I am very happy to be here with you and to be invited to speak to you. I want to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Naim Ateek, and all those who helped to organize this conference. I am deeply grateful to have the freedom to come here to East Jerusalem and the freedom to speak and meet with you.
In this the 2lst century many of us take freedom for granted, but not everyone has
Freedom here in Israel/Palestine. I realized this, yet again, when I told a Palestinian friend I was attending this conference and he told me that though he was born in Jerusalem he is not allowed to come into East Jerusalem.
Many Arabs who do live in East Jerusalem live in fear of their homes being demolished or expulsion by the Israeli Government (such as the Al-Kurd family home in the Sheikh Jarab Neighbourhood of East Jerusalem where the Supreme court has ruled on the expulsion of this family from their home.) Since l967 almost 20,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished in the West Bank.
The expulsions, and demolitions continue almost daily, along with continuing development of illegal settlements for Jewish settlers in east Jerusalem, and the West Bank. A few days ago I visited the site in West Jerusalem where the Israelis are building a Museum of Tolerance upon an ancient Muslim cemetery, where the bones of the Muslims' ancestors are being exhumed.
This is deeply painful to the Muslim people and I would like to appeal for this project to be cancelled. The Israeli Supreme court, whose role it is to uphold human rights and International laws, has agreed to this desecration of Muslim graves, and continues to rule in favour of many inhumane and illegal Policies, directed against Palestinians, and against those Jewish Citizens who have the moral courage to challenge this discrimination and destruction of Palestinian homes.
In spite of all this, I myself have great hope for change in the Middle East. I have hope because for almost a decade now I have been coming to Palestine/ Israel and in that time I have met with many deeply committed people who have dedicated their lives to working for a peaceful, just solution to what is one of the longest running conflicts in the world. To all these people I offer my support for your non-violent struggle for human rights and democracy.
I know that all occupations, and violent conflicts, sooner or later come to an end and that here in this part of the world, occupation will end, justice will reign, and reconciliation will flourish between the Israeli and Palestinian people.
But before peace can flourish, its roots of freedom, equality, justice, must be nourished with courage and truth.
It takes courage to speak truth to power when the consequences are often suffering. The truth shall indeed set your spirit free, but in this oppressive occupying power, the truth will also be physically, emotionally and in other ways very costly.
But we must challenge not only Israeli state injustice, but also challenge Palestinian armed militant insurgency groups to reject violence and use non-violent civil resistance a political strategy which is not only morally right but in our Northern Irish experience does work. Still there have always been people in history, willing to tell the truth at great personal cost to themselves, and it is to such people we, the human family, remain indebted.
We are indebted especially to all those who continue to tell the truth of Nakba. In this the year of the 60th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, in l948, when 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes.
Today, the occupation continues also with the wall annexation of more Palestinian land, and the building of an Apartheid Racist system by the Israeli Government.