In the course of the last 50 years, the collusion of Zionist interests and regional interests of powerful western states led by the United States has brought about the establishment of a consensus which holds that the right of return – the international standard for the solution of refugee problems in general, and the Palestinian case in particular – is not binding when the Palestinian refugee question is tackled in so-called practical terms. The establishment and maintenance of a pure Jewish state through the eviction of most of the country’s indigenous Arab population remained widely unchallenged.
This consensus of the powerful was reflected in the terms of reference of the Oslo Accords (UN Resolution 242 and 338). Now that the failure of the Oslo negotiations to bring about a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can no longer be denied, UN Resolution 181 (Partition Resolution, 1947) and 194 (Refugees’ Right of Return and Compensation,1948) have been adoped as the new legal framework by the PLO/PA, the European Union (Jerusalem Declaration) and the UN (Human Rights Commission, 27-4-1999).
In order to promote Palestinian refugee rights in this new political context, BADIL calls upon local and international supporters to raise wherever possible:
1. THE RIGHT OF RETURN expresses the WILL and the DETERMINATION of the PALESTINIAN REFUGEES – it is the ONLY OPTION for a SOLUTION ACCEPTED BY THEM.
Despite their dismemberment and dispersal in the region and the world, Palestinian refugees have maintained social and cultural structures based on the family and the village. Unions and societies organized on a national basis, as well as the PLO, are the political expression of Palestinian determination to return to their homes. In this context, international efforts over the past 50 years, to find a solution to the refugee question via the settlement of Palestinian refugees in their countries of exile have failed. Even in times of extreme socio-economic and political marginalization caused by the Oslo process, refugees have continued to demand their right of return. This is a fact established by the results of all public opinion polls conducted in Palestine and Lebanon since 1994.
2. The Right of Refugees to Return to THEIR HOMES is the GUIDING PRINCIPLE of INTERNATIONAL LAW and UN RESOLUTIONS:
Repatriation is the favored solution for refugees exiled in the course of military conflict. The 1949 Geneva Convention (Article 49) prohibits “individual or mass forcible transfers … regardless of their motive.” The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other international legal instruments concerning human rights affirm the right of every individual to leave and return to his country. Conventions relating to the rights of indigenous peoples confirm the right to return to land from which they have been displaced by force.
In the case of Palestinian refugees, their right of return and compensation is supported explicitly by UN Resolution 194 (December 1948) which was adopted one day before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This resolution has since been reaffirmed 110 times by the United Nations. The right of Palestinian refugees to regain ownership of their property is established by numerous international instruments concerning the rights of civilians in times of war, human rights, and indigenous rights. Ordinary property law, which Europeans and Americans hold sacred, supports the Palestinian right to their properties. 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 Palestinians are entitled to all revenue from their property.
3. The Palestinian RIGHT OF RETURN is NOT INVALIDATED by a PLO/PA DECLARATION OF A PALESTINIAN STATE based on UN Resolution 181:
UN Resolution 194 provides for the refugees’ right to return to their homes. These homes are located in the current territory of the Israeli state (which, in violation of the 181 UN Partition Resolution, annexed in 1948 parts of the territory of what was to become the Palestinian state, as well as the city of Jerusalem and its surrounding area, which was to be internationalized under UN control). In this context, Palestinian immigration to the West Bank and Gaza areas currently controlled by the PA must not be confused with the Palestinian Right of Return based on UN Resolution 194.
4. Return of Palestinian Refugees is a NECESSITY for SOCIAL JUSTICE and POLITICAL STABILITY in the Middle East:
Palestinian refugees are accepted as temporary residents under varying legal status and special conditions – until they return to their homes based on the provisions of the UN Resolutions and international law. Most Arab countries hosting the majority of the Palestinian refugees are reluctant – or, in the case of Lebanon, unwilling – to accept Palestinian refugee communities on a permanent basis with full civil rights. Even in countries where Palestinian refugees enjoy full civil rights (e.g. Jordan), Palestinian refugees are perceived as a potentially destabilizing factor in national politics and thus kept under special scrutiny of state intelligence. All Arab governments in the Middle East follow a policy of instrumentalizing the Palestinian question for their own political aims and alliances in the region and the world. Palestinian refugees are the victims of this approach, their lives and access to basic human and civil rights being determined almost solely by changing political circumstances which are beyond their control.
5. Return is PRACTICALLY POSSIBLE
While many Palestinian villages have been destroyed, recent research by Salman Abu Sitta shows that – contrary to the longstanding Israeli argument – the return of Palestinian refugees is practical if examined in the light of the relative distribution of Jews and Palestinians in Israel. Such research shows that, up to now, most Jews (78%) are concentrated in 15 percent of Israeli territory, in predominantly urban areas, while 75 percent of the land, including those areas from which the refugees originated, has remained sparsely populated, with relatively few Jewish residents. Surprising as it may be, Palestinian land is still largely empty. It is currently controlled by 154,000 rural Jews. In Gaza, population density is 4,400 persons per square mile, compared with 82 per square mile in 85% of Israel. If Palestinian refugees returned to their land, the population to land ratio in Israel would be minimally raised.
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