United Nations Headquarters Hosts North American NGO Symposium on the Question of Palestine, 1998

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United Nations Headquarters Hosts North American NGO Symposium on the Question of Palestine, 1998

The annual North American Non-Governmental Organizations Symposium on the Question of Palestine was held at the United Nations Headquarters June 15-17 in New York City. The symposium on "50 years of dispossession of the Palestinian people" addressed historical aspects of the Palestinian issue, strategies for contesting the future, and consequences for NGO work in North America.

In the opening session, chairman David Graybeal of the North American Coordinating Committee for NGOs on the Question of Palestine (NACC) presented the positions of North American NGOs in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict especially after the Oslo agreements. "We are generally agreed that Israel's aggressiveness and intransigence is a major problem," he said. "We are divided about the Palestine Authority. Some support it as the most comprehensive, authoritative voice of the Palestinian people. Some rebuke it as being too compliant in agreeing to sign the Oslo accords and too willing to overlook human rights abuses by its own police officers."

Graybeal explained that North American NGOs believe that the U.S. favoritism toward Israel has "made a mockery of [the American] claim to be an honest broker between the parties." He concluded his opening remarks by calling upon the United Nations to confront the United States over "shameful" misuse of U.S. power.

In the first plenary session, entitled "Memory: Remembering Palestinian History," Dr. Ibrahim Abu Lughod, professor of political science at Birzeit University and professor emeritus at Northwestern University, discussed the historical consequences of political developments since the adoption of the partition resolution. "Not only was the experience of dispossession a national one, but Palestinians lost any control over their identity, politics and development," he said. Describing why diaspora Palestinians view the Oslo accords critically, Dr. Abu Lughod said, "Only by meeting the legitimate rights of the Palestinians to sovereignty, statehood and return, by ending every vestige of military occupation and by accepting the principle of equal coexistence of Palestinian Arab and Israeli Jew on the land of Palestine, could we project a future of peaceful relations in Palestine and the region."

Dr. Don Peretz, professor emeritus at the State University of New York, also discussed historical consequences of the Palestinian problem. In his lucid review of the development of the question of Palestine, Mr. Peretz focused on the question of refugees and their "right of return." He concluded by calling upon the world community to help in securing Palestinian rights: "The hope is that a new Palestine will soon arise, a new and more secure Palestine than the one the refugees left 50 years ago. This will be possible with assistance from the world community, and especially from the U.S. and from Israel."

In her presentation on "Memory and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict," Randa Farah, associate researcher at the Centre d'études et de recherches sur le Moyen Orient contemporain in Amman, focused on "How did popular memory contribute to the forging of the Palestinian `nation' and, in turn, how changing nationalist politics are reshaping memory/identity." Based on an anthropological inquiry conducted in al-Baq'a refugee camp in Jordan, Ms. Farah stated that the Oslo agreement jolted the dream of return of the Palestinians, but the dream continues to exist even though it is being transformed. The Oslo agreements, as they are being implemented (or not implemented), are entrenching and/or creating new schisms in Palestinian society, Farah argued. Farah quoted one of her interviewees in al-Baq'a refugee camp saying:

"We cannot go back to 1948...This peace is not for us, it is for the '67 people and maybe they [the Israelis] won't let those return...But for us...the 1948 people, if they allow us to return to the 1967 territories, here it is a camp and there it is a camp. …

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