Under the motto "our right to return to our homeland is inalienable and not to be nullified by a statute of limitations, " the Global Palestine Right of Return Coalition” conducted its tenth meeting in Beirut between the fifth and the eleventh of December 2010 in the Shatila and Mar Elias camps. The meeting was hosted by the Centre for Refugee Rights / Aidoun and the Coordination Forum of NGOs Working in the Palestinian Refugee Communities in Lebanon, with the participation of a number of guests, observers and experts interested in the issue of refugees and their right to return.
The official meeting commenced at the UNESCO Palace on Monday, 6/12/2010 under the auspices of Lebanese Minister of Information Dr. Tarek Mitri and the presence of representatives of the /Embassy of Palestine as well as the various Palestinian factions and a number of Lebanese parties. Dr. Tarek Mitri gave a speech in which he stressed the support of the Lebanese people and government of the right of refugees to return to their homes and their right to a dignified and decent life until they return.
In a speech on behalf of the coalition, Jaber Suleiman, stressed that it will uphold the refugees right of return. He also reviewed the coalition’s activities and efforts during the past year, as well as the challenges facing the refugee issue. Furthermore, he said that granting Palestinian refugees in Lebanon basic human rights does not conflict with or negate their right to return. Dr. Salman Abu Sitta also gave a historic overview of the Zionist settlement, occupation and usurpation of Palestinian territories.
The coalition mourned the loss of the late Abdullah Hourani, general coordinator of the Palestine Popular Assembly for Defending the Right of Return in the camps of the Gaza Strip, who passed away in Amman /Jordan as he was ready to attend the tenth meeting. The participants extended a salute and tribute to his pure soul, and valued his historic role in defending the national cause and the rights of Palestinian refugees, at the forefront of which is the right of return.
The coalition also sent a message of solidarity in support of the detained activist Ameer Makhoul, who is imprisoned by the occupation. The coalition values his role in strengthening the resilience of those who reside in land occupied in 1948, in the face of the racist Zionist regime’s plans, procedures and practices to enact a racial policy of Judiazation and ethnic cleansing.
As part of the annual meeting of the coalition, participants met with some of the representatives of the Lebanese parliamentary blocks, and the Chairperson of the Lebanese / Palestinian Dialogue Committee created under the Lebanese Prime Minister office. During the meeting the coalition discussed the need to ensure the civil, social, economic and cultural rights of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, in order to enhance their steadfastness and to work for their return to the homes from which they were expelled. The coalition assured Lebanon that it respects its sovereignty, stability and security, and the need to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians in the camps, stressing their firm rejection of any attempts to settle them permanently in Lebanon.
And in honor of the souls of Palestinian martyrs, members of the coalition visited the martyrs’ cemetery in Shatila and laid a wreath of flowers at the mass grave of the martyrs of Sabra & Shatila massacre.
The coalition held its internal meetings over a two day period (6 - 7/12/2010). The reports of the coordinators of the committees in different regions were discussed in depth, during the meetings. In addition, the participants examined the obstacles facing the coalition’s work, and discussed the internal Rules of Procedure in an effort to develop it in a way which is commensurate with the directions to be taken in the next stage.
Additionally, the meeting discussed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign / BDS, against Israel. In doing so, mechanisms which should be utilized to promote and expand the boycott in Palestine, the Arab world and the world in general as tool to serve the Palestinian people's struggle for their legitimate rights, were discussed.
As for the round-table discussions, they addressed the critical Palestinian situation, in light of the continued division in the field of the Palestinian national struggle. They also discussed the aggressive Zionist policies against the Palestinian people and their land, as well as the dim prospects of the negotiations, which have been stalled for years due to Israeli intransigence and U.S. support for the position of the Zionist stance. Moreover, these negotiations failed because they were not grounded in resolutions set by international law. The meeting stressed the need to address the policy of forced displacement, confiscation of land and illegal settlement expansion, as well as the continued construction of the separation wall, the Judaization of Jerusalem’s neighborhoods and holy sites, the continuing siege of the Gaza Strip, and the pressure and blackmail to recognize the Jewishness of the state. Such policies seek to obliterate Palestinian national rights and perpetuate the occupation and the apartheid regime.
In the light of the deliberations and discussions which were characterized by a spirit of high responsibility, participants concluded that:
First: on the political level:
1. The right of the Palestinian people to return to their homes from which they were expelled in 1948 and to restitute their own property. The material and moral compensation for their losses is a historic and legal right based on the principles of international humanitarian law and the international law of human rights, and is also grounded in international resolutions, particularly UNGA Resolution 194.
2. Upholding the unity of the refugee issue within the context of the unity of the land and the people in Mandatory Palestine and in exile, and the categorical rejection of all attempts to partition this issue or resolve the refugee issue in any country under any pretext or circumstance.
3. The need to consolidate the discourse on the right of return and elevate it to an extent which harnesses and unifies the energies of the Palestinian people and all its committees. The expansion of this discourse to include the cultural and educational dimensions of the Palestinian refugee community’s lives.
4. The Rejection of any settlement to the Palestinian/Arab – Zionist conflict which is not anchored on the basis of national inalienable rights, international law and the resolutions of the international community, and to emphasize that the terms of reference of the current purposed settlements such the Roadmap Plan and the Arab Peace Initiative do not meet the minimum rights of our people but only perpetuate the arrogance of the Zionists in their attempt to blur national rights, especially the right of refugees to return to their original homes.
5. Call upon all Palestinian parties of different persuasions to work hard to ensure immediate reconciliation between the warring Palestinian factions in order to restore national unity, and to end the state of division, which will strengthen the steadfastness of the Palestinian people in their struggle to confront the aggressive policies of Zionism, and to acquire legitimate national rights.
6. The return of the Palestinian people to their original homes is a right not to be nullified by a statute of limitations, and is not up for a referendum vote, as it is an inalienable individual and collective right which cannot be bartered with any other right. Ending the conflict is not possible without resolving the issue of refugees through a just and durable solution based on the implementation of UNGA Resolution 194.
Second: at the domestic level and the Plan of Action Coalition:
• Maintain the popular character of Al-Awda movement as a mass movement which represents the interests of refugees and express their rights, in particular the right to return to their original homes. This should be done without getting involved in the battle for political representation, and out of concern for strengthening the representation of the Palestinian people in the PLO, since it can be considered the national unifying entity of the Palestinian people. It is also imperative to reform the PLOs institutions based on democratic principles which ensure the involvement of all national Palestinian factions, while emphasizing that Al-Awda movement is an integral part of the Palestinian liberation movement and one of its key pillars.
• Cementing the organizational structures of Al-Awda groups in every arena and expanding popular participation in its activities, particularly by young people, and launching a dialogue and exchange of ideas and information among themselves in order to develop and elaborate an encompassing form of organization for Al-Awda’s work to better meet the challenges faced by the issue of return.
• Develop more systematic efforts to raise the problems faced by Palestinian refugees in the some of the Arab host countries, especially Lebanon, in order to grant them temporary protection and effectively secure their basic human rights, to strengthen their steadfastness until they return to their homes, which requires a practical stance against resettlement and displacement, and the provision of a decent life for Refugees.
• Further the efforts to inform the international community of protection gaps facing Palestinian refugees and the possibilities inherent in addressing them. This requires that the relevant international bodies, especially UNRWA and the High Commissioner for Refugees / UNHCR assume their responsibilities and raise the level of awareness and care to the concerns of the refugees. It is also necessary to reactivate the role of the UN Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP).
• strengthening the role of the coalition in the international campaign to boycott, divest and sanction Israel within the framework effectively contributing to building a solid network of international solidarity in order to further the isolation of the Zionist state, and activate the mechanisms which ensure the fulfillment of the Palestinian people’s international rights, particularly the right of return of Palestinian refugees to their original homes.
• Emphasize the need of the institutions of the PLO to uphold its responsibility towards the Palestinian refugees in all places they are present, which calls for activating the Department of Refugee Affairs in the Palestinian Liberation Organization and elevating its work, in a manner commensurate with the challenges faced by the refugee issue.
• Calling upon the Palestinian Liberation Organization to take an active role in the follow-up to launching Judge Goldstone’s report, in United Nations bodies, and enhance coordination between them and Palestinian NGOs and relevant international groups, to ensure that the Zionist war criminals are brought to trial for crimes they have committed against the Palestinian people.
• Promote the participation of women in various aspects of national Palestinian activities and encourage them to play a more active role especially in feminist organizations working in the refugee community, which enables improving the coalition’s endeavors to defend the rights of refugees.
In conclusion, the coalition salutes the masses of the Palestinian people in all places to which they were displaced, whose presence confirms that the issue of return is the unified national character of the struggle of the Palestinian people, of all different affiliations. This requires all of us to shoulder our national responsibilities, each from his position, towards unity, which is our strongest and most lasting weapon to meet the challenges and restore our national rights, foremost the right of return
And we shall return,
Participants in the tenth meeting
Centre for Refugee Rights / Aidoun- Lebanon
Coordination Forum of NGOs working in the Palestinian Refugee Communities / Lebanon (Beit Atfal Al-Somoud , Norwegian People's Aid( NPA), Popular Aid for Relief and Development (PARD) ,Najdeh Association)
Badil - Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights - Palestine
Union of Youth Activity Centers (UYAC) - Palestine
Union of Women's Activity Centers (UWAC) - Palestine
Committee for the Defense of Palestinian Refugee Rights and Yafa Cultural Center - Palestine
Executive Office of the Popular Committees of Refugees - West Bank / Palestine
The Gathering of Inhabitants of the Destroyed Towns and Villages – Ramallah / Palestine
Palestine Right of Return Confederation - Europe
Al-Awda Coalition- United States of America
Aidoun Group – Syria
Jordanian Women's Union - Jordan
Right of Return conference - London
Department of Refugee Affairs / PLO - Palestine
Palestine Remembered: Jordan / America