Palestinian Refugees Publicly Affirm Rights: In the context of continued Israeli and international efforts to undermine Palestinian refugee rights, refugees continue to find it necessary to issue public statements clarifying and affirming basic rights, foremost being the right of return. During September, for example, some 100,000 Palestinian refugees living in camps in Lebanon signed a memorandum reaffirming the right of return. (WAFA, 4 September 2002) The memorandum also expressed support to the Palestinian leadership and reminded the international community, in the context of US-led efforts to marginalize Yasser Arafat, that only the Palestinian people are entitled to choose their leadership. The memorandum was prepared by Palestinian organisations and political parties in Lebanon.
In the 1967 occupied territories, Palestinians, including refugees, reacted strongly against a joint initiative by Sari Nusseibeh, coordinator of the Jerusalem portfolio for the PLO, and Ami Ayalon,former head of the Israeli secret service (Shabak) that cal led upon Palestinian refugees to forego their basic human right to return to their homes of origin inside Israel. The initiative was denounced bypolitical parties and by refugees themselves. The PLO Department of Refugee Affairs issued a public statement clarifying the position of the PLO, which is based on international law as set forth in UN General Assembly Resolution 194, affirming the right of each individual Palestinian refugee to choose to return to his/her home of origin. Selected statements are reprinted in al-Majdal Documents (page 39).
Al-Awda (London): On 16 September, over 300 people attended a talk organised by Al-Awda UK on the right of return for Palestinian refugees. The lecture was held at SOAS, University of London. Speakers included Dr. Mahmoud Issa, a researcher from the Danish Refugee Council and campaigner on the right of return, and Dr. Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian from Haifa University and Academic Director of the Research Institute for Peace at GivatHaviva. The meeting was chaired by Dr. Karma Nabulsi, Fellow from Nuffield College, Oxford University, and Special Advisor to Parliamentary Middle East Councils' Commission of Enquiry on Palestinian Refugees and their report Right of Return (March 2001).
Mahmoud Issa spoke about his research on the Palestinian village of Lubya where he was born. The village, located in the Galilee, was depopulated and demolished during the 1948 war in Palestine. The inhabitants of Lubya were scattered in more than 20 different countries around the world. Before the expulsion of its residents, Lubya had a population of about 3,000 people, the majority of whom were farmers and traders. The village had a rich cultural and social life, unique to the village but not dramatically different from the life found in most other Palestinian villages of the time. Today the descendants from Lubya number about 45,000 people.
The presentation included a collection of photographs documenting life in the village before the Nakba in 1948 as well as the life of refugees from Lubya after their expulsion. Although refugees from Lubya live thousands of kilometres from their village - thousands currently reside in Denmark - they still have a common feeling of belonging to the samecommunity. A documentary film about Lubya and its descendants was produced by Danish TV; the research is now the basis for a large international ethnographic exhibition on the social and cultural life of Palestinian villages before 1948.Professor Ilan Pappe spoke about the issue of the right of return in Israeli discourse with particular focus on current debate on the impending war on Iraq and the 'conditions' this may produce for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to implement 'ethnic cleansing' under the cover of war.
A master plan is not the most important thing in carrying out ethnic cleansing. 'Ethnic cleansing' is linked to an atmosphere where people who have already been indoctrinated and conditioned - a long-term campaign of education and propaganda - to "know what to do" when the situation is ready. When the moment came in 1948 people 'knew what to do'. Since the late 1960s, the peace agenda has been an American game; what is important is that there is a process and this process is more important than peace. This process has served the interests of Israel. It wasnever meant to be a process that would deal with the key issues, including the right of return. Eighty percent of the land of Palestine was erased from the agenda of the peace process and negotiations leaving the remaining 20 percent up for discussion.
Since 1993, the Palestinian leadership has joined this 'game', a measured attempt that would have succeeded had it not been for the start of the new intifada. The best way to counter the serious threat of another Nakba is to develop a campaign focused on divestment from and sanctions against Israel. Secondly, the campaign to end the occupation must continue. This campaign, however, should also be a campaign against a two-state solution, which is a means of continuing the occupation through different and indirect means. And thirdly, it is necessary to update the language and debate on a secular democratic state. This is the only way to solve the conflict in Palestine, implement the right of return, and stop discrimination of Palestinians in Israel. Aisling Byrne, Al-Awda UK.
Workshop on Oral History of Expulsion: A pilot project workshop on oral history and the story of the Nakba, entitled "The Experience of Expulsion" was convened by Karma Nabulsi of Nuffield College, and Ilan Pappé of Haifa University at Oxford University this past September. The workshop was largely sponsored by Nuffield College, with additional assistance and support from the Refugee Studies Centre and St Antony's Middle East Centre, both part of Oxford University.
It was a chance for scholars (oral historians, politicalscientists, sociologists, anthropologists, historians of political thought) and practitioners from all over the world for an intensive weekend of work, during which the various methods and means to proceed with this crucial research was discussed. It also provided an opportunity to explore both the intellectual and practical difficulties that have and will emerge in this complex endeavour, and to establish the relationship between the oral history of the Nakba with the current political, social, and civil situation of the refugees today.
The opening presentation by Illan Pappe first examined the challenging intellectual questions raised by the particularisms and peculiarities of the literature on Palestine and the Palestinian expulsion and the mystifying language created to deal with it. The first part of the workshop focused upon a general introduction to oral history's purposes and its main approaches. With the help of experts on the subject, the workshop reviewed the latest developments in the field, discussed the growing importance of oral history in historiographical enterprises, and explored some of the difficulties and restrictions that are posed by this method. Naseer Aruri gave an overview of the current situation of the study of Palestine, and set out the parameters of the debate.
Silvia Salvatici presented her work on the Archives of Memory of Kosovo, giving a fascinating comparative approach, and made clear the importance of maintaining a plurality of voices when reconstructing a national history of an event, or period. Gabi Piterberg from UCLA gave useful theoretical and methodological underpinnings to the use of texts as oral history. Susan Slyomovics and Ted Swedenberg presented the importance and difficulties with materials, looking at, respectively, photographs of life before 1948, and of memory after it. May Seikaly, Mahmoud Issa, and Salman Abu Sitta all showed a little of their extensive work on the oral history of (respectively), one village, several villages, and the whole of Palestine. Rosemary Sayigh introduced the next day's work with a measured overview on the current state of play in the oral history of Palestine overall. Marilyn Deegan of The Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University demonstrated the possibilities of a virtual database and internet based research, with a presentation of their Online programme.
There were two presentations by community based organisations currently working in refugee camps. The first was given by Terry Rempel representing Badil, andexplored the potentials for connecting oral history with current projects underway and anticipated. The importance of the involvement of the refugee communities with oral historians and Palestinian institutions was reconfirmed. The second presentation was of the work by ARCPA (the Arab Resource Centre for Popular Arts) and their pathbreaking work in the gathering of family oral testimonies of the Nakba undertaken by the children in the camps of Lebanon.
The final session explored the possible ways forward, and established certain common ground for the enterprise. First and foremost amongst them was the understanding amongst all participants of the importance of relocating the refugee question back to the heart of the peace agenda. Further, all agreed this should be part of a redress and restitution campaign, and that Palestinian civil society in the refugee camps who are playing an active role in this endeavour must be supported by scholarship on the oral history of the expulsion. It was suggested that facing the past as way of constructing the future was the clear way forward, in association with the community organisations, intellectuals, institutions, political activists, civil society, and youth.
The bi-national element of this project was emphasised, as well as the education and reconciliation aspects of the work. Second was the new intellectual framework that needed to be mapped out for establishing the paradigms under which to conduct study on the catastrophic events of 1948. The use of the concept of ethnic cleansing clearly provides the most substantial advance in illuminating the study of what happened during the expulsions of 1947-49. It was understood that there should be a continual assessment of the history of the Nakba with other cases of ethnic cleansing, in order to both compare and contrast theoretical, methodological, and empirical similarities and differences, and open new approaches. Finally, the type of institutional apparatuses and databases that will be necessary to encourage and further the work already undertaken on the experience of expulsion was debated and discussed at great length.
The need to link already existing activities was reinforced. The relative strengths of the idea of a network centre, or a more formaldocumentation centre, or simply a hub that coordinates between different parts of an internationally scattered intellectual and activist community, were all raised and explored. The enthusiastic participation from all those who had attended the sessions, as well as the contributions from other participants drawn from the broader community, made this session of the workshop particularly useful for the convenors - who now have the delicate task of absorbing, assessing, synthesising, and transforming the wealth of input into the first draft of a future collective agenda. Dr Karma Nabulsi, Nuffield College.
20th Anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila
Massacre: September 2002 marked the 20th anniversary of the massacre of Palestinian refugees in the Beirut camps of Sabra and Shatila. Events commemorating the massacre and the ongoing war crimes against Palestinians were held around the world, including events in the Middle East, Europe and in North America. In Beirut, European and Japanese delegations visited Shatila camp to expresssorrow at the continuing suffering faced by Palestinian refugees.
The delegation met with refugees in the camp and visited the martyr's cemetery. In the West Bank, Archmandrite Dr. Atallah Hanna of the Orthodox Church organised a memorial rite in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem. Hanna described his feelings upon visiting Sabra and Shatila camps for the first time and told worshippers that the massacre would not be forgotten. He also spoke about the massacre in the context of Israel's continued military assault on the Palestinian population in the occupied territories, particularly in Jenin and Nablus. In Jericho, amemorial was organized by the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Tourism.
Organizers screened two films about Israel's military invasion of Jenin and Bethlehem in April 2002 invasion. Inside Israel, the Coalition for Women for a Just Peace issued a public letter to the Palestinian community in Lebanon recognising the forced expulsion of Palestinians in 1948 and condemning those responsible for the 1982 massacre, including Ariel Sharon. "We condemn the brutal murderers of your loved ones and we condemn the leaders who must be held accountable for these war crimes, Ariel Sharon above all."See, http://www.coalitionofwomen4peace.org
In Abu Dhabi the Zayed Center hosted a presentation by Chibli Mallat, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the case against Sharon currently in the Belgian courts, and Sanaa Sarsawi, an eyewitness of the massacre. Mallat requested Arab diplomats to support the appeal against Sharon and other war criminals. The Centre also organised a photo exhibition of the massacre and the victims. In London, the Palestinian Return Centre (PRC) organised a public seminar on the massacre at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.
The seminar examined the possibilities of pressing legal charges in a British court against Ariel Sharon and other political and military officials involved in the 1982 massacres and more recent war crimes in the occupied territories. Speakers at the seminar included Dr. Swee Chai Ang, a British surgeon who worked in Gaza Hospital during the time of the Sabra and Shatila massacres; Lloyd Quinan of the Scottish Parliament, one of the first British and European officials to visit the Jenin refugee camp in April 2002 after Israel's military assault on the camp; Belgian lawyer Michael Verstraeten, who participated in the case brought against Sharon in Belgium; and, Owen Davies of the British Queen's Council who participated in several high profile international cases, including the case against former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.
For more information on the seminar, see the PRC website: http://www.prc.org.uk
In North America, the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacre was incorporated into the annual Right of Return rally held this year in Chicago. (See above)British Jews Renounce Citizenship As the Israeli govern ent embarked on a new policy of stripping alestinian citizens of their Israeli citizenship based on grounds of 'violating state security and breach of trust' a group of 46 British Jews published an open letter in the British daily, The Guardian (8 July 2002), renouncing their right of residency and citizenship in Israel as set forth in Israel's 1950 Law of Return in protest of the discriminatory nature of the law and against Israeli policy in the occupied Palestinian territories. The letter is reprinted below.
"We Renounce Israel Rights" We are Jews, born and raised outside Israel, who, under Israel's "law of return", have a legal right to sraeli residence and citizenship. We wish to renounce this unsought "right" because:
1) We regard it as morally wrong that this legal entitlement should be bestowed on us while the very people who should have most right to a genuine "return", having been forced or terrorised into fleeing, are excluded.
2) Israel's policies towards the Palestinians are barbaric - we do not wish to identify ourselves n any way with what Israel is doing.
3) We disagree with the notion that Zionist emigration to Israel is any kind of "solution" for diaspora Jews, antisemitism or racism - no matter to what extent Jews have been or are victims of racism, they have no right to make anyone else victims.
4) We wish to express our solidarity with all those who are working for a time when Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip can be lived in by people without any restrictions based on so-called racial, cultural, or ethnic origins.
We look forward to the day when all the peoples of the area are enabled to live in peace with each other on this basis of non-discrimination and mutual respect. Perhaps some of us would even wish to live there, but only if the rights of the Palestinians are respected. To those who consider Israel a "safe haven" for Jews in the face of antisemitism, we say that there can be no safety in taking on the role of occupier and oppressor. We hope that the people of Israel and their leaders will come to realise this soon.
Palestinian Civil Society Organisations Call for Israel Boycott: One year after some 3,000 civil society organisations from around the world approved their NGO Declaration and Program of Action at the third World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, Palestinian civil society organizations in the occupied territories issued a joint call to strengthen and broaden the Israel boycott campaign until Israel complies with international law.
(The full statement is reprinted in al-Majdal Documents, page39) Boycott campaigns have also targeted US companies with business ties to Israel, including Starbucks Coffee, Caterpillar, Intel Corporation, and Coca Cola. In September, for example, activists from SUSTAIN(Stop US tax-funded Aid to Israel Now!) served an arrest warrant to Caterpillar officials in their Washington, DC office, accusing the company of knowingly selling equipment to the Israeli Defense Forces with the knowledge that the equipment wouldbe used for demolishing Palestinian homes and comm itting other war crimes and crimes against humanity, and for refusing to cease such sales when illegal uses were documented. Students on various university campuses across the United States and Europe have also organised divestment campaigns to pressure universities to divest from Israel.The boycott was one of several recommendations included in the NGO Declaration and Program of Action.