On 12 July Palestinian refugees from the southern West Bank camps marched from Deheishe refugee camp to Manger Square in Bethlehem to demand that Palestinian negotiators at Camp David uphold the right of return and remind the negotiators and the entire international community that no one has the right to compromise the refugees' right of return to their homes and lands. A joint statement (see below) released by popular organizations of the southern refugee camps stated that the negotiators should not bother returning if they bring anything less than the right of return. "We are going home - home to Palestine. Our olive trees and oranges await us. We will not accept anything less no matter who signs the next of the infinite agreements."
Responding to pre-Camp David remarks made by Mohammad Rashid (Khalid Sallam), Yasser Arafat's economic advisor, that $20 billion would be required for refugee compensation and re-housing, the joint statement reiterated that compensation is not a substitute for return. UN Resolution 194 (III) of 1948 which set down the framework for a durable solution for Palestinian refugees affirms the right to both return and compensation, a framework fully consistent with international refugee law and practice, and the wider body of human rights law. Similar statements demanding implementation of the right of return have been released by popular refugee organizations in camps throughout the region.
The Bethlehem area march was part of a series of popular refugee initiatives throughout the West Bank and Gaza since the opening of the Camp David negotiations earlier this week. In the central area of the West Bank, school children held a march on 11 July from al-Ama'ari camp to the center of Ramallah. The following day, first generation refugees from the central West Bank camps held a march to demand implementation of their rights. In the north, traffic in Nablus was stopped for 15 minutes while refugee children from Balata camp carrying symbolic keys of return marched through the city. A workshop about Camp David and refugee rights was also held in Balata camp.
Similar marches and workshops are being planned in the coming days including a march from the National School in Ramallah (15 July), a marches for refugee children from different summer camps in Jabaliya and Khan Younis refugee camp in Gaza (July 15), and a march and return rally in al-Breij camp including a photo exhibition and cultural activities in the central area of Gaza (17 July). The popular refugee initiatives underline the fact that what is needed for a durable solution for Palestinian refugees, and the broader Israeli-Arab conflict, is more than political creativity, but rather the application of the standards and principles of international law, including the right of return.
Joint Statement of the Popular Organizations of the Refugee Camps in the South
"Don't Return from Camp David Without the Right of Return!!"
52 years have transpired since the Zionist usurpation and ethnic cleansing of Palestine - the conquest which resulted in the uprooting and dispersal of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and the destruction and depopulation of 530 Palestinian towns. Since then, the Palestinian people have withstood innumerable war crimes all in an effort to extinguish both the existence and idea of the Palestinian people and their sacred connection and right to return to their original homes. Despite these efforts, nothing has been able to shake the will and determination of the refugees to return. It is a right bequeathed from generation to generation. It is a right that we are daily reminded of from the walls of the refugee camps scattered throughout the Diaspora. It is a right for which many martyrs have died, and many more are prepared to. It is a right preserved in the rusting keys and documents that prove to the world that the land and homes are ours - that we shall never give up until that right is realized. Finally, but not least, it is a right that has been enshrined in the United Nations Resolution 194 since the inception of the refugees, and something that has been passed over 110 times in the General Assembly.
Do no bother asking whether we will accept compensation, whether we will go to Canada, Europe or China. Let Clinton, Barak and Arafat know - let the armies of negotiators and the legions of journalists know: We are going home - home to Palestine. Our olive trees and oranges await us. We will not accept anything less no matter who signs the next of the infinite agreements. The right of the refugees is a personal and collective right that cannot be cancelled - whatever the balance of power, whoever the signatories.
We, the refugees tell the Camp David clique, do not bother returning if you are bringing us anything less than the Right of Return. For we are a force that cannot be broken, that cannot be defeated, as though we would one day accept others to negotiate our fate. We will fight to defend our rights - those of our grandparents, and those of infinite generations of our children who will one day raise their own children in Haifa, Akka and Jaffa, in Zakariya, Beit Jibrin and Safed.
Beware of the wrath of the camps. Beware of the wrath of the unborn children of Palestine. We hold the past, the present and the future and we will know what to do to realize what is ours.
Organizations of the Camps of the South
12 July 2000