Palestinians Wait to Return Home
- The Importance of the Right of Return to the Palestinian People
As a Palestinian whose family was dispossessed more than once, the
topic of the Right of Return is of great significance to me. At the
core of the Palestinian issue is the right of return. Losing one's
home is one thing, but for us it was compounded by the loss of
family connections, linguistic/cultural heritage, wealth of the
nation as that enhances or detracts from our community or personal
wealth, and the connections to our ancestral lands/ historical
connections that span millennia.
To understand that you have to imagine my family, like most
refugees, still hold on to the keys of the homes they were driven of
in Palestine. Whether they live in the refugee camps in Jordan,
Syria or Lebanon or in the camps in the West Bank or Gaza, we all
raised their children and grand children on the hope of going home.
The one place we felt the connection to our ancestral lands and
ancestors. Like other native and indigenous peoples, Palestinians
placed a high value on this ancestral connection.
My aunts Jamila and Farida showed us the keys and talked about the
houses, the personal belongings, the orange groves and the smell of
the sea in Yaffa. In 1948 the Haganah regulars in the British army
joined the terrorist gangs of the Stern and Urgun and forcibly
removed the majority of the people in the Palestinian countryside,
using both fear and aggression. My uncles held onto the deeds or
tax records to their properties and businesses in Haifa and Lidda.
We were prevented from returning. Some of my family members and
others were shot when they attempted to return sometimes a distance
of a few thousand feet, where they were hiding till the aggression
At the same time we as Native Palestinians with roots in the land
are denied the right of return, the new military state, Israel,
instituted the Law of Return, that allows Jews from all over the
world whether from Russia, New York or any other country to enter
and acquire our lands and properties.
Palestinians experienced this again in 1967, when the military,
settlers and government of Israel confiscated lands, movable
property, natural resources, cash and valuables from my family and
people in West Bank and Gaza. My land that I inherited from my
father is in the hands of a Jew from Brooklyn. He demolished most
structures, removed the orange and lemon groves to farm it in large
agribusiness with other farms he was given by the military governor.
Right of Return is not a remote notion about past losses and
aggression. The theft and aggression continues till today.
To understand how this has worked, you need to look at the
Palestinians inside the Green Line.
They are confined to towns that have continued to deteriorate as
subjects in a state that does not recognize them as citizens,
because they are not Jewish. That is even if they are the original
owners and have lived in Palestine for thousands of years as
descendants of the original Canaanites, Hebrews and Aramaics. A
Palestinian cannot serve in the army and as such is denied the
benefits of work in a state that is heavily into the military or
governmental jobs. Two of my friends are psychologists. They
cannot work in any school, or clinic. To borrow you need to have a
military certificate, so homes in those towns have not been repaired
in over 57 years. They cannot repair their family homes.
Palestinians in Israel pay taxes, but get a small fraction that
compared to what Jewish towns get for water, sewer, roads, schools
and such. Palestinians are denied permit to buy or lease any of
their lands. The state transferred ownership to the Jewish agency
that only allows Jews to use the land. Many Palestinians are
displaced internally under the Absentee Present Law. This says
anyone who was not at home (maybe in his fields or next town over)
is an absentee and his property goes to the Absentee Property
Bureau. This is one of the cleverest ways to take property away
Another way was the closed military area. The army declares an area
closed, then confiscates the land and turns over to Jewish
settlement. Mind you this against people who hold Israeli
passports, but are fourth class in this archaic racist state.
Over 50 villages of internally displaced persons that were started
after 1948 are unrecognized and get NO SERVICES and are in constant
danger of being removed over and over whenever a new Jewish
settlement is planned or to make room for parks FOR JEWS ONLY.
Bedouins are removed from their pastures under similar excuses by
the military for land to be turned over for Jewish use only.
Remember this not in West Bank or Gaza, but inside the so called
Its all about the basic question of the Right of Return. Once we
give it up, we give legal status to all the above mentioned
activities. I hope many of you agree these are illegal and unjust.
That is why the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was introduced.
The Aida Refugee Camp was established in 1950 by families of 27
depopulated villages, mostly from the Jerusalem area. It is located
only about 10 kilometers south of Jerusalem at the northern end of
Bethlehem. Nearly 4,500 people (55% are children) live in the camp,
confined within less than 600 meters square. On the hilltop
overlooking the camp is the large Israeli settlement of Gilo, from
which the Israelis operate a military base.
In the last four years, all the camp's residents have faced
increasing levels of violence from the Israeli military. Soldiers
routinely enter the camp, brutally beat civilians, raid our homes,
and arrest our sons and daughters. Three months ago, these invasions
intensified with the construction of Israel's separation wall only
20 meters from our homes. This completely cut us off from the
neighboring olive orchard which provided agricultural income to the
people of the camp and was the only open space in which our children
could play. People who have houses in this area have been
threatened with expulsion. With the construction of the wall, a
large portion of the camp will be encircled by military watchtowers.
This will inevitably mean constant tension, confrontation, and
Our young people are especially impactedboth physically and
emotionallyby these hostilities. There are no play areas for
children. Even UNWRA has placed its school facilities off-limits so
as to avoid soldiers tear gassing and firing on the playground in
off-school hours. Instead, our children play in the streets and in
the alleyways among the high-density housing units, vulnerable to
patrolling military jeeps and armed Israeli security guards. The
presence of these invading forces in their neighborhoods often
provokes our young people into throwing stones, partly as an
expression of outrage for the injustice of their situation and
partly as a passing game to break the monotony of their lives.
However, the reaction of soldiers to this "game" has had terribly
high costs during this Intifada, leaving many of our youth injured,
disabled or even dead. We are seeing increasing signs of
despair resulting from chronic trauma, even among our youngest.
For many of the children of Aida Camp, the Lajee Center is their
only refuge in this hostile climate. Lajee Centera registered,
Palestinian non-governmental, non-political organizationwas
established in September 2000 by a group of young women and men from
Aida Camp. Its founders recognized the urgent need to provide the
new generation of refugee children with opportunities to gain the
skills and judgment to build a new future for themselves and their
In addition to enrichment and recreation opportunities, the Center
also aims to develop social awareness in refugee youth. In
particular, we structure and implement our activities in such a way
as to eliminate discrimination against women. Activities are
organized with the goal of fostering in the participants a wider
understanding of the world in which they live, focusing on issues
relating specifically to their own society, culture and history,
as well as the global context. Our hope is to develop the social
awareness of the children, deepen their education and provide them
with the critical skills necessary for them to take on an active
role in their society. With these goals in mind, Lajee Center
organized the following programs and activities for its youth:
Scout Group of 65 children between the ages of 7 and 14
(temporarily suspended for security reasons)
Dance Troupe of 12 children from 9 to 15, specializing in
Choral group consisting of 6 boys and girls and two musicians,
between the ages of 10 and 16. The group has already performed and
recorded 8 songs, written especially for them by Lajee's own poet
and musician. In September 2002, eight of the girls were invited to
Cairo where they performed (singing and dancing) in the prestigious
Cairo Opera House
Cultural Activities: establishing a traditional dabkeh dance
troupe, putting on original theatrical performances, and recording a
CD of original songs.
Oral History Project: recording grandparent stories of their
refugee experience and publishing these and current and historical
photographs in a CD format.
Arts & Crafts: teaching painting, drawing, craft projects and
traditional handicrafts; conducting youth art contest and show, and
creating a child-designed community mural depicting scenes from
Supplemental academic classes: offering after-school study
sessions and tutoring to support regular classes.
Annual Summer Work Camp with cultural, athletic, educational,
community improvement and recreational activities.
Civic education courses, including democratic principles,
children's rights, community leadership-building, and civic
Library of multilingual books from around the world for all ages.
Computer Lab with Internet access and computer skills training.
Sports Hall: providing space for recreational activities and
Know Your Country this project consists of a series of trips for
youth of the Center to cities, villages, or organizations in
Palestine, with the aim of giving them the opportunity to learn
about their society, its history, and resources in a tangible way.
All our activities are organized by concerned members of the
community, and our programs depend entirely on the voluntary efforts
of our members, with some support from related institutions and
interested individuals. There are currently 21 volunteers, each of
whom pays a nominal monthly fee of 20 NIS. These fees go towards
supporting the costs of the activities and of building maintenance.
The idea of the nominal fee is also to encourage a participatory and
co-operative spirit in serving the community.
While our activities are currently concentrated in Aida Camp, we
already have some participating children from Dheisheh and Azza
Refugee Camps, and Bethlehem and Beit Jala cities. We hope to expand
our activities to include more children from the surrounding area.
We hope also to increase the number of volunteers from outside of
Aida Camp; currently our outside volunteers include one person from
Bethlehem, one from Azza Camp, one American, and one living in
500 Million Christians Urged To Divest
By Sam Ser
An organization representing up to half a billion Christians
worldwide has encouraged its member churches to divest from
companies that participate in "illegal activities" in the West Bank
and Gaza Strip.
The central committee of the World Council of Churches, which
represents more than 340 Protestant and Orthodox churches in more
than 120 countries, announced the decision on Monday, toward the
conclusion of the governing body's meeting in Geneva.
It specifically noted the "process of phased, selective divestment
from multinational corporations involved in the occupation" now
being implemented by the Presbyterian Church (USA). "This action is
commendable in both method and manner, [and] uses criteria rooted in
faith," the group said in a statement.
While that campaign angered segments of the American Presbyterian
community, the WCC's international affairs expert Peter Weiderud
told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that its own statement was the
result of a "grassroots initiative" from its membership, and was not
merely the view of a limited number of senior clergy. The WCC itself
noted in another statement that it had chosen to follow a "consensus
The central committee "reminded the council's member churches
that 'with investment funds, they have an opportunity to use those
funds responsibly in support of peaceful solutions' to the Israel-
Palestine conflict," the statement said.
"Multinational corporations have been involved in the demolition of
Palestinian homes, and are involved in the construction of
settlements and settlement infrastructure on occupied territory, in
building a dividing wall which is also largely inside occupied
territory, and in other violations of international law being
carried out beyond the internationally recognized borders of the
State of Israel determined by the Armistice of 1949," the statement
"The WCC governing body encouraged the council's member churches 'to
give serious consideration to economic measures' as a new way to
work for peace, by looking at ways to not participate economically
in illegal activities related to the Israeli occupation. In that
sense, the committee affirmed 'economic pressure, appropriately and
openly applied,' as a 'means of action.'"
Weiderud noted that the committee had taken into account recent
positive developments in the peace process, but, as the body itself
stated, "illegal activities in occupied territory continue as if a
viable peace for both peoples is not a possibility."
Apparently seeking to preempt criticism of the move as anti-Semitic,
the WCC's central committee "framed" its recommendation
by "recalling" its statement in 1992 that "criticism of the policies
of the Israeli government is not in itself anti-Jewish."
Moshe Fox, minister for public and interreligious affairs at the
Israel Embassy in Washington, DC, disagreed.
"While maintaining that this recommendation is neither one-sided nor
anti-Jewish, it is clearly both," Fox told the Post on Tuesday.
"At a time when Israelis and Palestinians are engaged in a political
process, returning to negotiations, this decision is utterly ill-
timed. The WCC is apparently seeking to dovetail on the Presbyterian
Church's campaign. But, while the Presbyterian Church is still
deliberating, the WCC is charging forward... [but] a boycott of
Israel will not bring the Israelis and Palestinians any closer to
the path of peace," he added.
Weiderud also said the WCC was unaware of any intimidation of
Palestinian Christians by Palestinian terrorists or desecration of
Christian holy sites. No churches under Palestinian control were
large enough to qualify for membership in the WCC, although the body
had indirect contacts with several churches there, he said.
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