Demonstrators calling Palestinians in the diaspora to vote for the Palestinian National Council. Bethlehem, Palestine, March 2013 Demonstrators calling Palestinians in the diaspora to vote for the Palestinian National Council. Bethlehem, Palestine, March 2013 (© M. Azza).

When  Palestinian  political  factions  and  the  Palestine  Liberation  Organization  were  seeking fighters [to participate in armed resistance against Israel], they suspended refugees’ democratic participation and instead requested their contributions in the armed struggle. Today, after the death of tens of thousands of Palestinian fighters, most of them refugees, and after the Palestinian leadership acquired international recognition and a kind of legitimacy, becoming well-known individuals, no political power is after the participation of the refugees, no one wants to listen to their voices, no body, no political party and no national or international organization has set a strategy for reactivating refugee participation.

Khaled  DA,  48,  a  Palestinian  refugee  residing  in  Aida  refugee  camp.  He has been imprisoned by Israel since 1990.

While the political participation of citizens in ‘stable’ societies ensures effective citizenship, for victims in a conflict being involved in decision-making is required as a way of ending their suffering. The necessity for victim participation in a resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is based on two interrelated principles. First, respect of rights as a matter of law and justice. Second, addressing the root causes of the conflict and, thereby, preventing its recurrence. An additional reason to guarantee refugee participation is that the majority of the Palestinian population is displaced (refugees and internally displaced persons).

A durable solution to the longstanding Palestinian-Israeli conflict will not be achievable without recognizing the rights of the refugees. As a matter of dignity, law and justice, every Palestinian refugee has the right to  choose  one  of  the  three  durable  solutions  to  their  condition:  return,  local  integration  in  country  of refuge, or resettlement in a third country. No representative nor national or international institution has the authority to infringe on this fundamental individual right. A lasting and just solution to the conflict will be impossible without ensuring the rights of participation for displaced persons who constitute more than two thirds of Palestinian people worldwide.

Some  may  argue  that  the  Palestine  Liberation  Organization,  as  the  sole  legitimate  representative  of Palestinian people to the United Nations, is entitled to represent Palestinian refugees who are a subgroup of the Palestinian people. Based on that, they would conclude that collective national rights should be given priority in the negotiation process over the individual right of return. In such a calculation, a peace settlement is prioritized over the free choice of rights holders.

In  principle,  such  an  argument  violates  international  law  and  falls  short  of  United  Nations  High Commissioner for Refugees’ recommendations and best practices in comparative cases. Most importantly, it ignores the requirement of refugee participation, a component of authentic representation. Based on principles of refugee participation, this issue of al-Majdal surveys the multiple facets and problems of representation for Palestinians today.

To combat physical and political fragmentation, Amjad Alqasis builds on a commentary from al-Majdal preceding issue arguing for a language that reflects unity of the disparate Palestinian community. In it, Alqasis delivers the findings of BADIL’s 2012 Survey of Palestinian Youth on Identity and Social Ties. Bisan Mitri and BADIL’s Manar Makhoul report on their participation in the 2013 World Social Forum in Tunis, describing the significance of Palestine for international civil society. The Trojan Cow: Pixelated Intifada is a photo-essay and interview based on Amer Shomali’s art installation in Ramallah. The project tells a cherished Beit Sahour story about the cows of the First Intifada, highlighting Palestinian ingenuity, self-sufficiency, humor and resilience.

Nour Joudah appraises youth perceptions of Palestinian representation and the potential for political change using primary interviews with refugees in camps across the Middle East. In The Arab Spring and Reviving the Hope of Return, Zarefa Ali and Amal Zayed document refugees’ interpretations of their right of return in the context of a changing Middle East. Thayer Hastings reviews a recurring discourse: the crisis of the Palestine Liberation Organization in two prominent media outlets that focus on Palestine. Lori A. Allen examines the intentions of international commissions against a Palestinian political strategy ineffective at challenging ‘facts on the ground’. In Enfranchising Refugees: PNC Elections in Comparative Context Terry Rempel articulates the electoral rights of refugee participation and lays the international context for evaluating the groundbreaking potential of Palestinian National Council elections.

This issue of al-Majdal, in other words, overviews the current phase in Palestinian discourse: where the fragmentation and the crisis of representation are being dissected and analyzed. This evolutionary process will potentially yield remedies. Indeed, nascent steps towards remedy have begun. The task ahead is to develop and hone them towards a comprehensive and sustainable vision.

Finally, since Spring 2006 (al-Majdal no. 29), the magazine has featured a round-up of the most important international news of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. Today, the BDS movement has become a household term in the realm of social and political activism. Many campaigns and outlets such as the Electronic Intifada, Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and the Boycott National Committee website have developed excellent coverage and documentation of BDS’s development. Beginning with al-Majdal no. 52, BADIL will no longer carry the BDS roundup, but it will continue to highlight the importance and use of the tool. For example, this issue features Rifat Odeh Kassis’ rebuttal to BDS-opposition by Reverend Andrew Love. Al-Majdal no. 54 will feature content from the 4th National BDS Conference, which was held in Bethlehem on 8 June 2013.

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*Nidal al-Azza is the Coordinator of BADIL’s Resource, Research and Legal Unit, and Lecturer in Refugee Rights under International Law at al-Quds University.