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Elders support peace and justice amid worsening violence in Israel and Palestine

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Mary Robinson and Ban Ki-moon visit the Tent of Nations during their trip to Israel and Palestine, June 2023. Photo: Saleem Anfous.
Mary Robinson and Ban Ki-moon visited Israel and Palestine from 20-22 June 2023, on the first Elders’ mission to the region since a 2015 mission by Jimmy Carter and Gro Brundtland.

They expressed deep alarm at the growing evidence of a “one-state reality” of permanent occupation and repression of Palestinians, which threatens to become a system of apartheid without a rapid and radical change of course by the Government of Israel. They called for a more robust response by the international community to ensure accountability for violations of human rights and international law.

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Mary Robinson and Ban Ki-moon with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, in Tel Aviv.

Over the course of their three-day visit, the Elders met Israeli President Isaac Herzog, the leader of the Israeli opposition Yair Lapid and the leader of the Israeli Labor Party Merav Michaeli; and, in Ramallah, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, First Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Abu Amr, and Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki.

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Mary Robinson, Ban Ki-moon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh in Ramallah.

The Elders also met a broad range of civil society and human rights groups from both sides of the conflict, including the Israeli human rights groups B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, Yesh Din and Gisha, and the six Palestinian human rights organisations - Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Al-Haq, Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defense for Children International – Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and the Union of Palestinian Women Committees - who have been branded as “terrorists” by the Government of Israel but against whom no compelling evidence has been presented in the eyes of the international community.

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Mary Robinson and Ban Ki-moon with representatives of Israeli human rights organisations in Tel Aviv.

In partnership with The Carter Center, the Elders had discussions in Ramallah with a broader range of Palestinian civil society groups to hear the perspectives of women, youth, journalists and polling experts. In Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, they also met with former members of the Israeli diplomatic and security services, and with the UN and members of the diplomatic community.

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Mary Robinson and Ban Ki-moon with representatives of the six proscribed Palestinian human rights organisations, at the Carter Center's offices in Ramallah.

Mary Robinson and Ban Ki-moon undertook two site visits during the trip. On 20 June they joined a tour of Jerusalem led by internationally-renowned expert Daniel Seidemann to see first-hand the impact of encroaching illegal settlements on East Jerusalem, and the dangers this poses to the delicately-balanced demographics and religious sensitivities in and around the city, and the viability of its future as a shared capital.

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Mary Robinson and Ban Ki-moon on a tour of Jerusalem with Daniel Seidemann. Photo: Quique Kierszenbaum

On 22 June, the Elders visited the “Tent of Nations” farm near Bethlehem in Area C of the West Bank. The farm has been owned by a Palestinian Christian family since the Ottoman Empire but for the past 30 years they have been locked in a legal battle with the Israeli military and civil authorities who claim it is “state land”. The farm is increasingly surrounded by illegal Jewish settlements and subject to sustained harassment, but the family is committed to non-violent resistance and peaceful co-existence, and the Elders were moved and inspired by their resilience.

The visit by the Elders coincided with an upsurge in violence across the region, including killings of Palestinian civilians by Israeli security forces in Jenin, of Israeli settlers by Hamas in the West Bank, and of a Palestinian civilian by Israeli settlers. The Elders warned such incidents will only escalate and multiply unless the root causes of the conflict are addressed, and all parties must act urgently to avert a calamitous descent into uncontrollable violence.

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