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A Charter of Rights for Palestine

Inalienable, unarguable, non-negotiable, universal – a powerful tool with many applications

A new campaign launched in March on Facebook has grouped together, into a Charter of Five Urgent Demands, most of the main day-to-day issues of the fight against Israel’s apartheid.

Human Rights and international law expert at the UN, Dr. Richard Falk, welcomed it (23 March), commenting on the Page: “This is an excellent initiative as it calls attention to the spectrum of Israeli ongoing abuses toward the Palestinian people, several of which receive almost no media attention.”

Is this all just a presentational device, or might it become a lot more?

Charters have marked historic milestones: from England’s Magna Carta, which 800 years ago first defended the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot and later inspired the United States Constitution; to the Chartist movement that extended and reformed English parliamentary democracy; to the UN Human Rights Charter that established universality of rights across nations, class, gender and race.

A Charter carries weight as an inalienable, unarguable, non-negotiable set of standards that overrides political horsetrading, lobbying and compromise, that protects the weak and not the strong, and whose signatories are required to uphold it as a totality, not to quibble or cherry-pick or claim special exemption, or quote their current government policy, or an alternative, higher authority.

The campaigners point to a gap between the ground level struggles and the Boycott National Committee’s three long-term demands that underpin the BDS (Boycott) campaign: “The Palestine liberation, resistance and solidarity movements are united in support of the long term historic rights of all the Palestinian people, codified in the three demands of the Boycott movement: return of exiled refugees, equality within Israel, and an end to the Occupation of Palestinian lands. They suggest that a whole array of immediate demands also need to be codified and highlighted into a Charter of Rights to illustrate and fill out the details of the BDS goals. They have grouped together the main issues: on law and prisoners; ethnic cleansing, home demolition and economic vandalism; walls and barriers; racial segregation; and accountable governance in place of military dictatorship.

Most of these are already universally accepted in international law such as the UN and EU Human Rights declarations, Reports and Resolutions, so a Charter that re-states it all in one document is a very appropriate format. On the largest stages, the Charter can be put to the vote in national and international bodies right up to the UN, together with calls for sanctions to enforce it. Israel and her allies would be hard put to it to argue that such basic and undeniable rights and freedoms need to be “brought to the table” for negotiation.

This could become an effective diplomatic offensive.

Many of Israel’s detailed instruments of oppression are often overlooked by even the solidarity movement, featured only in specialist reports and not picked up at the outset. Prisoner rights only hit the headlines due to epic hunger strikes. How long will it be before the Occupation’s growing crackdown on media and freedom of speech also become a major issue? Overall, a Charter would bring closer together the international boycott movement and the mass mobilisation and popular struggle.

So such a Charter can serve as an easy-access, shorthand portal into all the myriad issues and details of Israel’s military/bureaucratic rule. Supporters of the Charter would implicitly stand, unconditionally, with the Palestinians in ALL their immediate struggles, not just the best known ones.

All Israel’s dealings and propaganda depart totally from international legal standards (for which they express contempt) and into crude, simplistic comparatives and “special case” pleadings. So “the only democracy in the Middle East” distracts from their own democratic shortcomings, which would certainly be shown up if tested against the universal benchmarks that a Charter would underline.

And by showing the inter-connectedness, these issues are flagged up as not just “abuses” but part of the full spectrum of dispossession and apartheid: a system that has to be ended, not just softened or reformed. Support for this Charter can also be a quick test. In any grey area, such as a co-existence project, it can separate normalisation eyewash from genuine solidarity.

The demands as drafted are a prototype template. The content needs to be finalised and the exact framework agreed by major representative organisations of the Palestinian struggle. If that is done, this Charter can help to link the grassroots struggles to the big end goals of freedom and self-determination.

There could even be electoral slates of  ”Charter candidates” committed to furthering the Charter’s non-negotiable demands.

Such a Charter can unite activists from different parties and from none, from different religious beliefs, ages, geographical locations, and different visions for a Palestinian future, on a common, non-competitive platform. It is neutral between a two-state re-partition and demands for equal rights in one country, and could be adapted to either stance as opportunities and priorities change. (The fifth demand, for democracy, does raise unresolved questions. But the principle is crucial: without the vote, the Palestinian people can have no justice, and no self-determination over daily life now or over the big decisions on the future. And denial of the franchise is one of the least-known, unspoken, and most damning structural effects of the Occupation.)

These are all possible future uses. The first task is to get it taken up and launched by organisations that represent the struggle. Once that has been accomplished it could start to function and create new openings and ways forward.

See Facebook page, and the draft demands below.

1. The same law for all: No imprisonment without charge or trial (“administrative detention”); treat minors by human rights norms; abolish Military Orders and military courts, outlaw torture of adults and children, end the double standards that leave settlers and security personnel above the law. Respect democratic freedoms of speech, of conscience, of peaceful assembly.
2. Free movement for people and goods: End the blockade of Gaza and diversion of water, remove all roadblocks, fences, walls, barriers, and all obstacles to employment, commerce, economic viability, education, family life and the right to family reunion.
3. End home demolitions, forced transfers and relocation: No more destruction of roads, industrial and agricultural facilities, wells, cisterns and water resources which squeeze Palestinians off their lands.
4. End ethnic segregation of roads, streets, public places, transport and housing.
5. One Person, one vote. No taxation without representation:  Government must be accountable and govern with the consent of the people.