By Frances Bulathsinghala/DailyFT
In the wake of the extreme rightist tilt of the current US regime led by Donald Trump alongside a similar stance by its close ally, Israel, the emerging world order would need a wider global activism to bring about justice where stark injustice reigns as in Palestine, the Ambassador of Palestine in Sri Lanka, Zuhair M.H. Dar Zaid said Monday.
Ambassador Zaid, who was the chief guest at the inauguration of the Sri Lanka Journalists for Global Justice (SLJGJ), a newly formed movement of media personnel in Sri Lanka to take on rights based issues at a wider global level, brought attention to the current situation in Palestine as the beleaguered State marks 100 years after the Balfour Declaration in 1917 which first authorised a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
The Balfour Declaration refers to a letter from the then British Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, to Walter Rothschild, leader of the British Jewish community, confirming the support of the British government for the establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine.
“Today we are under apartheid. We have no access to main sources of life. We have no access to water. We are now being controlled in our call to prayer in our mosques. The recent regulation bill passed in the Israeli parliament can take over our houses by declaring on behalf of Palestinians that they do not want their own land,” Zaid said.
He was referring to the controversial bill that was passed by Israel in February this year which legalises thousands of Israeli settler homes built on privately owned Palestinian land in occupied West Bank.
Emphasising Christian-Muslim unity he brought attention to Churches in Nazareth showing solidarity with Muslims by broadcasting the call to the night prayer in the midst of Israel’s plans of banning the adhaan.
“Don’t invade our holy places. Allow us to go and pray. Allow our brothers the Christians to have their rights,” the Palestinian envoy appealed.
Meanwhile, Rt. Rev. Duleep de Chickera, the former Bishop of Colombo of the Anglican church, delivering the inaugural SLJGJ keynote lecture ‘Struggle for social justice of the Palestinian people,’ traced the history of Zionism classifying it as a political statement and opined that he ‘does not see the possibility of a solution until the Palestinians receive complete independence and justice as a free state.’ He affirmed that he believes justice for the Israelis was compatible with providing Palestine its freedom.
Beginning his lecture with the phrase “The bride is beautiful, but she is married to another man,” popularly believed to have been conveyed by a group of Rabbis from Vienna after visiting Palestine in the 19th century and thereby indicating that a Jewish nation state could not be established because Palestine was already occupied, Rev. Chickera went on to explain the implications of the first Zionist Congress.
As pointed out by Rev. Chickera, organised by Theodore Hersl and held in Basle, Switzerland, the Zionist Congress in 1897 marked the first organised attempt at creating a base for a Jewish state.
In attempting to analyse the motivation behind Zionism, he threw light on historical realities to show that Zionism was the result of provocation by anti-Semitic pogroms that occurred in Christian Europe where the Jews were harassed and humiliated and prompted to look elsewhere for dignity and freedom.
Tracing further through history he pointed out how Palestine was part of an exchange of empires and battles over the centuries where a key juncture was Saladin wresting control of Palestine in 1187 after his decisive battle with the Crusaders.
Explaining the British Mandate of Palestine after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in World War I which operated from 1920 to 1948 and approved by the League of Nations in 1922, Rev Chickera spoke of the role of the British in training and arming the Israelis.
“The military might of the Israelis were strengthened following the establishment of the Haganah, in the British Mandate of Palestine,” he said referring to the Jewish paramilitary organisation which was the basic foundation that was built up between 1921 and 1948 in setting up of the Israeli Defence Forces.
He observed how Moshe Dayan, Israeli Defense Minister during the six day war in 1967 ‘cut his teeth’ in the early fighting units that raided Arab settlements in Palestine.
Reverting to recent history as we know it where Jews were a scattered community, the well-known Anglican human rights activist observed how Europe had assisted and facilitated in a ‘combination of guilt and expediency’, knowing what they had done to the Jews and not wanting them to settle in Western Europe but finding the easy excuse of Palestine.
Speaking of the post-holocaust United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine in 1947, he traced the beginning of the Palestinian protests as starting from nomadic Arabs protesting against the occupation of their lands resulting first in skirmishes and transiting to the first full scale war in 1948 that resulted in defeat of the Palestinian people.
“In this full scale war of the magnitude that was not experienced before, around 77% of the Palestinian land and most of Jerusalem was controlled by Israel and led to the declaration of Israel as an independent state. The population of the Arabs dwindled. Villages lay destroyed. Many middle class Palestinians migrated. Israel had made its headway by totally bypassing the rights of the Palestinians and achieving its dominance with the support of the world powers,” Rev. Chickera noted, referring first primarily to Britain and then to the United States.
“The six day war in 1967 in Palestine had once again serious consequences to its people. Over 250,000 Arabs became refugees. The Palestinian territory marked on the map which were in patches, became dots. Groups such as the Palestine Liberation Organisation had emerged and those such as Hamas were emerging,” the Anglican clergyman said.
Speaking of the subsequent failed attempts at ushering in a peaceful solution to the Palestinians and the Israelis, he noted the exclusion of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) at the Madrid conference in 1991, although the delegations at the talks included Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza.
Summarizing the rest of the failed legacy of talks Rev. Chickera focused on the potential of reaching a solution during the time of Yasser Arafat, the first President of the Palestinian National Authority who was the joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 along with Shimon Peres, the ninth President of the Israel and Yitzhak Rabin, the fifth Prime Minister of Israel for their attempts at bringing about peace in the Middle East. Rev. Chickera observed how the Camp David Summit in the year 2000 between then US President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat had failed to find a lasting solution despite its promising parameters such as providing around 90% control of West Bank to the Palestinians. He attributed the failure of the talks to the stance of the Palestinian Arabs which he opined were of a mix of suspicion in (reference to the US) and diffidence.
“Thereafter, although the Arabs expected the United States to support the vulnerable party which were the Arabs, the US instead continued to strengthen Israel,” he said, adding that the funding from US to Israel which continued to flow, were transformed to resources used to suppress the Palestinian people, in the backdrop of continued settlements being built by Israel.
He highlighted the UN Security Council’s reaffirmation in December 2016 that Israel’s establishment of settlements in Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, had no legal validity.
However, despite the adoption of resolution 2334 in 2016, wherein the UN reiterated its demand that Israel immediately cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, Rev. Chickera noted the apparent lack of impact of the UN strictures on the present Israel Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who has in turn reiterated his insistence on refusing to consider a two-state solution.
In this backdrop Rev. Chickera emphasized the need to keep lobbying for what is just, urging political, social and economic rights to be bestowed on the Palestinians and reiterating the blatantly violated UN call for Israel to withdraw all post-1967 settlements.
“Jerusalem must be made a visible entity for all three religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism). The right of return of the Palestinian Arab refugees to their original homes and villages should be guaranteed. The protection of rights of all Palestinians and Israelis must be guaranteed. Hamas and Fatah should be disbanded,’ the renowned Lankan clergyman said, calling for the continuance of a peaceful struggle for independence in Palestine.
Rev. Chickera lauded the Sri Lanka Journalists for Global Justice (SLJGJ) for its initiative in taking on global rights based issues in a time when it is drastically needed.
Addressing the inauguration of the SLJGJ, President of the Association Jayatilleke de Silva and Vice President Ameen Izzadeen said the purpose of the new rights oriented platform led by journalists was to encourage the Sri Lankan media to play an active role in highlighting and promoting discussion on matters of injustice in the world.
(The featured picture at the top shows a Palestinian woman pleading for peace in the midst of fighting)