Guyana and Palestine
The Guyana/Palestinian fraternal relationship dates back to the 1950s during the height of the anti-colonial struggles in Asia and Africa. The Jagans were staunch supporters of liberation struggles in places such as India, Algeria and Ghana, and they were also very opposed to Zionism which led to the Palestinian Nakaba and the creation of Israel by European Zionists.
Dr. Cheddi Jagan said a few times, “The Europeans solved their Jewish problem at the expense of the Palestinians.” Eventually Mr. Arafat will resurrect the Palestinian nation and the two men would meet in South Africa after Dr. Jagan became President of Guyana. After Guyana’s independence in 1966, and the coming of LFS Burnham, policies towards the Palestinians did not change. Guyana continued its moral support to the stateless Palestinian and in 1964 established formal ties with Palestine.
Many CARICOM nations follow suit, looking to Guyana for leadership in this area. Not surprisingly, many Arab countries opened embassies in Guyana. One Surinamese diplomat who was stationed at the U.N. revealed “we always monitored Guyana’s voting at the U.N. on issues relating to the Middle East and followed suit.”
Under the brilliant diplomacy of Guyana’s then Ambassador to the U.N, Mr. Rudy Insanally who was well liked among the Arab circle at the U.N relationship with the Arabs states grew strong. In 1974 the PLO gained U.N. recognition and it was in this forum that ties were further consolidated. Guyana and Cuba became members of the U.N. Standing Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian people.
When the Hebron massacre took place, Assembly President Samuel R. Insanally of Guyana stated on 25 February “This murderous violence must be unreservedly condemned”, he said that “everything must be done to prevent or punish those acts, as well as to “calm the unrest which such crimes can only provoke.” The massacre of innocent Palestinian worshippers and the consequent “outbreak of violence leading to loss of lives in the Palestinian occupied territories” were also deplored by the Commission on Human Rights.
The Committee frequently meets to appraise the situation in Palestine and the so called peace process. Guyana has fully supported the peace process and frequently issues statements to encourage dialogue. “The Government of Guyana urges both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to fully implement not only the agreements reached at Wye last month, but also others which have been concluded over the years. Too much time has already been lost and too much is at stake to allow this very unique opportunity to dissipate.” Mr. Insanally urged the world not to forget that a just and comprehensive solution between Israel and its neighbours must be achieved. “There is one requirement that should not be forgotten: the question of Palestine must be resolved through a just, comprehensive and definitive peace in the Middle East, and for this to be achieved, not only must the Palestinians be allowed to exercise their inalienable rights, but the disputes between Israel and Syria and Israel and Lebanon, which are linked to the core issue, must also be resolved.” He continued to urge the international community that a peace settlement should be achieve “in the context of Security Council resolution 242 (1967). The peace process is based significantly on the principle of land for peace. That principle cannot be overlooked or abandoned at any time.”
Guyana has condemned Israeli “repression and settlement actives.” And despite 60 years there is no resolution to the conflict. According to the Guyanese diplomat, the Secretary-General’s report of 2006 speaks of the tragic plight of the Palestinian people. “Despite several United Nations resolutions calling on Israel to cease its repression, that nation continues its settlement activities in Palestine and the occupied territories.” Dr. Insanally asserted, “Palestinian and other Arab lands and property are being constantly confiscated and many homes demolished daily. Thousands of Palestinians remain imprisoned in Israel amid graphic reports of their torture and abuse.” Settlements have expanded and the West Jerusalem has grown larger. “Now that the Government of Israel has expanded the boundaries of Jerusalem and created an umbrella municipality to administer it, it is feared that this development may serve to worsen the plight of the Palestinians.” And those activities are “ very distressing, of course, is the negative impact on the Palestinian economy caused by closures of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during the year, and by unremitting water shortages, which have affected agricultural production and the living conditions of the Palestinian people,” according to Insanally.
In commemorating “Palestine Solidarity Day,” the government issued the following statement: “the Government and the people of Guyana are pleased to renew their pledge of full support. We believe that the Palestinian people will be ultimately successful in their struggle, since, as history has shown time and again, justice will in the end prevail over injustice.” Yearly the government of Guyana issues such statements.
Every year on Palestine Day the government of Guyana calls for the liberation of Palestine and in 2002, at the United Nation, Guyana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs said, “Old conflicts persist, denying entire populations the opportunity to live in peace and security. The situation in the Middle East must be of special concern to us all, since it threatens to become a wider conflict. The right of the Palestinian people to national self-determination — a right guaranteed by international law — must be upheld if there is to be a just and lasting solution to the region’s problems.”
After the death of President Yasser Arafat, President Bharrat Jagdeo made several statements and several events were held in Guyana reflecting on the life of Arafat by the government and the private sector. Guyana’s President Jagdeo sent condolence message to the Palestinian Authority and hailed Arafat as a “towering symbol of the aspirations of the Palestinian people to a homeland of their own”. President Jagdeo urged his Foreign Minister to host a symposium on the life of Yasser Arafat, and the Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana Secretariat (CIOG) launched the book of condolence for the former Palestinian President. The Guyanese leader was worried that Guyana was not appropriately remembering the late leader.
Among those who signed the book of condolence were Minister of Tourism Industry and Commerce, Manzoor Nadir; British High Commissioner, Stephen Hiscock; Member of the Board of Trustees of the Queenstown Masjid, Ayube Hamid; Deputy President of the CIOG, Sultan Hamid Ramcharran; and Chief executive Director of the CIOG, Shaikh Moeenul Hack.
Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo asked this Foreign Affairs Minister, Rudy Insanally to put together a series of lectures at the Foreign Service Institute in memory of Arafat. “Hopefully, this will put in perspective his struggles for an independent homeland for the Palestinian people,” he said. President Jagdeo was concerned by “to distort the facts about the Palestinians’ struggle, and said “in Guyana we cannot allow that to happen. Guyana has always recognized Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian people’s struggle.”
President Jagdeo noted that the Palestinians have been subjected to the most serious injustices in the world, as they were removed from their country and scattered around the world. In many instances, they even live “as refugees, hoping that one day they can go back to their independent homeland.’ “We in Guyana should never allow the history of the struggle of the Palestinian people to fall by the wayside and that is why it is important that we give due recognition to Yasser Arafat’s struggle,” the President said.
The President of Guyana expressed his dismay of the destruction of the life and struggle being witnessed today in Palestine. However, he expressed the hope that the international media would focus more on Palestine and the situation there. Guyanese must understand, he urged, “that no Palestinian life is more or less important than that of an Israeli, and hence, any attempt in the international media to paint such a picture is a distortion.” The President also reiterated support for an independent Palestinian homeland, and expressed hope that this moves beyond words and bears fruit of strong action. He also recalled his interactions with Arafat at United Nations forums and praised his deep commitment to the cause of the Palestinian people and a sense of justice.
Guyana’s Foreign Minister and former Ambassador to the United Nations, Rudy Insanally, subsequently declared that Guyana, “as a member of the U.N. Standing Committee on the Alienable Rights of the Palestinian People, remains committed to the Palestinian cause to their homeland and to a just solution to the Palestinian problem…” He continued, “As a member of the U.N. Standing Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, Guyana remains committed to working with the international community for an early solution to the Palestinian problem that would be bring an end to the suffering of this long beleaguered people.”(GINA)
After the death of Yasser Arafat, a public forum to reflect on the life and accomplishments of the Palestinian leader was held in Guyana at the Foreign Service Institute. The Forum was organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Presenters included former Foreign Minister Rashleigh Jackson, General Secretary of the PPP Donald Ramotar and Mr. Kerry Arthur of the Central Islamic Organization. They reflected on the struggle of Arafat who fought for peaceful and just settlement of the Palestinian people and the history of the Palestinian problem. The forum was moderated by Foreign Affairs Minister Rudy Insanally, who noted that Guyana has, for years, been a member of the Standing Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and in 1987 this country hosted a meeting of that Committee.
According to him Guyana has always sought to play a prominent part on the issue of Palestine and, more comprehensively, on the situation in the Middle East. “Guyana’s association with the struggle is well known and ongoing,” Minister Insanally said that Guyana will “continue to advocate peace and justice for the Palestinian people who, for too long, have been denied a homeland of their own and peace and security.” Mr. Insanally praised Yasser Arafat for his struggle for Palestine and his peace overtures towards to Israel. Insanally said referring to Arafat, said, “He spearheaded the efforts in the aspirations of freedom for Palestinians. He was probably one of the few who moved from being a guerilla fighter to a Nobel Prize winner,” Minister Insanally noted. “His memory will persist.”
In this presentation, Former Foreign Affairs Minister Rashleigh Jackson recounted the history of Palestine and the Palestinian cause which was spearheaded Arafat and he grew parallel to 1939 commission which sought to establish a Jewish settlement in Guyana. “If that had happened, we might be in a similar position to the Palestinian people,” Jackson opined. Jackson’s chronicled the Palestine struggle since the Balfour Declaration, the 1947 declaration of an independent Israel and praised Arafat for taking the Palestinian issue back to the United Nation. the history of the issue before the UN.
General Secretary of the PPP Donald Ramotar and Kerry Arthur of the Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana also reflected on the life of Arafat and the Palestinian struggle. According to Ramotar it was Arafat who restored the dignity to the Palestinian people. Kerry Arthur examined the struggle of the Palestinian people and its impact and influence on the Muslim community. He noted that for Muslims around the world, the symbol of Arafat cannot be removed. “He embodies the core of the problems that Muslims face all over the world. The Palestinian/Israeli conflict cannot be separated from religious sentiments. The problems of the Middle East cannot be either.” Arthur said.
Another senior Guyanese diplomat who travelled often to the Middle East and unofficial ambassador of Guyana to the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), Dr. Odeen Ishmael, met President Arafat several times. Their most recent meeting was in 2000 at the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) heads of government summit in Doha, Qatar. I believe that then Foreign Minister Rohee was there as well.
Odeen in a recent interview said, “I always liken Yasser Arafat to the Prophet Moses who led his people through the wilderness but died before he reached the `Promised Land’. In a conversation that lasted over an hour, “He (Arafat) talked about the hopes for the Palestinian state, the role Guyana can play in the U.N. Committee on Palestine, the role of Guyana in the OIC.”
Palestinian sources reveal that in 2001 President Arafat indicated his intention to visit Guyana and this may have intimidated the Government of Guyana. However, Georgetown was happy for such a visit to take place. This visit was to be tied up with a visit to the U.N. in September 2001 from where he would have travelled to Cuba and Guyana.
However, the visit never became a reality. Arafat would later remain a prisoner in Ramallah. Sharon came to power with his brutal reoccupation of Palestinian ghettos in Gaza and the West Bank and a second Intafada began. Arafat was then imprisoned in his headquarters in Ramallah and never made it to Guyana and Cuba. However, the Guyanese people must be aware that Guyana was well known by President Arafat and he was sincere to show his thanks to Guyana with a personal visit.
Dr. Odeen Ishmael was the last Guyanese diplomat who had a conversation with Arafat and in this lively chat, much the tone of Arafat, he revealed his hope of going back to Jerusalem. Odeen said, “He had strong hopes of going back there. He told me his family home is still there, but it is now occupied by an Israeli Jewish family. He still has the title for the property.” Ishmael stressed that Arafat was popular among the Palestinians. In a show of support and unity at the Qatar Summit, the Palestinian delegation included members of the Christian community, among them two bishops from Jerusalem.
Arafat was loved by all Palestinians, Muslims and Christians, women, children and refugees in the ghettos of Gaza and the West Bank. He died a hero to his people and a legendary figure that blazed the Palestinian cause globally. The genuine outpouring of grief and the down to earth welcome he received in death in Ramallah testifies to this.
I end with a quote from Dr. Ishmael: “The Arafat era is coming to a close, but even when he eventually dies, Arafat will remain larger than life — the leader of a people and a cause that will eventually win.” Now that Arafat is out of the picture we can see how sincere the Israelis are in peace and their seriousness in freeing the Palestinians from their brutal occupation.
More recently, Guyana appointed a honourary consul in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is not recognized by the majority of countries in the world as Israel’s capital but recently Guyana did when it appointed a Honourary Consul in Jerusalem which is a disputed city. The final status of Jerusalem has not been resolved and will be settled based on United Nations Resolutions 242, 338, 252 and 476. Is this a 360 degree turn in Guyana’s foreign policy? Since 1966 Guyana has been a strong advocate of Palestine. To date the author has not been able to get an explanation from the Government of Guyana on this issue.
Guyana was an active member of the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, and for decades championed the Palestinian cause since the days of Forbes Burnham and Dr. Cheddi Jagan. It is quite obvious that this is an honorary consul and not an embassy. Guyana needs representation in many parts of the world and for a poor country it’s economically practical because it’s an unpaid job by a volunteer; however its political ramifications are enormous because of the highly contested status of Jerusalem. This move by Georgetown will have serious repercussions on multilateral/bilateral relations.