Palestinians must be afforded their own Humanity

In a seemingly inconceivable move, the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s representative to the United Nations did not support the advancement of the Goldstone report detailing human rights violations during Israel’s 22-day campaign against Gaza.

Putting the politics behind this maneuvering aside, this act highlights a dangerous attitude within Palestinian international relations and the so-called peace process. What I am talking about is the tension between individual human rights and the prerogative of an elite few who can chose to ignore the necessity of those rights for political purposes.

Despite the fact that religious tension and territorial claims are featured in the Israeli/Palestinian debate, the conflict has little to do with either. Rather, this has always been a conflict over the rights of a people – the Palestinians – to that which they are entitled but have thus far been denied.

The foundation of the conflict, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine from 1947-1949, resulted in a massive refugee population. According to international and human rights law and the UN Declaration of Human Rights these refugees have a right to return. Likewise, Palestinians whose land has been confiscated during Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza have a right to their land.

In the same way, Palestinian civilians who were the targets of Israeli aggression during the campaign on Gaza have a right to be protected by international law.

Their representatives, on the domestic and international level, however, do not have the right to deny them that. Human rights are universal and inalienable and are in effect specifically because governments often fail to protect civilians.

The Goldstone report, like so many reports conducted before it, found evidence of Israel’s culpability in heinous crimes. That such a report be ignored is not advancing reconciliation between both parties.

In Israel, there is a culture of disregard for international law. For example, in the wake of the 1982 massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon, Israel claimed to have the proper, independent judicial institutions to investigate the massacre. These atrocities, committed under the auspices of the Israeli occupation in Lebanon, left approximately 3000 civilian men, woman and children dead.

In fact, an independent Israeli commission did find an Israeli official responsible for the massacre and recommended that they never hold public office again. That official of course was Ariel Sharon, who would not only hold public office again, but would serve as Israel’s Prime Minister. Consequently, he presided over the largest increase in settlement construction since the 1970s, furthering his disdain for international law.

When evidence of human rights violations exists and is ignored, history has proven that the perpetrators are only emboldened to contravene international law again.

The failure to advance the Goldstone report is just another step in the process that has dispossessed Palestinians for over 60 years.

If international law regarding the rights of refugees was enforced after the ethnic cleansing of 1947-49, it is unlikely that we would have the refugee problem that we have today. If international law regarding the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza was enforced in 1967, we would not have the complicated problem of settlements which we have today. If international law regarding the collective punishment of civilians, like the siege of Gaza was enforced we probably would not have seen a devastating war that left 1400 people, mostly civilians, dead.

In each instance, ignoring the human rights of Palestinians has led us to a juncture where any chance of peace is dismal. To ignore the Goldstone report and the legitimate grievances of the bereaved in Gaza and to expect a different result is simply insanity.

The international system and sometimes the very people representing Palestinians have sent a message to them that their human rights are not as important as the human rights of others. If Palestinians are pessimistic about peace, it is because they have been denied their own humanity.