Strategies for the Defense of the Right of Return (Issue No.6, Summer 2000)

 

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The following interview with Tayseer Nasrallah (Yafa Cultural Center/Balata Camp; BADIL Board member; 1967 occupied Palestine) and Ahmad Othman (journalist; member of A'idoun Group; Lebanon) was conducted by BADIL in late May 2000 before the resumption of final status negotiations in Washington, DC, and before the death of President Assad of Syria.

The current lack of information about the final status negotiations, unclear lines of authority and responsibility, and absence of communication between the negotiators and the refugee community has given rise to a deep sense of anxiety, augmented by the nature of the Oslo process itself, which was conceived behind closed doors.

 The sense of anxiety is particularly acute in Lebanon where refugees live under conditions of extreme political, social, and economic marginalization. The interview highlights the importance of refugee empowerment through strengthening of refugee initiatives, grassroots mobilization in defence of refugee rights, and building networks between refugees in the various countries of exile as well as between refugees and international NGOs and solidarity groups.

 

Looking from your specific experience and socio-political context at the current efforts by the parties involved in the Israeli-Palestinian "final status" negotiations to achieve some tangible result by September 2000, what do you really expect to happen this year on the level of the political negotiations?

Children of Deheishe and Shatila meet at Lebanese Border
Amidst the hundreds of Palestinian families who embraced each other over the fence on the Lebanese- Israeli borders this week, there was a unique meeting of teenagers from Palestine and Lebanon.
The youths, who had previously known each other via an E-mail pen-pal project organized between Shatila and Dheisheh refugee camps, were rejoicedin their first face-to-face encounter filled with
songs, dances, hugs and solidarity over the barbed wires.
The meeting, which took place in the village of Arab Al-Aramshe on June 2nd, was organized between Ibdaa Cultural Center of Dheisheh camp near Bethlehem and Mayssoun Sukarieh, the coordinator of a children's project in Shatila camp in Beirut. Both groups, though coming from different directions, underwent the same obstacles of obtaining travel permits, being held up at check-points and concealing their identity before reaching the meeting
place.

Radio Programs: Two radio series about the Palestinian refugee issue are providing information and a forum for discussion for tens of thousands of listeners in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, and Lebanon. Since the end of February, Radio Bethlehem 2000 has carried a weekly program covering initiatives and events of the week, reports about specific villages of origin including interviews with eyewitnesses of the 1948 expulsion, refugee related news, and interviews with politicians. At the end of May 2000 a partnership between Yafa Cultural Center in Balata Camp and Voice of Palestine radio has begun to carry a similar radio series.

To date, panel discussions have focused on Resolution 194, the demographic and social conditions in the refugee camps, the implications of UNRWA's chronic deficit, and family violence. TV Series: A seven part series on the refugee "Return Visit" (see page 20f) to villages of origin was broadcast in late May 2000 to a viewing audience of at least 15,000 in theBethlehem-Jerusalem-Hebron area. The series  was a joint effort by Al-Ru'ah (Shepherds TV, in Bethlehem) and BADIL.

Right of Return Advocacy Week (Brussels, 7 - 14 May 2000) (A joint effort by BADIL, ECCP, Oxfam Solidarity): As Palestinian refugees in the Middle East commemorated the 52nd anniversary of their eviction by Israel and rallied for the implementation of their right to return to homes and properties in accordance with UN Resolution 194,

First Right of Return Conference (Boston, 8 April 2000): More than one-thousand Palestinian/ Arab Americans - intellectuals, veteran and new community and student activists - as well as North American solidarity activists participated in a one day conference in Boston entitled, "The Right of Return: Palestinian Refugees and Prospects for a Durable Solution". The conference was sponsored by the Trans-Arab Research Institute (TARI) and dozens of co-sponsoring organizations.

Anti-Right of Return Legislation by theIsraeli Parliament (Knesset)
On 17 May 2000, the Israeli Knesset passed, in a preliminary vote, a bill that requires the support of an absolute Knesset majority (61 members of parliament) for any future government decision in favor of repatriation into the territory of the Israeli state of Palestinians displaced in 1948 and 1967.

 The bill authorizes the Minister of Defense, pending approval by the Knesset Committee for Security and Foreign Affairs, to grant entry and residency permits to refugees for humanitarian reasons, under the condition that their number does not exceed 100 cases annually. The bill was proposed by MK Israel Katz (Likud) who said the initiative was above party politics, because it was "Zionist, Jewish, Israeli, ethical and right." It received the support not only of the Israeli right-wing opposition, but also of several Labor Party parliamentarians, including Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg and Minister Haim Ramon.

UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize
Support this Nomination Support Palestinian Refugees The Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy-MIFTAH has successfully completed the formal procedures for the nomination of UNRWA for the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize. This timely initiative aims to draw international public attention not only to the ongoing importance of this UN Agency, the main provider of vital services to Palestinian refugees in the Middle East over the past fifty years, but also to the right and need of Palestinian refugees to international assistance and protection, including a durable solution based on UN Resolution 194 (right of return).

"In recognition of UNRWA's humanitarian services to the Palestinian refugees and its committed efforts for the building of a just peace in the region, MIFTAH urges you to mobilize resources for this nomination. At this crucial time of permanent status talks where refugees occupy a priority on the agenda of negotiations, this campaign aims at highlighting the question of refugees and the significant role of UNRWA."

At the end of April, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in response to a petition filed by Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, that the Religious Affairs Ministry must allocate funds equally for cemeteries of all faiths. The Court refrained from granting Adalah's request to cancel the discriminatory paragraphs of the 1999 Budget law. Of the NIS 17 million allocated under the Budget Law for cemeteries in Israel, nearly all went to the Jewish sector.

 Of the 313 large mosques in pre-1948 Palestine, 200 mosques or religious buildings fell within the area that became Israel.1 During the 1948 war and after many small cemeteries,  shrines and mosques located in Palestinian villages were destroyed, although recommendations were made by the Religious Affairs Ministry for the preservation of more prominent Muslim holy places.2 Most cemeteries in the places of origin of the refugees remain in poor condition.

(excerpts from Brief by Salman Abu Sitta)
In mid-June, 52 members of the Israeli Knesset, representing an odd coalition, voted in favor of two bills allowing the sale of “Israel’s land reserves” (i.e. refugees’ land), approximately 4 million dunums (4,000 sq. km), to the select group of kibbutz and moshav, whose number does not exceed 130,000 members, at a price less than half the value of the land.

For the first time in 52 years, internallydisplaced Palestinians in Israel - constituting onequarter of Israel's Palestinian population today - succeeded to draw wide local and international attention to their struggle for return to their homes and properties by means of public "Return Marches" and rallies in the destroyed villages of Umm al-Zeinat and Damoun and the Palestinian town of Umm Al-Fahm.

 It was also the first time since 1948 that the Palestinian community in Israel issued a united call for a public boycott of the celebrations of Israel's "Independence Day" (14 May 2000). The boycott was led by the National Committee for the Defense of the Internally Displaced Palestinians in Israel in cooperation with the Arab Monitoring Committee composed of Palestinian mayors and members of the Knesset, political parties, and national institutions. A celebration staged by the Israeli authorities in the Palestinian town of Shafa'amr on 7 May was met by a Palestinian counter demonstration, which led to violent confrontations with the police and resulted in 20 Palestinian injuries and 30 arrests. For more on internally displaced Palestinians see BADIL Country Profiles.

Palestinian Refugees Visit their Villages on the Anniversary of al-Nakba West Bank camp refugees hit the headlines of the local Arabic media with a new and unique type of memorial activity conducted on 14 May. Some 150 Palestinian refugees from Deheishe,

Pledge of Honor of the Palestinian Person to the Palestinian Land
• The right of return to historical Palestine is a natural, legal, political, and human right; it is a right of the Palestinian individual and the collective, and its implementation is possible. Any person who bargains on or surrenders this right is a traitor;
• Security, stability, and peace in the region cannot be achieved without a just and comprehensive solution of the Palestinian refugee question according to international legitimacy, especially UN Resolution 194. Any effort to bypass this question will lead the region into a new round of conflict; • It is the duty of the Palestinian negotiators to abstain from negotiations over the principle of the right of return.
Any step in this direction is rejected by the national consensus;
• The rights of Palestinian refugees are indivisible. The refugee question is a Palestinian responsibility and no side is mandated to bypass it; • We call upon the Lebanese government to lift immediately the siege of the camps of steadfastness in Lebanon, and to treat Palestinians according to the standards defined by human, ethical, and political norms;
• We call upon UNRWA to continue providing its services and to work for the improvement of living conditions in the camps until a just and comprehensive solution to the refugee issue is found.
We, refugees from the camps of Balata, 'Askar 1 and 'Askar 2, al-'Ain, al-Far'ah, Tulkarem, Nur Shams, and Jenin, state with loud voice: Palestine is ours! Our only choice is the return to the land of historical Palestine.
We greet our Palestinian people in the camps of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Gaza. Yes to the right of return of Palestinian refugees in accordance with UN Resolution 194!
Yes to the independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital! Eternal glory to our martyrs and freedom to our steadfast prisoners!"
The Follow-up Committee for the Commemoration of the 52nd Anniversary of the Nakba, May 2000.

'Aida, and 'Azza refugee camps located in the Bethlehem district, men and women eyewitnesses of the 1948 expulsion and their grandchildren, set out on a symbolic "Return Visit" to their villages of origin. The event, which marked the first collectively organized return visit of West Bank refugees to their homes and lands in Israel was facilitated by BADIL and accompanied by numerous Palestinian, international, and Israeli journalists.

Following the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in late May, Palestinians on both sides of the border were quick to grab the historic opportunity for family reunions across the makeshift border fence. The air was filled with joy, yearning and despair as thousands of Palestinian refugees from camps in Lebanon were able - for the first time since 1967 or even 1948 - to touch their relatives living in Israel or in one of the West Bank refugee camps, exchange news and get a glimpse of the landscape of Palestine.

Anxious about media pictures and stories which remind the world hat Israel continues to deny the right of return to Palestinian refugees, Israel's army started to obstruct the Palestinian refugee reunions on 4 June by adding fences that prevented physical contact between the people arriving from both sides. Protest by Palestinians on the side, joined by Knesset member Issam Makhoul, resulted in violent clashes with Israeli soldiers on 5 June, and more troops arrived to take control of the area. Israeli Minister for Public Security Shlomo Ben Ami explained to journalists that "these concentrations of thousands of people may create a dangerous situation. We are trying to find an official solution and Knesset members should not turn every situation into a Stalingrad." (Ha’aretz, 6 June 2000). Pending such an official solution, Palestinian refugees are no longer able to embrace each other and glance at their homeland. The following montage includes excerpts from the press, reflections of those who visited the border, and photos.

Children in Gaza Strip Camps
and their Dreams of Return to their Villages that They Have Never Seen
Children under the age of 15 are talking about what their leadership failed to achieve for them. They are creating in their little minds a strategy in order to be free, to get their lost right of return to their original homeland, and to live a good life. Mohammed Zaqout, a child less than 10 years old, accompanied hundreds of his fellow camp children on the 15th of May in fighting in front of Netzarim settlement. He said, "I am a refugee from Asdod, and because of this, I am here to share in the fight against the Jews in the memory of the Nakba. I believe in my right to return one day to Asdod, which I only know about through somethings my grandmother, who is dying told me." Mohammed moaned when he said, "The geography teacher gave me full marks. He’s satisfied with me because I can draw maps of all the world, especially Egypt. Also I know all the places of the Egyptian cities, what they are famous for, and about the people who live in them.

Eviction from Jerusalem: Restitution and Protection
of Palestinian Rights (BADIL, 1999)
English and Arabic, 30 pages, US$5.
Jerusalem 1948: The Arab Neighbourhoods of the City and Their Fate in the War (BADIL/IJS, 1999) The book is available in English with Arabic translation of the introduction, 304 pages, US$15. ISBN 0-88728- 274-1
NEW: Arabic Edition forthcoming! Refugee Campaign Packet: The Right of Return (English and Arabic, 2nd Edition, BADIL, 2000)
The packet includes a program of action for the campaign,

Palestinian Refugees Discuss with Dr. Salman Abu Sitta (Balata, Kalandia, Al-Arroub,Aida camps, West Bank, 2-4 September): In continuation of the public debate with Dr. Salman Abu Sitta launched in 1999, BADIL facilitated, one year later, a series of follow-up discussions with the Palestinian researcher. The comparison of the comments and questions raised by the refugee public in both occasions indicates that by the year 2000, the refugee community in 1967 occupied Palestine is more aware of its rights and has gained confidence in the practical-ity of its right of return to homes and properties in Israel. "What is to be done?", and, "How to set up proper mechanisms for the protection of collective and individual refugee rights?" are the questions which dominate the discussion between the refugee community and its experts today much more than in the past. Along this line, refugee community activists, members of the BADIL Friends Forum, decided to serve as the Prepara-tory Committee-West Bank for the initiative of establishing a "Palestinian Land Society", and to seriously study - in cooperation with Dr. Salman Abu Sitta - perspectives and mechanisms of this body which should represent Palestinian owners of rights in their future legal struggle.

UNITED STATES - CANADA - EUROPE
Al-Awda - Palestine Right of Return Coalition (Calendar Committee) Proposed Events 2000
September 30, October 20: Al-Awda elections October: Local action committee meetings to plan local events/actions October 18 (London): Launch in the House of Commons of the Report on the All-Party Delegation of 4 MPs to Palestine and the Middle East. The report will be presented to the House of Commons and to the European Parliament.(See page 12)

October 24 (London): Appeal Picket outside the Royal Courts of Justice, the Strand 10-12:30 and 2-4 pm organized by the Freedom and Justice for Samar and Jawad, two Palestinians who were wrongly convicted of any connection for the bombings of the Israeli Embassy and Balfour House. For more information on the case, see www.freesaj.org.uk. November 29: Worldwide teach-ins on the right of return (International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People) December 9-11, 14: Anniversary of the Intifada, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UN Resolu-tion 194, 50th Anniversary of the UNHCR.
2001 April 9: Deir Yassin Commemorations. Deir Yassin Day: For more information on planned events in London contact Paul Eisen at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or subscribe to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. May 14: Al-Nakba Commemoration, vigils and events internationally. Late May: Activist retreats September 16: Rallies worldwide in every city possible. Plans for musical benefit concerts for right of return around the world. For more information or if you are interested join This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by sending a blank message to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
November 29: (International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People) Benefit Concert
December 9-11: Anniversary of the Intifada, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UN Resolution 194 For more information contact al-Awda (USA), This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or London, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.