Since 1995, Palestinian activists and refugee organizations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been involved in an effort to organize an independent grass-roots movement which will take on the difficult task of protecting Palestinian refugee rights in the sensitive period between the signing of the Oslo Accords and a future final status agreement with Israel. In 1999, BADIL contributed to this effort by compiling an information packet composed of central documents produced by the popular refugee initiative launched in al-Far'ah in 1995, new arguments and background information, and a proposal for a plan of action relevant for current Palestinian and international mobilization for Palestinian refugee rights. Since March 1999, this BADIL packet has been presented to Palestinian activists and NGOs in Palestine and Lebanon, as well as to international solidarity groups and NGOs in Europe, the United States, Canada, and Australia.
The PALESTINIAN CAMPAIGN
Two workshops were organized by the activist forum of BADIL Friends in Bethlehem and Nablus in April and May 1999. A third workshop is scheduled to be held in Gaza this summer. The recommendations issued by the approximately 60 participants, Palestinian grass-roots activists and representatives of PLO and PA institutions can be summarized as following:
Principles and Agenda
1. The local and international campaign proposed by BADIL is a welcomed and timely initiative which must involve not only Palestinian refugees, but progressive and democratic Palestinians, Arabs and international supporters everywhere.
2. The Palestinian and international campaign must focus on raising awareness and support for the Palestinian right of return in order to counter the position - held by Israel and the international community - that this right is outdated. Recognition by Israel of the right of return as a principle is a Palestinian pre-condition for the negotiation of a concrete solution to the Palestinian refugee question. Palestinian organizations are called upon to raise UN Resolution 194 in conjunction with UN Resolution 181 (UN Partition Plan). Awareness raising and mobilization among the Palestinian community must also address immediate refugee needs and concerns that result from the heavy economic pressure in the refugee camps.
3. The Palestinian debate on the concrete meaning of the right of return in the current political context must be continued and intensified. Central questions, such as: I) return with or without Palestinian sovereignty; ii) return to where in 1948 Palestine (Israel); iii) the impact of Palestinian statehood on refugees; iv) the difference between return to the PA areas and the right of return, a.o., must be clarified with the assistance of experts, in order to achieve a sound Palestinian consensus and the unification of Palestinian public speech.
4. The backbone of this campaign must be formed by Palestinian popular (grass-roots) organizations and initiatives which express the genuine needs and demands of Palestinian refugees.
5. The solution of the Palestinian refugee question is an extremely difficult task. It requires unity and mutual support, and must include the Palestinian diaspora in order to overcome the threat of geographic separation.
6. Palestinian pressure for the maintenance of UNRWA is important, not only because of the services provided to the refugees by the agency, but also because UNRWA is an expression of the international responsibility for the Palestinian refugee question. Ways of improving the efficiency of lobbying must be explored.
7. The PLO is called upon to prepare - with the help of experts - position papers for the negotiations with Israel. These papers should be presented to the Palestinian Council prior to disclosure in the negotiations. As an agreement on the refugee question with Israel cannot be expected within the near future (1-5 years), a Palestinian strategy for dealing with the delay of this central question must be developed.
8. The PLO is called upon to democratize its institutions dealing with the refugee question, especially the Department of Refugee Affairs and the PLO Service Committees, in order to allow for the involvement of popular refugee representatives and experts.
Commitments by the PLO Department of Refugee Affairs:
1. In regards to the upcoming final status negotiations, the PLO is committed to abstain from discussing with Israel any details/practicalities of the refugee question, until Israel provides recognition - in principle - of the Palestinian right of return.
2. The PLO Department for Refugee Affairs will extend its support to the popular campaign for the defense of Palestinian refugee rights.
The EUROPEAN CAMPAIGN
A strategy workshop organized by Oxfam Solidarity in March 1999 set the foundations for two European Solidarity campaigns, a Campaign for Palestinian Economic Development, and a Campaign for Palestinian Refugee Rights. Participants at this workshop included Palestinian and European NGOs (Forum of Palestinian NGOs in Lebanon, PARC, BADIL, Belgo-Palestinian Association, Flamish Palestine Committee, UCL Cermac, a.o.), Belgian trade unionists, representatives of the ECCP (European Coordinating Committee on Palestine), representatives of the Palestinian delegation and the Arab League in Brussels, Belgian and EU parliamentarians, as well as delegates from the European Commission.
The Campaign for Palestinian Refugee Rights outlined at this meeting will:
- Advocate for the Palestinian right of return;
- Empower Palestinian refugee initiatives and NGOs;
- Lobby for increased UNRWA support by European governments and the EU.
Among the campaign tools to be used for mobilization in Europe, the Brussels workshop adopted BADIL's information packet for a Palestinian-International Campaign for the Defense of Palestinian Refugee Rights, which is to serve as the basis for promotion materials and stickers to be produced in Europe; video documentaries produced by Palestinian and European NGOs, and BADIL's Petition for the Palestinian Right to Restitution. Since April 1999, Belgian NGOs and solidarity Committees have been networking to expand this campaign initiative by networking with NGOs and solidarity groups in other European countries. By October 1999, the Campaign is to be launched officially at the European level in coordination with the ECCP.
Activities and Time Table (tentative)
March 28 - April 1:
Launching of the Belgian campaign at the strategy workshop "Palestine-Day of the Land: For the Right of Return & Economic Development", Brussels (Oxfam Solidarity for Belgian NGOs and solidarity groups);
Solidarity demonstrations for the Palestinian right to self-determination in several European cities, such as Paris, Brussels, Strassbourg, Athens and other Greek cities, as well as in Spain and Italy.
May 17 - 19:
Workshop "Working for the Future of Palestinian Refugees", De Hague (BBO for Dutch NGOs); three Dutch NGOs (ICCO, Commission for Interchurch Aid, Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation) join the Belgian campaign initiative.
- Start of intensive effort by Belgian and Dutch NGOs and solidarity groups to obtain endorsement of the Petition for the Palestinian Right to Restitution by public figures and organizations in Europe;
- Coordination meeting between ECCP and NGOs active in all European countries.
Release of campaign materials (stickers, brochures) in French, Dutch, and English.
- Briefing of the newly elected European parliament on the situation, needs, and demands of Palestinian refugees by a delegation composed of the ECCP, NGOs and solidarity groups and Palestinian refugees. The Petition for the Palestinian Right to Restitution with the signatures gathered world wide will be presented to the European parliament.
- European Campaign for Palestinian Refugee Rights to be launched Europe-wide with coordination by the ECCP and the European NGO networks. Concerted actions in solidarity with Palestinian Refugees currently under discussion are:
a) NGO investigation in UNRWA funding by the respective European governments and the EU as part of a lobbying effort to increase UNRWA support;
b) Public action in solidarity with the Palestinian people in general, and refugees in particular on the occasion of anniversaries of events which carry special significance for Palestinian refugees, e.g. 2 November (Balfour Declaration), 29 November (UN Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People), 11 December (UN Resolution 194), 9 April (Deir Yassin Massacre), 14 May (anniversary of the declaration of the Israeli state and the eviction of the Palestinian people).
c) Europe-tour of a Palestinian refugee delegation for lobbying key politicians and public awareness raising in Europe (spring 2,000).
BADIL URGES ITS FRIENDS AND PARTNERS TO JOIN THIS CAMPAIGN
For further information about the campaign initiative in Palestine and elsewhere, please contact BADIL Resource Center.
HOW TO OBTAIN CAMPAIGN TOOLS?
- The Petition for the Palestinian Right to Restitution is available on BADIL's website;
- The information packet/Towards a Palestinian-International Campaign for the Defense of Refugee Rights can be ordered from BADIL in English and Arabic (email copies free of charge, print copies: US $10);
- For more and regular updates on this campaign, order AL MAJDAL magazine, BADIL's quarterly (US $20 for one year; next issue forthcoming in June 1999);