Building a New Society: Issues of Human Rights and Human Dignity
The special Palestine-Israel Journal round-table
discussion at the beginning of February 1999 was devoted to the
subject of human rights. It was moderated by Ziad
Abu-Zayyad, a lawyer by profession who was elected to the
Palestinian Legislative Council and is Minister without Portfolio
in the Palestinian National Authority. He is a founder and
publisher of the Palestine-Israel Journal. The participants
in the discussion were Dr. Edy Kaufman, who teaches human
rights in the Department of International Relations at the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem and is chair of the Board of B'Tselem, the
Israeli information center for human rights in the occupied
territories; Hassan Asfour, an elected member of the
Palestinian Legislative Council and Minister for State Negotiation
Affairs in the Palestinian National Authority, formerly a
Communist, now an independent; Anat Scolnicov, lawyer for
the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, specializing in human
rights in Israel, including freedom of speech, and the rights of
women, foreign workers and new immigrants; and Dr. Iyad
Sarraj, founder and director of the Gaza Community Mental
Health Program and the commissioner general of the Independent
Palestinian Commission for Citizens' Rights.
Ziad Abu-Zayyad: Let us start with human-rights violations
by the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Anat Scolnicov: I would like to talk about the way my
organization, the largest human-rights movement in Israel, which
works both in Israel and the occupied territories, has changed its
perception of human rights. I believe this is also applicable to
other NGOs working in other cultures. We used to look mostly at
civil and political rights, both in Israel and in the territories.
Now we are also dealing more and more with issues of economic,
social and cultural rights which are equally recognized as human
rights, but which are often neglected. These include education,
health care, housing, social security and equality.
In the territories and in East Jerusalem and in Israel itself, we
see that these rights are not always being accorded in full.
Foremost among those whose rights are violated in Israel are the
Bedouin and Arab populations, foreign workers - a new group that we
are currently dealing with - and new immigrants. Their social and
economic rights are crucial. If you do not have food and health
care and the peace of mind that comes with social security, you
cannot enjoy your civil and political rights.
I will mention one case pertaining to East Jerusalem which
illustrates a subject in which we have been successful, that of
social security for women giving birth. Under the Israeli social
security system, a woman is entitled to a certain amount of social
security to cover the birth itself. For East Jerusalemites, there
was a problem whenever the authorities claimed a mother had left
the city and had therefore lost the residency which entitled her to
this social security. Of course, a woman giving birth is not in a
position to go and start arguing with the authorities, proving
where she lives and to what she is entitled. So we petitioned the
Supreme Court, and in the end our position was accepted, resulting
in a consent decree by the authorities that these women will
henceforth be accorded their rights.
Another important issue is that of the rights of workers. A worker
- no matter where she works or comes from - should be entitled to a
minimum wage, non-discrimination in the workplace, and compensation
when s/he is laid off. A worker has to be covered by social
security in the event of any kind of workplace-related accident. An
old-age pension must be guaranteed by the fact that s/he is working
and the employer is paying his/her social security. Therefore,
assuring that, regardless of where a worker comes from or who s/he
is, all workers are covered by the welfare and social security
systems should be one of the most important goals for human-rights
organizations, both inside Israel and in the occupied
I will now turn to a completely different area of human rights. One
of the most important issues in Israel - and I know it arises in
your society as well, and it is very relevant to both the Jewish
and Arab communities in Israel - is that of the status of women,
especially vis-a-vis religion.
A society is not made up only of the laws of the state. It is also
governed by other forces, including religion. For example, in
Israel, family law is governed by religious law. Therefore, women's
rights are impaired regarding their rights vis-a-vis their husbands
in the marriage, in the ability to divorce, in the custody of
Women are not allowed to be judges in the religious courts -
Jewish, Muslim and Christian - so their status as equals in public
office is impaired.
Dr. Sarraj: In terms of this family law in Israel that is
controlled by religious law, in the case of divorce is the woman
deprived of her rights? Can't a woman divorce her husband?
Anat Scolnicov: Every couple is married or divorced in their
own court. That particular religious court decides. Both under the
Muslim and under the Jewish courts, the rights of the woman may be
less than that of the man.
Financially the woman may come out of the marriage with fewer
assets than the man. For example, the family's assets are
registered under the man's name. Many times, under religious law,
we find that a woman who leaves a marriage will have nothing,
because she is not given half of the assets. In secular,
non-discriminatory laws, she will be given half of the
Iyad Sarraj: But you have to register the marriage under
civil law? Edy Kaufman: There is no civil marriage.
Anat Scolnicov: You have to register your marriage in your
respective religious authority.
Hassan Asfour: They want to open a civil marriage office in
Jericho instead of in Cyprus, for use by Israelis. In Jericho they
need a casino and a civil marriage office.
Ziad Abu-Zayyad: One of the arguments of Arabs in Israel is
that Israel discriminates against its own Arab citizens, who do not
serve in the army. They use this as a cover for discrimination
against Arabs in terms of subjects like scholarships, jobs, and
social security. Could you elaborate on this?
Anat Scolnicov: Yes. One of the major human-rights problems
in Israel is discrimination against Arabs. We find sometimes that,
when someone does not want to discriminate directly, a pretext may
be found. Of course, because most of the Arab population, by law,
does not have to serve in the army, this can be used as a pretext
for discrimination. In every case you have to determine whether the
distinction is relevant or is really serving as a pretext.
There used to be, by law, a major difference in child benefits
accorded to people who served in the army and to those who did not.
This was, of course, discriminatory because there is no
relationship between serving in the army and getting child
benefits; this distinction has been annulled. But, in a lot of
areas where we do have legislation against discrimination, you can
still find army service used as a pretext. There is, for instance,
a law that says that when people apply for a job, you cannot
discriminate on the grounds of sex, political opinion, national or
ethnic origin or religion. Sometimes people who are offering
employment positions - in one case it was for a postal worker¬
- stipulate that the applicant must have served in the army, even
though there is no relationship between serving in the army and
working in the postal service. The first case of this type that I
know of has been brought by us; it is now pending in the Labor
Court. Two Arab students who applied for positions were told they
could not apply because they did not serve in the army. We see this
Edy Kaufman: I would like to focus now on the situation of
human rights after the beginning of the peace process and when most
of the Palestinians are living under the Palestinian Authority.
Some people think the suffering of the Palestinians by acts of the
Israeli government has been dramatically reduced. I do not think
this is an accurate picture of the situation, not only because of
those who are still living under Israeli control in Area B and in
East Jerusalem, but also because the rights even of those who live
under the Palestinian Authority are still very much affected by the
lack of a total peace accord between Israel and the
Some of my friends in the peace movement in Israel say there is no
point in fighting for human rights now. The most important thing is
to end the occupation. In some cases, the human-rights situation of
Palestinians is even worse than before the peace process, hence it
is important not to wait for peace, but to try to respect human
In Jerusalem, there is a serious problem of collective punishment -
the problem of what we call the silent transfer, the denial of an
identity card allowing a person to live as a resident in
Paradoxically, a Jewish immigrant from anywhere in the world can
come and live in Jerusalem, but a Palestinian who was born in
Jerusalem may not. One who has been away for several years or has
been living out of the country or even in another part of the West
Bank, can lose his or her ID. From 1996 to March 1998, 8,368
Palestinian Jerusalemites lost their ID's.
Collective punishment, in all areas of life, causes much suffering.
The continuous closure of the territories is a prime example. Some
people forget this because there have been different degrees of
closure, but the closures continue and we have many examples of how
they disrupt the daily life of Palestinians.
Perhaps the simplest example is that Palestinians are not able to
go from Gaza to the West Bank, except with a very special permit,
so most of the population of Gaza cannot come, not only to Israel,
but to the West Bank.
A very specific case is that of the thousands of students from Gaza
who are attending universities in the West Bank such as Bir Zeit.
They are denied freedom of movement and cannot go back to visit
their families without smuggling themselves out, and they really
cannot pursue their studies as they should be able to.
Another example of suffering has to do with religious freedom. Both
Muslim and Christian Palestinians are barred from praying in their
respective holy places in Jerusalem. Luckily, for the period of
Ramadan, there was a more lenient policy which allowed Palestinians
from the West Bank to pray in Jerusalem. Again, that was not the
case for Palestinians in Gaza, where it was the exception to the
rule to allow them to come to pray for their holiest of holy
We also have continuous problems of humiliation at checkpoints. We
have documented case after case after case of Border Police
maltreating Palestinians at the Israeli checkpoints, even when a
Palestinian wants to go, in the West Bank, from one place to
another that is under the control of the Palestinian
We still have a problem of administrative detention, which is
illegal from a human-rights perspective. Some Palestinians have
been in prison without trial for up to five years. The numbers are
decreasing, but according to B'Tselem in November 1998, 79
Palestinians were under administrative detention without
In Israeli prisons, torture is widely applied in interrogation.
Again, looking at the numbers published in December 1998 by
B'Tselem, there are between 1,000 to 2,500 Palestinians under
interrogation every year. Among them, about 85 percent are
submitted to malpractice, what in Israeli terminology would be
called "moderate physical pressure," which the international
community - including the Israeli Committee against Torture - has
A few words about the right to life, perhaps the most important of
all human rights. Time and again we have seen the terrible
consequences of the use of live ammunition, but even more so of
rubber bullets for riot control purposes, even if there is only
stone-throwing. The question is why were 58 Palestinians, including
28 children, killed in the last decade? If these bullets are only
to be used to shoot at legs, why did they kill at least 16
Palestinians since Oslo?
Ziad Abu-Zayyad: They are called rubber bullets, but they
are actually metal with a very thin rubber coating.
Edy Kaufman: One more area which I would like to stress is
that of house demolitions. As a means of collective punishment
against family members who have committed no crime, it is totally
outside of any international covenant.
In East Jerusalem, there are demolitions because of building
without permits. Since permits are not given in most cases, this is
discriminatory if we compare the number of houses of Palestinian
families demolished to that of the houses of Jewish families.
Ziad Abu-Zayyad: Do they demolish houses of Jewish families
Edy Kaufman: No. Maybe a garage or some little thing, but
not houses that I know of lately.
Anat Scolnicov: On occasion.
Edy Kaufman: Yes, in Shkunat Hatikva. Or parts of a house.
But it is not systematic.
Hassan Asfour: Do you consider confiscated land as part of
Edy Kaufman: Yes. And I wanted to give the example of Ma'ale
Adumim and how it has affected the lives of two Bedouin tribes.
This policy of settlements and land confiscation has ruined the
life of an entire community which is now living in small ship
containers on a hillside far away from where they used to be.
Iyad Sarraj: I was appointed commissioner by Presidential
decree, but the Commission for Citizens' Rights is an independent
body. Let me start by saying that the security forces lack job
descriptions and have a serious lack of respect for the law and the
legal system. They can arrest people with no regard to the Basic
Law which has been passed by the Legislative Councilor the
Palestinian Declaration of Independence, or all the known
My position is that this Palestinian Authority is the only
legitimate authority in the land that I recognize. I do not
recognize Israel as a legitimate authority in the Palestinian
areas. I do not recognize Hamas. I do not recognize the Islamic
Jihad. I do not recognize any of the armed groups as legitimate
authorities. I recognize only this Palestinian Authority. But this
authority is corrupt and absolutely immoral. There is ill treatment
of prisoners, detention without trial, disregard of the decisions
of the High Court of Justice, disregard of Legislative Council
rulings. Some political prisoners (mainly Hamas) have been detained
now for over four years with no charges and no court
We have had no Attorney-General for maybe a year. We have no High
Court judge. He was dismissed last year and has not been replaced.
The situation is bad. And this is happening under the slogan of the
national project of independence.
Ziad Abu-Zayyad: To what extent is it true, as people say,
that the Palestinian Authority is under pressure from Israel, the
United States and Europe to deal very harshly with the so-called
terrorists, and to prevent these people from undermining the peace
process by suicide and other attacks? Isn't the Authority also
under pressure from those - the same people - who are advocating
human rights and the avoidance of their violation?
Iyad Sarraj: There is definite pressure on the Palestinian
Authority, especially from the American and Israeli governments.
Netanyahu continues to say that the Palestinians are not fulfilling
their obligations, and they should be demolishing the
infrastructure of terror. A revolving-door policy.
My position is - and I say this continuously publicly - I do not
care what people outside will say. I do not care about comparisons
to Israeli violations. How can you ask the Israelis to release
Palestinian prisoners when you are arresting people? How can you
ask the Israelis to stop torturing people when you are torturing
people? The Palestinian Authority is the only legitimate authority
in the land, elected by the people. It is accountable to its own
people, not to Israel and not to the Americans. As a Palestinian, I
voted them into office, not the Europeans. If there is pressure
from America and Israel¬ which I believe there is - the basic
problem is not with Israel and America, but with the Authority
itself because this Authority lacks any overall concept of
respecting the law. They are using the pressure by America and
Israel to justify what they are doing.
Ziad Abu-Zayyad: If I may try to develop this argument, the
Palestinian Authority says they are caught in the middle.
Iyad Sarraj: They are not caught in the middle. This is an
Ziad Abu-Zayyad: On the one hand, they are asking us to
fight terror, and we cannot fight terror without arresting and
detaining and interrogating.
Edy Kaufman: Did the Israelis ask them to arrest Dr.
Iyad Sarraj: Who pressured Arafat to arrest me? Was it the
Americans or the Israelis?
Ziad Abu-Zayyad: I don't know. We are not dealing with
individual cases. We are conducting a debate on the subject as a
What the Authority is saying is that our aim is to liberate the
Therefore, we want to respect our obligations within the framework
of the peace process. To do so, we want to fight terror. We want to
prove that we are reliable ...
Iyad Sarraj: I support that.
Ziad Abu-Zayyad: ... and that we respect our obligations. In
the process of all that, of course there are mistakes.
IIyad Sarraj: No. They are not mistakes.
Edy Kaufman: Excesses.
Ziad Abu-Zayyad: We are starting anew. We do not have
professionals in police and interrogation. We are learning from our
mistakes and experience.
I am not trying to justify what is being done, but I would like to
ask you to make a comparison between the situation today and how it
was two or three years ago. Do you think things are improving,
though very slightly, or are they getting worse?
Iyad Sarraj: First of all, I am very much in favor of this
Palestinian Authority fulfilling its obligations under the peace
process, and I am very much for combating terror everywhere. But
you have to do everything within the law.
I want this Palestinian Authority to be as strong as possible,
stronger than Israel itself, but within the law. If I am smuggling
hashish, arrest me, bring me to court, sentence me. But if I am not
smuggling hashish, do not go to my office and put the hashish in my
desk and then claim I am a hashish addict. This is how the law is
Serious violations are taking place. People are being blackmailed
by senior officers. Jabali had to apologize publicly for some
people who were blackmailed. How can you justify this? If you want
to liberate Palestine, you have to liberate it with people. If you
want to build a country, you have to build it with people. These
people should be partners, not slaves.
It is not getting better in the sense that they are not changing
Some people are definitely learning now. These revolutionaries who
came back from Beirut with a different culture, the culture of the
gun, some of them are more sensitive now to this question of human
In the Police Department there is much improvement because now
there are professional policemen there, not revolutionaries. In
military intelligence things are the same. There is no change
whatsoever. It is getting better in certain areas, basically
because there are human-rights activists who stand up and say
"Stop, that's enough." There is opposition. There are sensitive
people within the Authority who really believe in human rights as
an integral part of this national project.
If you stand up within the Authority, in the Cabinet, and talk
about human rights and respect for the law in front of Arafat, you
are helping the cause. But the officers Arafat has put in place are
the same, and the top leadership has not really changed.
Ziad Abu-Zayyad: Bringing this issue to public debate, and
the role which the Palestinian Legislative Council is playing in
regard to human-rights violations, do you think that these factors
make a positive contribution to improvement?
Iyad Sarraj: Absolutely. I am talking about the forces of
human-rights activists in the non-governmental sector, in the
Legislative Council, in the Cabinet itself, all these people are
raising the issue of human rights.
Ziad Abu-Zayyad: And they are talking and they are
Iyad Sarraj: Yes.
Anat Scolnicov: Can you describe the restrictions on freedom
of speech that you are experiencing? Freedom of speech and freedom
of the press?
Ziad Abu-Zayyad: May I just mention that I receive by mail,
and even by hand-out, many newsletters and journals published by
human-rights organizations with very detailed reports about
human-rights violations, and with pictures. Nobody in the
Palestinian Authority prevents these publications from being
Iyad Sarraj: You are absolutely right.
Edy Kaufman: That is not the mass media.
Ziad Abu-Zayyad: It is a mass media. The point is, while
there is government TV and government radio, at the same time they
do not censor publications other than their own.
Iyad Sarraj: We are better today than any Arab country. You
can take that for granted. In the Palestinian areas today, the
situation with regard to human rights is better than in any Arab
Hassan Asfour: How many NGO human-rights organizations do we
Iyad Sarraj: Many, but far less than we deserve. We have
suffered 50 years of violations of our basic rights. We thought
that the peace process and the Palestinian Authority voting for it
would really begin a new era.
The mass media and official TV are controlled by Arafat. Two major
papers are paid in large part by Arafat, so they are not critical.
One newspaper is independently owned, but is self-censoring. Hamas
has its own weekly publication and nobody censors it. There is no
censorship of Jihad's publication. There is no hindrance to the
publications of human-rights organizations.
Edy Kaufman: But these things do not reach the masses. They
reach a very small group.
Hassan Asfour: We have private TV.
Iyad Sarraj: In the West Bank only. It is not allowed in
Hassan Asfour: First of all, ours is not
an ideal system. Nowhere in the world is there a l00-percent
observance of human rights. Everywhere we look we see mistakes,
serious mistakes, more democracy or less democracy. I look to our
people. Maybe they dream. I also dream. I dreamed for 26 years to
see Communism on earth. That failed, but this was my dream. I am
still a fighter for human rights, but I believe you not only have
to speak, you have to live. You can speak, but first you
need to live. Hassan Asfour
In many countries you can open your mouth to speak, but your
stomach is empty. What kind of human rights is that? Human rights
sometimes are only for the rich people. But most of the poor people
first ask Arafat for employment. This is the principle. This
country has special characteristics. We are not a liberated
country. We are not an occupied country. We are semi and semi, half
and half. And you must really take this into consideration when you
speak about everything here - the legal system, the judicial
system, everything. This is the system, and it affects our lives as
Secondly, we have to create a unified social system between those
who were under the occupation and those who were in the diaspora.
In practice it is not one country but many countries, and with many
cultures. Maybe our nationalism is the same, but our cultures are
The third issue is what comes after the peace process. For me, the
question is how we can continue to liberate our land. For others,
it is how we can strengthen human rights or democracy in Palestine.
Others look at the economic system, since so many Palestinians are
still under the poverty line because of the occupation. We are not
free in our own economy. We are under siege with regard to
movement; we are in a big prison with some freedom allowed. If you
want to go to Egypt you need to ask the Israelis, and they can
prevent you. Every Palestinian is under suspicion until the
Israelis decide otherwise.
It is not easy to speak about human rights in such a situation. Dr.
Sarraj does not speak about policy. He speaks about examples. For
me, there is no policy against human rights. There are examples of
violations, but not a policy. This is not the most serious problem
for Palestinian society.
We have many NGOs for human rights, maybe more than in Israel, and
all of them are very active and receive money from Europe and
America. No organization is independent.
Edy Kaufman: You mean they are not independent from
Hassan Asfour: Their money comes from America and
Iyad Sarraj: So when we become an independent state we will
have our money from the state?
Hassan Asfour: I am saying that we have many human-rights
NGOs. If we do not have human rights in the Authority itself, why
would we allow them?
Anat Scolnicov: Do you not feel that human rights are first
and foremost the responsibility of the government rather than the
NGOs? The role of the NGOs is maybe to supplement, but is the main
responsibility not that of the government?
Hassan Asfour: We as the Authority are more responsible for
human rights because we must look after the people's needs.
If you look at our elected bodies, when Dr. Sarraj was in prison,
it was the Legislative Council and many ministers who spoke up for
him. I personally spoke for him, not as a friend, but because of
the principle. The arrest was a mistake. I told Arafat, "You are
making a new hero. We do not need a new Mandela in our land." It
was a mistake, and after that Arafat invited him to his office.
What kind of human-rights violations is that when the prisoner
himself is invited?
Iyad Sarraj: Then they arrested me again ten days later.
They are playing games.
Hassan Asfour: Something bad happened, but I cannot speak
about this as a serious violation against the people. We cannot
live without human rights, without democracy. This is not because
Arafat likes it or doesn't. This is the Palestinian character. We
will fight for our freedom and we will fight for our democracy
because we suffered under Israeli occupation and we suffered in
Iyad Sarraj: You say there is no systematic policy of
violation of human rights, only little examples here and there.
When these little examples here and there continue to be practiced
in the same manner, when you have officers violating the law
repeatedly and not being punished, when you have so many
commissions of inquiry set up because people are killed by torture
Hassan Asfour: It happened in the beginning, not for the
last two years.
Iyad Sarraj: Commissions of inquiry that do not present
their findings publicly, one after the other, and this continues,
then there is a system.
Ziad Abu-Zayyad: I want to answer Dr. Sarraj with a
question. I need you to help me understand this. Do you think that
the human-rights violations we are talking about are isolated or
disconnected from the political situation, or that they are the
outcome of the political situation?
Hassan Asfour: We are not a model of human rights, but it is
not a systematic policy. We do not have enough professionals in the
police and in other departments. The judgeship system is the worst.
Arafat himself says openly that we do not have enough people, and
it is difficult to bring in Jordanians or Egyptians because the
Israelis have not allowed us to.
Iyad Sarraj: Allow the judges that we have to function.
Hassan Asfour: About our obligations with regard to the
peace process, I am a man who deals with the negotiations and I
know the meaning of our obligations. Our democracy recognizes that
there is a Palestinian Authority. Until now, Hamas does not
recognize that there is one sole Palestinian Authority. They are
playing games with us. They can speak with a double tongue since
they do not recognize the PLO as the legitimate representative of
the Palestinian people.
Iyad Sarraj: I agree with you on this.
Hassan Asfour: When you speak about the religious sector
there are three considerations. Hamas fights against women's
rights, and you know that personally. Will we allow them to
implement their law by force?
Iyad Sarraj: Absolutely not.
Hassan Asfour: Second, they are against the peace process,
not because they are more nationalistic than us, but because they
are in a league with others against our nationalist aims. Not only
Iran. First with Israel itself. They were made by Israel, and you
know that. By Rabin and Sharnir.
Iyad Sarraj: I do not know that.
Edy Kaufman: Under the Intifada.
Hassan Asfour: Yes. They encouraged them.
Third, we have obligations. We are looking to liberate our land.
When they use these terrorist acts - without quotation marks,
because they are terrorist acts¬against Israeli civilians in
these times, what is the meaning of that? To destroy the peace
process. To prevent Israel from withdrawing. They are helping the
extremists inside Israel. They are helping Bibi Netanyahu more than
any force in the world because they give him the reason to stay and
to escape the peace process. We will do everything to prevent them,
including imprisonment. This is not against human rights. This is
to protect ourselves and our future.
Iyad Sarraj: But they are there illegally. I can agree with
all you are doing against Hamas, but they are there
Hassan Asfour: Yes. But why? We have a military court for
Edy Kaufman: Listening to the three Palestinians on our
panel, it is encouraging to see how you argue so freely about your
human-rights situation. This is good. It is very important to
stress that. I share many of the points of view of Dr. Sarraj, and
it is not surprising as we are both part of the human-rights
movement. We talk about universal principles. It does not matter
for which nation or which government.
But my concern is not only for those from Hamas or Jihad who are in
jail without trial. My concern is that there is a lot of
intimidation, as I see it. Many Palestinians, unfortunately, are
learning not to speak their minds.
I have many university friends. In the West Bank they still speak
very freely. That is not necessarily the case now in Gaza. One
friend had a very difficult time, and all the others teaching in
the same university are now very careful. And it is very bad for
future generations if they are going to teach the students not to
practice critical thinking.
Hassan Asfour: Take into consideration that Gaza is not a
democracy. The economic situation in Gaza is worse than in the West
Bank. There is no comparison. People are asking about jobs. They
want to eat. They want to move. Gaza is a very small area. They
cannot go to the West Bank. They cannot go to Israel. They cannot
go to Egypt. It is very difficult to go even from Khan Yunis to
Rafah. They are asking first about jobs, about movement, about
Iyad Sarraj: Survival.
Edy Kaufman: The point I want to make is that people should
be educated that the right to dissent, the right to be different,
the right to be critical, are positive values, even when there is
poverty and unemployment.
The other thing I am worried about, as a friend of the
Palestinians, is the question of excess of power. There is fighting
among the different 11 or 12 security groups. There is the
arrogance of some security groups in doing whatever they
Ziad Abu-Zayyad: I want to add two things. First of all,
there is a question of mentality. The mentality of people in the
West Bank is different from that of people in Gaza. The economic
situation is also different. When you are afraid for your bread,
you are less free to say what you want. Nobody is preventing you,
but you do not do it.
I feel that Israel has tried to use the issue of human¬ rights
violations by the Palestinian Authority and to bring it to the
international media and focus attention on it in order to divert
attention from human-rights
violations perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinians.
We should not allow this to happen. We should always speak about
human-rights violations by Israel: house demolition, administrative
detention, land confiscation, collective punishment, closure,
preventing people from traveling abroad, the ethnic cleansing
policy against the Arabs in East Jerusalem. These are the real
The occupation itself is the biggest human-rights violation. You
know that you cannot speak about coexistence and occupation and
respect of human rights and occupation or democracy and
So we have to fight against two things on two tracks. We have to
fight against occupation and to try to put an end to it and, at the
same time, to try to advocate human rights and prevent their
There is another point, and I am not trying to offend anybody. For
some human-rights NGOs in the Palestinian territories, their
passport to get funding from foreign and international
organizations is to speak about the abuse of human rights and
violations of human rights by the Palestinian Authority. It seems
that there are sources of funding who are interested in
discrediting the Palestinian Authority and implying that the
Palestinians are not mature enough to handle their own affairs.
Therefore, they help exaggerate talk about human-rights violations
by the Palestinian Authority.
We do not say there are no human-rights violations. We do not say
there are no abuses of human rights. But we say there is an
exaggeration when talking about the subject. This is a misuse of
Iyad Sarraj: This is wrong.
Edy Kaufman: The same sources also give money to
organizations in Israel that criticize the Israeli
Ziad Abu-Zayyad: You can easily start an NGO tomorrow and
have funding if you say you want to speak about the abuse of human
rights by the Palestinian Authority.
Anat Scolnicov: These organizations give funding on those
grounds to human-rights institutions in every country.
Iyad Sarraj: It has been claimed by Arab regimes that NGOs
that deal with human rights are a fifth column.
Ziad Abu-Zayyad: No one has said that.
Iyad Sarraj: Not you. We have to be objective. Objectively,
if we have violations of human rights, how can we correct this? If
it is by taking money from Sweden or America or somebody else, that
does not matter. You can use the same argument against the
Authority itself. Where does Arafat get his money? From the CIA?
From the American Congress? Where else? Peres was campaigning for
funding of the Authority. I am not questioning motives. I am for
the Palestinian Authority to be as strong as possible, but only
within the law. On the Israeli side, I think that the Israeli
violations of the basic human rights of the Palestinians for 50
years have exceeded all limits. It is unimaginable that today's
government, the last of a series of governments, is tolerated by
any decent human being in Israel or elsewhere. This government is
openly racist, openly violating human rights, openly sanctioning
torture through the court. It is unimaginable and unprecedented in
the history of mankind.
Not only that. This government and Israeli policies, in general,
are making the peace process hollow and void. Under the name of
peace we are being subjected to brutal treatment. We are being
raped. Our basic rights are being taken from us under the peace
process. The misconception in the world now is that there is peace,
since Arafat is shaking hands with Netanyahu. There isn't anything
called peace. There is continuous, brutal suppression of basic
human rights and violations by this racist government, under an
arrogant dictator that has abused the Israelis, abused the law and
abused the peace process.
I salute the Israeli human-rights activists who have campaigned
over the years against their own government - this is very
important - for the benefit of respecting the human rights of the
Palestinians. This is a supreme example, these people, who are
functioning for the rights of the so-called enemy against their own
government. For me, everyone of these is a hero.
Edy Kaufman: This congratulatory note is very nice, but it
exceeds reality. To be honest, in Israel you have a large peace
movement, but not a large human-rights movement. Not so many
Israelis are willing to stand up and fight for the rights of
anybody, including Palestinians, and including Palestinians who may
have used violence and so on.
So we have large peace demonstrations, but, unfortunately, a couple
of days ago I was in front of the Ministry of Police protesting the
demolition of Palestinian houses in Issawiyya neighborhood in East
Jerusalem and we totaled only 75 people. This is just to put things
Peace is very important for the Israelis. Unfortunately, we do not
yet have a human-rights movement. Those organizations that are
working for human rights are either staff-driven or board members,
sometimes volunteers, but they do not have a mass rank and
On a positive note, I think this discussion was more interesting
than anticipated. On the Palestinian side I could see both
representatives of the official government or parliament and a very
important representative of the human-rights movement able to
conduct a dialogue with a very honest exchange of opinion, and very
self-critical in some cases. However, on the Israeli side, I do not
know why we do not have official government representation at this
round-table. Unfortunately, I concur with some of the terms used by
my colleague, Dr. Sarraj. There is no dialogue on human rights with
this present government in Israel. Although in the Knesset they
celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights, I am sorry to say, neither the Chief Justice nor the
Speaker of the Knesset mentioned even once the human rights of the
Palestinians. Arabs in Israel were mentioned, but not the situation
in the territories. So my concluding remark is that this kind of
dialogue that exists on the Palestinian side should also be
promoted on the Israeli side.
Anat Scolnicov: In this short last round, we are supposed
also to talk about and be critical of the other side. I was very
much enlightened today to hear this dialogue, and I can only offer
one word of advice, especially to what you said, Mr.
In every country, the organizations working for human rights are
always criticized and always seen as working against national
interests, against the public interest, against the general
interest of the community. I think this is the wrong way to see
I see a parallel in the argument that you brought up - an argument
that is also brought up in Israel against human-rights
organizations - and I think that human-rights organizations have an
important role to play. They do have to represent the individual,
the opposition, the minorities, rather than what is perhaps
perceived as the "public interest."
Ziad Abu-Zayyad: We are carrying a very heavy burden on our
shoulders. On the one hand, we have to struggle to liberate our
land and to build our state and to gain our freedom and to practice
our right to self¬-determination, without outside interference
and after getting rid of the Israeli occupation of our land. On the
other hand, we have to struggle for human rights and
All this takes time and it requires a huge effort. I do not say
that there are no human-rights violations on the Palestinian side.
Of course, there are. I am satisfied, as a member of the
parliament, that those human-rights violations are a result of the
political situation and the result of our negotiations with Israel.
When the peace process is concluded - when I hope will be a
Palestinian state - we will not stop our efforts, and to guarantee
that, there will be no more human-rights violations. No one doubts
that there was a significant improvement in the human-rights
situation in the Palestinian Authority, as a result of continued
pressure by the Legislative Council, NGOs and human-rights
The struggle for human rights and democracy will continue. We know
that it is a struggle against ourselves and it is not easy. Even
the Prophet Muhammad said the most difficult kind of jihad is the
jihad against your own instincts. And we will continue that.
Iyad Sarraj: You cannot have peace devoid of respect for
human dignity. Peace must be between people, and dignified people.
I want Israelis to go from enemies to partners. They cannot do that
if they do not see me as an equal partner.
Ziad Abu-Zayyad: The Israelis have not made the mental
change from occupiers to partners in a peace process. I was
involved in negotiations with officers from the Israeli army and
from the Israeli Civil Administration. Many times as a negotiator I
had to remind them that they were sitting at the table not as
military officers, but as negotiators, and that they had to deal
with us in dignity.
Iyad Sarraj: I am saying that you cannot make peace except
between dignified people. The Israelis should look upon me as an
equal partner with full rights. It means nothing to me if there are
still soldiers who look at me arrogantly and deliberately try to
humiliate me. I am not saying all soldiers are like this. Some
soldiers are extremely decent. But the concept of peace should be
based on respect of the other, of the partner, giving him full
On the Palestinian side, you cannot make a national project of
liberation without your own people. Arafat himself cannot liberate
the land. He needs me. He needs all the people. We are partners,
not slaves. Only then can he talk to Netanyahu about peace, and
only then can he give the message to his own people. Today the
people are ready to receive a message of war, not one of peace. The
peace process today is a schizophrenic process. On the one hand,
everybody is talking slogans of peace, but they are practicing war.
What we need is a complete change of the concept of the peace
process to be based on respect of human dignity and equality. And
this is lacking on both sides.