Report on UN Conference for Civil Society in Support of Palestine

September 25th, 2002

Close to 400 people participated in the UN International Conference of Civil Society in Support of the Palestinian People on September 23 and 24, at UN Headquarters in New York. They represented non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and the Americas. It was an amazing and energizing gathering that provided much opportunity for networking, giving NGOs a chance to regroup since the last such conference was held in 1998.

DECLARATION & PLAN OF ACTION

The theme of the conference was "End the Occupation." The goal was to establish an international Campaign against the occupation that activists around the world could take up in the varying contexts of their own countries. Much of the discussion focused on international protection—both the need to support civil society groups working at grave personal risk to protect Palestinian civilians, as well as to demand that the UN send a serious international protection force while Israel is being pressured to end the occupation.

Participants committed to mobilizing their governments at the UN behind an international protection force, and opposing US efforts to veto such a force. Other commitments in the Declaration and Plan of Action included: establishing an International Citizens' Commission to investigate violations of international law; a call for the General Assembly to request an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice regarding the illegality of Israel's occupation; a call to the signatories of the Geneva Conventions to hold Israel accountable; and a worldwide day to demand an end to occupation and international protection while the occupation is ended. The participants pledged to coordinate their work to end the occupation.

You can read the NGO Declaration and Plan of Action at http://www.un.org/Depts/dpa/ngo/calendar.htm.

PRESENTATIONS

Many of the presentations in the plenary sessions were rich in the information and experience they made available to participants. The full program is available on the above website—a few speakers are highlighted here.

• Ghassan Andoni, president of the Rapprochement Center in Beit Sahour made an excellent analysis of the possibilities of non-violent resistance;

• Huwaida Arraf and Adam Shapiro of the International Solidarity Movement spoke movingly and powerfully on the need for activists to stand with the Palestinians;

• Bruce Robbins, professor at Columbia University, gave the background of the effort to secure signatures by over 5,000 American Jews against the occupation (a full-page ad was recently published in the New York Times and has since been printed in several newspapers around the country);

• Na'eem Jeenah, spokesperson for the National Consultative Forum on Palestine in Johannesburg, shared lessons from the South African experience, calling for use of some of the same tactics today—"same story, different country" is the South African slogan on Palestine;

• Pierre Galand, chairman of the European Coordinating Committee for NGOs on the Question of Palestine, discussed experiences in regional coordination, and listed some successes, including getting the European parliament to vote for rescinding the special agreement on tariff-free trade with Israel.

THE US CAMPAIGN

The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation was well-represented at the Conference, and gave a presentation on national campaigns to mobilize public opinion in the final plenary session (see the full text of the presentation here).

We printed a color handout about the Campaign for the conference—and distributed over 700 copies to participants. Indeed, many people expressed interest in the work of the Campaign and asked for information. You can view and/or download the handout here in HTML or PDF formats.

We are printing several thousand more, so write to us_campaign@endtheoccupation.org. if you would like copies to be shipped to you when they are ready, specifying how many copies you think your group can use.
An advance copy of the Open Letter to President Bush—sent out as an action alert to the US Campaign on September 28—was made available to participants, and proved very popular as an organizing tool.

Three members of the US Campaign Steering Committee—Phyllis Bennis (who spoke at the final plenary on the centrality of the UN role), Kathy Bergen, and Nadia Hijab—were asked to serve on the conference steering committee, which will help establish some permanent coordinating structures for NGOs across the world. This puts us in a position to get information to you well in advance of upcoming meetings so that your groups can register and participate. Another international conference is planned for 2003 (no date or venue yet), and some regional conferences may be held.

DEMONSTRATION

During the lunch period on the final day of the conference, about 100 conference participants and New York activists staged an informal protest across the street from UN in front of the US Permanent Mission. Signs demanded that the US enforce Security Council resolutions ignored by Israel. Demonstrators handed passersby a long list of the Security Council resolutions that Israel was violating. In dispersing the crowd, police escorted the chanting marchers away from the US Mission—to a nearby street just across from the Israeli Embassy. The diverse group, from various continents, of varying ages, some in suits and formal gear, seemed to confound onlookers, who readily took handouts as they passed by.

That concludes this report—we will keep you posted as the UN initiative evolves.

With best wishes,
The Steering Committee of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation