fax: + 972 2 628 7757; + 972 2 628 8618

Attorney General, Fax: + 972 2 627 4481; + 972 2 628 5438; +972 2 530 3367

***Please inform DCI-Palestine if you receive any response to your appeals and quote the UA number at the top of this document – ria[at]dci-pal.org

these are just a few reasons why it is important that the united nations take proactive steps to enforce the un declaration of human rights–not to mention its myriad resolutions that also go un-enforced. and why recent pressure from that body is welcomed. here is more pressure, though this seems to be far weaker than other such recent statements coming from that body:

The U.N. Human Rights Council called on Israel Tuesday to take nearly 100 measures, from lifting its blockade on Gaza to releasing Arab detainees.

The 47-member-state Council adopted its list of 99 recommendations by consensus at the end of a two-day review of Israel’s human rights record.

Under a new mechanism, known as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the records of all United Nations member states are to be subjected to scrutiny every four years.

of course brockmann continues to be far stronger with respect to his rhetoric, but i still want to see some teeth behind what he says, some action to support what his words seem to promise. but today was yet another step in the right direction:

The President of the United Nations General Assembly tried to prevent Israel’s ambassador, Professor Gabriela Shalev, from speaking at a special commemorative plenary session marking 60 years since the UN adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, scheduled for Wednesday.

The General Assembly President, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, tried to cancel speeches that were to be given by representatives of the unofficial regional group known as “Western European and others,” after he learned that Israel’s ambassador was to represent the group as its rotating chairman.

equally important is the call to prosecute israelis for war crimes for the constant siege on gaza:

Palestinian legislator, head of the Popular Committee Against the Siege (PCAS), Jamal El Khodary, voiced support to the calls of UN expert, Professor Richard Falk, who called for immediate intervention to stop the ongoing Israeli violations in the Gaza Strip, and that Israeli political and military leaders, should be prosecuted in international courts for violating the international law and the Gaza siege.

Falk said that the International Criminal Court must investigate the situation in Gaza, and determine whether Israeli political and military leaders are should be convicted and prosecuted for violations of the international law.

In a press release on Wednesday, El Khodary said that the UN expert considered the Israeli polices parallel with “crimes against humanity”.

while this is certainly an important step in the right direction–if it comes to fruition–what i want to know is who will stop the israeli terrorist forces from their new promise to launch a full-scale invasion of gaza?

Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, stated on Wednesday that the Israeli army should carry a large-scaled military offensive in the Gaza Strip in retaliation for what she described as “the violation of the truce”.

The statements of Livni came during a meeting in Tel Aviv University on Tuesday morning. She also slammed the Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, as she said that Barak was calling for a truce while Hamas was firing homemade shells.

She claimed that this issue gives the impression that Israel recognizes Hamas.

Livni also said that Israel should not accept the Authority of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and should intensify its military operations in the coastal region.

She stated that when Israel accepted the truce, it wanted to create a temporary period of calm, and added that an extended truce or long term calm “harms the Israel strategic goal, empowers Hamas, and gives the impression that Israel recognizes the movement”.

On the ground, Israel already violated the truce, carried offensives, killed, wounded and kidnapped Palestinians, and kept the border crossings sealed in spite that the truce states that Israel should open the border terminals.

tellingly this is how the israelis mark the anniversary of the un declaration of human rights. i wonder what it is that israel’s propagandist was going to spin invasion as upholding human rights at the un…


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