Three of “The Elders” spoke over the weekend in Honolulu, Hawai’i at events sponsored by Pillars of Peace and the Hawai’i Community Foundation. Each of the Elders has had extensive experience with Israeli-Palestinian issues.
As the first woman Prime Minister of Norway, and its youngest Prime Minister at age 41, Gro Harlem Brundtland directed her government to conduct secret talks with the Israeli government and Palestinian leadership which led to the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993.
As a human rights lawyer in Pakistan, Hina Jilani created the first all woman law firm and established the first Human Rights commission in her country. She was the UN Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders from 2000 to 2008 and appointed to United Nations committees to investigate violations of international law in conflicts in Dafur and Gaza.
Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a leader in the movement against apartheid in South Africa, advocating boycott, divestment and sanctions against the South African government and has been a vocal critic of Israeli apartheid actions in the West Bank and Gaza.
The Elders, are a group of leaders who were brought together in 2007 by Nelson Mandela to use their “independent, collective experience and influence to work for peace, poverty eradication, a sustainable planet, justice and human rights, working bot publicly and through private diplomacy to engage with global leaders and civil society to resolve conflict and address its root causes, to challenge injustice, and to promote ethical leadership and good governance.”
The Elders include former US President Jimmy Carter, former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, former President of Finland Martti Ahtisaari, former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, former President of Mexico Ernesto Zedillo, former President of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso, grassroots organizer and head of the Self-Employed Women’s Association from India Ela Bhatt, former Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs and United Nations Special Representative for Afghanistan and Syria Lakhdar Brahimi and Grace Machel, former Mozambique Minister of Education, United Nations investigation of children in war and co-founder of The Elders with her husband Nelson Mandela.
During their speaking engagements August 29-31, 2014 in Honolulu, the three Elders spoke directly about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.Archbishop Desmond Tutu said when he goes to Israel and then through the checkpoints to get into the West Bank, his heart aches at the parallels between Israel and apartheid South Africa. He noted, “Have I been caught in a time warp? This is what we experienced in South Africa.” With emotion he said, “My anguish is what the Israelis are doing to themselves. Through the truth and reconciliation process in South Africa, we found that when you carry out unjust laws, dehumanizing laws, the perpetrator or the enforcer of those laws is dehumanized. I weep for the Israelis as they have ended up not seeing the victims of their actions as human as they are.”
In 2009, Hina Jilani was a member of the United Nations investigative team on the 22 Israeli attack on Gaza that was documented through the Goldstone Report. Jiliani, who also investigated military actions in the Dafur, said, “The real problem is the occupation of Gaza. There have been three offensive actions by Israel against Gaza in the past five years, each bloody and destroying the civil infrastructure need for the survival of the people of Gaza. No one party can use the right of self-defense to avoid international laws. There can be no peace without justice for the Palestinians. Justice is the goal to achieve peace.”
Jilani said the international community must keep the Israelis and Palestinians engaged in talks so hopefully neither side will kill more persons.She added that the international community must also give strong statements that violations of international law with impunity will not be allowed-international accountability is demanded . Jilani said there are three parts to ending the conflict between Israel and Palestine. First, the occupation of Gaza must end. Second, there must be an Israeli commitment to have a viable Palestinian state. Third, both sides must be made to feel that their security is protected. Jilani added that “Both sides must comport to the norms of international conduct.”
Dr. Gro Brundtland said that in 1992 when she was Prime Minister of Norway, she instructed her government to have secret talks with the Israelis and Palestinians that resulted in the Oslo Accords, sealed with a handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Rabin and PLO chief Arafat in the Rose Garden of the White House. Brundtland said, “Now 22 years later, the tragedy is what NOT has happened.” The Palestinian state has not been allowed to be established, but instead Gaza has been blockaded by Israel and the West Bank occupied by Israel. Brundtland added. “There is no solution except a two state solution in which Israelis realize that Palestinians have a right to their own state.”
Two other Elders deeply concerned about the Israeli actions against Palestinians have spoken out again. Elders former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson, wrote in recent article in Foreign Policy titled “ Gaza: A Cycle of Violence That Can Be Broken”, “This tragedy (of the third conflict in six years) results from the deliberate obstruction of a promising move toward peace in the region, when a reconciliation agreement among the Palestinian factions was announced in April. This was a major concession by Hamas, in opening Gaza to joint control under a technocratic government that did not include any Hamas members. The new government also pledged to adopt the three basic principles demanded by the Middle East Quartet comprised of the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and Russia: nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and adherence to past agreements. Tragically, Israel rejected this opportunity for peace and has succeeded in preventing the new government’s deployment in Gaza.”
Carter and Robinson strongly condemned Israeli use of force on civilians. “There is no humane or legal justification for the way the Israeli Defense Forces are conducting this war. Israeli bombs, missiles, and artillery have pulverised large parts of Gaza, including thousands of homes, schools, and hospitals. More than 250,000 people have been displaced from their homes in Gaza. Hundreds of Palestinian noncombatants have been killed. Much of Gaza has lost access to water and electricity completely. This is a humanitarian catastrophe.
There is never an excuse for deliberate attacks on civilians in conflict. These are war crimes. This is true for both sides. Hamas’s indiscriminate targeting of Israeli civilians is equally unacceptable. However, three Israeli civilians have been killed by Palestinian rockets, while an overwhelming majority of the 1,600 Palestinians killed have been civilians, including more than 330 children. The need for international judicial proceedings to investigate and end these violations of international law should be taken very seriously.”
Carter and Robinson suggest the European Union Border Assistance Mission, an international effort to help monitor border crossings that was launched in 2005 and suspended in 2007, should return to Gaza. They note that EU High Representative Catherine Ashton has already offered to reinstate the program, covering Rafah and all of Gaza’s crossings. They add that, “The international community’s initial goal should be the full restoration of the free movement of people and goods to and from Gaza through Israel, Egypt, and the sea. Concurrently, the United States and EU should recognize that Hamas is not just a military but also a political force. Hamas cannot be wished away, nor will it cooperate in its own demise. Only by recognizing its legitimacy as a political actor – one that represents a substantial portion of the Palestinian people – can the West begin to provide the right incentives for Hamas to lay down its weapons. Ever since the internationally monitored 2006 elections that brought Hamas to power in Palestine, the West’s approach has manifestly contributed to the opposite result.”
The collective experience of The Elders and their independence from governments’ political agendas, offer the world avenues to peace and justice—but only if citizens force their governments to listen!