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un forum marks 50 years of occupation

ICJW Representatives Fran Butensky and Madeleine Brecher, report on two events at UN headquarters in New York: "Ending the Occupation: The Path to Independence, Justice and Peace for Palestine" (29 June) and "Ending the Occupation: Creating the Space for Human Rights, Development, and a Just Peace" (30 June)  
 
To mark fifty years of the so-called “Israeli occupation” that began in 1967, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People convened a two-day forum in June 2017. It brought together international experts from Palestine and Israel, representatives of the diplomatic community, civil society, as well as academics and students to discuss the ongoing “occupation” in a series of moderated interactive panels. The forum was open to the public on a first come, first served basis. We signed up immediately! 
 
On June 29th, a day-long event entitled The Path to Independence, Justice and Peace for Palestine consisted of two panels. ICJW attended Panel 1, The Cost and Consequences of Fifty Years of Occupation.  The claim was that the occupation of Palestinian territory by Israel following the 1967 war has led to consequences for Palestinian and Israeli societies.  The panel discussed the implications of the occupation from the perspective of Palestinian, Israeli, and regional stakeholders in an effort to assess the costs in economic, psycho-social, human rights and humanitarian terms. As the speakers had served as negotiators and diplomats involved on the question of Palestine, the panel was supposed to touch on how the occupation affected the peace process and how it has shaped the domestic and foreign policy of UN Member states. We weren’t sure it was successful in many of these goals. It was clear, however, that all the speakers we heard supported a two-state solution to the conflict. 
 
We agreed that it was a very interesting morning and, for the most part, the inflammatory rhetoric that usually takes place at the UN was absent. Nabil Elaraby, an Egyptian diplomat who had served as Secretary General of the League of Arab States, spoke first stating that all the talk had already been done over the years of negotiations! It is time to demand solutions. Yet, sadly, we heard the same old talk from Saeb Erekat, the Secretary-General of the PLO and Zaha Hassan a former legal Advisor of the Palestinian negotiating team. Shlomo BenAmi, a former Minister for Foreign Affairs of Israel, presented a historical perspective of the changes that have taken place in Israeli society since the 1967 war which represented a great military success for Israel as well as a moral, political crisis. The return of Judea/Sumaria led to a Jewish messianic experience. By 1977, the Israeli right was born and along with it, the decline of the secular state. It represented a rise of interest in “Jewish” biblical history and ethnic nationalism. Today’s governing coalition in Israel endorses laws unrelated to liberal democracy, the State of Israel has huge global outreach, and the Palestinian question is NO longer seen as the epicenter of Israeli domestic life and/or their international relationships . This was, for us, a fascinating part of the morning takeaway! 
 
It was unfortunate that we were not available to attend the afternoon session which would have finally considered the future beyond occupation. The panel was entitled The Path Ahead to Palestinian Independence and a Just Peace. It was to explore the conditions for forging a path to a just peace and salvaging the desired two-state solution.   On a very interesting note, we sat next to a lovely young man named Stephen Apkon during the session whose mother was the President of an NCJW Section in Massachusetts when he was growing up.  Stephen directed a film entitled Disturbing the Peace which follows a group of former enemy combatants…Israeli soldiers from the most elite units and Palestinian fighters many of whom served years in prison…who have come together to challenge the status quo and say “enough.” The film traces their transformational journeys from soldiers committed to armed battle to non-violent peace activists and their founding of Combatants for Peace (CfP). It is a story of human potential unleashed when they stopped participating in a story that no longer served them, and took action to create a new possibility.  
 
Go to www.disturbingthepeacefilm.com and be inspired!