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Right of return is still center stage

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  • ummyakoub
    Right of return is still center stage By Salman Abu Sitta The Daily Star 30 October 2003 http://dailystar.com.lb/opinion/30_10_03_c.asp It was a dazzling view.
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      Right of return is still center stage

      By Salman Abu Sitta

      The Daily Star
      30 October 2003


      It was a dazzling view. Young men wearing university T-shirts. A
      grand old man in his Arab dress. A woman activist who was buried as
      a child for three days in the ruins of Tel Zaatar. A veteran fighter
      from 1948 leaning on his stick. Legislators, writers, camp leaders
      from Gaza, West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Businessmen from
      the Gulf and Europe.

      They were about 100, except those who were turned back at the
      border. The invitations reflected the distribution of the
      Palestinian population in the world. They could have been 1,000,
      10,000 or the whole 5,500,000 refugees. They were all eager to come.
      It was a sight which would please human rights advocates and
      distress political cynics.

      What do they want? They wanted to say again and again what they said
      for the last 55 years: "We want to return home," a basic and simple
      demand. They were the inhabitants of 530 primary Palestinian towns
      and villages, in addition to 662 secondary villages, who were
      expelled from their homes in the largest well-planned and
      meticulously executed ethnic cleansing operation in the 20th
      century. Their land makes up 93 percent of Israel's area. The Jewish
      immigrants to Palestine could not control more than 7 percent of
      Israel's area (5 percent of Palestine) under the protection and
      collusion of the British Mandate government.

      To the Palestinian refugees who met in London on Oct. 17 and 18,
      there is ample proof that the ethnic cleansing they suffered during
      Al-Nakba of 1948 is still alive and well. Sharon and his likes were
      the perpetrators of yesterday and are still today in Gaza and the
      West Bank.

      This was one of the most dominant themes of the London conference;
      that the ethnic cleansing of 1948, which made two-thirds of the
      Palestinian people refugees, is still continuing to make refugees of
      the last third as well. The methods may be slightly different but
      the aim is the same.

      The conferees did not need much convincing to adopt the manifesto of
      the Right of Return which reads in part: "The right of the
      Palestinian refugees and exiles to return to their homes is a
      fundamental and inalienable human right, which does not diminish
      with the passage of time or any political agreement. The Right of
      Return is also derived from the sanctity of private ownership and is
      not annulled by occupation or change of sovereignty. The Right of
      Return is basically an individual right and does not lend itself to
      delegation or concessions in any agreement or accord. It is also a
      collective right." In fact the Right of Return is enshrined in every
      international law instrument. In the Ottawa meeting of June 2003 and
      the Geneva Seminar of October 2003, which scores of researchers and
      legal experts attended, the Right of Return for the Palestinian
      refugees was overwhelmingly recognized, in spite of feeble attempts
      by Israelis to discredit it. The question was about its
      implementation, not its validity.

      The conferees were well-aware of the many attempts (more than four
      dozen in the last 55 years) to perpetuate and legalize their ethnic
      cleansing. They saw the so-called Taba pseudo-agreement, Clinton
      proposals and now Abed Rabbo-Beilin non-paper as a nicely wrapped
      package of permanent dispersion and exile. In all these proposals,
      the offered options are merely different addresses of exile. As one
      remarked, "changing the address of the camp does not make the
      refugee a returnee, even if the new address is in Nablus, not
      Beirut." This interpretation is quite correct legally, as the
      Explanatory Memorandum of UN resolution 194 stipulates that the
      return is to the homes they were expelled from, not just to their

      The audience listened attentively to a presentation of facts and
      figures they knew from experience: 97 percent of the registered
      refugees live within 100 kilometers of Palestine and half within 40
      kilometers; 2 percent of Israeli Jews occupy the refugees' land;
      this land is now sold to apartment building contractors; the kibbutz
      is dead; the Palestinians will be a majority at different times and
      places, no matter what Israel does, short of total extermination of
      Palestinians in historic Palestine. That still would leave 55
      percent of the Palestinians outside Palestine still fighting for
      their rights. Two features mark the London conference, unlike most
      other Palestinian meetings, which led to its unqualified success.

      First, all participants have or had strong political connections
      (others were independent), but no political faction tried to
      dominate the meeting. All were united behind the common cause: The
      Right of Return. Political differences were put aside.

      Second, the participants focussed on a plan of action for the
      future. They did not come to wail, complain or criticize. Even Abed
      Rabbo, Nusseibeh, Shikaki were mentioned in passing and with obvious
      neglect. Every delegation came with an action plan for their region.

      The deliberations were concluded by forming a follow-up committee
      which consists of five permanent members plus 12 regional
      coordinators (likely to increase) to cover the 12 regions they came

      Emphasis was placed on reinforcing the "return culture" among the
      young Palestinians. There is a plan to educate the young and old in
      camps and cities about their rights. The need to draw on people's
      goodwill in Europe was pointed out. There will be an attempt to
      bridge the gap between the sympathetic public and the reluctant
      politicians in Europe. The dormant support of Arab and Muslim
      countries should be activated. The machinery is there, it just needs
      to be turned on. The great reservoir of support from the world NGOs
      and the UN must be tapped. This is the largest resource which could
      yield immediate results. In short, it was agreed that Palestinian
      civil society should be activated wherever Palestinians reside.
      Meagre resources and geographical dispersion will be a problem.
      Judging by the determination and matter-of-fact approach of the
      conferees, much could be done with little resources. In the final
      analysis, the Palestinian refugees decided they would not allow
      themselves to be ignored any longer.

      Salman Abu Sitta, general coordinator of the Palestinian Right of
      Return Congress, wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR



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