Today, November 23rd, I was slated to give remarks in Damascus, Syria at a Conference being held to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and, sadly, the 60th year that the Palestinian people have been denied their Right of Return enshrined in that Universal Declaration. But a funny thing happened to me while at the Atlanta airport on my way to the Conference: I was not allowed to exit the country.
I do believe that it was just a misunderstanding. But the insecurity experienced on a daily basis by innocent Palestinians is not. Innocent Palestinians are trapped in a violent, stateless twilight zone imposed on them by an international order that favors a country reported to have completed its nuclear triad as many as eight years ago, although Israel has remained ambiguous on the subject. President Jimmy Carter informed us that Israel had as many as 150 nuclear weapons, and Israel’s allies are among the most militarily sophisticated on the planet. Military engagement, then, is untenable. Therefore the exigency of diplomacy and international law.
The Palestinians should at least be able to count on the protections of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. What is happening to Palestinians in Gaza right now, subjected to an Israeli-imposed blockade, has drawn the attention of the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, who noted that over half of the civilians in Gaza are children. Even The Los Angeles Times criticized Israel’s lockdown of Gaza that is keeping food, fuel, and medicine from civilians. Even so, Israel stood fast by its decision to seal Gaza’s openings. But where are the voices of concern coming from the corridors of power inside the United States? Is the subject of Palestinian human rights taboo inside the United States Government and its government-to-be? I hope not. Following is the speech I would have given today had I been able to attend the Damascus Conference.
Right of Return Congregation
November 23, 2008
Thank you to our hosts for inviting me to participate in this most important and timely First Arab-International Congregation for the Right of Return. Words are an insufficient expression of my appreciation for being remembered as one willing to stand for justice in Washington, D.C., even in the face of tremendously difficult pressures.
Former Prime Minister Tun Mahathir, thank you for including me in the Malaysian Peace Organisation’s monumental effort to criminalize war, to show the horrors of the treatment of innocent individuals during the war against and occupation of Iraq by the militaries and their corporate contractors of Britain, Israel, and the United States. Thank you for standing up to huge international economic forces trying to dominate your country and showing an impressionable woman like me that it is possible to stand up to “the big boys” and win. And thank you for your efforts to bring war criminal, torturer, decimator of the United States Constitution, the George W. Bush Administration, to justice in international litigation.
Delegates and participants, I must declare that at a time when scientists agree that the climate of the earth is changing in unpredictable and possibly calamitous ways, such that the future of humankind hangs in the balance, it is unconscionable that we have to dedicate this time to and focus our energies on policies that represent a blatant and utter disregard for human rights and self-determination and that represent in many respects, a denial of human life, itself.
In the same year as Palestinians endured a series of massacres and expulsions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights became international law. And while the United Nations is proud that the Declaration was flown into Outer Space just a few days ago on the Space Shuttle, if one were to read it and then land in the Middle East, I think it would be clear that Palestine is the place that the Universal Declaration forgot.
Sadly, both the spirit of the Universal Declaration for Human Rights and the noblest ideals of the United Nations are broken. This has occurred in large measure due to policies that emanate from Washington, D.C. If we want to change those policies, and I do believe that we can, then we have to change the underlying values of those who become Washington’s policy makers. In other words, we must launch the necessary movement that puts people in office who share our values.
We need to do this now more than ever because, sadly, Palestine is not Washington’s only victim. Enshrined in the Universal Declaration is the dignity of humankind and the responsibility of states to protect that dignity. Yet, the underlying contradictions between its words and what has become standard international practice lay exposed to the world this year when then-United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour proclaimed:
“In the course of this year, unprecedented efforts must be made to ensure that every person in the world can rely on just laws for his or her protection. In advancing all human rights for all, we will move towards the greatest fulfillment of human potential, a promise which is at the heart of the Universal Declaration.”
How insulting it was to hear those words coming from her, for those of us who know, because it was she who, as Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, willfully participated in the cover-up of an act of terror that resulted in the assassination of two democratically-elected Presidents and that unleashed a torrent of murder and bloodletting in which one million souls were vanquished. That sad episode in human history has become known as the Rwanda Genocide. And shockingly, after the cover-up, Louise Arbour was rewarded with the highest position on the planet, in charge of Human Rights.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that justice delayed is justice denied. And 60 years is too long to wait for justice.
The Palestinian people deserve respected self-determination, protected human rights, justice, and above all, peace.
On the night before his murder, Dr. King announced that he was happy to be living at the end of the 20th Century where, all over the world, men and women were struggling to be free.
Today, we can touch and feel the results of those cries, on the African Continent where apartheid no longer exists as a fact of law. A concerted, uncompromising domestic and international effort led to its demise.
And in Latin America, the shackles of U.S. domination have been broken. In a series of unprecedented peaceful, people-powered revolutions, voters in Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and most recently Paraguay used the power of the political process to materially change their countries’ leadership and policy orientation toward the United States. Americans, accustomed to the Monroe Doctrine which proclaimed U.S. suzerainty over all politics in the Western Hemisphere, must now think the unthinkable given what has occurred in the last decade.
Voters in Cote d’Ivoire, Haiti, Spain, and India also took matters clearly in their hands to make “a clean break” from policies that were an affront to the interests of the majority of the people in those countries.
In country after country, against tremendous odds, people stood up and took their fates in their hands. They did what Mario Savio, in the 1960s, asked people in the United States to do. These people-powered, peaceful revolutions saw individuals put their bodies against the levers and the gears and the wheels of the U.S. imperial machine and they said to the owners if you don’t stop it, we will. And I know that people of conscience inside my country can do it, too: especially now that the engines of imperial oppression are running out of gas.
Even though the Democratic Party, at the Convention that nominated Barack Obama, denied its microphone to Former President Jimmy Carter because of his views on Palestine, let me make it clear that Former President Carter is not the only person inside the United States who believes that peace with justice is possible in Palestine.
Inside the United States, millions who are not of Arab descent, disagree vehemently with the policy of our government to provide the military and civilian hardware that snuffs out innocent human life that is also Arab.
Millions of Americans do not pray to Allah, but recognize that it is an inalienable right of those who do to live and pray in peace wherever they are–including inside the United States.
Even though their opportunities are severely limited, there are millions of people inside the United States struggling to express themselves on all of these issues, but whose efforts are stymied by a political process that robs them of any opportunity to be heard.
And then there are the former elected officials who spoke out for what was right, for universal application of the Universal Declaration, and who were roundly condemned and put out of office as a result. My father is one such politician, punished—kicked out of office–because of the views of his daughter.
In my case, I dared to raise my voice in support of the World Conference Against Racism and against the sieges of Ramallah, Jenin, and the Church of the Nativity. I raised my voice against the religious profiling in my country that targets innocent Muslims and Arabs for harassment, imprisonment, financial ruin, or worse. Yes, I have felt the sting of the special interests since my entry onto the national stage when, in my very first Congressional campaign, I refused to sign a pledge committing that I would vote to maintain the military superiority of Israel over its neighbors, and that Jerusalem should be its capital city.
Other commitments were on that pledge as well, like continued financial assistance to Israel at agreed upon levels.
As a result of my refusal to make such a commitment, and just like the old slave woman, Sojourner Truth, who bared her back and showed the scars from the lashes meted out to her by her slave master, I too, bear scars from the lashes of public humiliation meted out to me by the special interests in Washington, D.C. because of my refusal to tow the line on Israel policy. This “line” is the policy accepted by both the Democratic and Republican Party leadership and why they could cooperate so well to coordinate my ouster from Congress. But I have survived because I come from the strongest stock of Africans, stolen then enslaved, and yet my people survived. I know how to never give up, give in, or give out. And I also know how to learn a good political lesson. And one lesson I’ve learned is that the treatment accorded to me pales in comparison to what Palestinian victims still living in refugee camps face every day of their lives.
The treatment accorded to me pales in comparison to the fact that human life is at stake if the just-released International Atomic Energy Agency report is true when it writes that “The only explanation for the presence of these modified uranium particles is that they were contained in the missiles dropped from the Israeli planes.” What are the health effects of these weapons, what role did the U.S. military play in providing them or the technology that underlies them, why is there such silence on this, and most fundamentally, what is going on in this part of the world that international law has forgotten?
Clearly, not only the faces of U.S. politicians must change; we must change their values, too. We, in the United States, must utilize our votes to effect the same kind of people-powered change in the United States as has been done in all those other countries. And now, with more people than ever inside the United States actually paying attention to politics, this is our moment; we must seize this time. We must become the leaders we are looking for and get people who share our values elected to Congress and the White House.
Now, I hope you believe me when I say to you that this is not rocket science. I have learned politics from its best players. And I say to you that even with the failabilities of the U.S. system, it is possible for us to do more than vote for a slogan of change, we can actually have it. But if we fail to seize this moment, we will continue to get what we’ve always been given: handpicked leaders who don’t truly represent us.
With the kind of U.S. weapons that are being used in this part of the world, from white phosphorus to depleted uranium, from cluster bombs to bunker busting bombs, nothing less than the soul of my country is at stake. But for the world, it is the fate of humankind that is at stake.
The people in my country just invested their hopes for a better world and a better government in their votes for President-elect Obama. However, during an unprecedented two year Presidential campaign, the exact kind of change we are to get was never fully defined. Therefore, we the people of the United States must act now with boldness and confidence. We can set the stage for the kind of change that reflects our values.
Now is not the time for timidity. The U.S. economy is in shambles, unemployment and health insecurity are soaring, half of our young people do not even graduate from high school; college is unaffordable. The middle class that was invested in the stock market is seeing their life savings stripped from them by the hour. What we are witnessing is the pauperization of a country, in much the same way that Russia was pauperized after the fall of the Soviet Union. There are clear winners and the losers all know who they are. The attentive public in the United States is growing because of these conditions. Now is the time for our values to rise because people in the United States are now willing to listen.
So the question really is, “Which way, America?”
Today we uplift the humanity of the Palestinian people. And what I am recommending is the creation of a political movement inside my country that will constitute a surgical strike for global justice. This gathering is the equivalent of us stepping to the microphone to be heard.
We don’t have to lose because we have commitment to the people.
And we don’t have to lose because we refuse to compromise our core values.
We don’t have to lose because we seek peace with justice and diplomacy over war.
We don’t have to lose.
By committing to do some things we’ve never done before I’m certain that we can also have some things we’ve never had before.
I return to the U.S. committed to do my part to make our dream come true.