The participants in the activities to commemorate the Nakba in Ramallah demanded on Saturday the reactivation of the PLO Department of Refugee Affairs to preserve the rights of the refugees, the unity of the Palestinian people at home and in exile and to defend the right of return. [.]

The participants recommended the development of school curricula in a way that would allow the students and the future generations to know about the suffering of our people and their right to return to their homeland and to uphold this right, which is the responsibility of the Palestinian generations to come. They stressed the need to preserve and to expand the refugee camps since they are an eyewitness testimonial to the Nakba, and demanded that their living conditions be improved until the time comes for their return to their lands and homes from which they were expelled.

The participants also recommended the production of educational documentaries and animated movies about the Nakba and the right of return. [.]

Former PLC member, Jamal A-Shati said, “The right of return cannot be dropped with the passage of time; it cannot be divided and no one can pass laws pertaining to it because it is above all the laws.” [.]

Al-Ayyam (p 7)
by Hassan Jaber [May 14]

Academics and researchers participating in the Political and Intellectual Conference for the Defense of the Right of Return demanded that Israel admit to its political, legal and moral responsibility for the creation of the refugee problem as a path to make it [Israel] commit to allowing them to return to their lands and to compensate them for the harm done to them.

The conference was organized by the Palestinian Popular Society for the Defense of the Right of Return and was held at the Rashad Shawa Cultural Center in Gaza City. The participants of the conference stressed that the right of return for the refugees was a right that would be neither abandoned nor dropped under any circumstances.

The participants demanded that the Palestinian Authority and all the forces form a clear national plan that would enable the refugees to build their social and popular organizations to protect the refugees’ right to return and to resist the plans of settlement.

The participants, who represented different organizations, forces and parties, pointed out the importance of unifying the efforts of the refugees’ movement for the defense of the right of return and remaining armed with UN resolutions in favor of the right of return and compensation.

They declared their rejection of all the resettlement programs that were proposed by various organizations and parties, saying that the region would never have a just and comprehensive peace without the refugees’ exercising their right to return and compensation.

They demanded that UNRWA continue to provide its services to the refugees while taking into consideration the natural annual increase in their number and needs.

They called for enabling the popular movement to pressure UNRWA to keep its services through memos, sit in strikes and demonstrations against decreasing or closing services or sectors.

First Session

In the first session Abdullah Hourani, the general coordinator of the organizing society, spoke about the unofficial settlement projects and the danger they posed to the right of return. Hourani said that the refugees’ cause at all the phases of the conflict has prompted discussion and investigation into possible methods of settlement, given the regional and international reality. This, however, was done without any consideration for the refugees’ own will, and often was done in violation of international law about refugees in general and in violation of international resolutions about the Palestinian refugees’ cause both before and after 1967. Hourani said that the refugees and their political committees had succeeded in foiling many such plans and projects. [.]

Hourani stressed the importance of devising a detailed Palestinian and Arab alternative to the proposed solutions, saying: “When it comes to negotiations, it’s not enough to reject the alternatives proposed by the other side.” [.]

Hourani stressed that the preservation of UNRWA is in itself a means to perpetuating the international responsibility for the cause. He said, “Watching the movements of UNRWA while taking into consideration that this is an organization that is not completely innocent of the suspicion of dismantling the cause of the return, is a necessary matter at this stage.”

Dr. Khaled Safi, a lecturer at Al-Aqsa University, said: “The lack of unity among the Palestinian people increases fear for the right of return, especially after the agreements reached in Oslo and Cairo and the weakness in negotiating that the Palestinian leadership showed concerning fateful causes such as the refugees’ rights.”

Safi said, “The deliberate and systematic forced absence of the PLO and the marginalization of its size, role and the weakening of its institutions has allowed some to dare to go against the right of return and sign agreements and documents that violate the right of return, such as the Geneva Agreement.” Second Session

In the second session, Suleiman Fahmawi, the spokesman of the Society for the Defense of the Rights of the Displaced Persons inside the Green Line, submitted a paper on their rights and struggle. The paper was read by Hassan Sarsour. He said, “For 58 years, the Zionist movement has failed in its conspiracy to erase the memory of the Nakba and to cancel the sacred right of return.”

He said, “Despite all the brutal means used against the Palestinian people, part of this nation managed to stay on its land and to preserve its Palestinian identity and character.”

He stated that the various Israeli governments have passed many unjust laws that targeted the Palestinian lands and confiscated them under the absentee landlord law, and stopped their owners from exercising their legitimate right to demand regaining their right to land ownership.

He said, “After the Oslo Accords that attempted to separate the sons of one nation inside the Green Line and in exile, a group of young people concerned about the right of return became active among the displaced people to establish the demand for return and never to give up this sacred right.”

He said that there are about 270,000 displaced people inside the Green Line and most of them live near their original villages. [.] Third Session

In the Third session, Yunis Al-Katri read a paper that was submitted by Dr. Mohammed Al-Azar about the Arab position on the right of return.

Al-Azar said, “The Arab and Palestinian initiatives for a settlement do not clearly make reference to the term, the right of return, and the need to be committed to it by means of the implementation of UN resolutions, most importantly, Resolution 194; instead, they lean towards indirect and what seems to be circumlocutious terminology.” He added, “The terms are more flexible when it comes to the right of return,” when compared to the concept of liberation. He said, “The Arab peace agreements weakened some of the historical and legal Palestinian rights, including the right of return, when Israel was recognized without first imposing the condition that it implements the right of return. [Either that] or they [the Arab peace agreements] relatively dropped it from their calculations when they recognized the full Israeli sovereignty over the lands that fell under Israeli control before 1967 including the parts that it occupied outside UN Partition Resolution 181.” [.]

Samir, Abu Muddalala, the director of the Center for the Refugee Studies and a member of the Popular Committee of the Refugees at the Jabalya refugee camp, spoke about the change in the task of UNRWA and the political, social and living effects on the refugees. [.]

He said that UNRWA blames the constant decrease in services and budget on the lack of commitment by the donors to their pledges. He said that the decrease in UNRWA’s services is “a result of a deliberate policy being implemented by UNRWA at the direction of the most influential among the donor countries, and it aims at pushing the refugees to decrease their dependence on the agency’s services and to seek local alternatives or to seek personal salvation by immigrating to the West.”

He called on the PA to look take care of the refugees, to improve their living conditions and to provide them with the necessary services by including the camps in the development plan and by offering an installment plan for paying for water and electricity to make life easier for the refugees.

Jawdat Jouda read a paper written by Salman Natour, the director of the Emil Touma Institute for Palestinian and Israeli Studies in Haifa. He said that with the passage of time the Israelis have come to realize that they cannot talk about peace without talking about the Nakba and the right of return.

He said, “In the past, the topic of return and Nakba were taboo, but now they talk about it in the newspapers, universities and the cultural organizations and they listen, sometimes with anxiety, to the Palestinian who tells them about what they did in 1948.”

He pointed out that the conference of “The Right of Return and Just Peace” that was held in Haifa on March 26-28, 2004 that was attended by Israeli Jews, “untangled the knot in their minds about the Nakba and the right of return and a just peace.” He said that after the conference, the number of the Israeli Jewish organizations that want to know about the Nakba has increased.

He said, “Since the conference, I’ve been invited to many lectures and seminars to talk about the Nakba in addition to performances of the play “Memory,” which was translated into Hebrew and is attended by a Jewish audience that is not smaller than the Arab one.”

He added, “After every show or lecture, a Jewish woman approaches me with tears in her eyes and asks: Is this really what we did to you?”

He said, “No one can erase the right of return.”

Natour said that the Israelis fear peace and they talk about peace using the concepts of war and they want to keep nuclear weapons “for peace” and they want to keep their army on the Jordan River “for peace.” He asked, “If peace requires all this armament, what kind of peace is that? Peace cancels all these security measures.”