This special 68-page double-issue of al-Majdal explores the important question: CAN ISRAEL SEPARATE FROM THE PALESTINIANS?
Guest articles to this topic were contributed by Awni al-Mashni, member of the Fateh Higher Committee, and Ameer Makhoul, director of Ittijah, the Union of Arab Associations in 1948 Palestine/Israel. In addition, this issue of al-Majdal includes: activity and campaign updates, a section dedicated to Refugee Protection; and a list of the names of Palestinians killed by Israeli military forces (October 2002 – March 2003).
One of the enduring questions that has confronted politicians and strategists of the Oslo process is how to resolve the Palestinian refugee issue within the confines of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What happens to the more than 5 million Palestinian refugees whose homes of origin are located inside Israel?
For most refugee experts and practitioners crafting durable solutions for Palestinian refugees within the context of two states the answer is quite simple. Individual Palestinian refugees should be permitted to exercise their basic rights to return to their homes and repossess their properties. Resettlement assistance should be provided to those refugees who choose not to return.
The third annual meeting of the Palestine Right of Return Coalition was held in Tisvildeleje (Copenhagen) between 12-15 December 2002. The meeting was convened at the invitation of BADIL Resource Center, in coordination with the Danish-Palestinian Friendship Association and the Right-of-Return Committee-Denmark, and in consultation with all Coalition members in Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Europe, and the United States.
Forty-seven Palestinian representatives and activists from 13 countries in the Middle East, Europe, and North America attended the meeting. Over four days, delegates from Palestine (1967 occupied West Bank and 1948 Palestine/Israel), Lebanon, Jordan, Germany, Holland, France, Britain, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, and the United States held detailed discussions on various issues of concern to Palestinian refugees inside Mandatory Palestine, neighboring countries, and other places of exile.
Our 2002 annual meeting was convened while the Palestinian people are facing extremely difficult circumstances in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories (OPTs) and inside 1948 Palestine/Israel. For some two years, the Israeli occupation has engaged in a campaign aimed at erasing the Palestinian cause in all its components –
national, political, and human. This campaign has threatened both the physical existence of our people and the legitimacy of our political leadership. Moreover, it has succeeded to move international public perception of the struggle for the liberation of the people and the land into the realm of "terrorism." This move would not have succeeded without the international silence and complicity that prepared the ground for the acceptance of daily war crimes committed against the Palestinian people. The affects of these war crimes have been devastating. The resulting needs of our people are overwhelming. In this context, and in order to not lose sight of the strategic objectives of our struggle in the face of hardship caused by the Zionist occupation, it is vital to continue our popular movement for the refugees' right of return. BADIL and its partners convened the third annual meeting of the Palestine Right-of-Return Coalition for this purpose.
On 11 January 2003 some 50 women and men of various ages gathered in the yard near the old city mosque in Lod (Lydda) to remember the Nakba. Eitan Bronstein of Zochrot welcomed the participants.
Dr. Mahmud Muhareb, a history lecturer at Beersheva University described the political and historical background of the 1948 war. He also described the general pattern of action taken by the Zionist forces as they expelled the Palestinian population. He also explained the way this policy of depopulation was applied in the city of Lod. The Zionist army surrounded the city leaving one path – in the direction of Ramallah – open for the local inhabitants to escape. The army then went into the houses and forced the people out. Able-bodied men were sent to labor camps. The others were directed to the road to Ramallah, while soldiers shot over their heads to scare them away.
A human rights award given by an international cosmetics company has focused attention on an oft-ignored group of Palestinian refugees: those living as exiles inside the land occupied by Israel in 1948. The Body Shop selected the Association for the Defence of the Rights of the Internally Displaced (ADRID), as one of four recipients of its annual international award in recognition of the work of human rights campaigners.
The situation confronting the 250,000 refugees inside Israel, classified by the Israeli Absentee Property Law under the surreal oxymoron “Present Absentees,” demonstrates that there can be no just solution for Palestinians without recognition of the rights of those inside the Green Line. The work of ADRID, and individual village-based societies like the Saffuriyya Heritage Association featured here, must be supported internationally as an integral part of the work of campaigning for the right of return. Palestinian refugees inside the 1948 border began to take a more active role in campaigning for their rights following the 1991 Madrid conference. It became clear that official channels, both Palestinian and international negotiators, were not going to place the issue of 1948 Palestinians (refugees or not) on the agenda. ADRID was formed in the wake of this realization, and their efforts have recently received international recognition by The Body Shop. The award has given their campaign a welcome boost. In October, members of the committee flew to London to receive the award before an audience of over 350 guests from the British media, parliament and NGOs. The honour was shared with groups from Honduras, Kenya and Bulgaria, all of whom are campaigning for rights for indigenous peoples, demonstrating that this issue has the potential to reach an international audience. ADRID is a grassroots network supporting community-based organisations campaigning for the right of return for refugees inside the 1948 borders. Providing moral and practical support, the group works to restore destroyed communal property and religious sites (graveyards, churches, mosques) and undertakes documentation of history, demography, and properties of internally displaced Palestinians.
During January 2003, BADIL organized a series of public lectures and debates on the experience of refugee return and real property restitution in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH). The lectures/debates were hosted by Palestinian refugees, internally displaced Palestinians, the wider Palestinian community and interested Israelis, and followed an earlier study tour of Palestinian refugee activists to Bosnia-Herzegovina in June 2002. The guest speaker was Paul Prettitore, Legal Advisor to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH).
In January of this year I spent one week travelling through Israel and the West Bank with members of BADIL to participate in workshops on the issues of the return of refugees and displaced persons and property restitution. I had been invited because of my experience in Bosnia working on human rights issues, particularly those regarding refugees and displaced persons. Despite curfews and roadblocks, we were lucky enough to visit Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nazareth and Tel Aviv. During my trip we arranged a number of meetings with refugees and displaced persons to discuss the situation in Bosnia to see if any of the lessons learned there could be used in Israel and Palestine. While there are many similarities between the two situations, there are also vast differences.
On Saturday, 25 February 2003, approximately 20 people gathered in Tel Aviv to participate in a discussion about the return of refugees in Bosnia and its applicability to the situation of Palestinian refugees. Although the media and Israeli public do not speak about this issue, the attendance at the lecture by Paul Prettitore, legal advisor to the OSCE in Bosnia, demonstrated that there is interest in this issue among the Israeli public.
The Case Against Sharon
On 12 February 2003 Belgian’s highest appeals court (Cour de Cassation) ruled that Israeli Prime Ministry Ariel Sharon can be tried for war crimes, including genocide, once he ceases to hold office. The court ruled, moreover, that the charges were so severe that the accused could be tried in absentia. The ruling also cleared the way for war crimes trials against Israeli General Amos Yaron (currently Defense Ministry director-general and former commander of the Israeli invasion forces in Beirut), former chief of staff Rafael Eitan, and Major General (res.) Amir Drori. These proceedings are likely to begin in the next two or three months. The ruling means that Belgian courts will conduct their own inquiry into the circumstances of the 1982 massacres in the Beirut camps and the degree of responsibility of Israeli officers and their commanders.
The divide between the Palestinian refugees’ return and an independent Palestinian state is as wide as that between the impossible and the possible. A political solution based on the balance of power between the disputing parties may lead to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on all territories occupied by Israel in 1967, but it will certainly not lead to the return of the Palestinian refugees to their homes from which they were displaced. Away from slogans devised for political consumption, any Palestinian negotiator understands this fact, although he or she does not dare declare it openly.