What would it take for the Secretary-General
to break the Wall of Silence?
Dr. Daud Abdullah*
It took the death of his special envoy in Iraq Sergio Vieira de Mello to force a change from the United Nation’s Secretary-General. Ever since the tragic death of his likely successor Kofi Annan, it appears, has been a changed man. Delivering the eulogy at a memorial service in Rio de Janeiro, Annan admitted the death was a ‘bitter blow’ to the UN and to himself personally. The exact quality that distinguished the fallen career diplomat was, according to Annan, his exceptionally strong sense of right and wrong and passion to right the wrongs of this world.
Mr. de Mello joined a long list of illustrious servants of the World Body killed on duty. While the praises of some of these heroes were sung far and wide, others were not. Whatever the circumstances, these international civil servants died trying to realize the noble ideals of the Charter—“…to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war and maintain international peace and security.”
In the broad scheme of history, it matters less how they died. The fact is, they all made the ultimate sacrifice. Their legacy now embodies a truth often taught by Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., himself a victim of assassins. That “if a man hasn’t found something he is willing to die for, he is probably not fit to live.”
Whether they were gunned down in the light of day as was Count Folke Bernadotte in Jerusalem by Zionist terrorists or by an aircraft mysteriously plunging out of the darkness of night as was the case of former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjoeld, they all entered into what Mr. Annan calls “the pantheon of fallen heroes that the United Nations wishes it did not have.”
Emotions aside, there are other matters that rendered de Mello’s death all the weightier to the Secretary-General. Annan was, after all, head of the UN’s peacekeeping division in 1994 when close to 1 million of Rwanda’s Tutsi minority were slaughtered in 100 days. He was still in office when an estimated 8,000 Muslims were massacred in the Bosnian town of Sbrenica during the period 12-18 July 1995. The slaying of Sergio de Mello and 22 other UN workers adds to the list, which in all probability would cast a dark shadow over the Secretary-General’s own legacy. This is the background to his recent forceful criticisms of U.S. policy in Iraq.
Notwithstanding the chaos and carnage of Iraq, there are still other areas where Mr. Annan needs to break his wall of silence. The situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories remains the most prominent. Here, it would take more than verbal denunciation and trite criticism to move the situation any closer to the ideals of the Charter.
This month offers a huge opportunity to Mr. Annan. In accordance with the mandate given by the General Assembly in its resolution 32/40 B, the UN has since 1977 designated 29 November of each year as the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.
The date 29 November was chosen because of its meaning and significance to the Palestinian people. It is a day they will never forget. For it was on that day in 1947 the General Assembly adopted resolution 181 (II), which came to be known as the Partition Resolution. That resolution granted 57% of Palestine to the country’s Jews who were mainly immigrants, constituted less than one-third of the population, and owned less than 6% of the land.
This year, civil society organizations worldwide are marking another partition in Palestine. It is the partition created by the Israeli separation wall currently being built across the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The organizers of the global events have designated 9 November as the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People against the Israeli Apartheid Wall. Because they propose to start a process that will lead eventually to its dismantlement, they have chosen 9 November. It was on 9 November 1989 that the Berlin Wall—the most grotesque symbol of the politics of division—was torn down.
Israel’s Apartheid Wall
Herein lies a challenge to Mr. Annan and the UN. Admittedly, he did call long before the death of Sergio de Mello for a radical overhaul of the World Body. Set up immediately after the Second World War, it remained until the turn of the last century an intergovernmental institution principally responsible to the world’s States and not the world’s peoples.
Thus, in his celebrated Millennium Report of April 2000, Annan outlined the nature of the changes required. In that landmark speech he called not only for the reform of the Security Council “in a way that both enables it to carry out its responsibilities more effectively and gives it greater legitimacy in the eyes of all the world’s peoples” but also “to give full opportunities to non-governmental organizations and other non-State actors to make their indispensable contribution to the Organization’s work.”
Two months ago, September 2003, in his message to the UN Conference of Civil Society in Support of the Palestinian People, Mr. Annan reiterated this theme. It read, “The work carried out by civil society organizations individually and in partnership with the United Nations greatly contributes to efforts for peace and provides much-needed humanitarian assistance.”
By designating an International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People against the Israeli Apartheid Wall, civil society organizations have in effect extended a hand of support to the Secretary-General in his mission. It gives him the universal backing and approval to initiate measures against the world’s most infamous symbol of injustice.
The issue of the Israeli Apartheid Wall must be treated as a matter of extreme urgency for three reasons: it involves the acquisition by force of Palestinian land; it advances the expulsion of residents; and it seeks to create a de facto border of a truncated Palestinian entity. Altogether, these highlight the failure of the “civilized nations” to uphold the rule of law in this part of the world.
When completed, the Wall is expected to leave the Palestinians with 42% of the West Bank. It would also isolate as many as 250,000-300,000 Palestinians, mostly residents of East Jerusalem, which equals approximately 12%-14% of the population of the West Bank. Jerusalem would itself be completely separated from the West Bank.
Under the guise of security, the Wall will adversely affect Palestinians living in 67 villages, towns and cities. In the case of the hundreds of thousands from Jerusalem, they would find themselves outside the Wall. Their forced expulsion would be legitimized on the grounds that they have no valid Israeli permit to reside in the city.
Since 25%-30% of the population affected by the Wall are refugees, according to the World Bank report [May 2003], it means the policy of ethnic cleansing started in 1948 is still very much alive. Through this process of land confiscation, control of water, and house demolition, Israel seeks to realize the Zionist dream of “more land fewer people.” Already more than 4,000 residents of Qalqilya have been forced to leave in search of some sort of livelihood after the Wall sealed its 42,000 residents into an enclave for which there is only one gate of entrance and exit.
Already at this stage the Wall affects every issue identified for final status negotiations, thereby illustrating the travesty of any such undertaking. It unilaterally demarcates the border of a Palestinian entity leaving Israel in control of most of the water resources of the West Bank. It annexes all of Jerusalem and more than half of the Palestinian land currently occupied by the settlers. To make matters worse, by constructing the Wall the Israeli government aims, through a process of continual displacement and land acquisition, to prevent Palestinians from returning not only to their homes in Israel but even to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
For better or worse
Under the given circumstances the Secretary-General is called upon to adopt a new approach to Palestine and its people. True, he has expressed the view that the Wall and settlements are “serious obstacles to the achievement of a two-State solution.” Yet there remain two stark realities he must concede to: one, that it is no longer possible to create a viable Palestinian State in the territories, and two, it is virtually impossible for the U.S. to act as an impartial party in any search for peace. Its countless letters of assurances and guarantees have all turned out to be false promissory notes. Regrettably, the culture of money politics has stripped that great nation of its integrity and in the case of Palestine, its humanity.
For better or worse, Mr. Annan must forthwith declare an end to the farcical vision of a two-State solution to the Palestine Question. This may be a tall order to demand but it is the type that is expected of men in high offices. This would certainly precipitate the unbridled wrath of Washington. His predecessor Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali suffered this indignity when he offended the U.S. by denouncing the Israeli bombing of the UN compound in Qana, Lebanon, in April 1996.
Ultimately, this is arguably the best tribute Kofi Annan could pay to his dear friend Sergio Vieira de Mello. Needless to say, the issues here are much more important than the preservation of individual offices. They are about an entire people’s rights, their survival, and destiny.
Would it take another bloodbath before the cry for justice in Palestine is heard? After all it has been through since 1948, this land cannot afford the likes of Rwanda or Bosnia. The process of brinkmanship must therefore be halted.
The burial of the stillborn accords, protocols and memoranda of the last decade is now finally over. There is no need to attempt the revival of the dead. Besides, it is not enough to have a fresh start. More importantly there must be a change of thinking and attitude, one that is committed to addressing all the sources of grievance. That includes the dispossession of the Palestinian people and their expulsion. Everything on the ground confirms the Palestinians would never accept to live in Bantustans or reservations. Like Sergio de Mello they sacrificed and chose “to die for a cause that will ultimately succeed, rather than to live for one that will ultimately fail.”
* The author is senior researcher at the Palestinian Return Centre, London, and editor of its Return Review, see www.prc.org.uk