March 12, 1997

Good afternoon. My name is Hala Maksoud. I am the President of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC).

We have spearheaded a campaign in conjunction with other Arab-American organizations, Muslim associations, and church and Jewish peace groups to protest Israel's settlement-building plans on Jabal Abu Ghneim in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem. As part of this national campaign, teach-ins on Jerusalem are being held today and the rest of the week in 100 cities throughout the country and tens of thousands of signatures are being collected on a petition to be delivered to President Bill Clinton.

This nationwide campaign was launched in response to Israeli plans to build 6,500 housing units in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem to house more than 30,000 Israeli settlers. The aim of the campaign is to express our support of efforts in Palestine and Israel to stop the building of Har Homa on Jabal Abu Ghneim and to urge our government to use its leverage with Israel, in tune with the international community and U.S. allies, to bring about a complete halt to all settlement-building on occupied Palestinian land.

The building of settlements on Jabal Abu Ghneim, as all other settlements, is a flagrant violation of international law. These settlements would complete the encirclement of East Jerusalem; they would cut off the Palestinian population from adjoining areas of the West Bank; and would severely cripple the Palestinian economy and the Palestinian population's freedom of movement. This provocative plan is part of an attempt by Israel to separate East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank in an effort to assert exclusive Israeli sovereignty over the Holy City and crush Palestinian aspirations to make East Jerusalem the capital of a Palestinian state.

By stepping up settlement-building in defiance of the international community, in defiance of the Palestinian people, and in defiance of our own government's policies, Israel is single-handledly altering the status of Jerusalem and making a mockery of the final phase of negotiations. After all, when Israel takes such actions, what is there left to negotiate?

Benjamin Netanyahu's efforts to camouflage Israel's expansionist policies under the pretense that the planned settlements will be accompanied by the building of 3,000 Arab homes is nothing more than a public relations stunt aimed at diverting attention from the real issue, which is simply that the building of settlements is illegal and a major threat to peace. In the past, similar promises to build Arab homes have been made every time Israel implemented massive settlement-building for Israelis in East Jerusalem. But these promises are belied by the facts. And the facts are that no permits were given to Arabs to build homes in East Jerusalem since Israel illegally occupied and annexed it in 1967, compared with the building of more than 39,000 housing units for Israelis alone.

Israel's racist policies have turned East Jerusalem from an all-Arab city in 1967 to one in which Jews slightly outnumber the remaining 170,000 Palestinians living there today. The Har Homa settlement aims at creating a decisive Jewish majority in Arab East Jerusalem in order to preempt negotiations over the future status of the city.

These expansionist policies are part of an elaborate plan of ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem and have intensified since Netanyahu came to power. As part of these efforts, Israel is confiscating the ID cards of Palestinian Jerusalemites with dual citizenship while tens of thousands of Israelis hold dual citizenship without loss of their residency rights in the Holy City. Even U.S. citizens are victims of this racist policy. According to Edward Abington, the U.S. Consul General in Jerusalem, there are at least 72 cases of Palestinian Americans who were told by the Israeli government that they had to give up their American citizenship if they wanted to retain their right to live in Jerusalem.

Israel's unilateral policies in Jerusalem, which include the denial of family reunification for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, are leading to the forceful eviction of the city's indigenous population, and are clearly in violation of international law and human rights conventions, especially the Fourth Geneva Convention, which provides for the protection of people under occupation.

Through this nationwide campaign against the building of Har Homa on Jabal Abu Ghneim and against all Israeli settlements, we hope to educate the American public about the devastating consequences of Israel's policies of aparetheid and to send a message to our elected representatives calling for an immediate cut in U.S. aid to Israel.

Mild rebukes, rhetoric and lip service aimed at appeasing the Palestinian population will not change the facts on the ground. We cannot remain silent in the face of Israeli provocations and unilateral policies which threaten to lead to an explosion of violence. The U.S. delegate to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, explained the U.S. veto of a Security Council Resolution criticizing Israel's plans, by using the excuse that the two sides should sit down and talk, because a Security Council Resolution, according to him, is not the way to settle such disputes. This rationale is disingenuous. Settlement plans should be rescinded, not negotiated. To recommend negotiation is to urge Palestinian surrender.

In light of these facts, we call on the U.S. government to:

Pressure Israel to permanently rescind its decision to build Har Homa on Jabal Abu Ghneim.

Immediately cut U.S. aid to Israel by the amount used for settlement-building and settlement infrastructure in East Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank and Gaza.

Reiterate forcefully that settlements in the occupied territories violate international law and are a major obstacle to peace.

Abide by long-standing U.S. policy which considers East Jerusalem Israeli-occupied territory.

Endorsed by:

American Committee on Jerusalem (ACJ) American Federation of Ramallah, Palestine American Muslim Council (AMC) Association of Arab-American University Graduates (AAUG) Birzeit Society Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) National Association of Arab Americans (NAAA) North American Coordinating Committee (NACC) of NGOs on the Question of Palestine.