In March 2001, the British Joint Parliamentary Commission of Enquiry on Palestinian Refugees that traveled to the region in September 2000 issued its report entitled "Right of Return." The 200 page report is based on hearings conducted by the Commission in refugee communities in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria concerning Palestinian preferences with regard to durable solutions based on internationally recognized rights (i.e., right of return, self-determination, and the principle of free choice).
The report, dedicated to the children at Miya Miya refugee camp in Sidon and the dreams they shared as well as to the lost dreams of the children of Tal al-Za'tar camp, 1976, and of Sabra and Shatila camps, 1982, includes a preface by Professor Richard Falk, historical background, main findings of the refugees' testimony, general remarks and analysis, recommendations by the Commission of Enquiry, and information on the establishment of the Commission of Enquiry as well as annexes containing evidence in detail and other supporting documents.
In the preface, American professor Richard Falk writes, "The clarity of international law and morality, as pertaining to Palestinian refugees, is beyond any serious question. It needs to be appreciated that the obstacles to implementation are exclusively political - the resistance of Israel, and the unwillingness of the international community, especially the Western liberal democracies, to exert significant pressure in support of these Palestinian refugee rights." Given the intensity and the unity of refugees insistence on implementation of the right of return, the preface warns that it would be "a severe mistake of history, with potentially serious repercussions ... [to] negotiate a solution that ignores the underlying claims of the wide community of Palestinian refugees." "How to overcome [the depth of Israeli resistance]," notes Falk, "is a challenge that should haunt the political imagination of all those genuinely committed to finding a just and sustainable reconciliation between Israel and Palestine."
The bulk of the report includes the collection of testimonies from refugees in the Gaza Strip, West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. These testimonies are summarized under several main themes which surfaced during the hearings conducted by the Commission. The themes include the refugee issue as the core of the conflict between Arabs/Palestinians and Israel, the fact that refugees felt excluded from the Oslo process, the issue of representativeness, the profound identification and attachment of Palestinian refugees to the land and their self-identification with it as a people, the British role in creating the refugee problem and Israeli and international responsibility, and the importance of UNRWA as the basic defender of the minimal rights of refugees and the threat of UNRWA being undermined.
The main theme that the Commission of Enquiry discovered, however, was the remarkable cohesion and consistency among refugees. "Certain positions that could be seen to divide the refugees, since they involved a possible enhancement of their personal interests over other groups of refugees," notes the report, "were confronted outright by the refugees themselves." Refugees in all areas emphasized that the right of return must apply to all refugees, regardless of their physical, financial position or location. "The main principle is that all Palestinians want this resolution to be implemented," stated Khalid al-Azza, "that is the resolution of the right of refugees to return and to compensation for the 52 years passed since they left their land, houses, and factories."
The report, prepared by the Labor Middle East Council, Conservative Middle East Council, and the Liberal Democrat Middle East Council will be presented to Israel, the PLO, European governments and the European Union to remind the international community of its responsibility to establish a mechanism appropriate for the implementation of refugee choice. Central findings of the report will be presented by Neil Gerrard MP, member of the British Commission of Enquiry at the House of Commons on 2 July 2001.
For further information about orders of the Report "The Right of Return" and the 2 July talk at the British House of Commons please contact: