Czech President Miloš Zeman (David Sedlecký/Wikimedia Commons)
Czech activists have denounced anti-Palestinian comments by their country’s president Miloš Zeman on the eve of his visit to Tel Aviv.
The president has suggested Palestinians should be absorbed as laborers in Arab states instead of asking for their right to return home.
Contrasting Zeman’s “attempts at confronting increasing occurrences of racism in Czech society towards the Roma minority,” members of Not in Our Name! Initiative for a Just Peace in the Middle East condemned the president’s “uninformed and uncritical view” regarding the Palestinians in an open letter.
It is not Palestinians “who should leave voluntarily, nor is it Palestinian refugees in refugee camps who – instead of demanding their right of return – should be asking for jobs in the neighboring Arab countries,” the letter says. Rather, it is Israel that must respect Palestinian rights and international law.
Not in Our Name! Initiative for a Just Peace in the Middle East is an advocacy group founded in 2011 “with the goal of expressing our disapproval of the visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the Czech Republic, and to oppose possible military and technological cooperation between the Czech Republic and the State of Israel.”
It is part of the European Coordination Committee for Palestine (ECCP).
Zeman recently said:
Palestinians have been living for tens and tens of years in refugee camps and in a way they are hostages of their fanatic religious leaders, whereas work in Arab countries is carried out by Pakistanis. I told Mr Norman Eisen [US ambassador in Prague], how about employing Palestinians in Saudi Arabia, Emirates and other countries? The camps will be emptied, there will be less suicide bombers, and people, after tens of years, will finally be leading a normal life. The solution to the Palestinian-Israeli problem cannot be found in giving way to evil, but by undercutting the terrorist basis. Because those who would otherwise be killing, will be working.
Further underlining his strong support for Israel’s anti-Palestinian policies, Zeman recently called for the Czech Republic to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move that would give recognition to Israel’s illegal annexation of the city.
Israel’s Yediot Aharonot newspaper recently compared Zeman’s statements to those of Israel’s far-right and called him “the closest European leader to Israel.”
More than a decade ago, Zeman, as prime minister, compared Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat to Hitler.
Open Letter by Initiative for a Just Peace in the Middle East to the Czech President Miloš Zeman Regarding His Upcoming Visit to Israel
Prague, 4 October 2013
Dear President Zeman,
As members of the civic initiative “Initiative for a Just Peace in the Middle East” we are deeply concerned by your statements at the Gala Evening of Days for Israel held on the 30th of September in the Czech town of Hradec Králové, which manifest your uninformed and uncritical view of the Middle East matters. As much as we appreciate your attempts at confronting increasing occurrences of racism in Czech society towards the Roma minority, we are startled by your misunderstanding, and the lack of interest you have long manifested regarding the suffering of occupied Palestinians.
Initiative for a Just Peace in the Middle East would like to remind you that it is Israel who have been illegally occupying the West Bank and East Jerusalem, a policy which has been unambiguously condemned by the UN Resolution 242, and which has not been altered by any agreement since.
Therefore, it is not Palestinians who live in their country as a minority and who should leave voluntarily, unless they want to submit to the pressure of Israeli occupation, as you are inferring, nor is it Palestinian refugees in refugee camps who –- instead of demanding their right of return –- should be asking for jobs in the neighboring Arab countries, as you are suggesting.
On the contrary, it is the State of Israel who should finally adhere to international law and respect the character of the occupied territories. This means that it is inadmissible to annex the territories by deliberate colonization into an integral part of its own state, as such an act is expressly forbidden in Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. We reiterate that the Israeli policy of occupation and settlement-building is not in accordance with international humanitarian law, embodied in international agreements to which Israel is signatory. In this matter Israel is acting unlawfully and should not be supported by any political representatives of countries bound by international law, nor can this fact be reduced by purposeful assertions about the necessity of defense against terrorism by the occupied, when the occupying state itself is conducting state terror through its power apparatus.
Initiative for a Just Peace in the Middle East condemns with equal vigor and urgency your proposal to move the Czech embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. We denounce your efforts to influence the future Czech government [following the Czech elections at the end of October] in this way and we call upon politicians not to back such a request against the will of the international community, which in accordance with the UN proposal, recognizes the international status of Jerusalem. We would like to remind you that no country in the world, with the exception of Israel, recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of the Israeli state, and surely we do not think that breaching this consensus would contribute to a just peace in the Middle East, as it would recognize de facto the annexation of East Jerusalem by Israel.
On the contrary, we are convinced that only a steady pressure on Israel, initiated for example by Palestinian civil society through the BDS campaign, endorsed among others by Israeli citizens in the Boycott from Within initiative, can lead to ending Israeli segregation policy. The renowned Israeli historian Ilan Pappé calls these policies the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, and in the Arab world, this is often perceived as a continuation of the Western project of colonization. Our insistence on the indivisibility of human rights will be attested to in the Middle East only by broad and unconditional pressure to end Israeli occupation.
Dear Mr. President, Initiative for a Just Peace in the Middle East therefore calls upon you that during your upcoming visit to Israel you do not undertake any steps which would be in disagreement with international law, and/or which would damage longtime efforts by the international community to achieve peace in the region. This is because – and on this we fully agree with you –- we cannot give way to evil, and we do not want to side with the occupier.
On behalf of the Initiative for a Just Peace in the Middle East