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The plight of the Palestinians is actually worse now than before the Oslo peace accords were signed, according to the founder and director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. "We have seen increasingly drastic human rights situations develop," said Raji Sourani during a June 11 briefing hosted by the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. The civil rights lawyer was visiting Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. on a speaking tour sponsored by Grassroots International, an aid and development agency based in Boston. Its supporters include the United Methodist Committee on Relief and United Methodist Women. Sourani, a 1991 recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, has represented Palestinians before Israeli military courts in the Gaza Strip, monitored prison conditions, represented those threatened with deportation and worked to increase understanding between Palestinians and Israelis. When the Israeli government and Palestine Liberation Organization signed the Oslo Declaration of Principles nearly five years ago, "great hopes" were raised among the Palestinians, he said. But as his center  which was one of two recipients of France's highest human rights awards in 1996  has monitored the human rights obligations of both the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority, those hopes have been dashed. Now, according to Sourani, Palestinians live under what is, in all practicality, an apartheid system. While the Palestinians are responsible for most of their population, crammed in small parts of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel maintains full control over most of the land and resources of the West Bank and nearly half of Gaza. In addition, the Israeli government's policy of closure  which restricts the movement of people and goods in and out of those two areas  has devastated the Palestinian economy, splintered families and communities and prevented individuals from receiving health care, education and other services or even going to the Dome of the Rock or Church of the Nativity to pray. For many Palestinians, according to Sourani, trying to live a normal life often becomes "mission impossible." Money pledged to Palestinians by the international community to improve living conditions and rebuild infrastructure instead has been used for relief assistance, he said. Confiscation of land by the Israelis has continued in "an extreme and drastic" way, he added. New Jewish settlements are added without restriction, physically dividing Palestinian territory so that social networks and family connections are "totally suspended." In Jerusalem, Sourani declared, the Israeli government is using a complicated and sophisticated "policy of conceptual ethnic cleansing" to push Palestinians out. He predicted that, in 10 or 15 years, there might be no significant presence of Palestinians in that city. "In the end of the day, out of these practices, what do we really have?" he asked. "What we have, in this era of peace, is an apartheid system." Sourani said he is shocked by the "conspiracy of silence" among the international community about what is happening to the Palestinians. He warned that the Palestinians' total loss of faith in the peace process opens the door to violent confrontation, but added that international recognition of the worsening situation and pressure on the Israelis would be a positive step. Grassroots International supports seven community-based organizations, including the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Those organizations work at four key components for autonomy, peace and security: physical and mental health care, economic development, human rights and democracy and women's equality.

Palestinians worse off since Oslo June 12, 1998 Contact: Linda Bloom· (212) 870-3803· New York {362} NEW YORK (UMNS) 
 
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This is Keith Richardson's alternative news site. The site aims to promote Truth, Justice, a green clean healthy environment and a wildlife friendly world. It is currently focused on Foreign News and particularly the Middle East.