Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Focus on Palestinians' Rights
By James Zogby
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, November 5, 2013
Palestinian and Israeli negotiators are meeting in the latest chapter of
the decades-long saga of on-again, off-again peace talks. With no leaks, and
even less optimism, there is only speculation about how the talks are going
or whether any agreement is even possible.
Here in the US,
supporters of the Palestinians are engaged in a sometimes heated but rather
pointless debate as to what the "deal" should include or whether no deal is
the best outcome – since that result, some say, would lead inevitably to a
However, that entire discussion is unedifying, a
waste of energy and an evasion of responsibility.
I do not mean that
the outcome doesn’t matter. But everyone should acknowledge that the
ultimate resolution of the conflict will not depend on that debate. Instead
of exhausting ourselves arguing about what we can’t control, we should be
focused on what we can do – shine a light on the daily injustices visited
upon Palestinians, and mobilize support for those whose human rights are
There are human rights groups in Israel and Palestine
that are engaged in this effort. They are documenting cases of land
confiscation and home demolitions; cases of prisoners held without charges
or trial; instances where vigilante gangs of settlers have desecrated
mosques, cut down olive trees and beaten or killed Palestinian youngsters;
and recording incidents in which the military has used collective punishment
or excessive force or humiliated Palestinian civilians. The victims of these
illegal and immoral behaviors deserve our attention. Their cases should be
taken up. Their names need to be known. They should be supported until the
In 1977 I and others formed the Palestine
Human Rights Campaign (PHRC). Because no then-existing human rights group
would adopt Palestinian cases, we took it upon ourselves to look into
individual cases of Palestinians who had been tortured, had had their homes
demolished, had been detained for prolonged periods without charges or who
had been expelled from their homeland.
Back then, in the US
discussion about the conflict Israelis were understood to be full human
beings, but Palestinians were not known. Americans knew Israelis as real
people who had hopes and fears. Palestinians, on the other hand, were an
abstraction with whom few Americans could identify.
Palestinians were presented either in negative stereotypes, or merely as a
problem to be solved. We hoped to remedy this by putting a human face on the
Many of the Arab-American and Palestine support
groups that existed back then were engaged, as many are now, in endless
arguments about issues over which they had no control: which "political
line" was the most correct or what should be the form of governance for the
future Palestinian state.
And back then, much of the American liberal
left was largely silent on Palestinian issues. Those who were engaged
focused their efforts on setting up "dialogues" in the hope of promoting
reconciliation between Arabs and Jews.
When the PHRC came into
existence, we were denounced by both groups. On the one hand we were told
that we had "sold out" because we ignored ideological debates and weren’t
"pure" enough. But the peace groups kept us at arms-length, too, saying that
by challenging Israel’s behavior we made Jewish groups defensive and
uncomfortable, thereby frustrating the effort to create a “no fault”
After 36 years, the situation is much the same today. The
debate over one or two states rages in some quarters, while liberals who by
now have embraced the notion of a two-state solution continue to shy away
from any controversy and refuse to address Palestinian human rights. The
former effort is wasted time and energy. The latter is an abdication of
morality. Meanwhile Palestinians are still unknown, and their rights are
still being violated.
As long as Palestinians are not known,
discourse about the issue in the US will remain hopelessly one-sided. When
Israeli humanity is presented as confronting the Palestinian "problem" you
can guess who wins. If Americans can't see or identify with the Palestinians
who lost their homes and lands, who were humiliated in front of their
children at checkpoints, or who were abused and denied basic rights as
prisoners, then all they will care about is how to insure security for
To correct this situation, what is required is an embrace
of justice and human rights, or as one of my early mentors, Dr Israel Shahak
(founder of the Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights) put it "to fight
for equal rights for every human being".
Whether there will be one
state or two states will be decided, if it even can be, by the negotiators.
But meanwhile, what of the victims? Who will speak for them? Who will give
those who suffer the hope that their cries for justice will be heard? And
who will inform the US public that it is not only Israeli humanity that is
threatened by the absence of peace? In fact, Palestinians have paid, and
continue to pay, an enormous price.
Recognition of this reality is a
key ingredient in the search for a just peace, because only when
Palestinians are known and their rights are fully recognized will the US
feel the need to press for balanced peace that recognizes the rights and
needs of all.