Arab Civil Forum Meets Prior to Arab Summit, Open Letter to the Arab Summit Submitted by the Global Palestinian Right-of-Return Coalition

Arab Civil Forum, Beirut (14 – 26 March 2002)

For the first time in history, Arab civil society organizations convened to discuss their joint agenda prior to the summit of Arab states to be opened in Beirut on 27 March. The Arab Civil Forum, organized by the Arab NGO Network for Development and the Arab Institute for Human Rights convened in Beirut’s Shatila refugee camp on 24 March, in order to discuss issues related to the future of the region from the perspective of individuals and organizations concerned with human rights, human development and the strengthening of democracy, particularly in the light of the difficult situation faced by Arab societies due to external and internal constraints on freedom. The Arab Civil Forum, which will close its session today, 26 March, focused its discussion on means to support the Palestinian intifada and Palestinian national independence based on international law and UN resolutions 194, 242, 338, and 1397; ways to strengthen global support for the Iraqi people in its demand for an end of to the international embargo and its quest for democracy; and, mechanisms for fighting oppression, poverty, and corruption in the region, including respect for minority rights, the release of all prisoners of conscience, and the end of impunity for all those responsible for human rights violations, especially war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Arab Civil Forum was opened in the presence of the families of the victims of the 1982 massacres of Sabra and Shatila, and expressed its support of the law suit lodged against current Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and others in Belgium. The Forum resulted in the formation of committees in 11 Arab countries, which will follow-up human rights advocacy, monitor the actions of Arab governments, and lobby for the lifting of martial law and the prosecution of war crimes by Arabs and Israelis alike.

(For further information on the Arab Civil Forum/Beirut, contact: 00961-3-856507; 00961-3-233053.)

OPEN LETTER TO THE ARAB SUMMIT
Submitted by the Global Palestine Right-of-Return Coalition, 26-3-2002

To their Highnesses and Excellencies,
The Arab Kings, Presidents, and Emirs,

The Arab summit is being held in Beirut in circumstances that are exceedingly delicate and dangerous for the central Arab cause, the Palestinian cause. It has become clear, as a result of preliminary discussions at the Arab and international levels, that Crown Prince Abdullah’s initiative is being considered the focal point of the Beirut summit. We would have preferred that the focus of the summit might be the support of the brave Palestinian uprising (intifada) by financial, material, political, and diplomatic means. Such support would have provided it with the means to eliminate the occupation from the entire Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 and to establish a sovereign Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. Such support would have given rise to a new geopolitical reality to compel Israel and the United States to recognize the Palestinian people’s national rights of return and self-determination, rather than submerge the Palestinian uprising in a new round of futile negotiations.

We the undersigned civil associations and committees concerned with the right of return, located in Palestine, the Arab host countries, and various countries of the diaspora, take the opportunity of the convening of the Arab summit to reiterate a set of principles related to the right of return. These principles should hold no matter how the initiative of Prince Abdullah treats the Palestinian refugee issue, once the summit has adopted the initiative and transformed it into an Arab initiative.

The following are the most important of these principles:

* Adherence to the unity of the refugee issue, in accordance with the principle of the unity of the land and people, and an absolute refusal to allow the refugee issue to be fragmented under any pretext whatsoever.
* The right of our people to return to their homes and their property is a sacred historical right based on the principles of justice, in addition to its being based on the principles of international law and the resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly, notably UNGA resolution 194. This resolution affirms the right of the refugees to return to the homes from which they were expelled in 1948, and to compensation for the injustice they have suffered since the Palestinian catastrophe (nakba) of 1948. Return and compensation are constant and complementary rights in accordance with international law.
* Any discussion of compensation as an alternative to return constitutes an intentional misrepresentation of UNGA resolution 194, and aims to promote attempts to resettle, absorb, and disperse Palestinian refugees. Furthermore, such a misrepresentation seeks to dissolve the refugee issue and to close the door on return once and for all. The same purpose is served by discussions of a return to a “national homeland,” in other words, to the projected Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
* The right of return is not merely based on UNGA resolution 194; it is also based on our national principles and our historic right to Palestine. It is therefore an inalienable right that cannot be bargained away by any party. Thus, we affirm our opposition to all recent moves that have aimed at dissolution of this right by restricting it to a specific geographical region, or by subjecting it to the security needs and demographic interests of the Zionist colonial project in its current and future phases.
* Affirmation of the Arab dimension of the right of return and the necessity of providing a favorable Arab environment for it, at both the official and popular levels, especially in the countries hosting the refugees. In this context, we applaud the Syrian and Lebanese positions and all Arab positions that reject resettlement and adhere to UNGA resolution 194. We also call on the Lebanese authorities to grant Palestinian refugees their civil rights, which would alleviate their social and psychological suffering. A distinction must be made between the granting of civil rights and resettlement, since any increase in the suffering of the refugees actually facilitates schemes for resettlement and forced emigration, which are directly opposed to the right of return.
* Pressure must be brought to bear on the international community to provide international protection for the Palestinian people from the crimes committed by the Israeli occupation. Moreover, temporary international protection as guaranteed by the international refugee system must be provided for Palestinian refugees and their camps, as is the case with other refugee communities in the world. The mandate of UNRWA does not include political and legal protection for Palestinian refugees, as guaranteed by the international refugee system. Such protection must be provided until Palestinian refugees are able to return to their homes, villages, and property.

Your Highnesses and Excellencies,

The meaning of return in the Palestinian consciousness is the very opposite of the catastrophe (nakba), refuge, and exile. The dream of return continues to dominate the imagination of Palestinians generation after generation; it is embodied in their songs, proverbs, poems, and folktales. After your venerable summit is over and you return to your homes and nations, the Palestinian refugees will remain in their miserable camps, while the ruins of their towns and villages languish in obscurity, marked by prickly pears and ruined stone arches, after over half a century of occupation. When will the resolutions of your summits constitute a real bridge for the return to Palestine? Until that time, the refugees will continue to wait for the day, and will not abandon their dreams, their stones, and their brave resistance to the Zionist threat, in defense of all of us at once.

Glory to the intifada.

We shall return.

Signatories:

Aidun Group-Lebanon; Aidun Group-Syria; Al-Awda Association (Syria); Association for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced in Israel/1948 Palestine; BADIL Resource Center (Palestine); Block “Determined to Return” – Ain al Hilweh Camp (Lebanon); Center for Social Progress “Generations” (Lebanon); Children’s and Youth Club-Shatila Camp (Lebanon); Committee for the Defense of the Right of Return (Syria); Committee for the Defense of Palestinian Refugee Rights (Palestine); Committee of National Activities-Ain al Hilweh camp (Lebanon); 194 Group (Syria, Lebanon); High Committee for the Defense of the Right of Return (“Sana’oud”) in the Nablus District (Palestine); High Committee for the Defense of the Right of Return and all local branches in Jordan (Jordan); High Coordinating Committee for the Disabled in the Palestinian Refugee Camps-West Bank (Palestine); Land Committees for the Defense of the Right of Return and Support of the Intifada (Syria); Palestine Right-of-Return Coalition-Europe; Palestine Right of Return Coalition-North America; Palestinian NGO Forum (Lebanon); Palestinian NGO Network/PNGO (Palestine); Palestinian Return Forum (Syria); Popular Committees in the Palestinian Refugee Camps-West Bank (Palestine); Popular Committees in the Palestinian Refugee Camps-Gaza Strip (Palestine); Society for Social Development-Ain al Hilweh camp (Lebanon); Union of Sports and Culture-al Bidawi, Nahr al-Bared, Burj al-Shemali, Ba’lbek camps (Lebanon); Union of Women Centers in the Palestinian Refugee Camps-West Bank (Palestine); Union of Youth Activity Centers-Palestine Refugee Camps (Palestine); Yafa Cultural Center (Palestine).