The news from beyond the prison walls and from within the darkness of our cells keep hope alive. These include the expanding scope of activities among refugees and the growth of speech about return; the increase in the number of institutions, centers and societies concerned with refugees; and, efforts to form a coalition to organize and unify the movement for return. This gives us some comfort.
We feel that the blood of the martyrs who passed away during the battles for return has not been shed in vain, and that those who sacrificed their freedom for return have planted the seeds that will soon bear fruit.
As we commemorate the Palestinian disaster of 1948 this year our hope is renewed. The movement for return has begun to evolve from a reactive to a proactive movement. Actions are no longer intermittent, spontaneous or non-creative. Articulate strategies are being formed. Discourse on the right of return has become more defined and more powerful. Concepts, terms and methods are becoming more uniform. The search for mechanisms that could lead to real achievements has become serious. And we have begun to see specialized research covering all aspects of the return issue - social, psychological, legal, historical, economic and cultural.
This is part of our dream that could not have been materialized without continuous, educated and hard work. We need to continue these efforts but the most urgent need is to bring all the findings together in one comprehensive database. A high level of coordination and networking among all the active organizations that work on the refugee issue is required to achieve such a step. It may be necessary to establish a special national library to include all research that has been conducted in this field, and then digitize it as soon as possible in order to make it easily accessible to any interested individual anywhere in the world.
This is a joint invitation to BADIL, the Palestinian Return Centre, and the the forced migration program [at an-Najah University] as well as all organizations interested in refugee related research. They should work hand in hand on such a project with the participation of every interested specialist in the field of refugee studies to build up together this important database. Today information is a major tool for struggle and essential for success. Organizations that deal with refugee issues have realized this fact. But they need to reform their way of thinking and their structures. The change will be difficult to achieve without true partnership among active organizations.
The Nakba is a historic event affecting the Palestinian presence on their land. All consequences, whether political, demographic, social or the bloody conflict cannot be solved without ending the Nakba and its consequences. Needless to say, incorporating the discourse of return in our literature, culture and curriculum is an essential step towards ending the Nakba. Those who believe that any solution can be imposed on our people are living an illusion or are just ignorant. Our people has protected its national rights through the various times of trouble and will continue to protect its absolute right of return. It is our primary national right that cannot be dissolved or given up.
Husam Khader is a PLC member, and the chairperson of the Palestinian refugee rights defense committee. He was arrested by the Israeli occupation forces at his house in Balata refugee camp near Nablus on 17 March 2003. He is still being held in Hadarim prison inside Israel. This article first appeared in Arabic in Haq al-Awda 10-11 (2005). Translation by Nimr Awaini.
The Right of Return is No Less Sacred than Jerusalem
I would like to extend my sincere congratulations to BADIL for the major contribution to support our national rights foremost being the right of return. Haq al-Awda, issued on the 57th Anniversary of the Nakba, emphasizes our principle affirmation that cannot be altered: “Palestinians who have been displaced from their land and their homes have the right to return to the homes of their forefathers.” No party is authorized to surrender, negotiate or modify our right to return to our land, home and holy sites.
It is important to discuss the right of return, especially in the context of the current political debate and rhetoric of some personalities, as if our right of return can be altered or changed. We reaffirm that the right of return is a national, human and moral right. The question of displaced and scattered Palestinians is not marginal to the Palestinian issue. The national question was originally built around exile, displacement and the continuous disasters since the Israeli state was built on the ruins of our homes. Palestinian memory is weighed down by grief because of all those who have been uprooted from their homes, villages and cities.
How could some individuals speak of an alleged peace, dialogue, and negotiations in isolation from the issue of the exiled and displaced, which we believe are at the heart of the conflict? We Jerusalemites believe that our city is a holy one and it must be returned to its legitimate owners, but the right of return is no less holy than Jerusalem, because Jerusalem means the Jerusalemites. They are Jerusalem and Jerusalem is them. The land is for the people and the people are the land. They both represent the one Home and the one Cause.
We Palestinians should continuously speak about the right of return. It should not be limited to meetings or other occasions, press releases or fact sheets. Our political rhetoric should focus on the right of return, so must our school texts and mass media, as well as cultural and religious functions. All should devote some space to talk about the displaced persons who have been uprooted from their land and homes. We all should focus on their legitimate right to return to the land from which they were forced out.
I hope that BADIL is inspired by this principal. I hope that all religious and national institutions and functions will reserve space for the Palestinian refugees who look forward to the day of their freedom and return home. There can be no peace without achieving our national rights: freeing the land from occupation, the return of the refugees and the liberation of Jerusalem to become the capital of the independent Palestinian state.
Archimandrite Father Dr. Ataallah Hanna is the spokesperson of the Orthodox Church in Jerusalem and the Holy Land. This article first appeared in Arabic in Haq al-Awda 10-11 (2005). Translation by Nimr Awaini.