Majdal Editorial Team

Refugee Rights and an Indigenous Agenda for the Promotion of Human Rights and Democracy

Refugee rights and refugee participation are key elements of an indigenous agenda for the promotion of human rights and democratic reforms in the Middle East. An inclusive process that addresses protection concerns and simultaneously works to create the conditions in which Palestinian refugees and internally displaced may freely choose to exercise their right to return and repossess their homes and properties can enhance respect for human rights in the region and pave the way for broad democratic reforms in the Arab world and Israel.


The greater Middle East

Recent U.S. plans to promote political reform and democratization in the Middle East are widely perceived in the Arab world as the second round of an offensive launched after 11 September 2001 to reshape the political landscape of the region. The "Greater Middle East Initiative", apparently inspired by UN Arab Human Development Reports, was tentatively scheduled to be discussed and endorsed by members of the G-8, the EU, and NATO in June 2004. The plan for political, judicial, economic and social reform of Arab states has been met with widespread criticism.

Human Rights, Popular Democracy, and a Just Peace

 There are three critical factors for a comprehensive and durable solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. First, it should be consistent with international law and relevant UN resolutions. Secondly, the process must allow for broad public participation. And finally, based on the above, a comprehensive and durable solution must respect refugee rights while the process itself must include refugees.

 Unfortunately, the flurry of official and unofficial political activity among many international diplomats, and Israeli and Palestinian political figures over the past several months signals a further disengagement from human rights and popular democracy and a setback in the search for a just peace. In terms of end results, there is not a lot of distance between Ariel Sharon’s recent talk of ‘unilateral disengagement’ from the Palestinians and many of the high-profile alternative efforts to find a solution to the conflict.

Given the moribund state of the so-called Road Map, which is still viewed as ‘the only game in town’, many international actors have thrown their political support behind alternative initiatives, including the so-called 'Geneva Understandings' that were released in a glitzy ceremony in the Swiss capital in December 2003. Those who drafted the initiative in the relative seclusion of Dead Sea resorts and the luxurious trappings of Lake Geneva argue that the initiative is meant to prove, first and foremost, that it is possible to reach a “fair and executable agreement” between the two sides.

Building Durable Solutions from the Ground Up

Less than six months after its release in April 2003, the latest international initiative to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is hopelessly mired in the quagmire of Israeli occupation, denial of the right of refugees to return and repossess their properties, the virtual collapse of the Palestinian Authority, and international inaction and indecision.
The irony of the Performance-Based Road Map to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is that the two-state solution appears to be a more distant reality today than it was six months ago when the Road Map was released. Ongoing expansion of Israeli colonies, expropriation of Palestinian land, and the construction of the so-called separation/apartheid wall deep into the occupied West Bank render the very premise of the Road Map – ‘two states for two peoples’ – effectively inoperable.

Over the last three years of the second intifada Israeli forces have killed more than 2,200 Palestinians of whom 400 were children. Nearly 550 Israelis have been killed including 99 children. Nearly 21,000 dunums of Palestinian land has been leveled, more than 1,200 homes completely destroyed, 312 industrial facilities demolished, and 43 educational facilities demolished. The combined effect of these policies has created a new generation of Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons more than five decades after the first mass displacement of Palestinians in 1948.

There is no doubt that the conditions for a Palestinian state – a permanent population, a defined territory, a government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other states – are far from met.

Discussions from within Debate amongst Palestinian activists and intellectuals as to whether a Palestinian state is still viable, whether it is the best option to ensure justice and address the effects of ethnic cleansing and what other options might exist, plays a determinative role in the strategy Palestinians will adopt in the future.

 This issue of al-Majdal features articles first published in BADIL’s Arabic language magazine Haq al-Awda. The articles reflect current Palestinian positions and debate regarding a one-state and two-state solution: whether any of the two is still possible and which is preferable. A recurring concern among the authors is how to develop a strategy that addresses self-determination for all Palestinians, including Palestinian refugees and internally displacees, and challenges the Israeli imposed solution,

which prevents both the formation of two viable states and the creation of one state for all its citizens. Sharon’s legacy Ariel Sharon has been in a coma since suffering a serious stroke on 5 January 2006. However, Sharon’s physical presence in Israeli leadership is not critical to the unfolding unilateral disengagement plan. Subduing the enemy by any means, Sharon’s infamous conception of a peace process, survives and gives rise to continued ethnic cleansing, racism and discrimination, destruction of property, missiles, torture, the Wall and enclaves, colonization, and apartheid. It must be recalled that subduing the enemy is the logic of war:

Defining and redefining the parameters of the protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict is intrinsic to the conflict, because the ongoing lack of consensus on “what this conflict is about” gives rise to conflicting models of solutions. Recently for instance, proposals have been made to “revise” the Arab/Saudi Peace initiative by diluting its provisions on Palestinian refugees' right of return, in order to accommodate Israel's interest in “re-defining the conflict as a border dispute” (Tzipi Livni, 12 March).

The conflict continues to be defined as religious, ethnic, colonial, apartheid, with models of solutions spanning from a rights-based approach to the politically-driven model based on the principle of 'land for peace'. The UN has been a 'divided house' as to the nature of and solution to the conflict (See 'Known Knowns' and 'Unknown Unknowns': the UN and Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, by Terry Rempel). The role of the international community, particularly the European Union and the United States, in fostering a 'just peace' is being re-evaluated by many who question the commitment of these players to international law and democracy (See The Palestinian People at Cross-Roads, by Ingrid Jaradat Gassner and US Policy and Palestinian Rights: Is there a Way to Shift American Gears? by Nadia Hijab).

The latest events in the 1967 occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip have led many to consider a possible end of the Palestinian political system shaped by the Oslo Accords, and they have caused despair at the West’s approach to human rights and democratic principles in the Middle East (see: “The End of National Unity of the Palestinian Elites...”).

Events in the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp in Lebanon have also demonstrated, once again, the vulnerability of Palestinian refugees and the complexity of the political scene in Lebanon (see: “The Ongoing Nakba: Sickness and Health Among Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon”, “Lebanon: A Proxy Way in Nahr el-Bared Refugee Camp?” and “Commemorating Palestine in Lebanon”). At the same time, the persecution suffered by Palestinian refugees and the Iraqi population in Iraq is reaching unprecedented levels and requires immediate protection; a protection that is, unfortunately, not forthcoming (see: “Palestinian Refugees in Iraq: The Lost Protection”).

 Amidst 40 years of Israeli occupation and colonization of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the worsening political, humanitarian and human rights situation in the region, Palestinians, however, remain steadfast. In May, Palestinians commemorated the 59th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba of 1948 while becoming victims of “a new Nakba”, i.e. Palestinian inter-factional armed conflictintheoccupiedGazaStripandWestBank.TheNakbaofalmost60years ago has become a powerful symbol of what continues to happen to Palestinians until today. It symbolizes the Palestinian quest for justice, redress, and the right of return (see: “The Power of Memory”).

 In this year’s 59th commemoration of the Nakba, Badil organized the the first Al-Awda Award.Popluar marches, rallies and conferences were held in Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories, Europe and North America in memory of past displacement and with the demand for future return. The 40/60 Call to Action is an appeal from displaced Palestinians to global civil society to address the root causes of 60 years of conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people and join the quest for new principled vision and struggle (see: “BADIL’s 40/60 Call to Action”). The civil society Campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, which is being joined by an increasing number of persons, unions and organizations, is also part of this strategic effort to pressure Israel and states to respect the rights of Palestinians under international law (see: BDS Update).

Next year, in 2008, the Palestinian Nakba will turn 60. Individuals and organizations who wish to make this anniversary a meaningful event, and thereby support the Palestinian people’s quest for justice and freedom, are welcome to contact Badil for further information (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). 

Still no framework for peace that respects international law

Will the US-led Annapolis meeting fail, succeed, or even happen at all? Whatever the answer, one thing is clear: there is again no accountable process based on international law. In other words, the 'best' outcome will be another meaningless peace process, because it fails to take into account international law and best practice.

Many will agree that the past few months have posed many challenges to Palestinian unity; yet, when reading the stories of Palestinian refugees and internally displaced scattered around the world, one cannot but feel the symbiotic union of a people; something that transcends borders and politics, “something of the heart”, as a boy in the Al-Wihdat refugee camp puts it.

  This special Nakba 60 issue of al Majdal aims to honor the 7 million Palestinian refugees and internally displaced who live in forced exile today. Voices, from Chile to Gaza, that come together to tell of their love and longing for their home, land and people; voices that call for humanity, justice and dignity – and for return, the return of rights, all rights.

A demand, after 60 years of ongoing dispossession and displacement, that is stronger than ever. Palestinians - the indigenous people of the land which is now Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory - are suffering from historic injustices as a result of the colonization and dispossession of their lands, territories and resources. They are struggling against an ideology - Zionism – that contends that there should be a Jewish State in ‘Eretz Israel’ - a territorial construct that includes all of the land of Mandate Palestine, and upon which a Jewish majority should be created and maintained. Concretely, this means that Palestinians are faced with discriminatory policies and practices that violate their fundamental rights, notably their rights to self-determination, equality, and return.

This year, the 60th since the establishment of Israel through the systematic forced transfer of most of Palestine's indigenous population, has witnessed the largest global mobilization in support of Palestinian rights since the 1948 Nakba. In cities around the world, supporters of human rights and just peace participated in actions and events demanding that the truth of the Nakba be exposed and calling for the implementation of Palestinian refugee rights. Many of these actions and events were part of the emerging global movement to reverse, and not just commemorate, the 60-year Nakba, through boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns against Israel until it fully complies with its obligations under international law and universal human rights and dismantles its regime of apartheid, colonialism and occupation. This issue of al-Majdal brings together the voices of BDS activists from around the world to describe and evaluate their campaigns to date.

The current BDS campaign is deeply rooted in the century-old history of Palestinian civil resistance against Zionist colonization. In the two decades before the establishment of the state of Israel, the Palestinian national movement had implemented a local boycott of Zionist enterprises that escalated during the uprising of 1936-1939. After 1948, member states of the League of Arab States, Non-Aligned Movement, and Organization of the Islamic Conference launched state-run boycott campaigns to ensure that commercial and financial relations with Israel did not take place, a boycott that began to be reversed under US pressure when Egypt signed the Camp David Accords and other Arab states engaged in the normalization treaties of the 1990s. Anti-normalization, a term that describes opposition to the treatment of Israel as a 'normal state' given its abnormal regime of apartheid, colonialism and occupation, became a central slogan of civil society in Arab countries that initiated relations with Israel, as well as in Palestine after the Oslo agreements.

For many civil society actors involved in struggles against racial discrimination, the 2001 World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa seemed to be a turning point. Blacks, Dalits, Indigenous nations of the Americas, Roma, Palestinians, and other racialized communities carried each others’ banners and took up each others’ cries for a world without racism and apartheid. There was ample reason to hope that global civil society had achieved a victory in the quest for redress after centuries of racist oppression.

The civil society consensus emerging from Durban crystallized around a set of clear demands: vapid verbal condemnations of racism were not sufficient; perpetrators and benefactor states of racism and colonialism needed to make structural changes and pay reparations for their actions in accordance with international law.


But the states implicated were not interested in taking any meaningful responsibility. They responded with a Zionist-led offensive that used the groundswell of support for the Palestinian cause to smear the conference as an “anti-Semitic hate-fest.” This phrase was picked up and disseminated by Western states and their corporate media machines, attempting to turn Durban into a four letter word. Two days after the conference, the 9/11 attacks in the United States took place, and the world’s attention shifted to the “war on terror.” Any attempt to challenge the powerful myth-making about the Durban Conference became futile.