Copenhagen conference warns of dangerous rise in human rights abuse in Palestine
In remembrance of international human rights day, MEMO and the Network of Academics and Students in the Middle East (NASIM) hosted a commemorative conference in Denmark over the weekend to highlight human rights violation in Palestine.
The Scandinavian country, which has received greater attention recently following the decision by a number of high profile Danish banks to divest from Israel, was the ideal location for an international panel to address a packed crowd of mainly student activists from the Danish capital during the day-long event at the University of Copenhagen on Saturday.
Joining the invited guests that included academics, journalists and activists, was Dr Mads Gilbert, a world-renowned medical doctor and human rights activists. Gilbert, who has thirty years of experience working with the Palestinian health department, described in moving detail the grave humanitarian crises in Gaza.
Recently knighted by the King of Norway, the medical specialist highlighted the terrible impact of the siege on the population of Gaza, where the average age of the population is only 18. He underlined the acute malnourishment, wasting of the body, stunting and underweight that have become chronic amongst the 1.8 million Palestinians in the Gaza strip.
Gilbert, who has recently been banned from entering Gaza by the Israeli authorities, also shared the findings of a UN report he was commissioned to carry out on the state of Gaza’s health care following Israel’s bombardment in the summer of 2014. He reported that 98 per cent of water in Gaza was undrinkable following the incursion and that Israel’s siege is having a disastrous effect on public health; for the first time in 50 years, Palestinian infant mortality has increased.
Joining the conference via Skype from Gaza was Dr Ramy Abdu, director of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor. Abdu, who was unable to attend in person because his visa application was inexplicably delayed, focused on the human rights violation in the West Bank, since the latest uprising in Jerusalem.
Since 1 October, more than 120 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more have been detained or imprisoned by Israeli security services. Videos presented to the audience showed Israeli security officials and settlers assaulting, and on a number of occasions killing, unarmed Palestinians.
“Under the guise of fighting terror, Israel is committing unthinkable human rights abuse,” commented Abdu pointing to the Storming of Palestinian hospital in Nablus and Al-Ahli hospital in Hebron.
The final contribution in the first panel came from Buch Segal, an assistant professor at the Department of Anthropology at Copenhagen University. Professor Segal noted that for decades samud (perseverance) has been a precondition for Palestinian survival. Their unique capacity to persevere is now at a breaking point, she said, and that Palestinians capacity to tolerate the intolerable and persevere against constant violations and abuses of their human rights, is insufficient to keep the conflict manageable for Israel and the international community. There has to be tangible political change to avoid greater bloodshed.
A number of broad themes were included in the conference programme including key political developments within Israel; the regional political changes that impact on Palestine and the sustainability of the existing Middle Eastern peace process.
Hugh Lovatt and Dimi Reider from the European Council of Foreign Relations touched on some of these themes during the second session, which examined the likely paradigm shift in conflict management and its broad implications.
Lovatt noted that “Oslo was not about resolving conflict but about managing conflict.” Pointing to Israel’s cost-free occupation, he underlined Israel’s favourable situation having divested itself from any responsibility, with the EU and US carrying the burden of occupation.
The Middle East peace process was more about conflict management rather than conflict resolution said the expert on Middle East and North Africa, and historically it’s only “kicked in when things got really bad to diffuse the situation temporarily”.
The paradigm shift is in the fact that the peace process as a conflict management strategy is no longer sustainable, which means “we no longer have an automatic switch to de-escalate violence”.
Israel’s strategic assessment of regional changes was the focus of Dimi Reider’s presentation. The journalist, who also writes for the popular +972 magazine, said that “it’s never been better for Israel”. The Israeli citizen listed a number of reasons for Israel to feel optimistic of the current situation including the fact that there are no significant military threat to Israel; both, Hezbollah and Assad are occupied in a civil war; there is no regional pressure or pressure from the USA, the next US administration will almost certainly be more pro-Israeli; the response of Palestinian is manageable; within Israel there is even a higher tolerance amongst Israelis for Israeli death toll; and the two state solution is dead.
MEMO correspondent Amelia Smith, who spoke on the last panel, focused on the media coverage of the latest uprising. Stressing the mainstream media’s misrepresentation of violence, she pointed to the media’s tendency to single out Palestinian violence while ignoring Israeli state terrorism. Using the latest uprising in Jerusalem as a case study, the British journalist said that despite the overwhelming Palestinian casualties, the British media has focused on the knife attacks carried out by individual Palestinians and ignored extrajudicial killings, excessive use of tear gas and live ammunition by the Israeli army. The media also misrepresent reality by not giving adequate context to news stories, stressed the MEMO representative.
The internationalisation of the plight of Palestinians is one of its distinguishable characteristics, which Dr Nina Green from Lund University in Sweden focused on during the closing presentation. The researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies, who examines resilience in Palestinian camps, stressed the importance of travelling to Palestine. “Palestinians become more Palestinian through their experience of the occupation,” she said.
This conference is surely to be the first of many across Europe reflecting the growing unease amongst European citizens at the escalation of violence and constant human rights abuses by Israel in the occupied territories. Academic institutions, student bodies and civil society organisations are highlighting the growing public unrest that exists because their governments have failed to address their concerns, both nationally and internationally in cases such as Palestine.