“Return is Legal, Possible, and the Only Way to a Just Peace in the Middle East”
Some 500 Palestinian refugees met on two consecutive days with Palestinian researcher Dr. Salman Abu Sitta in order to explore the relevance of his research on the Palestinian right of return for a broad popular movement in defense of Palestinian refugee rights. The two meetings conducted under the headline, “The Return of Palestinian Refugees is Legal, Possible, and the Only Way to a Just Peace in the Middle East”, were organized by the BADIL Friends Forum and the Committee for the Defense of Palestinian Refugee Rights/Yafa Cultural Center, in cooperation with the Popular Services Committees of the PLO Department of Refugee Affairs in Deheishe refugee camp/Bethlehem (24-8-99) and Balata refugee camp/Nablus (25-8-99).
Focal points raised by Dr. Salman Abu Sitta and discussed by the audience were:
1. The importance of knowledge of the facts pertaining to the Palestinian refugee question, such as: a) precise understanding of UN Resolution 194 as pertaining both to the right of return and the right to compensation; b) awareness of the broad body of international law supporting refugees’ right of return and property rights while rejecting measures of ethnic cleansing; c) knowledge of the demographic map of Israel which shows that 78 percent of the Jews in Israel live on 15 percent of the territory, while the majority of Palestinian refugee land is, until today, basically empty and controled by some 154,000 rural Jews, mainly Kibbutzim and Moshavim. Dr. Abu Sitta drew attention to the fact that the number of Palestinian refugees currently exiled in Lebanon and Gaza is equal to the number of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia absorbed by Israel since 1989, a fact which totally delegitimizes the Israeli argument that refugee return was impossible due to lack of physical space.
2. The legitimacy of the refugees struggle for the right of return, irrespective of the outcome of the political negotiations between Israel and the PLO, a legitimacy which will remain as long as Palestinian refugees are denied the right of return and access to their properties.
3. The fact that Palestinian refugees must constitute the backbone and source of energy of any struggle for refugee rights that aims to obtain credibility and success. The formation of a strong refugee lobby will enable Palestinian refugees to take advantage of political and legal avenues opening up for pressure groups in the frame of international human rights law in the 21st century.
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