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 territories.
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 children.
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 assets.

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 as discriminatory.

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 Palestinians.
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 rights now.
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 Jerusalem.
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 days.
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 Authority.
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 trial.
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 considered torture.
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 in Jerusalem?

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 this problem?

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 human-rights declarations.
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 proceedings.
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 excuse.

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. Sarraj?

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 whole.
What the Authority is saying is that our aim is to liberate the land.
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 abused.
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 their concepts.
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 rights.
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 pressuring?

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 circulated.

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 country.

Hassan Asfour: How many NGO human-rights organizations do we have here?

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 Gaza.

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 Palestinians here.
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 different.
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 Europe?

Hassan Asfour: Their money comes from America and Europe.

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 foreign countries.

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. Respect them.

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 illegally.

Hassan Asfour: Yes. But why? We have a military court for such cases.

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 freedom.

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 want.

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 human-rights violations.
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 occupation.
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 violation.
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 this issue.

Iyad Sarraj: This is wrong.

Edy Kaufman: The same sources also give money to organizations in Israel that criticize the Israeli government.

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 in proportion.
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 file.
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. Abu-Zayyad.
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 these organizations.
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 democracy.
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 activists.
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 equal rights.
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.