Teenager calls for understanding of Palestinian issues

Durban- South Africa (PANA) -- Fifteen-year-old Manar Abbas comes across as an unlikely hero.
At a glance, she resembles your average teenager.
Her eyes sparkle, she laughs easily and her hands flay with youthful enthusiasm.
But, it seems Abbas is also carrying the weight of the world on her young shoulders.
As a refugee in a Palestinian camp, she is hoping to use the World Conference Against Racism to convey the plight of her people.
When she describes her circumstances, it is easy to see why the Middle East issue - and Zionism in particular - has struck a nerve and cast a shadow over the third UN-sponsored anti-racism conference.
Abbas lives with about 1,000 other people in a dusty camp on the outskirts of Bethlehem.
She says there is often no water and electricity and her classroom is overcrowded with up to 50 students at one time.
And, danger lurks everywhere.
"There is a war in Palestine.
I can't sleep at night because of the loud, resonant sound of bombing, the crack of shooting," she says.
Durban, she believes, offers her the best chance to get the message across.
"I am praying that this forum will hear the voices of the refugee camp - we very much need help," she says.
Her father, Ziad Abbas, represents a Palestinian NGO, which is calling for an end to the military occupation of Palestine.
He says that while his organization "welcomes everybody" and represents Muslims, Christians and Jews, it is fiercely anti-Zionism.
"Our people are paying a big price and we need international protection," he says.
The run-up to the conference has been marked by bitter dissension over demands from Arab-nations for Israel to be condemned because of its treatment of Palestinians.
The controversy resulted in threatened boycotts and ultimately led to some countries, including the United States and Israel, downgrading their delegations.
Organisers of the conference have conceded that it is not the forum to resolve the conflict in the Middle East.
But, in the words of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, "it can help us to find common ground".
Robinson has expressed dismay at the confrontation between Jewish and Palestinian groups in Durban this week which resulted in some Jewish delegates threatening to boycott the rest of the conference.
"I have been concerned to learn that there have been unpleasant exchanges, in particular, personalised unpleasant exchanges, to Jewish groups who have come to participate in this conference," she said.
In his opening speech on Friday, President Thabo Mbeki also addressed the Middle East issue, saying the region cries out for a just, stable and permanent peace that is long overdue.
He said the people of Palestine and Israel are also entitled to pursue their fullest and all-round development in conditions of freedom, safety and security.

01 september 2001 11:02:00

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