On December 10, 2012, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault will award the 2012 Human Rights Prize of the French Republic, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”, to five NGOs that have displayed prominent and exceptional work undertaken in France or abroad. The prize, in the form of a €75,000 grant will be distributed to international individual or collaborative works that focus on one of two themes: the fight against impunity, or economic and social rights and sustainable development.
One of the most remarkable winners among the contenders is Alternatives International member organization Alternative Information Center (AIC), based in Jerusalem. The joint Palestinian-Israeli organization—founded in 1984 by both Palestinian and Israeli activists—has for primary mission to expose Israeli impunity, as well as to promote the human rights of the Palestinian people and to push for a just peaceful resolution between both feuding camps. Through its diffusion of information about Israeli and Palestinian societies to and about the other, the AIC became a local forerunner in its field, gathering data on issues such as “Israeli torture of Palestinian prisoners, home demolitions and Palestinian residency rights in Jerusalem,” as stated by the AIC website.
The French government was very hesitant in awarding the AIC with the prize, revealing how contentiously debated the action was. After the organization was officially notified of their award in what Michael Warschawski, co-founder of AIC said was a “very formal way”, he received a notice the next day informing him that the decision was in fact not final and that the Human Rights Commission, the body presenting the prize, had to discuss the issue due to contestations from Jewish lobby groups in France. However, to these groups’ dismay, the decision has now been confirmed. Warschawski deems the award to be symbolic and groundbreaking not simply because the organization is being recognized for its work, but because it suggests to a certain extent that the French government is not overlooking Israel’s impunity and is encouraging accountability for the Israeli military.
France’s history as an instigator of relations with Palestine began during Charles De Gaulle’s presidency in 1967. This was a marked swing in foreign policy especially considering the fact that up until then the country had been providing the Israeli air force with modern equipment (De La Gorce 9). The country’s relations with the Arab world took its roots five years prior with the end of the war in Algeria, but was strengthened in 1967 when it reprimanded Israel openly for going to war. France diverged from its Western counterparts in that where they outwardly supported Israel’s actions, it refrained from supporting either of the two blocs, as according to De Gaulle, unilateral support could only exacerbate the conflict (De La Gorce 9). While relations with Israel oscillated depending on the president in office, relations with Palestine have remained somewhat constant to this day with President Hollande’s promise to back international recognition of a Palestinian state.
It is due to this promise and relationship with Palestine that France was the first nation to outwardly declare that it would vote in agreement for a Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations on November 29. France was thus one of the 138 nations to vote yes on the issue that granted Palestine its new status as a non-member observer state. While this status would not give Palestine a seat in the General Assembly, it would offer them the opportunity to participate in several United Nations bodies, and, most importantly, grant them the ability to bring to justice any human rights violations committed by Israel in the International Criminal Court.
It did not come as a surprise then that Canada—along with eight other nations that include the United States and Israel—rejected the motion, as the country has had a long history of unconditional unilateral support for Israel and its policies. Its foreign relations with Israel have always consisted of staunch support for the country: since 1948 they have been providing them with armament, and impeding United Nations resolutions denouncing Israel for the building of illegal settlements in the West Bank (Engler, 2010; 45).
Today, the Conservative Government’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper has openly declared his support on several accounts, and author of The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s Foreign Policy, Yves Engler declares that Harper’s policies make Canada the most pro-Israeli government in the world diplomatically (Engler, 2012; 113). Canada was the first nation in 2006 to restrict aid to the Palestinian Authority, the political party governing the West Bank, and the Prime Minister has gone so far as to defund NGOs and charitable organizations that support Palestinian Human Rights. In 2010, the government controversially repudiated grants to Montreal-based agency Rights & Democracy, deeming any critique of Israeli actions anti-Semitic. Other examples of de-funded groups and organizations are the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees, B’Tselem, and even Montreal-based Alternatives.
De-funding of organizations such as these only hinder the process of reaching a peaceful agreement. Especially after the recent violence in the Gaza strip this November, there has never been a more crucial time for an end to a conflict that has endured for more than half a century.
This is why it is so tragic that the AIC’s office in West Jerusalem—despite all of the appraisal that it has recently received—is closing due to underfunding. Due to the economic downturn that has pervaded all throughout Europe since 2007, funds allocated to AIC this year have been almost halved. It would be all too unfortunate for such an important organization to have to close one of its offices, so any financial help that it could receive would be beneficial in helping keeping it prosper. The AIC has come too long of a way to see its offices close, and it is too essential a time for its work to be underfunded.
If you would like to help, please visit their website here.
De La Gorce, Paul-Marie. "Europe and the Arab-Israel Conflict: A Survey." Journal of Palestine Studies 26.3 (1997): 5-16. JSTOR. Web. 28 Nov. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.23...> .
Engler, Yves. Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid. Black Point, N.S.: Fernwood Pub., 2010. Print.
Engler, Yves. The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s Foreign Policy. Vancouver, B.C.: RED Pub., 2012. Print.
Moore, Joy. "Canada’s Pro-Israel Policy: History and Politics." (n.d.): n. pag. Dawson College, 09 Nov. 2012.