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Home al-Majdal Palestinian Refugees: Reclaiming the Right of Return (Spring 1999) Advocate for the Palestinian Right to Restitution

Advocate for the Palestinian Right to Restitution

Written by  BADIL Staff

The following introduction to the issue of restitution is based on a BADIL research report prepared for publication in spring 1999.

In the closing decades of the 20th century, claims for restitution of refugees, displaced persons (DPs) and other peoples who have been deprived of their basic rights, including the right to their lands and properties, have been raised worldwide on a scale previously unknown. While international law emphasizes refugee protection (non-refoulement), refugee repatriation was put on the international agenda in the 1990s by the massive new refugee problems created by the civil wars in such places as the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Chechnya. According to the 1998 World Refugee Survey, published by the US Committee for Refugees, repatriation has become the favored solution for refugees. The assumption of long-term exile is outdated.

Repatriation programs also emphasize the return of properties and lands. Moreover, evicted and disowned indigenous peoples (e.g. in Central America, US, Canada, Australia) are reclaiming ownership of their lands. The new South African state is engaged in a process of restitution of land rights to its black citizens. Unresolved matters of restitution of the victims of the Nazi crimes continue to be raised in Europe and the US. The re-privatization of previously nationalized property in Eastern Europe has also given rise to restitution claims by the original private owners. There is no doubt that each of these cases has its unique political/legal background. However, they all have contributed to the fact that, at the end of the 20th century, claims and struggle for restitution have become a common international phenomenon.

The right of Palestinian refugees to restitution, although the largest group of refugees worldwide, has been marginalized due, in large part, to an unfavorable balance of power both regionally and internationally. While considerable efforts have been made by Palestinians to document their losses, particularly from 1948 [See for example the work of Sami Hadawi, Palestinian Rights and Losses in 1948; Walid al-Khalidi, All That Remains; Salman Abu-Sitta, The Palestinian Nakba 1948], little effort has been made to study and benefit from the experience of restitution claims raised by other ethnic/national groups in the world. International NGOs and solidarity groups have also remained silent about this issue. Given the fact that the claims of Palestinian refugees are solidly backed by UN resolutions and international law, a concerted intervention by Palestinians and international partners is urgently required, particularly with the end of the Oslo process which contributed to the marginalization and erosion of support for Palestinian refugee rights.

Aims and Agenda of an International Campaign

BADIL Resource Center presents a proposal for a first step towards the development of a new and creative mechanism for raising the Palestinian right to restitution (as expressed in UN Resolution 194) in the context of broader international efforts for the right to restitution. The aims and agenda are as follows:

i. Research: Considerable research on worldwide restitution claims is still required before a systematic analysis of the relevance of these experiences for the Palestinian case can be undertaken. Palestinian and international researchers are called upon to join this effort. Restitution claims, or particular aspects of these claims, by other individuals, communities and/or ethnic/national may or may not be equally important or relevant to the Palestinian case. In general, however, special note should be taken of restitution claims for historic land rights raised by indigenous peoples (due to the common experience of eviction/expropriation), and the case of the Jewish victims of the Nazi crimes in Europe (due to the strong historical, geographical, and political links with the Palestinian case).
ii. Raising International Awareness: The informational, organizational, and political basis required for a Palestinian restitution campaign launched with the concrete aim of realizing Palestinian refugee rights (repatriation, return of lost property and compensation) is absent. A campaign designed for this purpose is premature and doomed to failure. The restitution campaign proposed here aims to achieve a more modest target, i.e. to raise international awareness of the unresolved Palestinian right to restitution, and to connect the Palestinian case with current international efforts for restitution. BADIL considers such a campaign effort a pre-requisite for future mobilization and lobbying for the implementation of the existing UN resolutions and international law.

BADIL Media Campaign for the Palestinian Right to Restitution

This media campaign, launched by BADIL Resource Center in conjunction with the Palestinian researchers Rosemary Sayigh (Beirut) and Salman Abu-Sitta (Kuwait) was, in early 1999, discussed with Palestinian refugee organizations and researchers in Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan, and endorsed by many of them. The campaign aims to raise Palestinian refugees’ right to restitution (right of return, return of properties, compensation for material and non-material losses) in the context of the current international debate about restitution of the victims of the Nazi crimes.

The media campaign will be conducted by means of the petition whose text is presented below. In the first stage, we wish to obtain the endorsement of this petition by well-known personalities and organizations abroad (unions, NGOs, parliamentarians, academics, artists, etc.) Signatures of a large number of individuals will be collected in the second stage. Petition and signatures will eventually be published in as many well-known newspapers world wide as possible, especially in countries where the issue of restitution is currently being raised by others.

BADIL Resource Center calls upon its friends and partners abroad to support this petition campaign by:

Becoming a campaign partner providing logistic assistance;

Recommending organizations/individuals interested in becoming partners in this campaign;

Obtaining signatures of personalities and organizations in the respective countries.

Forward signatures and all other communication to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or tel/fax 00972-2-2747346. BADIL will provide additional background information and logistical suggestions upon request.

PETITION TEXT - Restitution: A Basic Human Right

More than fifty years after the holocaust, Jews around the world continue to fight for and receive restitution for material and non-material losses inflicted by the Nazi regime throughout Europe. More than fifty years after the Palestinian people were displaced and dispossessed by an exclusive Jewish state established in Palestine in the aftermath of Nazi atrocities in Europe, Palestinians are still being dispossessed, dispersed, and denied any kind of restitution. Restitution is a universal human right. Persons now fighting for restitution are therefore to be supported.

We, the undersigned, believe that Palestinians, of whom two-thirds are refugees, also have the right of restitution, including the return of the rightful owners to their property as well as restitution for other material and non-material losses. Resolution 194, which recognizes the right of refugees to restitution, has been reaffirmed one hundred and ten times by the United Nations. Further, as recently as November 1998, the UN General Assembly reaffirmed in Resolution 52/644 the principle, based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international law, that Palestinian refugees are entitled to all revenues from their property.

We appeal to all fair-minded people, governments, parliamentarians, human rights groups and particularly Jewish organizations, to recognize, support and call for restitution of Palestinians through the restoration of homes and properties to their rightful owners as well as restitution for other material and non-material losses. While restitution can never fully make amends for all losses, suffering, and crimes against humanity, restitution establishes a precedent which should prevent the repetition of such catastrophes in the future.

SIGNATORIES (original endorsement)

BADIL Resource Center calls upon its friends and partners abroad to support this petition campaign by:

Becoming a campaign partner providing logistic assistance;

Recommending organizations/individuals interested in becoming partners in this campaign;

Obtaining signatures of personalities and organizations in the respective countries.

For sending signatures and all further communication concerning this campaign, please contact us at: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or tel/fax 00972-2-2747346. BADIL will provide additional background information and logistical suggestions upon request.
 

BADIL Staff

BADIL Staff

BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights is an independent, community-based non-profit organization mandated to defend and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees and IDPs. Our vision, missions, programs and relationships are defined by our Palestinian identity and the principles of international law, in particular international human rights law. We seek to advance the individual and collective rights of the Palestinian people on this basis.

Al-Majdal Authors