UPDATE: Campaign for the Defense of Palestinian Refugee Rights

UPDATE: Campaign for the Defense of Palestinian Refugee Rights

Community Mobilization:

"Al-Awda - Al-Nakba"

7 April Rallies: Building on the success of previous marches and rallies, such as the one simultaneously held in Palestine, Lebanon, Washington/DC and London in mid-September 2000, (See al-Majdal, Issue No. 7) members and partners of the worldwide al-Awda (Return) Network held marches and rallies in Palestine, North America, Australia, Europe, Japan, and in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon on 7 April under the common slogan: "No Peace without Return to Our Homes!"

  The rallies and marches, held in conjunction with the anniversary of the Deir Yassin massacre (9 April 1948), and in memory of other massacres committed against the Palestinian people thereafter (See, for example, al-Majdal, Issues Nos. 7 & 9), aimed to reaffirm the national consensus of the Palestinian people, the foremost component being the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and places of origins.

Participants also reaffirmed the longstanding demand that the international community carry out its responsibility towards implementation of UN resolutions, namely UN General Assembly Resolution 194 affirming the right of the refugees to return to their homes, by pressing the Israeli government to fulfill it obligation set forth in Resolution 194.

 The rallies and marches also represented an important act of unity and support for Palestinians in the occupied homeland who have endured tremendous hardship due to the military and  economic measures adopted by Israel to crush the popular uprising known as the al-Aqsa intifada.

In New York, some 5,000-8,000 demonstrators assembled in front of the Israeli consulate chanting "No Return Equals No Peace" and carrying a map of Palestine and a key, symbolic of the return home. The rally featured prominent speakers, such as Palestinian intellectual Edward Said and the former Secretary General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) George Habbash; live interviews with participants at the Right-of- Return Rally held simultaneously in Nazareth; and, a statement by the intifada leadership in the 1967 occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In the 1967 occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip where the right of return of Palestinian refugees is a demand raised daily in public assemblies, rallies and statements of the intifada leadership and Palestinian community organizations, refugees were unable to launch large public events due to the severe restrictions on freedom of movement imposed by Israel.

Palestinian community organizations thus joined the worldwide right-ofreturn rallies with a series of decentralized activities which included children's marches, exhibitions featuring the history of Palestinian refugees and Palestinian martyrs of the current uprising, theater and dance performances, and public debates about issues related to the Palestinian right of return. In Nazareth, a rally organized by the Society for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced Palestinians was joined by numerous activists from political parties and national institutions, as well as Palestinian members of the Knesset.

The rally demonstrated that Palestinians in Israel - just like refugees in exile - continue to demand their right to return to their homes and properties. In other parts of the Arab world the scope and character of the April 7 Right-of-Return rallies was also determined by legal and political restrictions on Palestinian refugees. In Amman, a renewed official ban on demonstrations forced the High Committee for the Defense of the Right of Return and some 200 unionists and political activists to hold an indoor rally in solidarity with the Palestinian uprising and the right of return.

In Lebanon, Rightof- Return marches were held in all Palestinian refugee camps while A'idoun group organized lectures in the camps of Burj al-Shamali and Nahar al-Bared. Palestinian children and community organizations also gathered in the 'Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp and launched thousands of balloons hoping that the wind would carry them to Palestine bearing the message, "A'idoun - We Will Return."
Nakba Commemorations: Just over one month later, Palestinians, including refugees and internally displaced Palestinians held an unprecedented week of activities in the occupied homeland and in the diaspora in commemoration of the 53rd anniversary of their displacement and expulsion by Zionist/Israeli forces in 1948.

Under the theme, Al-Nakba - Al- Awda, (The Disaster - The Return), national marches called by the High Committee for the 53rd Anniversary of al-Nakba (formed by the intifada leadership) were held in all districts in the 1967 occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. The May 15 marches reiterated the Palestinian national consensus - i.e., the right of return, selfdetermination, and a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

At 12:00 p.m., sirens, churches, mosques, and the honking of car horns signaled the start of a threeminute moment of silence in memory of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces, followed a speech to the nation by Yasser Arafat and Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, broadcast by all Palestinian media. 

Public debates on various aspects of the right of return, a press conference with eye-witnesses to Palestinian displacement in 1948, photo exhibitions on the theme "Al-Nakba - Al-Awda", children's activities, statements and memorandums to the United Nations and other international organizations demanding the right of return, demonstrations at Israeli military checkpoints, and mass rallies and marches with signs bearing the names of the depopulated Palestinian villages, black flags, and the Palestinian flag were held throughout the week. The events were organized by Palestinian institutions and organizations representing all sectors of Palestinian society.

During the week, the Palestine National Council (PNC) in coordination with Sana'oud held three working sessions on various aspects of the refugee issue. Participants, including members of the PNC, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), local and international researchers, as well as activists, examined the refugee issue in the context of the current political process and future implications, legal mechanisms to advance durable solutions for Palestinian refugees based on Resolution 194, the role of UNRWA, and mechanisms for popular action.

Numerous media programs focused on the Nakba during the week including a BADIL Media Series, in cooperation with the Bethlehem-based al-Ru'ah TV station, entitled Showq as-Sabbar (Cactus Thorn) which was broadcast by some 13 Palestinian TV stations in the West Bank. The series included  video spots featuring refugees and their demands; video clips about refugee life in the camps of Deheishe, 'Aida, Azza/Beit Jibrin, 'Arroub, and Fawwar located in the southern West Bank; and a five-day live call-in program and debate with studio guests about the past, present, and future of the Palestinian refugee question.

The media events also included a unique dialogue among the Palestinian and Arab people organized by BADIL and al-Ru'ah TV in cooperation with the Popular Committees-West Bank and Gaza Strip, Union of Youth Activity Centres in Palestine Refug e camps, the Union of Women's Activity Centers-West Bank, and the Society for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced in 1948 Palestine/Israel and broadcast by al-Ru'ah TV to a West Bank audience of some 40,000 persons. Central themes raised during the program by representatives of Palestinian political parties, the Palestine National Council, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), the Palestinian Prisoner's Club, Palestinian members of the Israeli Knesset, as well as artists and journalists from the Arab world, included a discussion of the intifada as a means of consciousness-raising and struggle against the culture of victimhood, defeat and surrender to the status quo; the Palestinian memory of the Nakba; and, the intifada as a struggle for Palestinian return, a better future, and an affirmation of self-confidence and unity across checkpoints and borders.

"The Palestinian Nakba is an issue of the whole Arab people, and the Palestinian intifada is a struggle for the reinstatement of Arab dignity," stated Yussef Sha'aban, artist and head of the powerful Egyptian Artists Union, and union member Fardos Abdel Hamid. The sentiment was echoed by Ahmad Qa'abour from Lebanon whose song Ounadikum continues to inspire Palestinians and all Arab people in the region. The program concluded at midnight with a message of solidarity from the anti-Zionist Orthodox Jewish Naturei Karta (Jerusalem and New York) read against the background of live heavy Israeli shelling in Bethlehem and Beit Jala area.

"Judaism and Zionism are diametrically opposed," read the statement, "and the present conflict in the Holy Land is not a conflict between Jews and Arabs, but a conflict between Zionists and Arabs." Activities organized by Palestinian institutions and organizations in 1948 Palestine/Israel included a moment of silence held simultaneously with Palestinians in the 1967 occupied territories, workshops, and public debates. The High Followup Committee of the Palestinian community in Israel also participated in the national march at the al- Ram checkpoint in eastern Jerusalem.

Palestinians also put up signs and slogans at the entrance to their villages and towns to remind the Jewish Israeli public of the massive displacement and dispossession in 1948 and to affirm their demand for the right of return. In Lebanon Palestinian refugees held popular demonstrations in all the refugee camps with slogans in support of the al-Aqsa intifada, the right of return, and the demand for international protection  for the Palestinian people.The Palestinian flag along with a black flag was raised on the rooftops of houses and buildings in most of the refugee camps, an action repeated in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. A sit-in lasting several days at the martyrs cemetery where victims of the Sabra and Shatila massacre are buried was organized by the Association for Palestinian Human Rights, A'idoun,  Inash al-Mukhayam, and other associations.

Excerpts from the address by Mahmoud Darwish

to the Palestinian People Today the memory of the Nakba comes at the height of the Palestinian struggle in defense of their being, of their natural right to freedom and self-determination on a part of their historical homeland, and this after conceding more than was ever necessary for international legitimacy to make peace possible. When the moment of truth drew near, the true essence of the Israeli concept of peace was unmasked: continued occupation under another name, under better conditions [for the occupier], and at a lower cost.

The Intifada - yesterday, today, tomorrow - is the natural and legitimate expression of resistance against slavery, against an occupation characterized by the ugliest form of apartheid, one that seeks, under the cover of an elusive peace process, to dispossess the Palestinians of their land and the source of their livelihood, and to restrict them to isolated reservations besieged by settlements and by-pass roads, until the day comes when, after consenting to "end their demands and struggle," they are allowed to call their cages a state.

The Intifada is, in essence, a popular and civil movement. It does not constitute a break with the notion of peace but seeks to salvage this notion from the injustices of racism, returning it to its true parents, justice and freedom, by preventing Israel's colonialist project from continuing in the West Bank and Gaza under the cover of a peace process Israeli leaders have emptied of any content. Our wounded hands are yet capable of extracting the wilting olive branch from the rubble of massacred groves, but only if the Israelis attain the age of reason and concede our legitimate national rights, defined by international resolutions foremost among which are: the right of return, complete withdrawal from Palestinian land occupied in 1967, and the right to self-determination and an independent sovereign state with Jerusalem as its capital. For just as there can be no peace with occupation, neither can there be one between masters and slaves.

(Translation from Al-Ahram Weekly Online, 10-16 May 2001)

The UNRWA staff union in Lebanon, meanwhile,held its own sit-in at UNRWA's main office in Beirut. UNRWA schools devoted special lessons about the meaning of al-Nakba while the "Oath of Return" was recited by Palestinian students in all grades. The week also included a lecture organized by A'idoun group and the Social Development Center in Nahr al-Bared about the Nakba, intifada and the right of return as well as media interviews on Manar and NBN TV about the Nakba and the current situation in Palestine. (Activity report in Lebanon submitted by A'idoun Group - Lebanon)]

Rebuilding Palestinian Villages: For the first time in its history, the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Israeli communist party and independents)expanded its call for the right of return of Palestinian  refugees and internally displaced Palestinians to the rebuilding of the Palestinian destroyed villages. The call was made at the party's sixth conference which convened in Nazareth, in the Galilee, on 8-9 June 2001. The Conference opened with a one-minute moment of silence in memory of the martyrs of the al-Aqsa Intifada.

The Democratic Front's leadership, including Mohammad Baraka, Isam Makhoul, Ramzi Jaraysi, Tamar Gozansky and Mohammad Nafaa, condemned the Sharon-Peres government for its continuing aggression in the West  Bank and the Gaza Strip, and called for the creation of a broad coalition to act as a unified front in the face of the current Israeli government's fascism.

In his message of greetings to the conference, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said that he considered Israel's latest aggressions "a wrench in the peace process, and an obstacle to the implementation of the rights of the Palestinians." Arafat also expressed his hopes that this conference would open the way for the resumption of the peace process and to the implementation of the Palestinians' rights.

 The Democratic Front closed its Conference calling for the following, inter alia: an immediate cessation of Israeli aggression; the end of the Sharon government; implementation of Palestinians' rights; the rebuilding of the destroyed Palestinian villages, which it considers a first step in effecting the refugees' right to return to their homes and villages, including the internally displaced, this being the durable solution proscribed by United Nations resolutions and international law; and, addressing and seeking to solve the government-imposed land crisis which Israel's Palestinian minority faces today.