Speech of Dr. Nasser Al-Kidwa, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the U.N., on 15 May 1998 at the U.N. Rally (Organized by a coalition of Palestinian and Arab-American organizations) Marking 50 Years Since Al-Nakba:

Today, we meet to commemorate a sad occasion – it is a day marking the 50th year of al-nakba - the catastrophic dispossession of the Palestinian people. Fifty years ago the Palestinian people suffered a grave and historic injustice. Today’s quilt graphically symbolizes an important and tragic chapter of that injustice. An entire people was denied an existence and deprived of their national rights, with more than half of the Palestinian people uprooted from their lands, homes and properties. Thus began the unprecedented, long and tragic journey of suffering, misery and despair of exile and later occupation.

Yesterday, as the Palestinian people solemnly commemorated this occasion, with a million person march organized throughout all the Palestinian cities, villages and refugee camps, they were yet again subject to criminal acts of violence by the occupying army. As if the bitterness and pain of the occasion were not enough, the Israeli army indiscriminately opened fire against the participants in the march, killing nine people, two of whom were children, and wounding about 400 others, adding another page to the long criminal record of Israel against our people. Exacerbating that crime are attempts by some in Israel and even on Capitol Hill to try to blame the Palestinian people for being killed by the Israeli army. Utter racism.

Against all odds, however, the Palestinian people have persevered. They have not disappeared, as many have wished. They have survived and they have managed to maintain and strengthen their national identity as a people, to improve their means of livelihood and have continued to struggle to regain their national rights, through a revolution and through an intifada, and to maintain their cause on the agenda of the international community. No one today can deny the existence of the Palestinian people and their legitimate rights.

The right of return or compensation for every Palestine refugee must be effectuated, and the national rights of the Palestinian people, like those of any other people, must be recognized, foremost of which is the right to existence and to self-determination without interference. Further, in order to achieve a genuine healing of wounds, an Israeli apology is imperative. Israel must bear responsibility and apologize to the Palestinian people for all the atrocities it has committed against them over the past half of a century.

Today is, therefore, not only an occasion to reflect upon our history in sadness. It is also a time for us to gather our strength and intensify our resolve as we look towards our future.

Over the years, our people have learned to differentiate between our historic rights in Palestine and the rights recognized by the whole world as legitimate to all human beings. Our minimum legitimate right is the existence of our Palestinian State, with Jerusalem as its capital. To achieve this, we have not completely lost hope in the existing peace process, but definitely not Netanyahu’s way.

In the past week, we have continued to witness Israel’s ongoing intransigence, with the arrogance and inflexibility of the Prime Minister glaring at every instance throughout his visit to Washington. What should be made clear is that what the U.S. administration has recently proposed as a compromise between the two sides does not actually reflect a Palestinian position. In fact, it is much closer to the Israeli position. Yet, Netanyahu deals with it in a way that proves that his government does not want to implement the existing agreements and is indeed looking for a way out of the process.

Let me remind him that security must be for all and that Israeli security cannot be achieved at the expense of our national existence. Let me remind him that Israeli settlements are illegal and remain so and that this land is ours. Let me remind him that the compromise we accepted is not a compromise on the West Bank and Gaza and will never be. Let me remind him that East Jerusalem, our Holy City, is the minaret of our souls and our eternal capital. But, let me also remind him that we remain committed to making peace on the basis of the existing agreements and we hope that this available opportunity will not be lost.

The Palestinian people have made historic compromises in order to realize and exercise their inalienable human rights as a people with pride and dignity and to finally live in peace and coexistence with our Israeli neighbors. But, we will never settle for less than justice, albeit a partial justice, after suffering a half a century of injustice.

I would be remiss if I did not take this chance to express appreciation for the statements made by the First Lady in support of the Palestinian State. We thank her not only because she took a position that is just, but also and maybe more importantly because she has the courage and wisdom to see that this is the only way to achieve peace in the Middle East.

Let us work together to make this sad and solemn occasion an impetus for a new beginning for our work in this country for you to play your natural role in advancing the cause of peace and justice in the Middle East and, in particular, for Palestine. Thank You.