Nakba Memorial 2001: Open Letter to EU and Foreign Governments from Palestinian Refugee Organizations and National Institutions

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Nakba Memorial 2001:

Open Letters to UN Secretary General Kofi Anan, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, foreign governments and the European Union

In the framework of the popular rallies and marches held in Palestine and in exile on the occasion of the 53rd anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, refugee organizations and national institutions are delivering open letters to representatives of the United Nations and foreign governments in order to voice their demand for immediate international protection of the Palestinian people and support for the refugees' right of return to their homes and properties in accordance with UN Resolution 194. Attached is a sample of these open letters addressed to the European Union and foreign governments.

(Additional letters and statements issued in as part of the 2001 Nakba memorial will be published on the website.)

International Protection and Implementation of the Right of Return of Palestinian Refugees - Conditions for a Just and Durable Peace in the Middle East

Your Excellencies,

Representatives of foreign governments and the Council of the European Union,

53 years after the massive eviction of the Palestinian people by the Zionist forces, the Palestinian refugee question remains unresolved. As in the past, during the recent political negotiations at Camp David and Taba, the Israeli government objected to the return of Palestinian refugees, in order to maintain exclusive Jewish control of refugee lands and properties by means of racist laws and policies. For 53 years now, the United Nations has affirmed in numerous UN resolutions, foremost UN Resolution 194 (11 December 1948), the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties and to receive adequate compensation. At the same time, the United Nations and its member states have refrained from taking action against Israel's consistent breaches of its obligation - under UN resolutions (UNGAR 181 of 1947 and UNGAR 194), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, international law and human rights conventions - to respect the individual and collective rights of the Palestinian people and to enact appropriate remedies, return, restitution and compensation, for its refugees.

Since the beginning of the al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000, Palestinians, among them refugees and their camps, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been subjected to indiscriminate and targeted attacks by Israeli military forces. More than 450 people, approximately half of them refugees, have been killed and tens of thousands injured in the Palestinian towns, villages and camps of Hebron, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarem, Qalqilya, and Jericho; in the Gaza Strip alone some 250 refugee shelters were reported damaged by March 31. The brutal character of recent Israeli attacks on the camps of Khan Younis and Brazil (Rafah) follow the long line of attacks lead by Ariel Sharon against refugees beginning in the Gaza Strip in 1953 and in the early 1970s, and against refugees in Lebanon (Sabra and Shatila, 1982). Over the course of many decades, the UN General Assembly and Security Council have considered measures to provide for the physical protection of Palestinian refugees. However, as in the past, such UN initiatives in 2000 and 2001 were either voted against or vetoed by the United States, and the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions have failed to respond.

53 years of failure by the United Nations and its member states to live up to its responsibility have resulted in a situation where over five million Palestinian refugees, i.e. some 70% of the Palestinian people, have remained in forceful exile. Some 250,000 live in their homeland as internally displaced persons, deprived of access to their homes and properties by Israel. Lacking social and political security, Palestinian refugees continue to face displacement - and they continue to demand their right to return home, regain access to their properties, and receive adequate compensation for material losses and damages, as well as for the psychological suffering inflicted upon them.

Honored representatives of foreign governments and the EU,

On the occasion of the 53rd anniversary of our forceful displacement in 1948, an event which lives on in the Palestinian memory as "al-Nakba" (catastrophe), we - Palestinian refugee organizations and national institutions - urge you to take the following steps in order to bring justice and stability to our region:

1. Reaffirm the commitment of your governments - in the framework of the United Nations and the European Union - to a durable solution of the Palestinian refugee question based on international law and UN resolutions, especially UN Resolution 194, and support the formation of UN mechanisms which will safeguard a rights-based approach to the Palestinian refugee question in future final status negotiations between Israel and the PLO.

2. Undertake, on the level of your governments and in the framework of the United Nations, an immediate and special effort at solving the structural crisis of UNRWA's budget, in order to stop the deterioration of education, health, and welfare services for Palestinian refugees until a just and durable political settlement is reached in accordance with UN Resolution 194.

3. Initiate, in your countries and in the framework of the United Nations, a revision of the residency and asylum policies applicable to Palestinian refugees in accordance with the standards set by the 1951 Refugee Convention, UNHCR and international agreements on the rights of stateless persons, in order to provide Palestinian refugees with legal and social protection until the achievement of a just and durable solution.

4. Respond immediately to the recommendations submitted by the Commission of Inquiry of the UN Human Rights Commission in March 2001, and support the establishment by the United Nations of an adequate and effective international presence in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories to monitor and regularly report on Israeli compliance with human rights and humanitarian law as a first step towards ensuring the full protection of the Palestinian people, including its refugees, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

5. Respond to the current situation of emergency in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories by convening, as soon as possible, the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Conventions in order to establish an international mechanism for the protection of Palestinian civilians, including refugees, under occupation, and to decide measures to ensure Israel's compliance with its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Conventions.

53 years after al-Nakba,

We renew our call, from Palestine and the Palestinian exile, for freedom, self-determination and return!

We call upon the international community to break 53 years of silence!