Yesterday Rima Khalaf resigned as executive secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia after the agency was forced to retract a report stating that Israel is an “apartheid regime.” Khalaf’s letter of resignation to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was translated and posted by poet Lena Khalaf Tuffaha today on her Facebook page. Here is that translation:
Honorable Secretary General,
I have given a great deal of consideration to the letter I received from your office, and I assure you that I in no way question your right to issue instructions to remove the report from the ESCWA web site, as I do not question that as employees of the United Nations, we must all execute the orders of our Secretary General.
I know very well your commitment to the principles of human rights in general and your position on the rights of the Palestinian people specifically. And I also understand the anxiety you must have in these difficult times that leave you with few good choices.
It is clear to me the kinds of pressures and threats to which the United Nations and you personally are subjected by states with authority and influence, because of the publication of the ESCWA report (Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid)[still available here]. I am unsurprised that these states, which are run today by governments with little concern for international principles and human rights, should resort to tactics of fearmongering and threats when they fail to defend their policies and practices which violate the law. It makes sense that a criminal would attack those who defend the cause of his victims, but I find myself incapable of bowing to such pressures, and not because of my role as an employee of the United Nations, but simply as a sane human being. For I believe—as you do—in the values and noble principles that have always represented the forces of good throughout history, and upon which our organization, the United Nations, was founded. And, like you, I also believe that discrimination against any human being on the basis of religion or skin color or gender or ethnicity is absolutely unacceptable, and cannot be made acceptable by political maneuvering or brute force. And I believe that to speak truth to power is not only a human right, it is our obligation.
Over the course of two months, I have been instructed to withdraw two reports published by ESCWA, not for any error or shortcomings within the reports themselves and not necessarily because you yourself disagree with their content, but because of political pressures from countries implicated by their blatant violations of the rights of people in the region and human rights in general.
You have seen with your own eyes how the people of this region are enduring episodes of pain and suffering unprecedented in their modern history, and that the deluge of catastrophes that has overtaken them today is a direct result of unchecked oppression which has been ignored, or covered up, or openly engaged in by governments with dominance and force within the region and outside of it. These same governments are the ones pressuring you today to silence the voice of truth and the calls for justice represented by this report.
In view of all that I have stated here, I can only insist on the findings of the ESCWA report, which state that Israel has built an apartheid regime which aims to give one ethnic group control over another. The evidence provided in the report is incontrovertible, and here it is sufficient to point out that anyone who has attacked the report has been incapable of calling into question a single word of its actual content. I see it as my obligation to shine a light on the truth and not to hide it or obscure the testimony and evidence it provides.
The painful truth is that an apartheid regime still exists in the 21st century, and this is unacceptable under any law and is morally unjustifiable.
As I make this statement, I claim no moral superiority and no greater clarity than you possess, the matter is simply that my statements are a result of an entire life spent here, in this region, witnessing the horrific consequences of stifling people and preventing them from expressing the truth of their suffering through peaceful means.
As such, and after great consideration, I realize that I too have no choice. I cannot withdraw, once again, a United Nations report, an exceptionally researched and well-documented report about grave violations of human rights. I also realize that the clear directives of the Secretary General of the United Nations must be executed. And so the only way to resolve this tangle is for me to step aside and leave it to someone else to do what my conscience prevents me from doing. I realize I have only two weeks of service remaining in my post, so my resignation is not meant to exert any political pressure on you. I am simply resigning because I believe my duty to the peoples of the region that we serve, and to the United Nations, and to myself, is not to silence the testimony about a crime that causes such suffering to so many human beings. For this reason, I submit to you my resignation from the United Nations.
Translator Lena Khalaf Tuffaha prefaced the posting with these words:
Dr. Rima Khalaf, career diplomat extraordinaire, personal hero, and Executive Secretary of ESCWA, resigned today after the UN Secretary General tried to withdraw a report that correctly identified Israel as an apartheid regime. Anyone who cares about freedom and equality should read her letter of resignation, which I have translated here. Her letter is a document that is now part of the history of the struggle for freedom. And anyone in the west who’s super worried about women in the Arab world should sit down, because we have Rima and many women like her who just need everyone to get out the way so we can get our work done. Khalaf women don’t play. Palestinian women don’t play.
Thanks to Nada Elia.