COMMITTEE - SEATTLE
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THE PALESTINIAN RIGHT OF RETURN
A position statement by Palestine Solidarity Committee - Seattle
During the founding and expansion of the State of Israel, first in 1947-9 and then in 1967, over one million Palestinians were driven out of their homes by force or threat of force. Today, over four million Palestinian refugees and their descendants live outside the state of Israel. Of these, 1.2 million are in 59 refugee camps in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and the Occupied Territories. Some 620,000 refugees live in the Occupied Territories. Another 250,000 Palestinians are internally displaced inside Israel, living in some 100 unrecognized villages with no access to water or electrical services. Of these, only about 14,000 have received any compensation from the Israeli government for property loss. Although the United Nations addressed their plight from the outset, the problem of the refugees continues to be a sticking point in all serious discussions about a resolution of the Palestine-Israel conflict. Only a very thoughtful approach to this conflict, taking into account both Palestinian and Israeli needs for homeland, security and independence, will allow progress on the entire host of related problems to take place.
THE RETURN OF PALESTINIAN REFUGEES TO ISRAEL IS NOT AN ISSUE OF IMMIGRATION, BUT RATHER OF UNDOING AN HISTORICAL INJUSTICE.
Israeli historian Ilan Pappe has documented over 500 Palestinian villages that were eradicated in the war of 1947-9. At least 234 of those villages were destroyed by direct Israeli military action, and some 80 of them were outside the territory of the UN-defined Jewish state. Israeli towns were founded on many of the sites. Some of the Palestinian refugees were forced elsewhere in Palestine; most were driven out of the country altogether. The United Nations set up refugee camps in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and inside Israel.
The new state of Israel spread the story that all these Palestinians had left under orders from Arab leaders, citing "Arab broadcasts" telling people to move away so that Arab armies could "operate without interference.” There has never been any evidence for this story. Both US and British intelligence services were monitoring all broadcasts during the period, and not a single "Arab broadcast" telling people to leave was recorded. In fact, several Arab broadcasts were recorded telling the population to stay put. Israeli forces, meanwhile, were using threats, violence, and murder to force many Palestinians out of their homes. The State of Israel bears the primary responsibility for the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem.
PALESTINIANS HAVE THE RIGHT OF RETURN UNDER INTERNATIONAL LAW.
The general right of return is affirmed in numerous human rights and international law documents, including:
• The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art. 13(2): “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”
• The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Art. 12 (4): “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.” This allows those outside their own country to return - even if they were born elsewhere and would be entering for the first time, so long as they have maintained a "genuine and effective link" to the country and have not renounced their ties to it.
• Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. (Art. 5 ii)
• The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Art. 1.C), focuses on return as the preferred option for refugees by ending protection of refugees only once the refugees have voluntarily repatriated.
• The right of return is a general principle in international law and has been affirmed by the American and European Human Rights Conventions (Art. 22(5); and 4th Protocol respectively), and by the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights in cases involving Cyprus, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Uganda, and East/Central Europe.
Palestinians have a specific right of return according to the United Nations:
• UN General Assembly Resolution 194 III in 1948 provided that Palestinian “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return....” (Art. 11)
Resolution 194 has been reaffirmed more than 100 times by the General Assembly in other resolutions including 513, 2452, 2936, and 3236.
The international community has already recognized the Palestinian right of return. There is no reason that this right should not be fully recognized by the State of Israel.
THE RIGHT OF RETURN DOES NOT MEAN THAT INDIVIDUAL ISRAELI JEWS MUST GIVE UP THEIR HOMES. In other refugee return situations, the right of return has been interpreted to mean that, if a former home no longer exists or is occupied by an innocent third party, return should be permitted at least to the vicinity of the former home.
WHY DON’T THE ARAB COUNTRIES TAKE THEM IN?
Under international law, the host countries of Palestinian refugees have certain responsibilities for the well-being of the refugees. However, calling upon the neighbors of Israel to resolve a problem that Israel created sidesteps Israel’s own responsibility for that problem. Palestinians have the right to return to their homeland, and it is not the responsibility of other host countries to create a substitute homeland for them. Arab countries have resettled and granted rights to many Palestinians, but most Palestinian refugees and most Arab governments have opposed permanent resettlement, assimilation and naturalization, preferring to adopt policies that preserve Palestinian identity and refugee status. Palestinians have received varied treatment in Arab host countries, often less than humane; and while this is a serious issue, nonetheless the great majority of Palestinian refugees, Arab people, and Arab governments are in agreement that the ultimate responsibility for the Palestinian refugee problem lies with the State of Israel.
We also reject the racist assumption that Palestinians and all Arab peoples are indistinct, homogenous and interchangeable. While sharing some basic elements of language, religion and culture with the Arab countries of the Middle East and North Africa, Palestinians and many other Arab peoples have their own distinct cultures, traditions, dialects, and histories. Palestinians are as distinct from Egyptians or Saudis as Poles are distinct from Czechs or Bulgarians; and Palestinians are just as attached to their particular homeland as any other people.
• The State of Israel must acknowledge its responsibility for the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem.
• The State of Israel must acknowledge the Right of Return for all Palestinian refugees.
• Once these two conditions are met, Palestinians and Israelis should negotiate in good faith to find ways to implement the Right of Return so that self-determination and security for both peoples is not undermined. Ideally, each Palestinian refugee and his/her descendants would be offered the CHOICE of return, compensation, full integration into the current host country, or third-country resettlement.
Some resources on refugees and refugee return: