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Symbolic Return Today - A Step Towards Real Return in the Future

Palestinian Refugees Visit their Villages on the Anniversary of al-Nakba West Bank camp refugees hit the headlines of the local Arabic media with a new and unique type of memorial activity conducted on 14 May. Some 150 Palestinian refugees from Deheishe,

Pledge of Honor of the Palestinian Person to the Palestinian Land
• The right of return to historical Palestine is a natural, legal, political, and human right; it is a right of the Palestinian individual and the collective, and its implementation is possible. Any person who bargains on or surrenders this right is a traitor;
• Security, stability, and peace in the region cannot be achieved without a just and comprehensive solution of the Palestinian refugee question according to international legitimacy, especially UN Resolution 194. Any effort to bypass this question will lead the region into a new round of conflict; • It is the duty of the Palestinian negotiators to abstain from negotiations over the principle of the right of return.
Any step in this direction is rejected by the national consensus;
• The rights of Palestinian refugees are indivisible. The refugee question is a Palestinian responsibility and no side is mandated to bypass it; • We call upon the Lebanese government to lift immediately the siege of the camps of steadfastness in Lebanon, and to treat Palestinians according to the standards defined by human, ethical, and political norms;
• We call upon UNRWA to continue providing its services and to work for the improvement of living conditions in the camps until a just and comprehensive solution to the refugee issue is found.
We, refugees from the camps of Balata, 'Askar 1 and 'Askar 2, al-'Ain, al-Far'ah, Tulkarem, Nur Shams, and Jenin, state with loud voice: Palestine is ours! Our only choice is the return to the land of historical Palestine.
We greet our Palestinian people in the camps of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Gaza. Yes to the right of return of Palestinian refugees in accordance with UN Resolution 194!
Yes to the independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital! Eternal glory to our martyrs and freedom to our steadfast prisoners!"
The Follow-up Committee for the Commemoration of the 52nd Anniversary of the Nakba, May 2000.

'Aida, and 'Azza refugee camps located in the Bethlehem district, men and women eyewitnesses of the 1948 expulsion and their grandchildren, set out on a symbolic "Return Visit" to their villages of origin. The event, which marked the first collectively organized return visit of West Bank refugees to their homes and lands in Israel was facilitated by BADIL and accompanied by numerous Palestinian, international, and Israeli journalists.

 The first station of the three-bus caravan was the destroyed village of Bayt Nattif, where nothing but rubble in a vast, now unpopulated Israeli nature reserve bears witness of a Palestinian community prior to its expulsion in 1948. As the refugee "return caravan" moved on to the village of Zakariyya, it was joined by Palestinian member of Knesset Hashem Mahameed. Thanks to his intervention, the caravan was able to pass the Israeli guard at the entrance to the Israeli settlement of Zekharya. It stopped at the old village mosque, which - together with a few old Arab homes - continues to give witness of the presence of this Palestinian community before its final expulsion in June 1950. As 150 refugees gathered for prayer in and around the mosque, some Jewish residents, stirred by the unusual sight, came to inquire about the purpose of this visit. As expected, the direct encounter between rightful Palestinian owners and current Jewish occupants of homes and properties, most of them Jewish immigrants from Arab countries, gave rise to a highly emotional debate. While some voiced readiness to return their Zakariyya/Zekharya home to its Palestinian owner if they could regain access to their original homes in Iraq, others called the Israeli police. In the early afternoon, the caravan moved on to its last station in Bayt Jibrin village, now the site of the small Israeli Kibbutz Beyt Guvrin and a large Israeli nature and archeological reserve. After inspecting the remainders of their homes,the return caravan gathered at the well-preserved mansion of Sheikh Abdelrahman, located on a hilltop overlooking the lands of Bayt Jibrin. A large tent, symbolizing the refugee experience,was set up, and the women distributed traditional Palestinian bread baked in shadow of the old Palestinian mansion.

MK Hashem Mahameed reminded refugees of the fact that major Palestinian families of his town of Umm al-Fahm (Galilee), among them his own, originated in the village of Bayt Jibrin, thus
underlining the historical links between the Palestinian community in Israel and the West Bank. He called upon the old generation, eyewitnesses of the 1948 expulsion, to keep the Palestinian experience alive among young generations and thanked the
organizers for their special and unique effort on behalf of this cause. On their way home, Palestinian refugees, participants in this symbolic return visit, were again reminded of the harsh reality which continues to obstruct their real return to homes and
properties. The caravan was escorted back into the West Bank by Israeli police and could leave for Bethlehem only after prolonged negotiations at the Israeli "safe passage" checkpoint at Tarqoumia
(Hebron). Not defeated by harassment and inspired by their symbolic, one-day return, refugees ended their trip by joining the Palestinian hunger strikers at the Bethlehem Red Cross Center in
order to express their demand for the immediate release of all Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

Bayt Nattif
Landownership (1944/45)
Arab: 32,762 (donums)
Jewish: 0
Public: 11,825
Bayt Nattif had a mosque, a number of shrines, and an elementary school. Villagers depended for their livelihood on rain-fed agriculture and animal husbandry. They also cultivated grain, vegetables, and fruits. Israeli forces occupied the village in October 1948. Settlements of Netiv ha-Lamed-He, Avi'ezer, Roglit and Newe Mikha'el were built on village lands. The village site is covered with rubble.
Bayt Jibrin
Landownership (1944/45)
Arab: 54,962 (donums)
Jewish: 1,008
Public: 215
During the Mandate, Bayt Jibrin served as a commercial and service center for the area's villages. It had two schools, a clinic, a bus stop, and a police station. The villagers cultivated grain and fruit. Israeli bombing of the village in mid-October 1948 led to the large-scaled evacuation of the village. The village was not destroyed immediately after its occupation. The settlement of Beyt
Guvrin was established on the village lands. Today a mosque, an unidentified shrine, and a number of houses remain.
Population (1948)*
2,494
Refugees (1998)*
15,316
Zakariyya
Landownership (1944/45)
Arab: 15,311(donums)
Jewish: 0
Public: 0
Zakariyya had a mosque, market, and elementary school. Rain-fed agricultur represented the backbone of the economy with main crops such as grain, beans, fruit, and olives. The village was occupied in late October 1948, however, the villagers were not immediately displaced. The villagers were evicted in June 1950 in order to use the houses for new Jewish immigrants. The settlement of Zekharya was established on village lands.
The mosque and a number of houses remain.
Sources: All That Remains, Washington, DC: Institute of
Palestine Studies, 1990, pp. 199-200; *Salman Abu Sitta, The
Palestinian Nakba 1948. London: The Palestinian Return
Centre, 1998.