Raja Shehadeh is a writer and a lawyer who founded the pioneering Palestinian human rights organisation Al-Haq, an affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists. Shehadeh is the author of several books on international law, human rights and the Middle East including Occupiers Law and From Occupation to Interim Accords. His literary books include Strangers in the House, Occupation Diaries, A Rift in Time, Travels with my Ottoman Uncle, Language of War, Language of Peace and Palestinian Walks which won the 2008 Orwell Prize, Britain's pre-eminent award for political writing. His latest book is Where the Line is Drawn: Crossing Boundaries in Occupied Palestine. His 2003 book When the Bulbul Stopped Singing was staged by the State Theater of Istanbul in 2014. He has written for the New York Times, the New Yorker, Granta, and other publications. He lives in Ramallah, Palestine.
Nükhet Sirman’s Introduction:
Dear Guests and Colleagues Ladies and Gentlemen,
Welcome to the 2019 Hrant Dink Memorial Lecture on Freedom of Expression and Human Rights organised by the Department of History, the Department of Political Science and the Department of Sociology, Boğaziçi University. As you all know Hrant Dink was a journalist who was murdered in 2007 in broad daylight because of his ideas. This lecture in memory of Dink and the values of freedom of speech and human rights held since 2008 has always hosted an international figure whose work is related to human rights and freedom of speech. This year we have the honour and pleasure of hosting Palestinian lawyer and writer Raja Shehadeh.
Raja Shehadeh was born in Jaffa, Israel and has lived most of his life in Ramallah, Palestine. He is the founder of Al Haq, a non-partisan human rights organisation affiliated to the International Commission of Jurists. As a lawyer, Raja Shehadeh has worked to defend Palestinian rights in law courts. Spending his days in courts to stop the unlawful dispossession of Palestinian farms and orchards and at night writing about what all of this means to him and to his land, Shehadeh has produced numerous books. Mostly autobiographical and mostly about the land, his books are about politics, but about the politics of having to write about minute, ordinary and quotidian catastrophes alongside the major ones that one reads in newspapers and watches in the news. His book Strangers in the House published in 2002 recounts the widening Arab-Israeli divide by delving into his relationship with his father, talking about the general and the particular in the same breath. This seems to be the hallmark of Shehadeh’s writing.
In 2003 he published When the Bulbul Stopped Singing: A Diary of Ramallah Under Siege. This book was made into a play by Scottish playwright Davis Greig and performed in 2014 by the State Theatre of Istanbul under the name Bülbül Susturulduğunda. His 2007 book Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape recounts seven walks taken on the hills surrounding Ramallah over a period of 27 years, which Shehadeh describes as travelling through time and space. This book won the Orwell Prize in 2008. In 2010, Shehadeh published A Rift in Time: Travels with My Ottoman Uncle where he tries to retrace the steps of his great-great uncle journalist Najib Nassar, running away from the Ottoman administration during the turbulent transition years after 1915. Unable to find on contemporary maps the names of places his uncle describes, Shehadeh transforms the journey into a past which he finds never passes away. The story of the disappearing landscape is linked to the politics of occupation and colonisation in a gentle language which belies the anger and the sadness that the books evoke. In effect, these books make the pathos of loss almost palpable.
The anger surfaces in 2012 with Occupation Diaries but it is mixed with the optimism that the Arab Spring awakens, and then turns passionate in 2015 with Language of War, Language of Peace. Where the Line is Drawn; Crossing Boundaries in Occupied Palestine published in 2017 undertakes the difficult task of crossing boundaries, both physical in the form of checkpoints, but also personal and political through friendships with Israelis and holding views that transgress various forms of belonging. The hazards of crossing checkpoints, the confusion of negotiating the complex licence plate matrix of the Israeli state and the necessity of following tortuous routes to get to his destination both anger and frustrate the author.
Raja Shehadeh’s relation to politics is also tortuous. He does not like it, but knows he cannot escape. Everything is political he writes at one point. His relations with the Palestinian Authority are not smooth either. He is wary of being expected to pronounce every defeat a victory and of what he sees as a lack of a clear plan of action. His writing expresses the frustration of oscillating between lauding the values of perseverance and the culture of resistance and being exasperated and angry at the at the repeated confrontations of a people without arms with one of the most powerful armies of the world. At one moment, urging the reader to retain hope, at another lamenting the finality of the loss of land and its way of life, Shehadeh’s writing takes us through a gamut of scenes and feelings that most of us would recognise. But what seems to hurt him most is the loss of the sense of familiarity he has had with the land and a people. It is this intense relation with the land that makes reading Shehadeh a journey into one’s own familiars. Reading Shehadeh, one cannot stop from thinking about how complicated and yet superb human beings are.
Raja Shehadeh’s Talk for Hrant Dink Memorial Lecture 2019:
What Can Human Rights do? Palestine in our Common World.
It is an honor to deliver the Hrant Dink Memorial lecture. The last time I spoke at this hall was in memory of Edward Said. He and Hrant had something in common: they both spoke truth to power.
I thank Professor Nukhet Sirman for her introductory words, Bogazici University, the Rector and the organizing committee for this invitation and for the chance to speak to you today about the struggle for Justice in my small patch of the world. This lecture series is evidence that freedom of expression cannot be killed through assassination of those who often risk their life to exercise it as Hrant Dink did. Much as his death must continue to be a source of pain for hi loved ones. He did not die in vain. In Palestine we also have a history that is denied and the experience of those who once lived in peace and harmony together now living in great enmity. Our Nakba (as the catastrophe that befell the Palestinians in 1948 is known) is still denied by Israel which also continues to deny the Palestinians the right to self - determination and refuses to share the land where the two nations, Israelis and Palestinians, are living. The Palestinians are left without a country that they can claim as their own.
The message that I want to pass on to you today is very simple and for those human rights activists among you, well known: international law and human rights principles do not stand on their own, they have no legs to walk on. In our common troubled world it is easy to be cynical about human rights and the rule of law. Yet both need constant vigilance to be upheld. The struggle is indivisible. Declarations are not enough. Action that is constant and persistent is called for. It’s a perpetual battle that cannot be won once and for all. There needs to be constant attention coupled with activism, with no respite.
There are, and always will be, pundits who serve those benefiting from the violations, who will argue for a different interpretation and twist things around. There will always be manipulation and utilization of greater fears and presumed benefits that purport to shift the balance in favor of the suspension of rights and principles or their usurpation. What form the action in resisting this should take differs according to the particular conditions but what doesn’t change is that declarations affirming human rights on their own serve little purpose.
To illustrate the above I will use the case of Al Quods, Jerusalem, and the West Bank in Palestine to show how international law which appeared to be crystal clear was consistently violated. It is universally recognized that the territories invaded by Israel in its war in 1967 are occupied and that the 4th Geneva Convention of 1949 relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War applies to them. This was also the position of the United States, Israel’s closest ally. And yet in time even this clear position of international law was defeated. And this despite the fact that the case was one of the most reported in history. What makes this all the more tragic is that this regression has literally taken place before the eyes of the whole world. In the case of Jerusalem and its annexation to Israel, the process began in stealth and with deception, and only later was declared publically. In the case of the annexation of the West Bank, the process is still going on.
On 27 June, 1967 twenty days after the Israeli army occupied the West Bank, including Eastern Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, illegal steps were taken to extend Israeli law to the Eastern part of the city thereby annexing it to Israel. Eastern Jerusalem had been under Jordanian rule for the past nineteen years. Under the 1947 UN Partition Scheme the city was declared corpus seperatum. The Israeli cabinet voted on what euphemistically was referred to as “a declaration regarding the expansion of the jurisdictional area of the Jerusalem municipality.”
The annexation was all done quietly, almost surreptitiously, in the dead of night without pomp or ceremony without once mentioning the word “annexation.” This decision to refrain from claiming the action as annexation was not without significance. Israel considers its claim to the city to be eternal and the presence of non-Jews in the land of Israel incidental and temporary. Accordingly the contention is that Jerusalem was Israel’s capital for the past 3000 years. And so on June 27, 1967 the world woke up one morning to find that Israel had taken a major step in imposing its claim over the whole of the city of Jerusalem where a third of the residents were non-Jews and non-Israelis.
In contrast to this action taken in stealth, was US President Donald Trump’s announcement on 6 December 2017 recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel which was made in as public a manner as possible, as was the Israeli Knesset’s passing of the Nation State Law that followed it. This law confirmed in article 3 that Jerusalem, ‘complete and united,’ is the capital of Israel.
The effect of this, initially quiet, annexation of the Eastern part of the city on the lives of the Palestinian inhabitants even though it proceeded slowly in stages, was decisive. It meant that without representation the Palestinians in Jerusalem were subject to taxation by Israel and to discriminatory Israeli laws.
Not only did this establish Israel’s modus operandi but also that of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The decision was taken by the Palestinian leadership to refuse to take part in the municipal elections on the ground that doing so would be tantamount to a recognition of the annexation. Unfortunately, there was never a reconsideration of that initial position. The Palestinian residents of the city were left to fend for themselves.
After the annexation of the city in 1967, Israel proceeded gradually to apply its laws over the disenfranchised Palestinian population. Initially it was tolerant of Palestinian institutions who were allowed to continue to apply some Jordanian laws. The schools also continued to teach the Jordanian and later the Palestinian curriculum (with some key changes imposed by Israel) the same as in West Bank schools. But as the Israeli law became more entrenched in Eastern Jerusalem the Palestinian residents had to live under a severe matrix of control that proceeded to deprive them of planning permits to build more homes and develop their part of the city. Without a voice in the administration of the city, they were deprived of basic municipal services and subject to large scale discrimination. Arab Jerusalem became culturally and economically deprived, with nearby Ramallah taking over the city as the economic and cultural center of the West Bank.
The usefulness of concentrating on Jerusalem and describing the trajectory of how it came to be the capital of Israel is because it presages and mirrors the same trajectory that is being followed in the rest of the occupied territories and charts the path of the demise of international law as it applies there.
In the rest of the West Bank, Israel did not begin by declaring outright annexation as was the case in Jerusalem. To this day the West Bank remains formally outside Israeli sovereignty. Yet this did not mean that Israel recognized the West Bank as occupied territory. Though at the outset of the occupation there was such recognition. Article 35 of military order number 3 of June 7, 1967 asserted the applicability of the Fourth Convention of 1949 to proceedings in the military courts. Four months later this Article was deleted.
It is clear then that the process that Israel followed in the West Bank was in the reverse order to that followed in Jerusalem. It began with changes on the ground, mainly building Israeli settlements and extending Israeli law to them. And at some future point it will most likely end in a declaration which would formally annex the area to Israel.
But before the Israeli government began building Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories it wanted to know whether this would be legal under international law. So the Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol, asked Prof Theodor Meron, the legal counsel to the Israeli Foreign Minister, to give a legal opinion on the matter. The professor confirmed that such action would be a clear violation of the Geneva Convention. But the Israeli government refused to heed his advice and proceeded to establish illegal settlements anyway.
Four months after the beginning of the occupation settlements began to be built. Yet the state could not encourage its citizens to settle in the West Bank and be subject to the same restrictive military laws it imposed on the Palestinian residents of the area. How then did it succeed in extending Israeli laws when the area was not annexed? This was accomplished through passing what the Israeli legislative body, the Knesset, called Emergency Laws which applied extra territorially to areas outside the sovereignty of the state. These made Israeli citizens who settled in the Occupied Territories subject, for example, to Israeli tax laws and they were entitled to practice professions that required Israeli residency despite being resident outside the state.
The next big step took place in 1981 when the Israeli military commanders of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip established what they called a Civil Administration for the Palestinians, headed by an Israeli army colonel. The main objective behind this move was to separate the civilian affairs of the Palestinian inhabitants from those of the Israeli Jews living in the same area of the West Bank, thereby creating a form of apartheid: different laws applicable to different groups with different and unequal distribution of resources and opportunities for development.
Other than these constitutional changes, there were others that transformed the territory from one inhabited by interconnected Palestinian towns and villages to one that was to be dominated by Israeli settlements connected to Israel. Among these was Road Plan Number 50 of 1984. This was a comprehensive reorganization of roads in the West Bank that aimed at linking Israeli settlements, already built or planned, to each other and to Israel, bypassing Palestinian towns and villages. These were built on Palestinian land and when the Palestinians complained to the Israeli High Court about them, the court’s response was that they were for the benefit of the Palestinian population. Now most of these are beyond the reach of the Palestinian commuters. The road system has to a large extent become segregated as the apartheid system in the West Bank became more entrenched.
The Road system was followed by hundreds of zoning schemes that were prepared both for the Palestinian towns and villages and to Israeli settlements designed to enable the future expansion of the later and restrict the spatial expansion of the former. Most of these plans were completed right before the signing of the Oslo Accords and now under the terms of that agreement are beyond the power of the Palestinian Authority to amend.
On 15 November 1988 at its meeting in Algiers, the Palestine National Council declared the establishment of a Palestinian state in the 1967 Occupied Territories(note that the Palestinians began by making a declaration). The Council recognized “the necessity of convening the effective international conference on the issue of the Middle East and its core, the question of Palestine.” Among the main aims of this conference was to be the achievement of “the annulment of all measures of annexation and appropriation and the removal of settlements established by Israel in the Palestinian and Arab territories since 1967” . But this resolution was not followed by any concrete plan or strategy for how the PLO would achieve these aims. Thus it can be seen that unlike Israel, the PLO began with a declaration at the time when Israel was all too busy taking concrete action to make the likelihood of implementing this declaration of statehood close to impossible.
Three years after this important Council meeting, the PLO accepted the letter of invitation of the International Peace Conference in Madrid. This letter served as the terms of reference for all the negotiations that followed. In it the aim of the Conference was expressed in the following terms: “With respect to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians . . . negotiations will be conducted in phases, beginning with the talks on interim self-government arrangements…”
It was clear that “talks on interim self-government arrangements” were designed to avoid negotiations on “the annulment of all measures of annexation and appropriation and the removal of settlements” that had been formulated by the PLO in its 1988 Algeria’s meeting as the main aim of the international conference.
As it transpired, twelve years after the establishment of the Civil Administration, in 1993 the Oslo Accords were signed between Israel and the PLO. The apartheid structure established in 1981 became further entrenched when a number of the civilian powers formerly exercised by the 1981 Israeli Civil Administration were transferred to the Palestinian Authority that came to be established under the Accords. The Israeli Civil Administration was not abolished. It remained in place and continued to exercise many residual powers over the Palestinian residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Under the Oslo Accords, the area of the West Bank was classified into three categories: areas A, B and C. with Area A, placed under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority though the Israeli army has been entering it at will to make arrests and threaten the civilian population. Area B under shared Israeli/ Palestinian jurisdiction and area C constituting some 62 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli jurisdiction. After the signing of the Oslo Accords the Israeli government was able to convince its public that area C was destined to be annexed to Israel. Those who had hesitation about settling in the occupied territories felt more secure that by settling in Area C they would not have to move when a final peace settlement is signed between Israel and the Palestinians. As a result the number of Jewish settlers after 1995 tripled.
And yet in narrating the painful history of the negotiations between the two sides, one must not make the mistake of attributing too much credit to the brilliance of the Israeli legal scholars in enabling Israel to hold so consistently and for so long to a position regarding international law that was at such variance with that held by the rest of the world. That such a small state as Israel could achieve this, was due in large measure to the unfettered and total support—militarily, diplomatically, and politically—it received from the United States of America.
In his essay, “Permission to Narrate,” the Palestinian Scholar, Edward Said, pointed out that even as Palestinians were supported by the legality, legitimacy, and authority of international law, resolutions, and consensus, which is the case until this day, U.S. policymakers and media outlets simply refused to “make connections, draw conclusions, [and] state the simple facts.” This refusal remains a mainstay of U.S. media and politics, including a rejection of the central truth that the Palestinian narrative “stems directly from the story of their existence in and displacement from Palestine.”
The American superpower claimed to act as an honest broker in the negotiations between the two sides that were initially taking place in Washington DC, yet was unwilling to help the Palestinian side even in the most glaringly unfair situations.
During the first year of these negotiations in Washington D.C., I was still engaged as a legal advisor to the Palestinian team negotiating with the Israeli team. The Israeli delegation had a number of legal personnel including its head, Elyakim Rubenstein(who later became a High Court Judge in Israel) and others.
The Palestinian Delegation, which did not include any legally trained members, felt the need to have me with them in the room at the State Department as they conducted their negotiations, especially on land-related issues in which I had some expertise. But when they made known their intention, the Israeli delegation refused, on a technicality, to accept me in the room. The matter was referred to the American “honest broker,” who supported the Israeli side even on a matter as patently unfair and unreasonable as this.
In the negotiations that later took place in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, in secret, the PLO struggled to bring Israel to agree to a cessation of all settlement activities. When it became clear that Israel was not going to agree and was only willing to transfer the civil functions over the Palestinians to the envisaged Palestinian Authority, the negotiations came close to a breaking point. We are told it was at that point that Israel’s offer to recognize the PLO shifted the balance. In justifying its decision, the PLO put forth an exaggerated meaning for the recognition. Abu Ala, the chief negotiator at Oslo, in his book, puts it as follows: “Israeli recognition of the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people would also mean Israeli acceptance of the PLO’s political agenda, including the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, and their right to establish an independent Palestinian state” . There was no basis for these claims, all of which were proven false by future events as settlement expansion proceeded to triple the number of settlers living in the West Bank making the prospect of a Palestinian state further than ever.
As to the exclusion of Jerusalem from the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, this was achieved through appending to the Declaration of Principles of 1993 what was called ‘Agreed Minutes’ that left no doubt about this. According to the Accords the future of the city would only be negotiated during the final status negotiations. A quarter of a century later these are yet to take place.
From looking at the map of the West Bank, it becomes evident that many of the settlements surrounding Jerusalem were placed there with the strategic aim of achieving a greater territorial connection between the city and the rest of the country. Prior to 1967 Jerusalem was geographically vulnerable as it stood on a limb with a weak connection to the rest of the country. Now this has changed with several new highways linking the city to the coastal heart of the country traversing the West Bank at various point with a number of the illegal Jewish settlements established along the way.
Similarly most settlements serve a strategic function. They are placed on raised grounds, on top of hills that overlook Palestinian towns and villages. The strategic/military aim of these is not difficult to appreciate. When the opportunity comes the elevated position would allow the illegal settlements to strike at the Palestinian areas below and force their population to evacuate as had happened in 1948 during the Nakba. In fact during the Second Intifada in 2000 tanks placed on the hills overlooking Ramallah where the settlement of Psagot was established, fired and killed a woman who was with her children shopping in the street below.
But the annexation of expanded Jerusalem has also served another strategic aim by further fragmenting the West Bank. The latest decision by Israel (that is yet to be implemented) to demolish Al-Khan al-Ahmar, situated as it is in Area C, illustrates this well. The area where the village lies serves as the gateway to what is known as Area E1, between Jerusalem and Jericho, which Israel wants to annex. Once this happens it would result in cutting the West Bank in two segments separating its north from the south making ever more remote the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state there. Recently declassified records show that in 1967 the Israeli establishment had exercised greater moderation regarding the demarcation of the boundaries of Jerusalem. At the time Defense Minister Moshe Dayan argued against the army’s maximalist approach saying: “You are going too far. Why do you come with such a big appetite? I know the Jews’ appetite. It is possible to take the entire West Bank, but we are talking about the annexation of East Jerusalem … I am not in favor of annexing ten additional villages with 20,000 inhabitants and cutting off the northern from the southern West Bank.”
After fifty one years the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories is the longest occupation in modern history and the most extensively observed and studied. For many years local and international human rights organizations have documented the activities of the occupier revealing how Israel has violated international law. And yet the Palestinian leadership did not succeed in successfully utilizing the law to support its case. Nor have the 190 states parties to the Geneva Convention acted on their responsibility to enforce Article 1 which requires them, as the High Contracting Parties, “to ensure respect for the present convention in all circumstances.” This has meant that the illegal Jewish settlements continued to be established throughout the fifty one years of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank including Al Quods.
Until the signing of the Oslo Accords, our work in human rights at Al Haq, the Palestinian affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists established in 1979, had its own peculiarity. It was like no other. We were consumed by investigating the project which the occupier was attempting to accomplish, struggling to fathom and resist it. Much of our work was descriptive of the transformation of the land that was beginning to appear foreign to us, the original inhabitants. We called it human rights work but it was more than that. We were overwhelmed by the need to understand how the Israeli authorities were conducting this total transformation. It was like having the rug being pulled from under your feet, causing you to topple over. We never thought that on our own we could halt this process but firmly believed that by exposing it we might succeed in holding it back. At a minimum we believed that communicating this vital information to the political leadership would influence the course of the negotiations. This did not happen. Where we succeeded was to keep a record of how the transformation was taking place thereby removing any question that it was done for the benefit of the local population which was aware of and resisted these illegal maneuvers. In this way we helped defeat the Israeli claim that theirs was the most benevolent occupation in history conducted for the benefit of the local population.
At his meeting with President Macron in Paris on Dec 10, 2017 the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that before they come to the negotiating table, the Palestinians must recognize the historic reality of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. As evidence for this, he turned to the Bible. “Jerusalem,” he said, “has been the capital of Israel for 3,000 years, it’s been the capital of the Jewish state for 70 years. We respect your history and your choices and we know that as friends you respect ours.” The Prime Minister of a state that for over half a century rejected the secular law of nations, the Fourth Geneva Convention, was preaching to the Palestinians that they should accept a “fact” based on a biblical reality and making this a prerequisite for agreeing to enter into negotiations with them.
As already mentioned on December 6, 2017 the US president recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. As he signed the memorandum, the Vice President , Mike Pence, a Christian evangelist, stood reverentially behind him with the Christmas decorations prominent in the background. President Trump announced his declaration with a flourish of self-satisfaction. Again ‘reality’ justified political decisions using the Bible.
As we have seen, the process of annexing the Eastern part of Jerusalem has moved from deception to flagrance. It started with Israel quietly violating international law and ended with Israel doing it flagrantly with the open support of its ally the United States. The same is happening in the rest of the West Bank where it will end with full annexation. Speaking to the Atlantic magazine on October 9, 2018 the Israeli Minister of Justice, Ayelet Shaked, confirmed: that the Israeli government is trying to advance a plan for the annexation of Area C, the part of the West Bank (about 62 percent) that is under Israeli control. The plan would require extending citizenship to the Palestinians who live there. ‘We can definitely take in 100,000 Palestinian citizens,’ Shaked said. ‘These processes (mark the choice of words) take time to ripen. At the moment, the annexation plan looks like science fiction, but I think that slowly, gradually, people will see what’s going on in the Middle East and realize that it really could happen.’” Mark also the reference to “what’s going on in the Middle East.” The reference to this is important because Israel counts on the continuation of conflict and war in our region to enable it to proceed with its annexationist plans in Palestine.
In June 1967 the West Bank including eastern Jerusalem had no Israeli residents. Now over half a million Israeli Jews live under Israeli law in settlements with an infrastructure firmly connected to that of Israel. As their numbers increase (and the plan is to bring their number to a million) the calls for the annexation of their areas to Israel are likely to become more strident. Although the international law of occupation supported the Palestinian position on the prohibition of settlements, the case of Palestine is a reminder that the law never stands on its own. The Palestinian leadership did not know how to successfully employ it to support its case.
Yet it should be noted that when the time comes the process of full annexation would not be called that. Israel does not call the acquisition of Palestinian land for building Jewish settlements expropriation. The state first re-classifies the land as public land and then proceeds to allocate it to the only public it recognizes, the Jewish public. The reason for this is that, in Israel’s eyes, you do not expropriate what is already yours.
When the de jure annexation takes place, international law would have finally and conclusively been defeated. Not only would Israel have shown how the acquisition of territory through belligerent activity is possible but that it can be carried out with impunity. The loss will not only be that of the Palestinians but of the entire world. This is not only because of the centrality of Al Quods to the Muslim and Christian worlds and the violation of the important prohibition against the acquisition of territory through belligerent aggression but also because of the bad example that the case presents.
In thinking of these matters it is good to keep in mind that the human rights struggle is indivisible. When individual or collective rights are trampled upon in Turkey or in Palestine, when freedom of expression or the right to life and to self-determination are violated anywhere in the world, this affects people in other parts of the world no less because the disregard for truth is infectious. The struggle must be ongoing and requires vigil and constant activism and can never be ultimately won. As the case of Palestine illustrates the great danger is to remain silent in the face of countries that put forward claims that are not grounded in international law conventions but on religious texts treated as historical truths bestowing spurious rights.
From what I’ve described to you today it may appear that all is lost for Al Quods and for Palestine. But it isn’t so. The struggle goes on. Despite the hardships of life under a prolonged occupation the Palestinians are far from giving up. Their endurance and fortitude has become legendry. They are supported by many activists the world over, and no less in Turkey, who believe in Justice, despise racism and discrimination and suffer for their support of Justice in Palestine. Angela Davis, the activist, academic and writer, who was a speaker at this memorial lecture series, was recently invited by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in her hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, who wanted to honor her for winning the Fred L. Shuttlesworth Award for Human Rights. But then she was disinvited. As she later learned the reason for this was because of her long-term support of justice for Palestine. Angela’s response to this travesty was that “… I have devoted much of my own activism to international solidarity and, specifically, to linking struggles in other parts of the world to U.S. grassroots campaigns against police violence, the prison industrial complex, and racism more broadly.”
“The rescinding of this invitation was thus not primarily an attack against me but rather against the spirit of the indivisibility of justice.” This position was also held by Hrant Dink who wrote that America, “Comes, minds its own business, and when he is done, leaves. And then people here, scuffle within themselves … they leave brothers of this land as enemies.”
Those who murdered Hrant were the enemies of Justice and the right to speak out against the ugly consequences of discrimination and narrow nationalism. But rest assured: the example of his life, his bravery and the principles he stood for, live on and will inspire others to activism not only here in Turkey but around our troubled world.