An examination of the human-rights situation in the world reveals that organizations dedicated to the defense of human rights are able to function freely only in democratic societies. In countries subjected to dictatorial regimes, where the watchfulness of human-rights activists is most needed, they are often persecuted and imprisoned in order to silence them. However, even in democratic states, proud of the rule of law and of their independent judiciary system, the protection of minority rights and of the individual's freedom to oppose national consensus should not always be taken for granted.
Governments and public opinion are frequently more sensitive to human¬rights violations abroad than to those committed in their own country. Thus in the 1970s and 1980s, British public opinion was very much concerned with Israel's systematic violations of Palestinian rights and freedoms, while being much less upset by the brutal persecution of Irish nationalists in Ulster, meted out by Britain's Special Forces. In April 1999, Israelis mobilized en masse to protest against the situation in Yugoslavia and help the Albanian refugees of Kosovo, fleeing Serbian persecution, with money, food, blankets, clothes and medical supplies. However, the plight of the Palestinians suffering from thirty years of Israeli occupation, the hardships caused by the many closures of the Palestinian territories by the Israeli army and police, the d~tention of hundreds of Palestinians by military decree without due trial, the continued demolition of Palestinian houses, the shooting and killing of Paleslinian children aged under sixteen during demonstrations - all these did not cause a fraction of the sympathetic interest in Israel induced by the tragic fate of the Kosovo refugees.
In Israel and Palestine today, several human-rights associations are alive and kicking in the right direction - against their own governments. It was not easy for the editors of this journal to initiate an issue focusing on human rights. The main obstacle, both psychologically and politically, was to deal evenhandedly with human-rights violations by both the Israeli and Palestinian authorities, the more so as Israel continues to control most of the Palestinian territories in the West bank and Gaza, and the struggle for Palestinian freedom and independence is far from finished.
In this context, when the protracted Israeli occupation in itself constitutes a permanent and massive violation of Palestinian human rights, some observers believe that to stress infringements upon human rights committed by the Palestinian Authority - as in reports that are given prominent display by the Israeli and world media - undermines Arafat's standing and weakens international support for the Palestinian efforts to create an independent state alongside the State of Israel. Former Knesset Member and well-known peace activist Uri Avnery argues this point forcefully in an article published by the Israeli daily Ma' ariv, on September 16, 1998. He even labels Palestinian human-rights activists, whose reports on human-rights encroachments by the Palestinian Authority are used by Israeli leaders to discredit Arafat, as a new kind of collaborators.
In response, Palestinian human-rights activist Bassem Eid claims in Ma' ariv of September 28, 1998, that "supporters of peace are not always supporters of human rights," and warns that to call Palestinians who expose human-rights transgressions by the Palestinian Authority security services "collaborators" is to target those Palestinians for reprisals. Uri Avnery does not deny that human-rights violations do take place under Palestinian self-rule, but thinks it unwise to place them in the limelight at a time when the Palestinian nation "is in the midst of a fateful struggle for its very existence." Bassem Eid admits that a conflict sometimes exists between political interests and human rights, but insists that human-rights encroachments should be made public and fought vigorously.
This is no doubt a fascinating polemic, if only because - a sign of the times - it pits an Israeli human-rights activist who is defending Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, against a Palestinian human-rights activist who is criticizing the same Authority for condoning misconduct by the Palestinian police and security services.
Addressing violations of Palestinian human rights perpetrated by Israel, Yossi WoIfson writes in this journal, p. 55 "Peace to be sure is our common dream. Peace also means compromise. No side will achieve all that it wants ... However, while national dreams may be compromised, individual human rights should not. They are not on the negotiating table. If human rights deserve to be protected in time of violent confict, how much truer it is then to protect them while establishing peace."
Ziad Abu-Zayyad, member of the Palestinian Parliament and Minister Without Portfolio, looks at transgressions of human rights by Palestinian institutions and believes that the fight should be waged simultaneously on two tracks. In the round-table discussion published in this issue of our journal on page 63, Ziad Abu-Zayyad speaks of a continuous struggle: "On the one hand, we have to struggle to liberate our land and build our state; on the other hand, we have to struggle for human rights and democracy. All this takes time and requires a huge effort. We know that it is a struggle against ourselves and it is not easy. The Prophet Muhammad said: 'The most difficult kind of jihad is the jihad against your own instincts.'"
Experience shows that, like confronting racism, the defense of human rights is a never-ending struggle. Everyday, everywhere. <