By Teresa Castillo
CSU Fresno’s Middle East Studies Program and the Palestine Freedom Project sponsored a special discussion with Dr. Richard Falk on April 24. Falk, the UN special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights for six years, stated that the Palestinian struggle is the primary international moral challenge of our time and shared the history of the conflict.
In addition to his UN appointment, Falk is a professor emeritus of international law and international relations scholar at Princeton University, where he taught for 40 years, and he currently is a research professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in global and international studies. Since 2005, he has chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. He initiated his blog, “Global Justice in the 21st Century,” in 2010 partly in celebration of his 80th birthday, and his latest book is Palestine: The Legitimacy of Hope.
Falk explained Israel’s initial actions in 1967–1968 to “divide and dominate” rather than “divide and rule.” When an occupier dominates its occupied populations over decades, controlling their lives and movement, the structure must be evaluated under the key elements of the international crime of apartheid.
During Falk’s time with the United Nations, Israel launched three brutal attacks on the people of Gaza—in 2008–2009, 2012 and the summer of 2014. In each of those attacks, Israel never allowed civilians to become refugees or internally displaced persons; they were forced to remain within the war zone of Gaza. The children of Gaza who survived will suffer lifelong trauma as a result.
Falk shared his evaluation of the undeniable imbalance of military power and control of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. The failed attempts to bring about just and sustainable peace were mainly due to the false premise of the “peace process,” where the neutral negotiating party (the United States) supports the oppressor (Israel) with aid despite the obvious violations of international humanitarian laws in doing so. He also pointed out that peace cannot be achieved when the behavior of the controlling party is in opposition to the negotiation goal.
Israel’s systematic discrimination through nationality laws, collective punishment and the continued annexation of land for settlements, exclusive roads and the separation wall all undermine peace and perpetuate an apartheid rule. In addition, the genocidal phrases used by leading Israeli officials during the Gaza attacks—“mowing the lawn” and “removing the topsoil”—show their dehumanizing view of Palestinians. Nevertheless, Falk pointed out that both sides must find an equitable solution to the ongoing struggle as both sides deserve to achieve the right of self-determination, ensuring that the equal rights of other peoples is not encroached upon.
Falk’s critical narrative when looking at and reporting on the harsh realities the Palestinians endure seems to conflict with the legal limitations of the United Nations. He explained that the United Nations cannot solve conflicts or modify the behavior of a political power, but it can delegitimize war.
Some in the audience expressed their frustration with the apparent futility of the United Nations’ lack of ability to serve as a vehicle for peace or even aid in the enforcement of human rights, as with the geopolitical veto power. Falk pointed out that the United Nations does have the power to keep world human rights issues afloat with what is reported, and with the representation of human interests over national interests, change eventually comes for the victims without global catastrophe.
Falk’s character came under attack as his UN term was ending. He found it increasingly impossible to water down his reports on the human rights violations he witnessed in the Occupied Territories. Extreme Zionist organizations, including the Human Rights Watch, attempted to prevent Falk from speaking anywhere in the world, in order to silence his reports of Israeli violations of international law. The strong Israeli Lobby was believed to be responsible for influencing the cancellation of a three-day, multi-speaker, conference on International Law and the State of Israel scheduled at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom just prior to Falk’s Fresno visit.
The media labeled the U.K. event as an anti-Semitic conference while the university cited security concerns for the cancellation. One must question why, after a year of negotiation and coordination of speakers, an established university suddenly felt the need to cancel such an event. Perhaps a world determination must be reached regarding anti-Semitism versus criticism of Israel.
Joe Pulido, a professor at Fresno Pacific University, writes that
among certain circles, Richard Falk is often times portrayed as being overly critical of Israel while remaining too sympathetic to Palestine. Falk’s expulsion from Israel and his removal from the Human Rights Watch committee has depicted Falk as “an enemy of human rights,” according to Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of the UN Watch. However, Falk’s Friday lecture at California State University, Fresno, reveals a man who is truly a human rights advocate and who is condemning of any group who violates fundamental human rights. Richard Falk challenges nations to go beyond the self-centeredness and ineffective thought of “national interest” and to think rather of “human and global interests.” Falk demonstrates that justice is fulfilled when we are concerned for the other. It is only by being concerned about the fulfillment of others [that] we will find peace and our own fulfillment.
When Falk speaks of Palestine and a possible solution to their struggle, he does not speak of violence or the expulsion of Jews from the land; rather, he lauds the merits of the “bottom up” global solidarity movement that will cause the civil society to liberate the oppressed—a movement of the people for the justice of an oppressed people.
A significant point that Falk makes is the issue of right of return. Palestinians, including those who have a history of generations who have lived on specific land, have been expelled with absolutely no rights to return to their ancestral land, yet any Jewish person living anywhere in the world has been given the right, by Israel, to live and own property in Israel or in the illegal settlements simply because of their religion. Palestinians live under the military rule of the Israeli Security Forces, whereas Israelis enjoy the freedom of the rule of law.
Falk suggests that a “legitimacy war” will bring an end to the Occupation. He cites the fact that when humanitarian injustices cause a moral outrage through education and awareness of mobilized people, supported by globalized public opinion, a political change results that ultimately will lead to the recognition of the victimization of the Palestinian people, much like what happened in South Africa.
Anwar Manasrah, a senior at Clovis North High School, stated that “although I’ve spent a good time of my life in Palestine, the lecture gave me a good perspective on how Americans perceive the ongoing war between Palestine and Israel and how we as individuals should strive to make a change in this perception.”
Teresa Castillo is the president of Peace Fresno, founder of Peace Madera and a member of Fresno WILPF and the Human Rights Coalition of the Central Valley. Contact her at email@example.com.