The Question of Palestine: 70 Years After 1948

ICJW’s representatives at the United Nations in New York attended a presentation by the Committee on the Exercise of Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian
People at the UN on May 17 and 18, 2018.

This forum was organized in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolutions 72/11 and 72/13. Its purpose was to mark the anniversary of the 1948 War and the subsequent displacement of the Palestinians and to bring together Palestinian, Israeli and international experts, as well as representatives of the diplomatic community and civil society, to highlight the need to substantively address issues related to the 1948 war.

It is important to note that the “initial remarks” at the opening session on the first day were disappointing and disturbing. It was appalling how biased and blatantly, the truth was distorted. Although, this is nothing new, we had expected or hoped that this time it would be different.

Here are some examples of the opening remarks by Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian legislator, activist and scholar, who is considered to be one of the most influential women in the Arab world:
• Although the 1948 war is 70 years old, the Palestinian situation started much earlier and cannot be allowed to run its course. If it does, we will never reach a peaceful conclusion.
• The issue is the essence of the injustice, pain and suffering that is allowed to continue.
• The United States, especially, rewards occupiers while the Palestinians have to prove
themselves, have to be subject to threats and blackmail and are coerced into voting and/or sell their vote.
• Israeli behavior continues to violate international law.
• She talked about innocent Gazans peacefully protesting on their own land and being
shelled, gassed killed and shot at while showing absolute restraint and then being blamed and called terrorists.
• There is pervasive cruelty permeating every aspect of their lives.
• Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel but we have to accept it as a reality.
• With the “67 boundaries”, a two-state solution is not the Palestinian solution of choice but they are being threatened to accept it.
• Israel is controlling and destroying their land and we have to make Israel stop.
• We don’t have to ask Israel to let us be free, it is our right and it is not ordained, it is man made.

Upon the conclusion of Ms. Ashrawi’s extended remarks and before the start of the first
panel discussion, they showed some clips from a documentary entitled “Voices Across the Divide”, personal stories exploring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The first story was a Palestinian man forced from his home in 1948 and dreaming of his right of return. Clips were going to be shown throughout the two day conference. It was clearly a propaganda piece to appeal to the emotions of the audience.

Panel #1 was involved with the two questions: What happened in 1948? Why did it matter? The four panelists were:
Eugene Rogan: Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History and Director of St. Antony’s Middle East Centre at University of Oxford. He presented a historical and legal context.
Avram Berg: Former Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel and Speaker of the Knesset, who definitely understands the issue from both sides.
Ilan Pappe: An expatriate Israeli historian and socialist activist. He is a professor with the College of Social Sciences and International Studies at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, director of the university’s European Centre for Palestine Studies
Hanan Ashrawi: Keynote speaker discussed above.
The moderator of the session, Victor Kattan, was excellent and fair and moved the session along very professionally, including his handling of audience participation.

• The historical presentation was thorough and seemed very fair. The UN and Britain made some disastrous calls early on.
• 150,000 Palestinians forced to leave Israel in 1948. Today, they count over 5 million
refugees that UNRWA is responsible for.
• Victimization and suffering of the Palestinians was a constant theme, including the term Ethnic Cleansing. No word of the suffering of the Israelis at all during the session.
• For most of the session, they continued to talk about victimization and the Israeli terrorists.

Finally Avram Berg, who called himself a proud Israeli, suggested an out of the box way
forward. He stated that this issue should not be seen as YOU vs. US. How about those Jews and Palestinians who understand each other? What about, Hanan, you and I on one side to build a compromise? What is your vision for a future of equality and rights? WE NEED A NEW SOLUTION!
• We must build a new structure without religion but with a compromise on human issues.
• The 5 Pillars of nationality that Israel has with religion, territory, power, sovereignty and language must be challenged. Structure and religion don’t work.
• Not a soul picked up on that! It was the one direction of the morning that seemed to offer a way out of the eternal “box”.
• The audience appeared to be totally sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. It was a
heartbreaking morning for the 10-20 Jewish men and women in the Trusteeship Council hall and the session did NOT meet its goal of substantively addressing the issues related to the 1948 war.

Session 2, May 18th
The four panelist on the third panel of the second day were:
Francesca Aibanese: an expert on the status of Palestinian refugees in International Law
Susan Akram: Professor at Boston University’s International Human Rights Clinic
Jessica Neve: Promotes the “transitional justice paradigm” and is on the Truth Committee
Lubnun Shvmnuli: Executive Director of the Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights

Key Points as Stated by the Speakers

  • Who are the Palestinians? Hundreds of thousands were forced to leave their homes
    in 1947 and 1948. Some even believe that history should go back to 1924 and the League of Nations. They are still displaced today and living in Jordan, Gaza, the West Bank and other countries in Asia and Africa. There are several generations.
  • The controversy was compared to past precedence set in both South Africa and Namibia about self-determination. Other best practices should be explored.
  • It was suggested that the Security Council should deal with the issues of statehood,
    withdrawal, compensation and the right of return. It is more than just territory but
    also about human rights. Some are calling for a public apology.
  • Another aspect of the issue has to do with numbers…there is a claim that there are
    eleven million Palestinian refugees worldwide. Many are vulnerable.
  • “There needs to be victim satisfaction” and money for damages. There’s also a need for reform with armies and the police. Protection of the refugees must be in place. The truth about the past must be told. There are interviews being conducted with Israeli soldiers who were active in 1948. Many are looking back now and reporting abuses dealt to the Palestinians.

Other topics mentioned that I have found disturbing included UNRWA and its fate, now that the US has reduced funding, and the effectiveness of the BDS movement.

No faults were found with UNRWA and there was “real cheering” for the success of
BDS, (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) Movement and its anti-Israel impact.
There was no consideration for any of the displaced Jews from Arab lands.

In conclusion, the panel was very one-sided. It felt like Israel was the “elephant in the
room” since it was not mentioned often, but mostly everyone was very comfortable
assigning it blame.