Hanan Ashrawi's address to World Conference Against Racism
By Hanan Ashrawi
August 28, 2001

Sisters and Brothers,

From Jerusalem, from the heart of Palestine, a land besieged, and repeatedly violated by a most brutal Israeli military occupation, I have come to join you today. From the midst of the people of Palestine, a tortured nation, guilty only of an unwavering commitment to freedom, dignity, and independence, I have come to join you today. From the depths of unredeemed history, I have come to join you today. I represent a narrative of exclusion, denial, racism, and national victimization, but I also come with a message of hope, redemption, and historical vindication embodied in the spirit and the will of a people that has refused to succumb to all forces of oppression, violence, cruelty, and injustice.

In convening this conference, you are the authentic embodiment of courage in withstanding the forces of domination, subjugation, and enslavement. We stand together today to launch a truly global mission of empowerment and solidarity, to give voice to the silenced, to give a reality to the invisible, to give recognition to the denied, and to give credence to the victimized.

In times of adversity, and during the darkest nights of the soul, we look to you for affirmation and action as an antidote to the failure of established power systems, including governments a failure characterized by self-interest, power politics, absence of will, and impotence. I take this opportunity to recognize before you those valiant men and women who had left the comfort of their homes in Europe and the US and joined us in Palestine to provide popular protection, a human shield in the face of Israeli abuses, violence, and violations against the Palestinian people.

I come to you today with a heavy heart leaving behind a nation in captivity held hostage to an ongoing Nakba [catastrophe], as the most intricate and pervasive expression of persistent colonialism, apartheid, racism, and victimization. More than half a century ago [53 years], the Palestinians as a people were slated for national obliteration, cast outside the course of history, their identity denied, and their very human cultural and historical reality suppressed. We became victims of the myth of a land without a people for people without a land whereby the West sought to assuage its guilt over its horrendous anti-Semitism by the total victimization of a whole nation. Zionism sought to implement its agenda of exclusivity by usurping not only the lands and rights of the Palestinians, but also by confiscating their utterance and distorting their historical narrative.

In 1948, we became subject to a grave historical injustice manifested in a dual victimization: on the one hand, the injustice of dispossession, dispersion, and exile forcibly enacted on the population that has come to be known as the refugee question that currently encompasses more than 5 million Palestinians. On the other hand, those that remained were subject to the systematic oppression and brutality of an inhuman occupation that robbed them of all their rights and liberties including their national identity on their own land.

The creation of the state of Israel was no heroic and legendary accomplishment as depicted by the version of history propagated by the conquerors. It is time to lift the veil, to examine the facts themselves, and to come to grips with the horrific price paid by an innocent nation for the mere fact of its existence as well as for the greed and moral blindness of others. The days of denial must come to an end. The Palestinian people deserve their day in the sun as an equal among nations, and as a tribute to the human will that cannot be broken. As a Palestinian, as a woman, and on behalf of my people, I stand before you today to lay claim to my/to our humanity. >From the non-existent Palestinians (there is not such thing as Palestinians; they never existed (Golda Meir, 1969) we have undergone a metamorphosis willfully inflicted upon us by Israeli-imposed diction and policies that have variously depicted us as two-legged vermin, cockroaches, beasts walking on two legs, a people that have to be exterminated unless they are resigned to live as slaves, grasshoppers to be crushed, crocodiles, and vipers. [A comprehensive list with representative samples is available]

Such a systematic and racist dehumanization was also accompanied by policies of violent expulsion. There is no other way than to transfer the Arabs from here to neighboring countries, not one village, not one tribe should be left (Joseph Weitz, 1940)

There is no choice: the Arabs must make room for the Jews in Eretz Yisrael. If it was possible to transfer the Baltic peoples, it is also possible to move the Palestinian Arabs (Vladimir Jabotinsky, 1939).

Zionist colonization must either be terminated or carried out against the wishes of the native population. It is important to speak Hebrew, but it is even more important to be able to shoot or else I am through at playing with colonizing (Vladimir Jabotinsky, 1939).

We must do everything to insure they never return. The old will die and the young will forget. However, for those that remained in spite of all of Israels military coercion and attempts at forced expulsion, other (and equally sinister) plans were in the making:

We shall reduce the Arab population to a community of woodcutters and waiters. (David Ben Gurion).

To the rest of the world, we were reduced to the Aristotelian dualism of pity and fear the pitiful refugees, of the fearful terrorists. But never were we perceived or addressed in the fullness of our humanity.

The Palestinians today continue to be subject to multiple forms and expressions of racism, exclusion, oppression, colonialism, apartheid, and national denial. Our right to self-determination, hence sovereignty and statehood, has been withheld by force and made subject to the approval of our oppressor. The refugee populations, mostly stateless people, are bereft of the rudimentary civil, human, political, and national rights, left at the mercy of host countries that view them either as a demographic threat, or as unwelcome guests. While Israel has legislated a law of return to bring in Jews from all over the world into historical Palestine, it persists in rejecting the Palestinian refugees Right of Return and in refusing to abide by UN res. 194, a legal commitment which the international community was supposed to guarantee and implement.

The Palestinians who remained in what has become Israel are experiencing in their historical homeland the worst system of apartheid, exclusion, and racial discrimination--their towns and cities either taken over entirely, or turned into ghettos and enclaves as the non-Jewish population of Israel. Many continue to be displaced persons in their own land, witnesses to the destruction of their villages. Over 500 villages were razed in the original ethnic cleansing campaign that accompanied the creation of the state of Israel. Those of us who came under Israeli occupation in 1967 have languished in the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip under a unique combination of military occupation, settler colonization, and systematic oppression.

Rarely has the human mind devised such varied, diverse, and comprehensive means of wholesale brutalization and persecution. Since 1967, Palestinian land has been expropriated at an increasing pace, while whole Jewish populations have been brought in, in a calculated scheme of settler colonization. Throughout the land, an artificial and colonial grid of infrastructure was superimposed on our authentic reality to create a spurious settler superstructure as a means of Israeli demographic, geographic, and extraterritorial incursions into Palestine. So-called bypass roads for the exclusive use of the illegal Jewish settler population, tear through the heart of Palestinian land, to bypass Palestinian realities and create a unique form of racism. In the meantime, settler vigilantes habitually unleash the full force of their extremism and violence, carrying out campaigns of terror against defenseless Palestinian families and villages. Israels state terrorism is implemented by both military and settler perpetrators with political duplicity and legal impunity.

Another unique manifestation of Israeli racism is the blatant and sinister policy of demographic engineering. To maintain the Jewish character, or the purity of the state of Israel, the Palestinians have been depicted and dealt with as a demographic threat. Proposed remedies included calls for forced birth control and population management, to transfer and expulsion of whole communities, to the racist and punitive unilateral separation scheme currently being advocated.

In Jerusalem, land expropriation, ID confiscations, home demolitions, withholding of building permits, and the importation of settler colonies within and around the city have become constant elements of Israels demographic engineering through ethnic cleansing.

Jerusalem is also under siege in an attempt to isolate it from its Palestinian context and environment, and to extricate it from the heart of Palestine, as the center of political, cultural, economic, social, and educational activity and as the future capital of our state. Such Israeli unilateral measures seek to consolidate Israels illegal annexation of occupied Jerusalem, and to impose a Jewish exclusivity on a Palestinian city that has always been pluralistic and tolerant. Onslaughts on Christian and Islamic holy sites and activities while banning Palestinian worshipers from reaching their holy places of worship betray a willful policy of intolerance and a violation of the right and freedom to worship.

A state of siege has been imposed not only on the West Bank and Gaza, but also within these territories, to transform each village, town, and city into an isolated prison thereby destroying every aspect of human life, including economic, educational, health, and social cohesiveness in an attempt to sever every fiber of the fabric of normal life.

Israeli occupation troops using tanks, helicopter gunships, F-16s, military barges, and checkpoints not only render a whole Palestinian population captive in 64 isolated bantustans, they also use the full force of their military power against a vulnerable and defenseless people. Daily, they shell Palestinian homes, assassinate Palestinian activists and leaders, destroy crops and fields, indulge in cold-blooded murder of children and other innocents while implementing a policy of deliberate humiliation and suffocation at every checkpoint. The Israeli occupation has also hijacked the concept of security rendering it applicable only to Israelis while depriving the Palestinians of every aspect of personal, political, legal, territorial, historical, cultural, economic, and even human security. As a blanket cover for its systematic abuses, Israel has also abused the essence of the concept, exploiting it for the sake of eradicating any mention of the occupation, and claiming the illogical right to have a secureor even a safe and pleasantmilitary occupation that is in itself the very antithesis of peace, security, and human rights.

As the world watches, Israel has succeeded in evolving and imposing another grand deception in the form of an official spin that not only dehumanizes and demonizes the Palestinians, but also as an attempt at blaming the victim and resuscitating labels that represent us as subhuman species, and genetically violent terrorists, hence undeserving of any human treatment. At best, a false symmetry is manufactured between occupier and occupied, oppressor and oppressed, (as in the call on both sides to stop the violence) serving to eradicate the full horror of the occupation while depriving the victims of their right to resist. Given the disequilibrium of power, the American insistence on a bilateral solution only serves to give Israel license to exploit the asymmetry of power and to pursue its policies of subjugating a whole nation and imposing a unilateral and unjust solution.

The Israeli solution is firmly imbedded in the tainted mentality of occupation as license to dictate by force of arms illegal and punitive realities that would further exacerbate the conflict and the suffering of the Palestinian people. Refusal to intervene by the US and the international community as a whole has given Israel a free hand to continue to act with impunity and immunity as a country above the law and beyond accountability, while the Palestinians continue to be deprived of protection of the law and the minimal imperatives of moral and human decency. We continue to plead for a global rule of law that would check the aggression of the powerful, and eliminate the ongoing dehumanization of the Palestinian people. Such absence of will and abrogation of responsibility on the part of the international community has not only perpetuated the Nakba and prolonged the suffering and victimization of the Palestinian people, but has also served to undermine the quest and chances for peace throughout the region.

When we joined the peace process launched in Madrid in 1991, we did so as an act of will, as a commitment to a peaceful resolution of the conflict with the aim of ending the occupation of 22% of historical Palestine and the establishment of our independent state on the territory occupied by Israel in 1967. As victims, we rose above the pain of the moment and reached out to our occupiers to wrench the course of history away from inevitable conflict, towards reconciliation based on justice and parity. Buttressed by the confidence of the peoples will to endure and resist oppression, as manifested in the intifada of 1987, we offered Israel and the world a unique opportunity to legitimize a daring pursuit of peace, and to gain a constituency for an equitable resolution.

Unfortunately, the peace process became a punitive process manipulated by Israel to pursue its policies of expansion, ethnic cleansing, colonialism, and subjugation of the weaker side by force. It further served as a guise to rationalize the separation of the people from the land and to fragment both the people and the land, transforming the occupied Palestinian territories into a series of isolated reservations or Bantustans while maintaining full Israeli hegemony and direct control. While seeking to bestow retroactive legitimacy on illegal Israeli settlements, and on Israels annexation of Jerusalem by force, it also sought to negate the Palestinian refugees right of return thereby denying the very essence of peace and destroying its foundations.

The so-called generous offer of Barak has been exposed for the sham that it is an occupiers version of whats good for the natives, based only on whats good for Israel, thus ensuring further conflict and instability rather than cementing a fair and durable solution. Having been historically the victims of war and conflict, we found ourselves the victims of a flawed and unjust peace process.

Sharons incursion into the Haram Al-Sharif on September 28, 2000, was only the calculated spark that ignited a powder keg already in place as a result of the inequities of the process itself. The use of live ammunition and lethal force against the unarmed Palestinian protestors unleashed horrific forces of hostility, racism, and orchestrated violence against the captive Palestinian people. The continued intensification of these measures sends an ominous and stark message of brutality and is symptomatic of the regression to fundamentalist Zionism witnessed in the bloodbaths of the 1940s. By claiming that this is the continuation of Israels War of Independence, Sharon is sending a message to the Palestinian people and to the whole world that the national eradication and the ethnic cleansing of the 1948 Nakba are still in process.

The current Israeli government represents the most lethal combination of extremist right-wing political ideology, religious fundamentalism and zealotry, and unbridled forces of militarism with a deceptive veneer of the civilized face of the Labor party. Sharon is the same army general who had committed crimes against humanity in such atrocities as the Qibya massacre of 1953, the cleansing of Gaza in 1973, the invasion of Lebanon and the massacres of Sabra and Shatilla of 1982. Intent on pursuing this bloody path and on repeating the mistakes of history, Sharon has not learned that no amount of brutality, cruelty, or violence can break the will of a people determined to gain its freedom, dignity, and independence. He shows no signs of drawing the right historical conclusions that colonialism is by nature a temporary form of enslavement, and that a people colonized cannot be brought to their knees by the colonizers stifling measures of subjugation and containment.

Sisters and brothers, I appeal to you today, to restore the absent Palestinians to the agenda of humanity, to validate our reality and rights, to recognize and alleviate the pain and suffering of this tortured nation, and to give recognition to the Palestinian narrative long denied. You are the only source of empowerment for a people who feel abandoned and disempowered, but who have never lost faith in human solidarity and a shared vision of emancipation.

I appeal to you, as I have often done to governments and global fora, not to adopt the stance of cowardly neutrality, for in the struggle against oppression, injustice, racism, intolerance, colonialism, and exclusion, there can be NO neutrality. We are all called upon to take sides on behalf of the victim, the disenfranchised, and the oppressed, and to stem the tide of evil and prevent the forces of darkness from prevailing. Here, there is no US veto to deprive us of protection and our rights, nor is there censorship or blackmail to intimidate governments ruled by self- interest.

Let this meeting radiate the pure light of the human spirit that can never be dimmed or contained. Our path to the future must be based on the redemption of history and the past, free of the shackles of inherited inequities. Our legacy to the future must be based on the rectification of the painful legacies of the past.

Sisters and brothers, Never before has an occupation army imposed such a total and suffocating siege on a captive civilian population, then proceeded to shell their homes, bomb their infrastructure, assassinate their activists and leaders, destroy their crops and trees, murder their civilians at will, steal their lands, and then demand that they acquiesce like lambs to the slaughter. Never before have the victims been denied the right to articulate, and gain recognition for, the horrendous atrocities being committed against them as a matter of policy, but were rather blamed and punished for the fact of their victimization.

On behalf of the Palestinian people I appeal to you to have the courage to intervene, to ensure that the oppressor is held accountable and the victim is protected, to enact those principles and values that not only protect lives but that also imbue life with the human qualities that make it worth living. Despite our overwhelming pain, we have not surrendered to the forces of occupation, colonization, racism, and dehumanizationnor have we adopted their moral distortions. I ask you also not to succumb, but to maintain and enhance the struggle for dignity, equality, freedom, and justice as an act of collective affirmation on behalf of humanity as a whole.