Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

LAW Celebrates 10th Anniversary with Conference on "Culture and Community in Jerusalem"

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

LAW Celebrates 10th Anniversary with Conference on "Culture and Community in Jerusalem"

Article excerpt

LAW Celebrates 10th Anniversary With Conference on "Culture and Community in Jerusalem"

Sr. Elaine Kelley has served as a development officer and ESL teacher at Bethlehem University.

A decade ago, a group of Palestinian lawyers founded The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment (LAW) to further the principles of the rule of law and defend Palestinians in accordance with international human rights law. In June LAW celebrated its 10th year of advocacy by holding its Third International Conference, on "Culture and Community in Jerusalem: Strategies to Protect and Promote Human Rights."

Held June 5 through 7 at the Ambassador Hotel in East Jerusalem, the conference drew more than 700 people from 26 countries, and included seven panels and 40 local and international presenters, including Palestinian Minister of Education Hanan Ashrawi and PLO Executive Committee member Faisal Husseini. Working group discussions followed each panel presentation. Central to the discussions was the significance of Jerusalem in the final status peace negotiations and the right of Palestinians to a future state with Jerusalem as its capital.

Opening the conference, Per Stadig of Stockholm, a board member of the International Commission of Jurists who has been involved in the Palestinian cause since 1988, remarked on the major changes that have taken place since the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993. "A year and a half ago Israel started to build the Abu Ghneim settlement and there was an international outcry," he said. "But if you go to Bethlehem today you will see a city that has been almost completely built on that hill."

Stadig said that when he met LAW director Khader Shkirat 10 years ago he thought that the founding of LAW "was a good idea." Now, however, after 10 years, "They not only criticize the occupation, but have to work against the PA's violations of human rights" as well, he said. Stadig expressed his hope that the conference "could be something different," not just a forum for discussion but a way "to work and make plans for future cooperation" among the participants.

Following Stadig's comments, Faisal Husseini noted that "the challenge ahead is enormous" and acknowledged that "without LAW our suffering would be much greater." Hanan Ashrawi pointed to the "multiple forms of injustice" of Israel's policies in Jerusalem and reiterated the conference's goals to provide solutions.

In a panel on "Jerusalem Past and Present: From Ethnic Cleansing to Ethnic Plurality," Salim Tamari of Birzeit University, coordinator of the multilateral peace negotiations team on Palestinian claims in West Jerusalem, said it was unfortunate that much of the debate has been focused on East Jerusalem.

"Palestinians have outstanding claims on western parts of the city" as well, he said. Tamari pointed to the question of restitution and the fate of Palestinian property there, including communal property; endowments by Islamic and Christian institutions in eight major neighborhoods, including the German Colony; the Bakah area; and 39 villages deserted in 1948.

While only two Arab villages, Beit Safafa and Abu Ghosh, remained intact in the western part of Jerusalem, Tamari said, urban western populations' claims "are extremely well documented" through sources such as the United Nations Relief and Welfare Agency (UNRWA), the International Red Cross and data obtained from the American Friends Service Committee in Gaza.

"From this we know where refugees originated and where they live now," he stated. He cited findings from a survey of 110,000 refugees living in Jordan and the West Bank, who constitute 30 percent of all refugees and 70 percent of urban refugees, and their 84,000 descendants who now reside in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Ramallah, "within sight of their property but with no legal way to claim it," he said. "Palestinians must be restituted for claims in West Jerusalem," Tamari concluded. …

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