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Tomorrow, the Palestinian flag will be raised for the first time at the United Nations headquarters in New York and at other U.N. offices around the world. The sense of pride among the Palestinian people was overwhelming the day the world voted in favor of this landmark initiative. I am certain that the day our flag rises among the flags of the community of nations will also be a most emotional and proud day.
The General Assembly’s vote confirmed again that we, the people of Palestine, are not alone in our quest for freedom, fulfillment of our rights and an end to decades of Israeli occupation and oppression. On September 30, we will raise our flag in a peaceful gesture that will remind all that justice and independence is ultimately possible. To get to this destination, we need the support of our friends around the world and the leadership of the U.N.
As the U.N. this year marks its 70th anniversary, its longest-standing, unresolved issue is the question of Palestine. For more than 68 years, my people have been denied their rights and denied freedom. In 1948, we were cast out of our places of birth and those of our ancestors; our homes and heritage were destroyed; we were expelled or fled into exile to what were to be temporary camps until the conflict and question of Palestinian statehood were resolved.
Today, Palestinians remain in exile, with over five million refugees denied their right to return. An illegal, oppressive Israeli occupation denies basic human rights, including the right of people to self-determination and freedom — a foundational principle of the U.N. But the Palestinian people have not given up hope and have not given up their rightful and just quest to live in independence and peace in our homeland.
Hope is the power that helps my people endure and overcome the horrors we have too often faced. Many have compared living in Palestine to apartheid. But our situation is even more dire because Israel, the occupying power, is not only executing a system of segregation and subjugation; it persists with the blatant ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people from their land. While the Israeli government pays lip service to the two-state solution internationally, domestically it employs policies aimed at destroying what’s left of Palestine. Israel demolishes our homes, swallows up our land and works at breaking the spirit and will of our people.
In Bethlehem, Israeli checkpoints and an illegal annexation wall cages in people, depriving them of their rights, livelihoods and access to their land. Palestinians in the Gaza Strip continue to suffer the wounds of last year’s barbaric war as Israel’s cruel blockade imprisons the entire population and renders the Strip uninhabitable. In Occupied East Jerusalem, Israeli forces and leaders aid extremist attacks and religious zealots’ attempts to assert control over Al Aqsa Mosque and ignite a religious conflict. Palestine refugees across the region are suffering repeated displacement, dispossession and trauma, denied the ability to return home.
Countless events every single day illustrate the ways in which Israel’s illegal occupation devastates Palestine. But few recent events resonated with the world, like the arson attack on the Dawabsheh family home. A group of Israeli terrorist settlers smashed the windows of the Dawabsheh home and threw Molotov cocktails inside, immediately burning to death an 18-month-old baby, Ali. Both of Ali’s parents have since perished due to third degree burns. More than a month later, their now-orphaned 4-year-old son remains in the hospital. The Israeli government has attempted to disassociate itself from the attack, but the truth is that its pervasive and systematic colonization of Palestine with settlements, messages of intolerance, flouting of international law and culture of impunity not only facilitated that attack but continue to encourage others like it.
Israel’s pursuit of reckless policies obstructs any international progress for the two-state solution. I recall the high hopes I felt in 1993 when the Oslo Accords were signed and a five-year deadline set to achieve an end to the occupation and peace and security between the two states, the State of Palestine and Israel. That was 22 years ago. Since then, Israel has failed to negotiate in good faith while entrenching its illegal occupation. Israel is not dedicated to the international community’s values of freedom, justice and peace — let alone the two-state solution and the longstanding parameters underpinning it. It has trampled the Oslo Accords and with it the peace process.
As world leaders gather in New York to commemorate the U.N.’s 70th anniversary, these same leaders must also reflect on the U.N.’s failures. Palestine has languished on the U.N. agenda since the organization’s inception. This persistent neglect has cost too many lives, dampened hope, undermined international law and stained the reputation of the U.N. World leaders must find the political will to uphold the rule of law, respect human rights and make good on the commitments they collectively made to the Palestinian people over decades. The U.N. must give my people more than hope.
A peaceful, fair and just solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict exists. But the peace process must be multilateral. The same pattern of negotiations imposed for years will not work because Israel is the occupying power. Israel controls our territory, natural resources, economic affairs and our daily lives, violating every fundamental human right of the Palestinian people. We cannot directly negotiate with a power that has this level of control and exhibits such contempt for the rights and existence of our people.
That is why a collective, multilateral peace process is necessary. Such processes have made significant progress in difficult negotiations for the Balkans, Libya and Iran. They should be attempted to decisively end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict after all these years of futile attempts to achieve peace.
On the vote to raise our flag at the U.N., the international community demonstrated its solidarity with the Palestinian people. Now it must act with urgency to seize the momentum from this symbolic gesture and provide a clear plan to end the illegal Israeli occupation, uphold human rights and achieve justice. It is time to finally achieve the independence of the State of Palestine, peacefully resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict — the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict — as was promised long ago.
Palestinian children play in the rubble of houses in the village of Khuzaa, Gaza, on July 7, 2015.
Palestinians enjoy a summer day on the beach of Gaza City on June 16, 2015.
A Palestinian woman walks amid the rubble in Khuzaa, Gaza, on June 1, 2015.
Mohammed al-Selek shows the site where he was injured in an Israeli mortar strike in Gaza City, Gaza.
A Palestinian child sits in front of the rubble in Khuzaa, Gaza, on June 15, 2015.
A Palestinian man dressed as a clown rests in front of destroyed houses in Gaza City, Gaza, on July 8, 2015.
A Palestinian girl stands on the side while her father paints the door of his house in the old Gaza City on June 21, 2015 photo.
A Palestinian boy rides his bike next to his family’s temporary housing in Khuzaa, Gaza, on July 7, 2015.
Palestinian children play at the rubble of buildings.
Palestinian trucks unload near the Rafah crossing in the southern Gaza Strip on June 23, 2015.
A Palestinian girl displays her hair in Gaza City, Gaza, on July 7, 2015.
A Palestinian boy plays in the rubble in Khuzaa, Gaza, on July 7, 2015.
Palestinian boys sit atop the rubble in Khuzaa, Gaza, on July 7, 2015.
Palestinian women protest against the 50-day war amidst the rubble in Khuzaa, Gaza, on July 7, 2015.
Palestinian boys play by their temporary housing in Khuzaa, Gaza, on July 7, 2015.
A Palestinian boy rides his bicycle amidst the rubble in Khuzaa, Gaza, on June 15, 2015.