No Peace Without the Right of Return! Report: National Conference for the Right of Return of Palestinian Refugees (Rashad al-Shawwa Center/Gaza, 8-1-2001)

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The conference initiated by the Popular Service Committees in Palestinian refugee camps was attended by over one-hundred refugee community activists, representatives of the national and Islamic forces in the 1967 occupied territories and the Palestinian community in 1948 Palestine/Israel, representatives of the PLO, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and the Palestinian Authority. Numerous organizations from the West Bank and the Palestinian exile invited to join were unable to attend due to the tight restrictions on movement imposed by the Israeli occupation. They participated via letters and statements of support, among them the following: Follow-up Committee/Refugee Conference and Union of the Palestinian Community-Sweden; Palestinian institutions and Aidun-Syria; Committee of the Palestinian Community in the Northern Emirates; Palestinian Community-Abu Dhabi; PLC-Refugee Committee; Palestinian unions and popular institutions-Lebanon, Committee for the Support of the Al-Aqsa Intifada-Baq'a Camp/Jordan; Representatives of refugee community organizations in Northern Jordan; High Council of the Right-of-Return Committee-Jordan (Right-of-Return committees of the camps of al-Hussein, al-Nazha, al-Mahatta, al-Hashemi al-Shemali, al-Nasr, Jabal al-Nasr, al-Wahdat, Amman-South al-Baqa, Souf, Ghaza, al-Jalil, Hisn, Ma'daba, Talbiya, Hittin, Al-Awda, al-Sakhna, al-Rseife); Society for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced-1948 Palestine; Palestinian Community-Yemen; Right-of-Return Committee (Dr. Salman Abu Sitta); Palestinian Students' Union-Yemen; Palestine Return Center-Greece; BADIL Resource Center-Bethlehem. 

PLO Chairman and PA President Yasser Arafat addressed the conference and  emphasized that the right of return of the Palestinian refugees is sacred. He promised the public to continue the struggle for the liberation of all occupied Palestinian lands and the implementation of the national rights of the Palestinian people, among them the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties. Similar statements, among them calls for the rejection of the recent proposals issued by US President Clinton, were presented by other speakers, among them Muhammad Zuhdi Nashashibi/PLO, Dr. Haidar Abdelshafi, Jamil Al-Majdalwai/PLFP, Fathi al-Wahidi/PNC, Muhammad Barake (Palestinian member of Knesset), and Abdallah al-A'rabid/Popular Service Committees on behalf of refugee community organizations.

The Gaza Right-of-Return Conference issued the following final statement:

"We, the participants at this Conference announce to the world the following:

1. The Palestinian refugee question is the core of the Israeli-Arab/Palestinian conflict. It precedes all other issues deriving from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands in 1967.

2. The Right of Return and Compensation is sacred and enshrined in international law and political practice, especially in UN Resolution 194. It is an individual and a collective right of the Palestinians; it is non-negotiable, and cannot be postponed or subsumed under other issues.

3. Any final agreement with Israel that does not guarantee the implementation of the refugees' right of return to their homes and properties from which they were evicted in the Nakba of 1948 as well as their compensation for suffering and damages incurred, will not be considered legitimate or binding, and it is the right of the Palestinian people to resist its implementation."

The Conference was accompanied by Right-of-Return Marches organized yesterday and today by the Emergency Committees of Palestinian national and Islamic forces in Ramallah and Bethlehem, as well as other Palestinian towns of the occupied West Bank.