On Saturday, 11 March, internally displaced Palestinians in Israel joined Palestinian refugee communities in exile to reaffirm the right of return. "No peace with Israel without the implementation of our right to return to homes and properties" is the demand which mobilizes not only millions of Palestinian refugees in the Arab and western exile, but also the approximately 250,000 Palestinians who have remained - displaced and disowned - inside Israel.
The public Rally for the Right of Return, organized by the National Committee for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced in the sports hall of the Nazareth municipality, was attended by some 850 participants - activists from displaced communities, Palestinian political parties and movements, representatives of Palestinian local councils and public institutions in Israel, as well as solidarity delegations from the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, from refugee camps in the occupied West Bank, and the PLO. Hundreds of letters of support sent by Palestinian parties, institutions, and activists in all parts of Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Kuwait and Canada, as well as the statements of the speakers at the Return Rally - Ramiz Jeraiyseh/Mayor of Nazareth, Muhammad Zeidan/Head of the Arab Monitoring Committee, Abdelhakim Al-Zreikhi/PLO Refugee Department, Jamal Shati/PLC, Salman Fakhr Al-Din/Syrian community in the Golan Heights, and Muhammad Jaradat/BADIL - addressed two major common themes:
- The determination of Palestinian refugees and internally displaced to continue the struggle for their right of return ("with my teeth I will cling to my land…" in the words of the late Palestinian poet Tawfiq Zayyad), which is expressed in the current series of popular conferences and rallies launched in all parts of Palestine: al-Far'ah (1995), Bethlehem (1996), Gaza (1996), Tulkarem (1999), and in Nazareth (1995 and 2000);
- The need for united Palestinian action towards a solution of the Palestinian refugee question, the core issue of the Palestinian/Arab - Israeli conflict, based on the implementation of international law and UN Resolutions, especially UN Resolution 194 (Right of Return). As a step towards the required united action, Mayor Jeraiyseh announced on behalf of the Arab Monitoring Committee that the right of return of internally displaced Palestinians will feature as the central issue of the public events organized on this year's Palestinian Land Day (30 March 2000).
Atty Wakim Wakim and Suleiman Fahmawi speaking on behalf of the National Committee for the Defense of the Internally Displaced presented the Committee's Manifesto and clarified that:
- The National Committee is the representative of the internally displaced Palestinians in Israel, while the PLO is the sole representative of the Palestinian people, including internally displaced Palestinians;
- Any political agreement signed by the PLO with Israel that excludes the right of return will be considered null and void by refugees and internally displaced;
- Israel continues to violate the basic rights of its Palestinian citizens; not only their right to property is denied, but even their right to vote and candidate is being questioned. Expectations of a gradual democratization of Israel are thus based on illusions.
- The speakers of the National Committee called for broad support of the internally displaced by all Palestinian social and political institutions, for the immediate adoption of the file of the internally displaced by the Palestinian leadership, and for a joint and intensive effort at documentation of Palestinian eviction and displacement during the 1948 Nakba.
Israeli guest speaker Tedi Katz, summarized his research findings on the previously poorly documented Israeli massacre in the Palestinian village of Tantura. He drew the attention of the audience to the fact that mosque and graveyard of Tantura were ploughed and transformed into a sea-side parking lot - a measure which strongly contradicts Israeli sensitivity to the desecration of Jewish graveyards all over the world. He emphasized that no Israeli government interested in peace will be able to escape the refugee question and reminded the audience that accurate documentation of destroyed villages and lost properties is a precondition for a strong Palestinian argument and negotiations in the future. If the history of the 530 Palestinian villages destroyed and depopulated in 1948 is not recorded now, while eye-witnesses are still alive, they will be lost forever.
The Rally's cultural program expressed Palestinian refugees' determination to return in emotional terms. The Saffouri dance-theater group gave an artistic account of the search for a lost village. Deheishe camp's IBDA'A children again succeeded to move the audience by depicting Palestinian persistence in their struggle against all odds, as well as the power of the young Palestinian generation, ready to take up and complete the cause of their parents and ancestors.
For additional details contact:
National Committee for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced: Suleiman Fahmawi (spokesperson), tel. 050-267679; Atty Wakim Wakim (secretary), tel. 053-752601.