Palestine after Arafat (Issue No.24, Winter 2004)

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This issue of al-Majdal was published after the general election was held for President in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. This was the second such election, not the first. The last was in 1996 when Yasser Arafat was elected President of the Palestinian Authority, a continuation of the long history of democracy among Palestinians.

But, points out the editorial in the new issue of BADIL’s quarterly magazine al-Majdal (December 2004, Issue 24), Palestinians have to undergo a litmus test on democracy and elections that is not applied to Israel. The test applied to them has to do with the ability of the Palestinian leadership to neutralize Palestinians’ rightful desire for a state with Jerusalem as its capital, full Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders and the right of return. (See Palestine after Arafat, p. 4)

And as in the earlier election in West Bank and Gaza, more than half of the Palestinian people still cannot vote in democratic elections. The international community seems blind to the fact that refugees forced to live abroad and in neighboring Arab countries cannot vote in national Palestinian elections. Foundations for Participation Workshop (p. 16) by Karma Nabulsi deals with wider participation of Palestinians in decision making and the new initiative (Civitas) underway in all parts of the Palestinian diaspora. The former homes of refugees are the subject of two articles in Majdal. One article focuses on a visit by internally displaced Palestinians within Israel to their former homes. The other is a photo essay on old Haifa still in ruins and almost empty after 57 years.

Al-Majdal also reports on the recent BADIL study visit to Cyprus which brought a number of Palestinian refugees to Cyprus in order to look at the peace plans for the island and how refugees are being looked at under the plans.

Other sections of the magazine report on the role of 'Jewish nationality' and 'national institutions' in Israel in the dispossession of Palestinians, deportation of Palestinian refugees from Canada, attempts to cut funding for UNRWA, and presents the final statement from the 5th coordination meeting of the Palestine Right of Return Coalition.

Palestine after Arafat

The right of return, the right to housing and property restitution and the right to compensation will not disappear as long as refugees themselves continue to demand their basic human rights. When the late Palestinian leader Yaser Arafat spoke about the right of return he was not only speaking about human rights, he was representing what refugees themselves have demanded for more than five decades. 
 The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was established in the refugee camps in exile with a program based on return and the unity of the land and its people. It should not be surprising then to find Mahmoud Abbas, the newly elected Chairman of the PLO, and the various candidates running to replace Arafat as President of the Palestinian Authority (PA) all talking about the right of return. This is their democratic responsibility – to represent those who vote them into office.

A new era of democracy?

The Palestinian people have been practicing democracy for decades, through political parties, student, teacher and women's associations, professional and trade unions and through the structures of the PLO. While many political pundits pondered over who might ‘succeed’ Arafat after his death in November, Palestinians looked to the Constitution of the PLO and the Basic Law for the PA. Elections for President of the PA are scheduled for January 2005, while the Executive Committee of the PLO elected Mahmoud Abbas as Chairman of the PLO. The political vision of a two-state solution being promoted by the newly re-elected Bush administration as set forth in his June 2002 speech and the April 2004 letter of assurance to Ariel Sharon, however, raises serious questions about the administration's support for democracy. The litmus test being applied to Palestinians is not about democratic representation, especially when it comes to so-called final status issues; but rather the ability of the Palestinian leadership to neutralize popular demands for a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, full Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders and the right of return.

There is no litmus test for Israel. For a long time the international community has taken Israel's democratic credentials for granted as “the only democracy in the Middle East.” According to the Israel Democracy Institute, however, “protection of human rights [in Israel] ... is poor; there is serious political and economic discrimination against the Arab minority; there is much less freedom of religion than in other democracies; and the socioeconomic inequality indicator is among the highest.” There are is no demand for Israel to normalize with the region even though Israeli officials readily admit Israel is not a 'normal state'.

 The wider international community continues to ignore the fact that due to restrictive conditions in many host countries in the Middle East more than half of all the Palestinian people still cannot participate in democratic elections by direct ballot for the Palestine National Council (PNC), the Palestinian parliament in exile, which is mandated to set PLO programs and policies. It is the PLO and not the Palestinian Authority that represents the entire Palestinian people and has the mandate to negotiate a future peace agreement with Israel.

The al-Awda ('Return') movement is an independent, non-governmental and popular movement. This article addresses key developments in the movement since the 1993 Oslo agreement through the establishment of the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, one of the primary structures of the al-Awda movement, coalition partners, its work and future expectations of such a movement.

The Oslo agreement and reaction of refugees

Even before the ink dried on the 1993 Oslo agreement, which postponed substantive issues like Jerusalem, the state and its borders, and refugees for so-called final status talks, Palestinian refugees were cognizant of the challenges to their future, including dangers posed for the right to return, repossess homes and property and receive compensation for loss and damages. Several initiatives subsequently emerged to form committees to defend the rights of Palestinian refugees.

 "Towards a Just Solution to the Palestinian Refugee Problem"

Damascus, 6-7 September 2004

The Palestinian-Israeli negotiations inaugurated by the Oslo Accords over a decade ago have amply demonstrated the magnitude of the Palestinian refugee issue and its centrality to the Palestinian national question and Arab-Israeli conflict.
Based on this situation, A'idoun, a Palestinian community-based advocacy group for refugee rights, particularly the right of return, took the initiative to organize an international symposium in Damascus, in cooperation with Damascus University, entitled "Towards a Just Solution to the Palestinian Refugee Problem", over a two-day period, 6-7 September 2004. The initiative was based on the conviction that a just solution for Palestinian refugees would pave the way for a lasting peace in the region. Such a solution must be based on the principles of international law, human rights, freedom of choice for refugees and international resolutions, especially UNGA Resolution 194, which calls for three integrated rights (return, restitution and compensation).

During the past few years, the Association for Defending the Rights of the Internally Displaced Persons in Israel (ADRID), along with local committees and other associations have organized a series of visits to depopulated Palestinian villages. These visits aim to raise awareness about the plight of the internally displaced, but they also signify the importance of memory for Palestinians who were expelled from their lands and country by force.

Memory provides a link between the individual and the collective experience. Return visits also reveal the importance of identity and belonging to a particularly geographical place. This identity continues to have an impact on displaced persons today. Visiting depopulated villages is one method of resistance and protest against involuntary displacement and against Zionist policies that are based on the denial of the Nakba. It is a clear pronouncement of participation in the struggle for return.

 -7 November 2004, Larnaca, Cyprus

The Civitas Project convened a workshop with members from Palestinian refugee and exile communities from all over the world. Those invited were either delegated by their communities, or elected heads of their communities, or grass-roots community activists who had spent many years serving them in various roles. All who attended were interested to facilitate a process whereby the voices of their people, and their rights and needs, are brought to the attention of all the different bodies that serve them: their national representative the PLO, the host countries where they currently reside, the humanitarian agencies that serve them, the refugee communities worldwide and those inside Palestine.

The following photo essay is the result of a Zochrot tour to Haifa in November 2004 as part of Zochrot's mission to explain the real history of Israel and the Nakba to Israeli Jews. The tour took visitors into old Haifa much of it remaining as it was after the Nakba in 1948. Israeli Jews have taken over most buildings as the owners are declared absentees. Some buildings are being prepared for redevelopment as luxury apartments with views of the harbor below and Akka (Acre) across the bay. Haifa was once a majority Arab city, a thriving Palestinian Arab center of commerce.

Haifa, Israel today is a city of 275,000 with grand vistas and boulevards, a renowned university, magnificent architecture from the 1800s and art deco from the early 20th century, the main shrine of the Baha'i faith, a bustling port, restaurants, bars, cafes, a beach and a thriving culture of writers, cinemas and live theatres. Haifa's port was first developed in 1908 by the Ottoman Turks and expanded by the British in 1929. It is now considered Israel's main port. Haifa is less than 100 km north of Tel Aviv, 40 km from the Lebanese border and across the bay from the ancient city of Akka.

But there is another Haifa, the Haifa built on an Arab Palestinian city. On 21 April 1948, 5,000 soldiers organized by Haganah (Jewish paramilitaries) and IZL troops others attacked the city which was defended by only about 500 Palestinian volunteers and the Arab Liberation Army. Some 72,000 Palestinians fled north from the city, mainly to Lebanon, and 41,500 from surrounding areas.

 Reflections from a Fact-Finding Visit to Cyprus

Refugees and displaced persons themselves should be included in the process of crafting durable solutions. Civil society can play an important role in ensuring that an agreement is both acceptable to the larger public and durable over the long-term. While it may be politically expedient to compromise certain principles to reach a peace agreement, an agreement that is not consistent with international law may not be sustainable. 

The United Nations has been dealing with the Cyprus problem for the past thirty years since it called for the withdrawal of the Turkish occupation forces and the return of refugees to their homes. Annan’s plan came to an end in April 2004, however, and the de facto separation of the island into two separate entities was accepted.

 What is “Jewish nationality” and what does it mean for Palestinian refugees, IDPs and Palestinians still remaining in their homes and lands?

“Jewish nationality” is a concept arising from Zionist ideology that has evolved in Israeli law pertaining to civil status, but which also lies at the base of official policy and practice. “Jewish nationality” status is a key to understanding the State of Israel’s ideology and machinery for acquiring the properties and other assets of the indigenous Palestinian people. Thus, religious affiliation, as “Jewish nationality” status is the criterion for determining who benefits from the economic and cultural assets of Palestine. Consequently, it also determines who loses in the material, social, cultural and political sense. It is a far more fundamental criterion for distributing rights and privileges than military service, mere Israeli citizenship, or even temporal connection with the country. The ideological criterion of “Jewish nationality,” therefore, is the lynch pin of the Zionist colonization project.

On 30 November 2004 Ahmad Nafaa, a 24-year-old Palestinian refugee who was born in Ein al-Hilwe refugee camp in Lebanon, was deported from Canada to the United States. US Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) immediately locked him up in the Clinton Country Jail in Northern New York. Nafaa was detained on 23 November at the Laval detention center in Canada. The night before his deportation, Nafaa removed a map of Palestine from his necklace and gave it to a friend for fear of being harassed in the US by immigration officials or in the US jail. He is being transferred to the INS detention center near Buffalo, NY.

On July 9, 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of the Wall regime Israel is constructing inside the West Bank. What did the ICJ Advisory Opinion say about the refugees? How can the ICJ Opinion be used in the case of the refugees?

The question put to the Court by the General Assembly focused specifically on the legality of the Wall being built inside occupied territory under international law.

Under the Geneva Conventions of 1949, the Occupying Power is supposed to provide for the health, education, security and nutrition of the residents of an occupied area. Who does it in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip where more than 47 percent of the population lives below the poverty line?

It isn’t the occupying power—Israel. Most of it is done by the UN, voluntary agencies and the Palestinian Authority. And now some quarters are calling for cuts in donations to the UN, especially to UNRWA.

 List of Palestinian victims of Israeli violence between 16 May and 30 November 2004.

Between 29 September 2000 and 31 December 2004, 3,540 Palestinians, including 23 inside Israel, have been killed by Israeli security forces (PRCS). During the same period 639 Israeli civilians and 294 members of the Israeli security forces were killed. (B'tselem)

 Survey of Palestinian Refugees and Internally Displaced Palestinians 2003

The Survey provides basic historic and current information on Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons. The Survey includes 6 chapters covering the historical circumstances of Palestinian displacement, population, legal status, socio-economic
profile, international protection and assistance, and durable solutions. Available in English and Arabic. 200 pages. ISSN 1728-1679.
For advance orders contact, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 Final Statement Issued by the Fifth Coordination Meeting for the Palestinian Coalition for the Right to Return

The Palestinian Coalition for the Right to Return convened its fifth coordination meeting in Ghent – Belgium during the period from 6 – 10 October, 2004. This meeting was convened amidst extremely critical situation at all levels regarding the Palestinian problem in general and the refugee problem in particular. In Palestine, the Zionist’s are escalating their repression against the Palestinian people especially in camps such as; Jabalia, Rafah, Jenin, Balata, Ayda, and Tulkarem, in addition to other camps in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.