UN Protects Israel From Racism Charges

BETHLEHEM, Occupied West Bank - As the wreckage from Israel's recent siege on Gaza continues to smoulder,
international civil society organisations are assembling this week in Switzerland
to address Israel's crimes of military occupation and racism.

But any discussion on Israel's actions in Palestine will be excluded from the
formal framework at the Durban Anti-Racism Review Conference in Geneva
Monday. Israel-Palestine has been deliberately eliminated from the official
programme, structured by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for
Human Rights (UN OHCHR). Civil society groups believe that the United
States, countries within the European Union and Israel pressured the UN to
omit a review of Israel's racial discrimination against Palestinians.

Hundreds of delegations from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and
human rights organisations will converge in Geneva for the Durban Review
Conference on Racism. The conference is a follow-up to the 2001 World
Conference Against Racism (WCAR) in Durban, South Africa, that outlined an
international legal and political concept to deal with global issues of race and
human rights.

Immediately following that conference, the WCAR NGO forum recommended
an international campaign of isolation towards Israel's institutionalised "brand
of apartheid and other racist crimes against humanity."

The Durban Review Conference website states that the 2009 Geneva
symposium is designed to "review progress and assess the implementation of
the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA)." Adopted by
general consensus at the 2001 WCAR in Durban, "the DDPA is a
comprehensive, action-oriented document that proposes concrete measures
to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
It is holistic in its vision, addresses a wide range of issues, and contains far-
reaching recommendations and practical measures."

In order to assess and review any progress made since the 2001 WCAR in
Durban, Palestinian human rights organisations planned several side events
that were to take place within the schedule of the conference.

However, two weeks ago, the UN High Commissioner's office unilaterally
cancelled all side-events pertaining to Palestine issues. Ingrid Jarradat-
Gassner, director of the BADIL Resource Centre for Palestinian Residency and
Refugee Rights in Bethlehem, one of several Palestine-based organisations
attending the Durban Review conference, tells IPS that BADIL and the other
NGOs had organised a side-event specifically about how and why they see
Israel as a "regime of institutionalised racial discrimination on both sides of
the Green Line."

"As Palestinian NGOs and other NGOs working on the issue of Israel and its
violations against the rights of the Palestinian people, we were expecting that
there would be a possibility for us to organise these side-events during the
official Durban review conference in Geneva," Jarradat-Gassner says. "We
were informed by the UN itself that this would be possible."

Jarradat-Gassner says that on Apr. 3, less than three weeks before the
Durban Review Conference, the UN High Commissioner's office called BADIL's
representative in Geneva into a meeting at the UN, and verbally informed her
that all side-events pertaining to the specific issue of Palestine and Israel had
been banned.

"We were not even informed in any sort of direct of official way. In fact, we
have no record of the decision of the UN not to let us work on such side-
events," says Jarradat-Gassner.

According to the UN's Durban Review Conference agenda, other side-events
focusing on indigenous rights, women's rights and the link between racism
and poverty will have an official platform.

Jarradat-Gassner says she knows there is a specific apprehension within the
political UN body towards Palestine issues. In the draft document for the
Durban Review Conference, she points out, there are particular
recommendations for victims of HIV/AIDS, for victims of slave trade, Roma
people, people of African descent, but, Jarradat-Gassner says, "there is not a
single reference to Palestine, Palestinians or Israel in this whole document."

BADIL, Al-Haq (a Palestinian human rights organisation) and Adallah (the
Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel) wrote a joint formal complaint
to the UN OHCHR, but have not received any reply. The UN OHCHR did not
respond to IPS's request for a comment either.

Dr. Richard Falk, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in
the Occupied Palestinian Territories, tells IPS he had not known about the
disallowance of side-events pertaining to Palestine/Israel by the UN's OHCHR.
"One has to assume it was part of an effort to meet the objections of the
United States that the event was discrediting to the extent it engaged in
'Israel-bashing'." However, Falk points out, "U.S. leverage is probably greater
than it has been because Obama is President and Washington has indicated
its intention to rejoin the Human Rights Council."

Palestinian organisations say that banning these side-events is a significant
disappointment in pursuing Israel's legal responsibility towards its actions in
Palestine. Dr. Falk echoes this sentiment. "I believe that the strong evidence
of Israeli racism during the recent Gaza attacks makes it strange to refuse
NGOs organising side-events to address the issue," he tells IPS. "Also, the
collective punishment aspects of the occupation seem to qualify the Israeli
policy as a form of racism, combined with the rise of the extreme right, with
(Avigdor) Lieberman as (Israeli) foreign minister."

Jarradat-Gassner says that within the framework of the Durban Review
Conference, the issue of Palestine and Israel should be prominent. "There is
an obvious link between colonisation and apartheid (in Palestine-Israel). If
you have a settler-colonial regime that comes here to stay, and codifies into
law its relationship of domination over the indigenous population, you are
entering the field of apartheid...We are talking about what Israel has been
practising over the last 60 years in Palestine."

Meanwhile, anticipating a limited platform for debate and discussion on
Israel's actions in Palestine, BADIL helped structure a separate symposium
along with international Palestinian human rights and justice organisations
and sponsored by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National

Entitled the Israel Review Conference: United Against Apartheid, Colonialism
and Occupation: Dignity & Justice for the Palestinian People, these Palestine-
focused NGOs will have a platform to address international civil society two
days before the Durban Review conference commences. Jaradat-Gassner tells
IPS she hopes that the Israel Review Conference "succeeds to make
mainstream the analysis of Israel as a regime of colonial apartheid that also
uses military occupation. It's not easy to dismiss this sort of analysis."

Additionally, U.S. President Barack Obama's administration appears to have
decided not to attend the Durban Review conference. In 2001, the United
States representatives walked out of the first Durban conference when
Zionism was defined as racism against Palestinians.

In the United States, progressive African-American organisations have
expressed their disappointment and frustration that Obama has avoided the
Durban Review conference. Ajamu Baraka, executive director of the U.S.
Human Rights Network in Atlanta, Georgia, tells IPS that his organisation
"takes the position that the Obama administration should participate and be
willing to discuss all of the issues that will be addressed during the review
process...A strong stand on this issue by the first African-American President
of the United States would have a revolutionary impact on the global
discourse on race."

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