Human Rights Work
Since Oslo: A Two-Dimensional Approach.
25 September 2000Following the September 13, 1993 signing of the Declaration of Principles (DOP) by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the human rights community was shocked to discover that the Oslo Accords made no mention of the rights for which they were struggling, said attorney Raji Sourani at a September 21 Palestine Center briefing. According to Sourani, director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza, this community realized that they would now need to take a two-dimensional approach in their work and address both the continuing Israeli occupation and the new Palestinian Authority (PA).
Since the signing of the DOP, the situation has deteriorated markedly. Although the level of killings and injuries has been reduced drastically due to partial Israeli redeployment in the Occupied Territories, this improvement stands alone among a litany of abuses Sourani said have arisen since the inception of the Oslo process. Ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem still continues on a day to day basis through settlement expansion, closure, and other methods. Closure alone has completely suffocated Palestinian life. The southern part of the West Bank is cut off from the north, the Jericho region and Gaza are separated from the rest of the territories, and Israeli bypass roads carve through populated Palestinian areas. As a result, the economic deterioration in the Occupied Territories is unprecedented. Human rights abuses such as torture also continue. Other than cosmetic changes, day after day, things [are] getting worse.
Meanwhile, people are suffering under the Palestinian leadership as well. Although the practices of the different [PA] security apparatuses do not include extrajudicial killings, rape, and other atrocities that occur in some countries, we are in a very acute situation nonetheless. The PAs chief of police even admitted he does not respect the Palestinian courts, Sourani pointed out. The corruption and lack of consideration for the rule of law is magnified by the number of security forces that exist. In Switzerland, said Sourani, there is one police officer for every 3,000 Swiss. Under the PA, by contrast, there is one officer for every 60 Palestinians. Moreover, these forces are gaining more and more power.
The Palestinian people have a special situation, said Sourani. What is needed following 33 years of occupation is counter-education efforts so that the Palestinian police can unlearn behavior developed under Israeli military rule. Sourani argued that if the PA would foster open dialogue and democracy, this would bring incredible backing, strength, and power to the PA. But change must occur quickly because there is a very explosive situation in the Occupied Territories. With the abuses of the PA on top of the continued Israeli occupation, people have nothing to lose, Sourani asserted.
Although the PA cannot deny its own responsibility, Israeli and U.S. authorities are also accountable for these activities of the Palestinian Authority, argued Sourani. Israel, with the support of U.S. officials, has told PA President Yasser Arafat, you have to suppress and repress any opposition to the Oslo Accords. In 1998, for example, Arafat planned to hold municipal elections, but Israel and the United States pressured him not to go forward with them because it was obvious the opposition would win.
In the short term, these oppressive policies may seem to work, but they have a snowball effect, according to Sourani. Once human rights are disregarded, returning to a democratic system becomes more difficult. Moreover, people have warned the PA that in the long run, it will be blamed for these violations. When before the United Nations, for example, Israel can argue that the PA is liable for these human rights violations, even though Israel also bears responsibility.
On top of these difficulties, interaction between Israelis and Palestinians has been hindered since the beginning of the Oslo process. Foreign donors now emphasize people to people relations between Israelis and Palestinians in funding efforts, but long ago we discovered the value of relating to outside human rights groups. Ironically, our relation[ships] with our Israeli counterparts have suffered greatly due to closures that have occurred under Oslo. We can meet in London, said Sourani, but not in Israel or Gaza. The Israeli authorities restrict the number of Palestinians who can enter Israel. Meanwhile, Israelis cannot go to Gaza without permission from Israel and the PA. Human rights workers in Israel and the Occupied Territories now maintain relationships primarily through e-mail and fax.
Yet despite these crucial concerns, Sourani said, I think we have the right to enjoy strategic optimism, he said. Sourani believes the will of the people can create new leadership once a Palestinian state is established. The vast majority of Palestinian political leaders who were active before Oslo do not see themselves as a part of the current process, but they may still get involved if the internal chemistry is right. The PA and Israel fear the different kind of leadership these individuals might bring to the Palestinians.
The above text is based on remarks delivered on 21 September 2000 by Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, at a breakfast briefing. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the Palestine Center or The Jerusalem Fund. This For the Record was written by Palestine Center Publications Manager Wendy Lehman; it may be used without permission but with proper attribution to the Palestine Center.
This information first appeared in For The Record No. 53, 25 September 2000.