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The Origin and Essence of “Palestine” and “Palestinians” as political entities (B)

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The Palestinian national movement has become the hostile stepsister, mainly the slayer of the Zionist national movement, and it remained until today absolutist in its goals, the destruction of Israel as a state and as a nation. Every people are created in a long historical process. The issue is not whether there is a Palestinian people, but the question should be asked is: What are the goals of the Palestinians? What is the terrain of their aspirations? How and where do they define their state? What are the borders of their state?

The Palestinian national movement claims, in Article 3 of the Palestinian Charter: “The Palestinian Arab people possess the legal right to its homeland, and when the liberation of its homeland is completed, it will exercise self-determination solely according to its own will and choice.”

This means that their national existence is lacking as long as the State of Israel exists. Palestinian national existence can arise only on the ruins of the State of Israel, and not alongside it. This is the immediate meaning of Article 3. It is necessary to focus on these issues, and not on the sterile dispute about the Palestinian national entity, its existence or nature. There is a Palestinian people, because there is a national group that defines itself as such. But the Palestinians have not changed their ways of thinking or their operational ways, and they still aspire to set up “Greater Palestine” on the wreckage of the State of Israel.

Nevertheless, there is a large problem in objectively and scientifically defining “Who is a Palestinian,” just as there is a difficulty in defining “Who is an Arab,” and just as there is a dispute over the question of “Who is a Jew.” The concept Arab has changed and developed over the years, but there never was an agreed, accepted definition of it. Ibn Khaldun, the Arab historian, claimed that the Arabs were only wandering Bedouin. This was also the meaning of the term until the 18th century in the Middle East. Arab leaders have tried to determine a definition of an “Arab” in accordance with several distinct criteria: he who lives on Arab soil, speaks the Arabic language, his mother tongue being Arabic, was born into Arab culture, and is proud of the splendid Arab past.

Others spoke of Arab culture and loyalty as a national feeling, while yet others argued for belonging to the Arab nation and living the Arab life style. The common elements are language, which is a cultural component; a common history that expresses the Arab past; regional and cultural unity; and vehement resistance to Zionism and international imperialism. However, are these enough? They possess great importance, but they are still very problematic. We still have remained in a situation where the concept is amorphous and a matter of emotions, and not necessarily of the conscious intellect.

Who, then, are the Palestinians? In particular, what is their national goal and how do they seek to achieve it? According to the Palestinian national covenant, in Article 5: “The Palestinians are the Arab nationals who were living permanently in Palestine until 1947, whether they were expelled from there or remained…”

What do they intend by referring to the year 1947? Does this merely refer to the Partition Plan, UN General Assembly resolution 181? We have to refer to Articles 19 and 20 that reject the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate document, and everything deriving from them. Now we understand: the so-called Palestinians are demanding “Greater Palestine”, which historically lay on both sides of the Jordan River.

Here is the strong link between defining national identity and defining the problem. There are many Palestinian groups within various political-juridical frameworks, and therefore the definition of Who-is-a-Palestinian does not derive from one’s national or geographic origin. Rather, from their political point of view, being Palestinian means supporting a total national-ideological program.

The name Palestine, which refers to the territory of the Land of Israel, and the name Palestinian which refers to the Arab people, crystallized with the establishment of the State of Israel and creation of an Israeli political identity. Only then did the Palestinian politicians notice the importance of the name, and turned “Palestine” into an operative idea, a territorial entity existing since ancient times. The connection between the name and the people is new and artificial to that same extent. However, the link between the origin of the Palestinian people – a mixed multitude of groups from the region, which had recently arrived – and the historical peoples of the Land of Israel, is not only artificial, deceitful and fraudulent, but ridiculous, pathetic and lunatic.

The Palestinian problem is, above all, a political problem with political meanings. The assertion that Israel came into existence on the basis of injustice to the Palestinian nation is totally unacceptable, and it proceeds on gross errors and lies.

It is not the problem of a people uprooted from its land; after all, most Palestinians have lived to this day in historic mandatory Palestine, whether in the boundaries defined in 1922, on both sides of the Jordan, or in the limited definition of the Western territory.

To claim that the Palestinians were displaced by Israel, when no such entity existed at that time, is playing with the facts of history and justice. The Balfour declaration of 1917, being part of the Mandate given to Britain to fulfill, granted the whole territory of “Greater Palestine,” including East Jordan to the Jewish people, and it was recognized by the 1919 Paris Peace Settlement after WWI and the League of Nations as was legitimized in the Mandatory system. It was also legitimized by the UN resolutions.

To assert that Israel has taken territory in 1948 owned by the Palestinians and known to be theirs is totally false, since the Jewish settlements were on empty places and partly bought in full money from local inhabitants. Israel did not took areas belonging to the Palestinians in the 1967 war. This is a big atrocious lie. Between 1948 and 1967, the so called Palestinians were considered and treated only as Arab refugees. They were not mentioned even by Arab states as political problem and as a nation deserve of a territory. All Arab leaders clearly differentiated between “the solution of Palestine issue” (Hall Qadiyat Filastin) and the resolution of the Arab refugees (Qadiyat al-Lija’ al-Arab).

Indeed this differentiation is clearly revealed on the international arena. Even as late as November 1967, the UN Security Council Resolution 242 mentions ‘the refugee problem’ and not a ‘Palestinian people’. The fact is that a Palestinian entity grew as a political movement precisely because of the Arab states defeat in 1967 war. Only from that time on, the world began to hear of a “Palestinian People.”

The Palestinian issue is not a problem of refugees, since only a minority of them is living in camps, and examination of the socioeconomic data shows clearly that their situation resembles in its nature the problems of hundreds of millions of inhabitants of Third World countries – and in many cases their situation is much better.

The Palestinian issue is not a problem of a society that was uprooted from its human environment, since almost all Palestinians are living in an Arabic speaking society, in Arabic culture, and under Arab regimes. They live under Arab regimes, mainly Jordan and Lebanon, and they are antagonistic to these states; in the western territory of the Land of Israel they live as independent entities under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in Gaza; and they live as a minority in Israel.

Most of the population of Jordan are Palestinians and most Palestinians have or had Jordanian identity. In this sense, the situation of the Palestinians does not at all resemble the situation of the Jews in the Diaspora before they had a state. The true political situation is absolutely different from Palestinian propaganda, where its aims to be achieved through national struggle by prolonged inhuman terrorism and at the same time political demands of humanitarian base: the refugees’ Right of Return.

The assertion that Israel came into existence on the basis of injustice to the Palestinian nation is totally unacceptable historically, politically and ideologically. It proceeds on gross errors and big lies.

To claim that the Palestinian nation was displaced by Israel, when no such entity existed at that time, is playing with the facts of history and human logic.

To assert that Israel has taken territory owned by the Palestinians and known to be theirs is totally false that has never suited the history and reality.

To argue that Israel took areas belonging to a Palestinian political entity in the Six Day War is a big lie. The West bank was conquered by Jordan in 1948, and its population annexed to Jordan and agreed to have a Jordanian citizenship; and the Gaza strip was conquered by Egypt, which retained their mandatory identity. From 1948 to 1967, this population has never raised its voice being a Palestinian people and demanding political aims and independence. It was only after 1967, when Israel has liberated these territories, which were promised by the Mandate that we heard of a “Palestinian people.

Indeed, the Palestinian entity grew as a political movement because of the Israeli defeat of the Arab states in 1967 war, taking territories from Jordan and Egypt, whose control was never legitimized even by other Arab states, let alone the international community. Until then, the Palestinians were considered and treated only as Arab refugees. Further, UN Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967 mentions “the refugee problem” and not a “Palestinian people”.

The question still remains: what do the Palestinians want? What are their goals? What and where is the Palestine that they speak of? How and where do they perceive the State of Israel existing and on which borders? Where was the “Palestinian people” in those years? Where they even raised their voice for political aims? Above all, what kind of justice do the Palestinians want? Where do they wish to implement their justice? And what are the borders of their Palestine?

From the viewpoint of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Palestine has a normative validity. It proposes total solutions to an imagined reality, and it is determined to view Palestine as an indivisible unit. Thus, their very definition of Palestine implies the necessity of liquidating Israel. Many of the articles in the Palestinian National Charter (al-Mithaq al-Watani al-Filastini) explicitly emphasize liberation of the entire territory of Palestine by violence and armed struggle. The same thrust is found in the resolutions of meetings of the Palestinian National Council (al-Majlis al-Watani al-Filastini) held over the years.

Article 1 of the Palestinian National Charter states: “Palestine is the homeland of the Palestinian Arab people and an integral part of the great Arab homeland, and the people of Palestine is a part of the Arab nation.” This reveals the central trend in Palestinian policy from the beginning, the absolute demand for the whole territory of what they call Palestine, without sharing any part of it with others or dividing it. Therefore, self-determination would come only after the complete liberation of Palestine, as clearly stated in Article 3 of the Charter.

It is election season in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Palestinians are preparing for local and municipal elections in the Palestinian Authority held territory, on October 8. In 2012 elections Hamas boycotted the vote, allowing Fatah to claim victory. This time Hamas has decided to participate, a move that caught the Palestinian Authority by surprise. Hamas’s has started a frightening platform, when one of its top muftis, Yunis al-Astal, issued a Fatwah banning Palestinians from voting for any other party other than Hamas, otherwise he will be considered an infidel and apostate.

Significantly, official Fatah Facebook page on August 2, 2016, boasts about leading Palestinians in terror. Fatah did not cite even one peace-seeking or peace-promoting achievement, but only acts of violence and terror. Fatah has killed 11,000 Israelis; Fatah has sacrificed 170,000 Shuhada’; Fatah was the first to carry out operations of terror attacks, and it was the first to reach the nuclear reactor in Dimona; Fatah was the first to defeat the Zionist enemy; Fatah led the Palestinian attack on Israel in the UN.

The 1988 Hamas charter (“Islamic Resistance Movement”) is genocidal. Its slogan and model are: “Allah is its goal, the Prophet its model, the Qur’an its charter, Jihad its path, and death for the cause of Allah its most sublime belief” (Article 8). Yet the United Nations has never denounced it, and most of Western countries do not label Hamas as terrorist organization. Hamas is against any peace process: “There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. All initiatives, proposals, and international conferences are a waste of time and vain endeavors” (Article 13).

Hamas is committed to continuing Jihad against “the Jews” until the Day of Judgment. The land of Palestine, it affirms, must be cleansed from their impurity and viciousness. Muslims are obligated by order of the Prophet to fight and kill the Jews wherever they find them. This call to genocide is justified by a Hadith which concludes article 7 of the charter: The Islamic Resistance Movement aspires to implement Allah’s promise, whatever time that may take. The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said: “The Day of Judgment will not come about until the Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them), until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: Oh Muslim, Oh Abdullah, there is a Jew behind me, come on and kill him.”  

For Hamas it is clear: there is only one political system and one rule: “The Islamic Resistance Movement is a distinguished Palestinian movement, whose allegiance is to Allah, and whose way of life is Islam. It strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine, for under the wing of Islam followers of all religions can coexist in security and safety where their lives, possessions and rights are concerned. In the absence of Islam, strife will be rife, oppression spreads, evil prevails and schisms and wars will break out” (Article 6).

“The Islamic Resistance Movement is a humanistic movement. It takes care of human rights and is guided by Islamic tolerance when dealing with the followers of other religions. It does not antagonize anyone of them except if others antagonize it or stands in its way to hamper its moves. Under the wing of Islam, it is possible for the followers of the three religions – Islam, Christianity and Judaism – to coexist in peace and quiet with each other. Peace and quiet would not be possible except under the wing of Islam. Past and present history are the best witness to that” (Article 31).

Hyowever, historically The phrase “Palestinian Arab people” implies that there were a Palestinian people in the past and that it had acted as a political collectivity. Of course, there never was such a collectivity. The Arabs living in geographical Palestine were called inhabitants of “Southern Syria” (Suriya al-Janubiyyah) and they considered themselves as Muslims first, then as Arabs, and then, by ascriptive affiliation, as natives of a town or village and/or as part of a tribe and extended family (Hamulah).

During the Mandatory period, a “Palestinian” meant a person who bore a Palestinian identity card issued by the British Mandatory authorities. After the rise of the State of Israel, the term “Palestinians” developed into a national definition of the Arabs connected with the country, comprising a self-conscious collectivity. But only after the 1967 war did the Palestinian national movement emerges politically in the Middle Eastern and international arenas.

Article 4 of the Palestinian National Charter asserts: The Palestinian identity is a genuine, essential, and inherent characteristic; it is transmitted from parents to children. The Zionist occupation and the dispersal of the Palestinian Arab people. do not make them lose their Palestinian identity, and their membership of the Palestinian community, nor do they negate them.

It is very important to note that the Palestinian leadership has emphasized time and again that even those Palestinians who have acquired foreign citizenship shall remain Palestinians with full rights to their homeland, no matter where they live nor how much time has elapsed. This means that being a Palestinian is independent of citizenship or formal nationality.

From the beginning, members of the Palestinian National Council and the National Executive Committee have mostly been delegates of the organizations comprising the Palestine Liberation Organization, as a political umbrella, while other members have been independents. Indeed, the legitimacy of the Palestine Liberation Organization was superimposed on the Palestinians. For this reason, Article 8 of the Charter tries to settle the issue of legitimacy and to achieve internal unity. This is why the Palestine Liberation Organization declares itself the representative of the revolutionary forces (Article 26).

Now the last question arises. Where is Palestine? What are its boundaries? Article 2 of the Charter clarifies this matter: Palestine, with the boundaries that it had during the British mandate, is an indivisible territorial unit.

On these grounds, the Palestinians are not only making a claim to Western Palestine, but also to eastern Palestine, that is, the territory of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Various resolutions of the Palestinian National Council affirm this outright. Indeed, the Palestinian national movement, represented by the Palestine Liberation Organization, frankly shows that it is far from accepting any territorial compromise.

Declarations suggesting willingness to compromise are only on the tactical level, and even the partial agreements that they are willing to sign are typified by a policy of take and take, most assuredly not one of give and take. This new strategy began in 1974 at the twelfth session of the Palestinian National Council. It was reinforced through the years. What motivates the Palestine Liberation Organization’s leaders is a policy of illusion and deception as embodied in the Staged Strategy, from 1974.

This reality presents several factual aspects. The fact is this conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has attract the attention of the international community for decades, and many hundreds of attempts to achieve political compromises and arrangements have been made and are still in process. They all were rejected.

The fact is that even the most moderate among the Jews, the members of Brit-Shalom, in the 1930s, who were ready for far-reaching concessions, even rejecting Zionism and Jewish statehood, did not succeed in achieving a basis for common understanding with the local Arab leadership.

The fact is that during the period of the British mandate, the local Arab leadership was not ready for any compromise as to Jewish immigration, as to Jewish settlement on the land, or as to the various partition plans that were proposed.

The fact is that the UN Partition Plan of November 29, 1947 was totally rejected by the local Arab leadership with the encouragement of the Arab states; and on the morrow of the UN vote, they began an organized war against the Jewish population.

The fact is that when the Jewish leadership decided to establish the State of Israel on the basis of the UN Partition Plan, war was proclaimed by the Arab states, with the encouragement of the local Arabs, in order to prevent establishment of the Jewish State.

The fact is that after the failure of the Arab states in the war, frontiers for the Jewish state were determined in negotiations with the Arab states, but they have appropriated the Palestine issue to themselves, and until 1967, the Palestinian issue was known only as a humanitarian problem of refugees.

The fact is that UN General Assembly Resolution 194, of December 11, 1948, refers mainly to the conciliation regime with the Arab states, and only in Article 11 does it relate to the “refugee problem” at all, and if this means Palestinians, it no less means the Jewish refugees from Arab states.

The fact is that from 1948 on, the Palestinians had no connection with regional political reality in general. They were not an active political player, they did not have any territorial assets, and their problem was defined as humanitarian one.

The fact is that even Resolution 242 of November 1967, deals with the issue under the rubric of the refugee problem, not with that of a Palestinian people, not with a political problem referring to an exploited disinherited people.

The fact is that in the 1967 war, Israel conquered militarily and politically liberated areas of mandatory Palestine which had been occupied by Arab states – Jordan, which had annexed the West Bank in April 1950, making it part of Jordanian territory, and Egypt which continued to view the inhabitants of Gaza as being subjects of the Mandate.

The fact is that the so-called Palestinians were not sovereign over any territory, ever in the far and recent history of the region, and the State of Israel never conquered any territory from them.

The fact is that the Palestinian national movement, in contrast to Palestinian identity, was shaped and organized only after the 1967 war and its chief goal to this day has not been to obtain a territory for the Palestinians and to live at peace with Israel. Rather, it has been to liquidate the State of Israel through indiscriminate terrorism, an inhuman incitement, and to take possession of the territory in its entirety.

The fact is that the Palestinians were not sovereign over any territory, and the State of Israel never conquered any territory from them. The Palestinian national movement, in contrast to Palestinian identity, was shaped and organized only after the 1967 war, and its chief goal to this day has been to take possession of Palestine in its entirety through indiscriminate terrorism and to control the territory of “Greater Palestine,” including Jordan, by totally demolishing the State of Israel.

The fact is that the Palestinian national movement is a terrorist movement armed from head to toe throughout its history. It has operated violent, indiscriminate terrorism not only against Jews and Israel from the beginning of Jewish settlement in 1882, but also against the Palestinians themselves, and even against Arab states, directly in Jordan and Lebanon, since the late 1960s on.

The fact is that the Palestinian national movement acts by pressures of threats of terrorism to undermine the stability of regimes and the regional order, for the purpose of financial blackmail and getting “protection money” from the oil states. These were operated in order to advance its national goals on the account of the vital interests of the Arab states and the Arab masses. It brought turmoil to the Jordanian and Lebanese political system, and in Lebanon it brought about the military intervention of Syria in June 1976, and Israel in June 1982.

Some lessons have to be understood. The so-called Palestinian issue on the international arena is not the “occupation” and it has never been. It is not the “1967 occupation” but the “1948 occupation.” It is all about total hatred and absolute rejection of any Jewish nationality on any part of what they call “Palestine.”

The Palestinian inhuman terrorism is not about Israeli racism or Apartheid. This claim is more than ridiculous. To refer to Israel being racist or Apartheid, is no less to stubbornly declare that Earth is flat, or that humans breathe not oxygen. 96 percent of the Palestinians in the territory west of the Jordan River, live on their own rule, either under the Palestinian Authority, or under the Hamas regime in Gaza. They whatsoever do not engage with Israel, and are free to live under Arab-Palestinian rule. They have nothing to do with “occupation.”

Palestinian terrorism is not about “occupation,” or “settlements,” or a declaration to establish a Palestinian state, or a demand to an Israeli return to the pre-1967 borders. Palestinian terrorism is mainly to remove, to totally wipe out Israel from the map of the Middle East. This inhuman Palestinian terrorism is due to the Palestinian politics of incitement and hatred, human record has never seen, including the Nazi era.  

Palestinian terrorism does not stem from poverty, misery or lack of education. We have dealt with this issue previously on other papers in Modern Diplomacy. This is stupid and ridiculous on the march. The ignorant media reporters, the biased one-sided “peace activists,” and the hypocrite politicians tell us that that the Palestinians resort to violence because they are “hopeless,” unemployed, impoverished and uneducated. The terrorists are well-educated (mostly university, engineers and physicians) and come from fluent families economically.

This is a world-wide situation. Precisely the poor and uneducated do not engage in terrorism. They work hard to feed their families; they do not have time for “revolutions;” and they do not know how to work in organizations. The media and now the social media are the main source of the terrorist activity, and they constantly motivate and direct the public with hateful, libelous accusations and pure false propaganda.

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Turkey’s Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Cyprus, Turkey, Artsakh

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The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin of the Armenian Apostolic Church has recently hosted a conference on international religious freedom and peace with the blessings of His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians.

Tasoula Hadjitofi, the founding president of the Walk of Truth, was one of the invited guests. She spoke about genocide and her own experience in Cyprus, warning of Turkey’s religious freedom violations. Hadjitofi also called for joint legal actions against continued ethnic cleansing and destruction of Christian cultural heritage in Cyprus, Turkey, Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) and other places by the Turkish government and its regional allies including Azerbaijan.

During the two-day conference, access to places of worship in war and conflict zones, the protection of religious and ethnic minorities, and preservation of cultural heritage were among the topics addressed by many distinguished speakers.  The conference paid particular attention to the situation of historic Armenian monasteries, churches, monuments, and archeological sites in parts of Nagorno-Karabakh that have been under Azeri occupation since the 2020 violent war unleashed by Azerbaijan.

Hadjitofi presented about the situation of Cyprus, sharing her recent visit to the Cypriot city of Famagusta (Varoshia), making historic parallels between the de-Christianisation of Asia Minor, Cyprus and Nagorno-Karabakh by Turkey, and its allies such as Azerbaijan. See Hadjitofi’s full speech here.

Author of the book, The Icon Hunter, Hadjitofi spoke with passion about her recent visit to the ghost city of Famagusta, occupied by Turkey since 1974. Her visit coincided with the 47th anniversary of the occupation. She was accompanied by journalist Tim Neshintov of Spiegel and photographer Julien Busch as she made several attempts to visit her home and pray at her church of Timios Stavrou (Holy Cross).

Hadjitofi explained how her own human rights and religious freedoms, alongside the rights of tens of thousands of Cypriots, were violated when Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan illegally entered her country and prayed at the newly erected mosque in her own occupied town whereas she was kneeling down in the street to pray to her icon in front of her violated Christian church. In comparison, her church was looted, mistreated and vandalized by the occupying forces.  

Hadjitofi reminded the audience of the historic facts concerning Turks discriminating against Christian Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians. They also massacred these communities or expelled them from the Ottoman Empire and the modern Republic of Turkey, a process of widespread persecution which culminated in the 1913-23 Christian genocide. Hadjitofi then linked those genocidal actions with what Erdogan is doing today to the Kurds in Syria, and the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh by supporting Turkey’s wealthy friends such as the government of Azerbaijan.  She also noted that during her recent visit to her hometown of Famagusta, a delegation from Azerbaijan referred to Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus as “Turkish land” and a “part of Greater Turkey”. This is yet another sign of Turkish-Azeri historic revisionism, and their relentless efforts for the Turkification of non-Turkish geography.

Hadjitofi called for a series of legal actions against Turkey and its allies, reminding Armenians that although they signed the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court (ICC), they have not ratified it. She noted that it must be the priority of Armenians if they want to seek justice. Azerbaijan and Turkey, however, neither signed or ratified the Rome Statute.

During her speech Hadjitofi also emphasized the need for unity amongst all Christians and other faiths against any evil or criminal act of destroying places of worship or evidence of their historical existence anywhere in the world. 

In line with this call, the Republic of Armenia instituted proceedings against the Republic of Azerbaijan before the International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, with regard to violations of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

In its application, Armenia stated that “[f]or decades, Azerbaijan has subjected Armenians to racial discrimination” and that, “[a]s a result of this State-sponsored policy of Armenian hatred, Armenians have been subjected to systemic discrimination, mass killings, torture and other abuse”.

Hadjitofi said that “Armenia’s lawsuit against the government of Azerbaijan is a positive move in the right direction and more legal actions should be taken against governments that systematically violate human rights and cultural heritage. I’m also in the process of meeting members of the Armenian diaspora in Athens, London, and Nicosia to discuss further joint legal actions. But the most urgent action that Armenia should take is the ratification of Rome Statute of the ICC,” she added.

Other speakers at the conference included representatives of the main Christian denominations, renowned scholars and experts from around the globe, all of whom discussed issues related to international religious freedom and the preservation of the world’s spiritual, cultural and historical heritage.

Baroness Cox, a Member of the UK House of Lords and a prominent human rights advocate, was among the participants. She has actively defended the rights of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia through her parliamentary, charity and advocacy work.

Meanwhile, the organizing committee of the conference adopted a joint communiqué, saying, in part:

” We re-affirm the principles of the right to freedom of religion or belief, as articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent international and regional human rights treaties. We claim this right, equally, for all people, of any faith or none, and regardless of nation, history or political circumstances – including for those Armenian prisoners of war still illegally held in captivity by Azerbaijan, for whose swift release and repatriation we appeal and pray, and for the people of Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh whose rights to free and peaceful assembly and association necessarily implicate the sacred character of human life.”

On September 11, the delegates of the conference were received by the President of Armenia, Armen Sarkissian, in his palace in Yerevan where they were thanked. The guests also visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial-Museum (Tsitsernakaberd), where Hadjitofi was interviewed on Armenian national TV. She said:

“I read about the Armenian Genocide and I am glad that more countries recognize it as such but I am disappointed that politicians do not condemn actions of Turkey and its allies in their anti Christian attitude towards Cyprus and Nagorno-Karabakh. I see an interconnection between the genocide and the adopted politics of Azerbaijan, when the ethnic cleansing takes place, when cultural heritage is destroyed, gradually the traces of the people once living there are eliminated and that is genocide”. 

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After 10 years of war in Syria, siege tactics still threaten civilians

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The future for Syria’s people is “increasingly bleak”, UN-appointed rights experts said on Tuesday, highlighting escalating conflict in several areas of the war-ravaged country, a return to siege tactics and popular demonstrations linked to the plummeting economy.

According to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, the country is not safe for refugees to return to, after a decade of war.

The panel’s findings come amid an uptick in violence in the northwest, northeast and south of the country, where the Commissioners highlighted the chilling return of besiegement against civilian populations by pro-Government forces.

“The parties to the conflict continue to perpetrate war crimes and crimes against humanity and infringing the basic human rights of Syrians,” said head of the Commission of Inquiry, Paulo Pinheiro. “The war on Syrian civilians continues, and it is difficult for them to find security or safe haven.”

Scandal of Al Hol’s children

Professor Pinheiro also described as “scandalous” the fact that many thousands of non-Syrian children born to former IS fighters continue to be held in detention in dreadful conditions in Syria’s north-east.

“Most foreign children remain deprived of their liberty since their home countries refuse to repatriate them,” he told journalists, on the sidelines of the 48th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“We have the most ratified convention in the world, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is completely forgotten. And democratic States that are prepared to abide to this Convention they neglect the obligations of this Convention in what is happening in Al Hol and other camps and prison places.”

Some 40,000 children continue to be held in camps including Al Hol. Nearly half are Iraqi and 7,800 are from nearly 60 other countries who refuse to repatriate them, according to the Commission of Inquiry report, which covers the period from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021. 

Blockades and bombardment

The rights experts also condemned a siege by pro-Government forces on the town of Dar’a Al-Balad, the birthplace of the uprising in 2011, along with “siege-like tactics” in Quineitra and Rif Damascus governorates.

“Three years after the suffering that the Commission documented in eastern Ghouta, another tragedy has been unfolding before our eyes in Dar’a Al-Balad,” said Commissioner Hanny Megally, in reference to the siege of eastern Ghouta which lasted more than five years – and which the commissioners previously labelled “barbaric and medieval”.

In addition to the dangers posed by heavy artillery shelling, tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside Dar’a Al-Balad had insufficient access to food and health care, forcing many to flee, the Commissioners said.

Living in fear

In the Afrin and Ra’s al-Ayn regions of Aleppo, the Commissioners described how people lived in fear of car bombs “that are frequently detonated in crowded civilian areas”, targeting markets and busy streets.

At least 243 women, men and children have been killed in seven such attacks over the 12-month reporting period, they said, adding that the real toll is likely to be considerably higher.

Indiscriminate shelling has also continued, including on 12 June when munitions struck multiple locations in Afrin city in northwest Syria, killing and injuring many and destroying parts of al-Shifa hospital.

Insecurity in areas under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeast Syria has also deteriorated, according to the Commission of Inquiry, with increased attacks by extremist “remnants” and conflict with Turkish forces.

Division remains

The Commissioners noted that although President Assad controls about 70 per cent of the territory and 40 per cent of the pre-war population, there seems to be “no moves to unite the country or seek reconciliation. On the contrary.”

Despite a welcome drop in the level of violence compared with previous years, the Commission of Inquiry highlighted the dangers that continue to be faced by non-combatants

The senior rights experts also highlighted mounting discontent and protests amongst the population, impacted by fuel shortages and food insecurity, which has increased by 50 per cent in a year, to 12.4 million, citing UNFPA data.

“The hardships that Syrians are facing, particularly in the areas where the Government is back in control, are beginning to show in terms of protests by Syrians who have been loyal to the State,” said Mr. Megally. They are now saying, ‘Ten years of conflict, our lives are getting worse rather than getting better, when do we see an end to this?’”

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IAEA Director General reaches agreement in Tehran, as Biden’s clock is ticking

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IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi at a press conference. Photo: IAEA/Dean Calmaa

A meeting to resolve interim monitoring issues was held in Tehran on 12 September between the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Eslami, and the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi. Grossi was on a visit to Tehran to fix roadblocks on the stalled monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program, which is ever more challenging in a context where there is no diplomatic agreement to revive or supersede the JCPOA. Grossi said in a press conference on 12 September that the IAEA had “a major communication breakdown” with Iran. But what exactly does that mean?


The IAEA monitoring equipment had gone three months without being serviced and Grossi said he needed “immediate rectification” of the issues. He was able to get the Iranian side to come to an agreement. The news from Sunday was that the IAEA’s inspectors are now permitted to service the identified equipment and replace their storage media which will be kept under the joint IAEA and AEOI seals in Iran. The way and the timing are now agreed by the two sides. The IAEA Director General had to push on the terms of the agreement reached in February 2020.

Grossi underlined on Sunday that the new agreement can’t be a permanent solution. Data from the nuclear facilities is just being stored according to what commentators call “the continuity of knowledge” principle, to avoid gaps over extended time periods but the data is not available to inspectors.

When it’s all said and done, basically, it all comes down to the diplomatic level. The American withdrawal from the JCPOA nuclear agreement in 2018 keeps undermining the Iran nuclear inspections on the technical level. All the inspection activities have been stalled as a result of the broken deal. The IAEA’s strategy in the interim is that at least the information would be stored and not permanently lost.

Everyone is waiting for the JCPOA to be restored or superseded. As Vali Nasr argued in the New York Times back in April this year, the clock is ticking for Biden on Iran. Iran diplomacy doesn’t seem to be on Biden’s agenda at all at the moment. That makes the nuclear inspectors’ job practically impossible.  Journalists pointed out on Sunday that the Director General’s visit found one broken and one damaged camera in one of the facilities. Grossi assured it has been agreed with Iran that the cameras will be replaced within a few days. The IAEA report notes that it was not Iran but Israel that broke the IAEA cameras in a June drone attack carried out by Israel. Presumably, Israel aimed to show Iran is not complying by committing the violations themselves.

Grossi’s visit was a part of the overall IAEA strategy which goes along the lines of allowing time for diplomacy, without losing the data in the meantime. He added that he thinks he managed to rectify the most urgent problem, which is the imminent loss of data.

The Reuters’s title of the meeting is that the agreement reached on Sunday gives “hope” to a renewed Iran deal with the US, after Iran elected a hardliner president, Ebrahim Raisi, in August this year, but that’s a misleading title. This is not the bit that we were unsure about. The question was never on the Iranian side. No one really expected that the new Iranian president would not engage with the IAEA at all. Earlier in November 2019, an IAEA inspector was not allowed on a nuclear cite and had her accreditation canceled. In November 2020, Iranian lawmakers passed a law that mandated the halt of the IAEA inspections and not to allow inspectors on the nuclear sites, as well as the resuming of uranium enrichment, unless the US sanctions are lifted. In January 2021, there were threats by Iranian lawmakers that IAEA inspectors would be expelled. Yet, the new Iranian President still plays ball with the IAEA.

It is naïve to think that Iran should be expected to act as if there was still a deal but then again, US foreign policy is full of naïve episodes. “The current U.S. administration is no different from the previous one because it demands in different words what Trump demanded from Iran in the nuclear area,” Khamenei was quoted to have said in his first meeting with President Raisi’s cabinet.

“We don’t need a deal – you will just act as if there was still a deal and I will act as if I’m not bound by a deal” seems to be the US government’s line put bluntly. But the ball is actually in Biden’s court. The IAEA Director General is simply buying time, a few months at a time, but ultimately the United States will have to start moving. In a diplomatic tone, Grossi referred on Sunday to many commentators and journalists who are urging that it is time.

I just don’t see any signs on Biden’s side to move in the right direction. The current nuclear talks we have that started in June in Vienna are not even direct diplomatic talks and were put on hold until the outcome of Iran’s presidential elections were clear. US hesitance is making Grossi’s job impossible. The narrative pushed by so many in the US foreign policy space, namely that the big bad wolf Trump is still the one to blame, is slowly fading and reaching its expiry date, as Biden approaches the one-year mark of his presidency.

Let’s not forget that the US is the one that left and naturally is the one that has to restart the process, making the parties come back to the table. The US broke the deal. Biden can’t possibly be expecting that the other side will be the one extending its hand to beg for forgiveness. The US government is the one that ruined the multi-year, multilateral efforts of the complex dance that was required to get to something like the JCPOA – a deal that Republicans thought was never going to be possible because “you can’t negotiate with Iran”. You can, but you need skilled diplomats for that. Blinken is no Kerry. Judging from Blinken’s diplomacy moves with China and on other issues, I just don’t think that the Biden Administration has what it takes to get diplomacy back on track. If he follows the same line with Iran we won’t see another JCPOA in Biden’s term. Several weeks ago, Biden said that there are other options with Iran if diplomacy fails, in a White House meeting with Israel’s new prime minister Bennett. I don’t think that anyone in the foreign policy space buys that Biden would launch a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. But I don’t think that team Biden can get to a diplomatic agreement either. Biden and Blinken are still stuck in the 2000, the time when others would approach the US no matter what, irrespective of whose fault it was. “You will do as I say” has never worked in the history of US foreign policy. That’s just not going to happen with Iran and the JCPOA. To expect otherwise is unreasonable. The whole “Trump did it” line is slowly and surely reaching its expiry date – as with anything else on the domestic and foreign policy plane. Biden needs to get his act together. The clock is ticking.

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