Ladies and gentlemen,
On behalf of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, I would like to warmly welcome you to the United Nations Public Forum in Support of the Palestinian People.
Many of you also attended the United Nations International Meeting in Support of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process, which just concluded yesterday. Among the topics discussed at that gathering was the question of Jerusalem, as a key to Israeli-Palestinian peace. Since this issue is of utmost concern to us all, it will also be the focus for this meeting of civil society.
Jerusalem arouses global passions in a way that few other locales can. And yet those passions, instead of creating a bastion of cross-cultural understanding and harmony, are changing one of the world’s great cities from a symbol of spiritualism and co-existence into one of injustice and suppression.
The international community has never recognized Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem following its occupation in June 1967. Also our Committee views East Jerusalem as an integral part of the Palestinian Territory occupied by Israel. We regularly point out and criticize Israeli policies of creating facts on the ground and changing the demographic composition of the city.
Since 1967, Israel has built more than 50,000 homes for Israelis in East Jerusalem. Compare that to 600 homes for Palestinians, the last of which were built 35 years ago. Since they cannot build legally, Palestinians are being forced to build without permits, which often leads to Israeli demolitions of their homes. And when it comes to real estate in the holy city of Jerusalem, an Israeli can buy a home anywhere. But a Palestinian cannot.
As we all know, East Jerusalem is home to a wealth of religious, archaeological and cultural sites. But we are seeing control of many of these sites falling into the hands of extreme settler groups. As a result, the Christian, Muslim and Palestinian aspects of the city are being swept under the rug. And because of Israeli restrictions, Palestinian Muslims and Christians are losing access to the historical mosques and churches to which they are emotionally attached.
The Committee considers that a negotiated solution on the status of Jerusalem, which takes into account the political and religious concerns of all sides, should be an integral part of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and lasting peace in the entire region. It should include internationally guaranteed provisions to ensure the freedom of religion and of conscience of its inhabitants, as well as permanent, free and unhindered access to holy places by the Palestinian people and peoples of all religions and nationalities.
Any agreement that does not include East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian State will not lead to sustainable Israeli-Palestinian peace. Also, Government-sanctioned settlement construction, transfer of settlers, house demolitions, evictions of Palestinian residents and other action aimed at altering or purporting to alter the legal status and physical and demographic character of the city, constitute violations of international law and must be ceased and rescinded.
It is my hope that today’s Public Forum will give you, as members of civil society, the chance to share your views on the situation in the city and to discuss on how to move forward on the topic of Jerusalem, and thus, on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in general. You will hear presentations on what is happening in the city today, including on home demolitions, forced evictions, settlements, the revocation of residency rights and IDs, and security concerns, including rising crime rates. A specific emphasis has been put on the role of non-State actors in promoting peace in Jerusalem, including through interfaith dialogue and people-to-people diplomacy.
Today’s meeting is part of our Committee’s programme of cooperation with civil society by providing venues and opportunities for organizations and individuals to come together to exchange views and broaden their international networks in support of the Palestinian people. Also, the Bureau of the Committee periodically holds consultations with civil society representatives to seek their input and new ideas as to how the Committee’s work could be improved. Moreover, the Committee continues to receive, with high appreciation, valuable analyses, statistics and other important information on the situation on the ground from academic institutes, think tanks and other organizations, which are extremely useful for our activities.
The Committee commends civil society organizations for their efforts to uphold international legitimacy with regard to the question of Palestine through advocacy and the mobilization of public opinion and for their initiatives aimed at alleviating the plight of the Palestinian people. The Committee also encourages civil society organizations to broaden their base, involving trade unions and other large organizations, and to focus and harmonize their advocacy efforts at the local, national, regional and international levels.
I would like to inform you that Phyllis Bennis, a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC, and Sylvia Tiryaki, Deputy Director of the Global Political Trends Center here at Istanbul Kültür University, will moderate today’s Public Forum. On behalf of the Committee, I would like to thank Ms. Bennis and Dr. Tiryaki for agreeing to that role. I am sure we will have constructive and lively deliberations.
Thank you very much.