The rally organized by the BADIL Friends Forum was opened by ‘Izz ad-Din Sharif, Governor of the Tulkarem District, who re-affirmed that the Palestinian leadership was committed to the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, emphasizing that the continuation of the political negotiations was dependent on Israel’s full recognition of the refugees’ right of return and of Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state. Issa Qaraq’a, Head of the Palestinian Prisoners Club recited, on behalf of the BADIL Friends Forum, a short piece of literature entitled “We Shall Not Forgive” expressing both the popular sentiment of betrayal by the international community, the Arab states and the Palestinian leadership, and the determination to continue the struggle for Palestinian identity and rights, foremost the right of return.
Atty. Wakim Wakim, Secretary of the National Committee for the Rights of the Internally Displaced in Israel, called for Palestinian national unity in order to encounter Israeli and international efforts aimed at dividing the Palestinian people into residents of West Bank and Gaza Strip, Arabs of Israel and refugees, the latter being further split into internally displaced, 1967 displaced, and 1948 refugees. He emphasized that the right of return was a common demand of all of the Palestinian people and its refugees, shared also by the some 250,000 internally displaced Palestinians in Israel, who find themselves in the awkward position of being citizens of Israel and refugees at the same time. Although citizens, they are denied access to their properties in their villages and towns of origin. “In Israel’s discriminatory laws, we are defined as absentees whenever we claim access to our properties. We are, however, considered present and full legal persons, when we are ready to sell our properties to Jewish people.” Atty. Wakim concluded by criticizing Israeli public figures, among them Prime Minister Barak and Education Minster Sarid, who engaged in preparing the Israeli public for a symbolic apology to the Palestinian people: “We do not want their apologies. They are war criminals, and we want them to pay the price that war criminals are usually required to pay.”
Jamal Shati, Head of the Refugee Subcommittee of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and Head of the Union of Youth Activity Centers in the Refugee Camps-Palestine, re-affirmed that the right of refugees to return to their homes now located in Israel was not a privilege, but an internationally recognized right, sacred and non-negotiable for the Palestinian people. He called upon Union of Youth Activity Centers and the Popular Service Committees, the two major refugee organizations in 1967 occupied Palestine, to unite their forces for the defense of the Palestinian right of return in the current sensitive period of the final status negotiations with Israel.
Faisal Salameh, speaking on behalf of the Popular Service Committees in the Palestinian Refugee Camps, also called upon refugees in the camps to unite on the social and political level. Based on the fact that the Palestinian right of return and compensation are firmly anchored in international law and UN resolutions, he called upon the international community and donor countries to fulfill their obligations to the Palestinian refugees, and to stop all attempts aimed at the transfer of responsibility for the refugee issue to the Palestinian Authority (PA). He emphasized that, in regards to Palestinian refugees, the PA and the Palestinian state are “a host country, although of a special type,” and that “refugees are not interested in a Palestinian state, if the price for this state will be the surrender of their right to return to their homes.” He called for a renewed Palestinian effort at strengthening the PLO and its institutions, in order to rebuild the only body representing the whole Palestinian people in the homeland and in exile.
Tayseer Nasrallah, representing the Refugee Committee of the Palestinian National Council (PNC), called for the “re-arrangement of the Palestinian house”and the efficient use of qualifications and resources, for a united Palestinian effort towards building a strong Palestinian case, whose strength derives from the justice and legitimacy of the crucial Palestinian issues and demands.
The rally for the right of return was completed by a cultural program including a photo exhibition presenting the work of children from Aida refugee camp (Bethlehem); readings of poems and letters of refugee children from Palestine and Lebanon; and, a performance of IBDA’A Children Dancing Troupe from Deheishe refugee camp (Bethlehem).