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British Commission of Inquiry on Palestinian Refugee Choice Meets with Representatives of Refugee Organizations

The first in a series of meetings between a British Parliamentary Mission of Inquiry on Palestinian refugee choice was held yesterday, 1 September, in the hall of the Youth Activity Center in Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem. For more than three hours some 45 Palestinian community activists, representatives of refugee organizations and Palestinian political parties, members of Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and the Palestinian National Council (PNC), as well as delegates of the National Committee for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced in Israel gave testimony of their preferred option for a solution of the Palestinian refugee issue and answered the questions raised by the British Commission. Similar refugee hearings are scheduled to be held in Gaza (2-9), Balata Camp/Nablus (3-9), as well as in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. 

The Commission of Inquiry is an initiative of the Joint British Parliamentarian Middle East Council and based on the recognition of Britain's historical responsibility for the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem. Concerned about the sidelining of the role of refugees and their internationally recognized rights (the right of return enshrined in UN Resolution 194, the right to self-determination and the principle of free choice) in the current peace efforts, the Commission is mandated to gather evidence of Palestinian refugee preference with regard to the appropriate durable solution of the world's oldest and largest refugee problem. Following its ten-day-tour through the Middle East, the Commission will prepare a report which will be presented to Israel, the PLO, European governments and the European Union, and remind the international community of its responsibility to set up the mechanism appropriate for the implementation of refugee choice. 

The message conveyed by West Bank Palestinian refugees in the Aida Camp hearing was clear: 

  • Palestinian refugees opt for return to their original homes and lands located in what is now Israel, restitution of their properties, and compensation for material losses and damages, as well as for the suffering caused by 52 years of exile; 
  • Palestinian refugees clarified that the option of return has been their preferred option for over 50 years and remains their preferred option today, irrespective of all Israeli and international efforts to undermine their choice. The demand for the right of return unites old and young generations who have united and sacrificed their lives and wellbeing in the struggle for recognition and implementation of this right; 
  • Palestinian refugees demand Israeli recognition of the responsibility of the Israeli state for the creation of the refugee problem, as well as recognition by Israel and the international community of their right to implement their preferred solution in the framework of a just and durable Palestinian/Arab-Israeli peace agreement; 
  • Palestinian refugees emphasized their wish to return to their former homes, despite the fact that this will entail life under Israeli sovereignty and the need to share part of their original property with Israeli neighbors. 
  • Palestinian refugees clarified that implementation of return was possible, because new Jewish settlements have been built on some 20% of their original villages only, while the rest is destroyed and empty. The fact that Israel has refused to permit the return of the some 250,000 internally displaced Palestinians proves that Israeli security-, space-, and demographic arguments are no more than a pretext used to avoid a responsible and constructive approach to the solution of the refugee problem. 
  • Palestinian refugees clarified that while they will continue to consider the PLO their sole legitimate representative as long as its negotiators uphold their right of return as a non-negotiable principle, they expect the international community to pressure Israel to recognize UN Resolution 194 and to provide international mechanisms and experience which will allow proper implementation of their return. 

Note: The British Commission is Available for Press Interviews. Pleased contact MP Ernie Ross (Head of Commission), tel. 0044-410-520254. 

List of Participants: Hearing with the British Commission of Enquiry, Aida Camp 
 1. Jamal Shati Al-Hindi, PLC Refugee Committee, Union of Youth Activity Centers; 
 2. Suliman Fahmawi, National Committee/Internally Displaced 
 3. Khaled Mansour, Refugee Department, Palestinian People's Party 
 4. Bassam Na’im, Youth Activity Center, Al-Ein Camp 
 5. Ahmad Asad, Youth Activity Center, Al-Far’ah Camp 
 6. Bassel Mansour, Youth Activity Center, Al-Far’a Camp 
 7. Adnan Shehada, Youth Activity Center Center, Al-Aroub Camp 
 8. Mousa Abu Hashash, Popular Committee for the Right of Return, Al-Fawwar Camp; 
 9. Mohamed Hilqawi, Popular Committee for the Right of Return, Al-Fawwar Camp; 
 10. Ismail Abu Hashash, Popular Committee for the Right of Return, Al-Fawwar Camp; 
 11. Imad Shawish, Youth Activity Center, Al-Far’ah Camp; 
 12. Tayseer Nassrallah, Yafa Cultural Center, Balata Camp; 
 13. Salim Katouni, Popular Service Committee, Al-Ein Camp; 
 14. Shaher Badawi, Committee for the Defense of Palestinian Refugee Rights, Balata Camp; 
 15. Samir Ramadan, Lawyer 
 16. Ahmad Muhaisan, Twinship Committee Palestinian Refugee Camps, Deheishe Camp; 
 17. Mohammad Al-Laham, Popular Service Committee, Deheishe Camp 
 18. Usama Al-'Ayasa, journalist, Al-Haya Al-Jadida; 
 19. Jalal Hmaid, journalist, Al-Rou’ah TV; 
 20. Khalil Al-Azza, Popular Service Committee, Al-Azza Camp 
 21. Ahmad Al-Adarba, Committee for the Rehabilitation of the Handicapped, Al-Jalazoun Camp; 
 22. Khaled Al-Azza, Palestinian Popular Struggle Front 
 23. Issa Al-Azza, Palestinian People's Party; 
 24. Abdalfattah Abu Srour, Youth Activity Center, Aida Camp 
 25. Amal Jado, Popular Committee, Aida Camp 
 26. Issa Qaraq’a, Palestinian Prisoners Club; 
 27. Imad Aiad, Popular Service Committee 
 28. Bassam Abu Akar, Youth Activity Center, Aida Camp 
 29. Atallah Salem, BADIL Resource Center 
 30. Najah Baddah, Women's Social Center, Deheishe Camp 
 31. Heijar Hamdan, Women Social Center, Deheishe Camp 
 32. Adnan Ajarmeh, Union of Youth Activities Centers 
 33. Samir Odeh, Committee for the Rehabilitation of the Handicapped, Aida Camp 
 34. Amneh Ghanayem, Women's Social Center, Shu’fat Camp 
 35. Ingrid Jaradat Gassner, BADIL Resource Center 
 36. Mohamed Jaradat, BADIL Resource Center 
 37. Buthaina Darwish, BADIL Resource Center 
 38. Salem Abu Hawash, Board, BADIL Resource Center 
 39. Ibrahim Abu Srour, BADIL Resource Center 
 40. Katrien Van Eckhout, BADIL Resource Center