Print this page

 Appeal from Palestinian & Arab Non-Governmental Organizations to the Arab Summit

The Haifa Initiative: Final Statement of the Organizers, ‘Right of Return and Just Peace’
1. Appeal from Palestinian & Arab Non-Governmental Organizations to the Arab Summit

The Arab Summit in Tunis is being held in an unclear and complex environment at international, regional and Arab levels. The Middle East is still suffering from the effects of the war on Iraq and its repercussions for the entire Arab world. In the course of the war itself, the American administration introduced its concept of a “Greater Middle East” aimed at exporting its ‘democracy’ to the Arab countries in the region. Ironically, the United States considers waging war and occupying Iraq as a basic first step on the road to this promised democracy.

Confronting attempts to redraw the geopolitical map and the US Administration’s demands imposed on the people of the region in the guise of ‘reform and democracy,’ we call on the Arab League and states represented in this summit, to adopt a genuine reform program guided by the actual needs of the Arab nation and able to address the unique Arab dilemma. Any true and effective Arab reform program must build on the energy of civil society, remove constraints on its independence and efficiency, and facilitate its efforts for real democratic development. This will enable Arab societies to meet the challenges resulting from external political and economic domination. It will also help the Arab nations to meet standards of internal development demands based on popular participation, respect for human rights, political freedoms, good governance and the equality of men and women.

An indigenous Arab reform program must be able to stand up to the Israeli occupation and not be at the expense of key issues in the region, foremost the Palestinian issue, the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Here we specifically refer to the initiative of Amr Mousa, Secretary General of the Arab League after 11 September, which refers to the importance of Arab civil society participation, including Arab intellectuals, in forming a strategy for Arab dialogue with the West. Such dialogue must be based on respect for the rule of law in international relations.

Majesties, Excellencies, and Presidents of Arab states,

We, the undersigned representatives of Arab and Palestinian civil society organizations, wish to draw your attention especially to the plight of the Palestinian refugees and to the intrigues and so-called initiatives regularly proposed. These ‘initiatives’ have the aim of eliminating the refugee issue and disregarding their right to return, a legal right and part of the basic national rights of the Palestinian people.

Based on the above, we affirm the following:

- We reject all types of initiatives and models promoted for solutions that by-pass implementation of the right of return as enshrined in international law, human rights conventions, and UN resolutions, in particular UN Resolution 194. This resolution provides for the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes of origin they were forced to leave in 1948, housing and property restitution and compensation. In addition, UNGA resolution 3236 of 1974 directly ties the right of return to the right to self-determination and the right to national sovereignty and independence.

- International law also requires provision of temporary daily protection for Palestinian refugees wherever they live, until they return to their homeland. Arab states, especially host countries, are therefore obliged to adhere to their commitments enshrined in the relevant resolutions of the League of Arab States, especially the Casablanca Protocol of 1965. At this juncture, we emphasize that provision of Palestinian refugees with adequate and humane treatment and social, economic and cultural rights does not contradict in any way efforts at fighting refugee re-settlement, preserving Palestinian national identity, and preventing refugees from absorption into their host societies in exile. On the contrary, minimizing the suffering of refugees will further enhance their steadfastness, revitalize them and give them the strength to confront re-settlement plans and work with determination for the right to return to Palestine.

- To provide temporary protection for Palestinians in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories, we must intensify our efforts, and pressure the international community to implement the Geneva Conventions, especially the Fourth Geneva Convention regarding the protection of civilians in armed conflicts. While the State of Israel escalates its oppression of the Palestinians and its military institutions ignore international law and conventions, we must strive to put in place an international mechanism that will guarantee protection to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Finally, enhancement of legislative and constitutional reform in Arab states, and closing the gap between national legislation and international standards and human rights laws in general and refugee rights in particular, will result in a more dignified life for Palestinian refugees under Arab patronage until they return to their lands.

In Palestine
Alternative Tourism Group (ATG), Palestine;
Association for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced in Israel/1948 Palestine;
Association of Residents of Occupied and Destroyed Palestinian Towns and Villages-Ramallah;
BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency & Refugee Rights;
Committee for the Defense of Palestinian Refugee Rights-Nablus;
Coordinating Committee, Committees for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled-West Bank;
The General Union of Public Service Workers in Palestine, Gaza;
Ittijah – Union of Arab Community-based Associations in Israel/1948 Palestine;
Jerusalem Center for Human Rights;
Jaffa Cultural Center-Nablus;
PNGO-Palestinian NGO Network, 1967 occupied Palestine;
Popular Committees-Gaza Refugee Camps;
Popular Committees-West Bank Refugee Camps;
The East Jerusalem YMCA;
Union of Women’s Activity Centers-West Bank Refugee Camps;
Union of Youth Activity Centers-West Bank and Gaza Refugee Camps;
From Jordan
High Committee for the Defense of the Right of Return-Jordan;
Jordanian Women’s Union;
From Lebanon
Consortium of Voluntary Organizations in Lebanon;
Forum of NGOs in Palestinian Communities in Lebanon;
National Society for Vocational Rehabilitation and Social Services;
Network of Arab Development NGOs;
Organization for Solidarity and Development;
From Syria
From Algeria
African Youth Network for Sustainable Development-Algeria;
From Iraq
Iraqi Hope Society
From Europe
Right-of-Return Coalition-Europe (London, Copenhagen, Sweden, Norway, France, Poland, Netherlands, Germany);
From North America
Al-Awda Canada;
Al-Awda Palestine Right-to-Return Coalition;

March 2004
2. The Haifa Initiative: Final Statement of the Organizers, ‘Right of Return and Just Peace’
(Presented to the Conference on 27 March 2004)

On the weekend of 26-28 March 2004 the first Right of Return Conference in Israel attracted more than 300 people for two days of extensive discussion, lively debate and a series of recommendations for future activities. The participants learned about the history of the Nakba, the moral and legal basis, in international law, of the right of return and of possible ways of implementing it. Throughout the day letters of support and solidarity were read as they were received from various Palestinian refugee communities in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories, the Arab world and the exile.

The conference was attended by representatives of Palestinian communities in the country and abroad, while some of the invited guests from the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories were denied entry by the Israeli authorities. They were joined by Jews and Palestinians from Israel, who came either as individuals or representatives of NGOs.

The initiating NGOs vow to continue the struggle for protecting the memory of the Nakba against its denial in Israel and abroad, for placing the right of return at the center of peace making in Israel and Palestine, and for finding the appropriate political structure to make possible the future return of the refugees ethnically cleansed from Palestine in the past. The initiators and the supporting NGOs are convinced that the return is the key for a better future, not only for Palestinians and Israelis, but for the region as a whole. The rectification of the evils inflicted by the 1948 ethnic cleansing, and ever since, would for the first time allow citizens and returnees, to enjoy normal and peaceful lives on a democratic and civic basis.

For this purpose, the conference suggests to launch various projects, such as educational workshops on the Nakba, a Nakba Museum and the institutionalization of the Nakba day in Israel. It also calls for better coordination with right-of-return initiatives worldwide, the advancement of practical programs for the facilitation of return, and urgent research of detailed and concrete models of joint political structures which include the right of return. These and other proposals form what can be called ‘The Haifa Initiative.’

Preparations have begun for the convention of the second Right of Return Conference in March 2005.

This was by all accounts a historical moment whose significance will be understood and recognized with time. Already now, however, this conference has refuted the claim that unconditional support for Palestinian refugees’ right of return is a taboo in Israel and a non-starter for peace efforts among the two people. The hundreds of people attending the conference showed that a growing number of Jews and Palestinians in Israel regard the implementation of the Palestinian right of return as the only road to lasting peace and reconciliation in the torn land of Palestine.

Ilan Pappe
Chair, Emil Touma Institute for Palestinian and Israeli Studies
Initiating NGOs: Ittijah, Zochrot, Emil Touma Institute and the
Association for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced in Israel