Rights and Justice for Palestinian Refugees

Peace = Human Rights

Peace can be achieved when all people around the world respect each other as human beings and accept their rights to existence, without distinction of any kind such as race, colour, political opinion, national or social origin or other status. When international law and human rights conventions are ignored, peacemaking efforts will continue to fail. As Palestinian youth, we have been extremely disappointed by ‘peacemaking’ efforts on the political front, and by the failure of the peace process which has taken no explicit or tangible measures to address the Israeli occupations’ crimes and violations of human rights. We want peace that recognizes the history, needs and rights of all Palestinians. When human rights are granted, peace can become a tangible virtue.

 

Peace = Justice/ freedom

Although we identify with peace that recognizes people’s rights and freedoms, we continue to see some governments who colonize other nations and steal their lands and kill their people under the name of spreading ‘peace’. For us, real peace is to respect other people’s right to exist and enjoy freedom. Despite the historic injustice that has been inflicted upon the Palestinian people, we desire to achieve a just peace which guarantees our rights in freedom and self-determination. We love our land and we want to live for it. We want our families, our future children and our community to live with hope and have the opportunity to live freely. However, peace cannot exist between the occupier and the occupied in the absence of real justice and accountability. Therefore, we want to achieve peace that includes addressing the root causes of the conflict (colonialism, discrimination, apartheid and occupation); a peace that guarantees stability on the soil of historic Palestine. We want peace that is based on justice; a peace that safeguards our dignity and freedom.

Palestinian National Struggle and Conflict Resolution

From the first moment of the colonization of Palestine until today, our people continued to uphold their historic rights and the justice of their cause and continued to find creative outlets for resistance against the violence of the colonizers. Examples of the Palestinian struggle – from Palestinian history – include the General Strike of 1936 when the British mandate exercised colonial control over historic Palestine and the First Intifada that began in December 1987 which consisted overwhelmingly of civilian acts of civil disobedience. Today, the struggle against the Zionist project continues using different means. However, the occupation of our land remains and the Israeli occupation continues its violations of our rights as human beings. Then, what is the solution to solve this conflict? How can we, as Palestinians, achieve the freedom, democracy, and justice for which we aspire?

A wide range of methods and processes exist for addressing conflict, including but not limited to negotiation, mediation, peace-building and diplomacy. In Palestine, resistance is seen as an ongoing process for conflict resolution. It has sustained itself within Palestine and among Palestinian people around the world. Therefore, we, the participants of the ‘Refugee Youth Forum’ gathered from all around the ‘West Bank’ to think, analyze and discuss various strategies of conflict resolution that are available for our people. In this publication, we will highlight some of the means of conflict resolution, which we find crucial in understanding the Palestinian struggle.

Before preparing this publication, we interviewed many people – paying special attention to the opinions of the young generation – and asked them opinion regarding resolving conflict by peaceful means. The answers we were given were very diverse; while some insisted that armed resistance is the only way to liberate Palestine, the majority considered it ineffective in the face of an occupier that has all the means to respond violently to our resistance. Some people were in favor of a complete popular uprising, like the Intifada of 1987 and others supported Popular Resistance. A few people were in favor of negotiations while others refused the return to negotiations as Palestinians did not make any real achievements through negotiations. What, then, are the feasible forms of resistance that will help us achieve the goals of the Palestinian national project: armed struggle, Popular Resistance, political and economic boycott of Israel, resisting normalization projects, or negotiations?

Negotiations are not the way forward

While we write about Palestinian resistance and conflict resolution by peaceful means, the Palestinian people commemorate the original Palestinian Nakba which fragmented Palestine 67 years ago and its effects continue to be felt every day in Palestine with the continuation of the Israeli colonial project and of the denial of the rights of the people of Palestine, especially the Right of Return. The violations of our basic rights as human beings also continue, so does the suffering of our people in Gaza, and the Israeli jails are full of Palestinian political prisoners. In light of all these facts, the Israeli occupation escapes any form of accountability for its crimes committed against humanity. In light of everything that is happening in Palestine today, we see that negotiations are no longer a solution for resolving this conflict.

The acceptance of the Palestinian leadership to return to the negotiations table means relinquishing its repeatedly-underscored fundamental requirement that Israel stops its colonization of the ‘West Bank’. What is the point of negotiations (whether direct or indirect) in which the pressure is always put on the Palestinians without any real commitment from the Israeli side? Why should Palestinians negotiate when Israel continues its expansion of illegal settlements, violates the rights of Palestinians in Jerusalem, expels Palestinians out of their lands, and continues the construction of the Apartheid Wall? The return to negotiations means the direct liquidation of Palestinian national rights, particularly the Right of Return, the issue of Jerusalem, and many other fundamental rights.

There is no good reason to return to negotiations that are so heavily skewed in favor of one party and shield Israel from accountability for ongoing colonization and apartheid policies. Nor are they the only option for moving forward. It has never happened in the history of national liberation movements that they have been able to achieve the objectives of their struggle by negotiating their rights with their colonizers. We have never read in the different models we studied about liberation movements in North America, South America, Algeria, and South Africa among others that indigenous people negotiated with the colonists over their rights and their lands. Going back to negotiations would adversely affect the political, economic and social rights of the Palestinian people. Palestinian national rights fall outside any form of debate, bargaining or maneuvering tactics.

At a time when the boycott campaign is making great results internationally, going back to negotiations will lead to convincing the world – wrongly – that there is a political process in progress. The return to negotiations should come only when Israel completely commits to the rights of the Palestinian people including the Right of Return. The cause of all political prisoners, Jerusalem, United Nations resolution 194 for the year 1948, Security Council resolution 237 of 1967, and the dismantling of the Wall should be an integral part of any negotiations to ensure the rights of all Palestinians.

As a young Palestinian generation, we will not accept defeat and will not be normalized with the Zionist project. Before we sit down on one table to negotiate with the occupation, we need to work together to restore our national unity and we need to be united in the face of the occupier to restore our rights and our freedom.

Will Joining the ICC Lead to Justice?

On January 2, 2015, Palestine formally submitted its credentials to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC has jurisdiction over all the crimes listed in the Rome Statute, including war crimes. This means that that Palestinians can create retrospective jurisdiction over war crimes committed by Israel, such as Israeli’s military operations against the Palestinians in Gaza. In addition, the Rome Statute also gives the ICC jurisdiction over other relevant international crimes, including the transfer of population, forced disappearances and apartheid, all of which were committed by the Israeli occupation against our people.

When we asked young Palestinians for their opinions regarding joining the ICC, we were met with different opinions. Some said that the ICC could potentially bring charges against Israeli political leaders and military commanders who were regarded as the masterminds of the crimes of Israel and its apartheid system. However, this can be done against specific individuals not against the Israeli system as a whole. Many of those to whom we spoke were not overly enthusiastic about joining the ICC. The ICC does have limitations, some said, it cannot return Palestinians whom we lost as martyrs, nor can it end the occupation of Palestine. The ICC can neither demand the return of Palestinian refugees nor can it address critical questions such as the Palestinian right of self-determination.

Both those for or against joining the ICC have valid points. As the young Palestinian generation, we hope that joining the ICC can bring some justice to the Palestinian cause and reinforce international solidarity with Palestinians. Joining the ICC, however, should not be isolated from other means of struggle and we see it as one step that should be followed by many others to insure the demand of all Palestinian rights.

Popular Resistance as means of conflict resolution 

There is no single way of resistance. Palestinians, as well as other colonized people across the world, use different tools in their struggles including armed struggle, strikes, popular resistance and cultural practices such as music, dance and literature. For example, the first intifada was marked by its national and non-violent nature, including commercial boycotts, strikes, demonstrations, and many types of political noncooperation. The first intifada successfully won over the international public opinion. Today, the Israeli occupation continues to enforce its colonial policies. Therefore, we must think critically of the forms of resistance that will lead to claiming our rights and enhance the unity of our people.

People under colonial and foreign domination have the right to use any form of resistance against their oppressors. The forms of resistance that can be used against oppressors vary and as Palestinians our resistance should be linked to the circumstances under which we live today. We should use the best available means of struggle in the suitable circumstances and time, using different tools that should always be developed and expanded. As Palestinians we have the duty to struggle not only on the political level, but also in the social, cultural, and economic arenas as well.

Across historic Palestine, resistance takes on different forms. For example, we should use different media platforms to advocate for our rights and document the violations of the Israeli occupation against our people. International mass-media continues to support the colonial project in Palestine and widely misrepresents Palestinian resistance. Therefore, as Palestinians we should use alternative media tools to tell our part of the story and to defend our rights.

We also have to safeguard our traditions and history as part our struggle. Palestinian traditional embroidery, Palestinian traditional dance (dabka), and Palestinian food are all part of our history and safeguarding them and passing their importance from one generation to the next is an integral part our popular resistance.

Popular resistance is an integral part of Palestinian sumud (steadfastness). The Palestinian farmer who insists on working on his confiscation-threatened land is resisting; our parents who teach us about the importance of education and teach us about the importance of steadfastness are also resisting; so are the children who stand in the face of the Israeli soldiers when they invade our refugee camps.

We can write endlessly about different forms of popular resistance and we can never count them all. The art murals created in refugee camps are part of the popular resistance, projects that aim at uniting Palestinian youth and educating them, such as the Refugee Youth Forum, are forms of popular resistance. Meeting together as Palestinian youth to analyze and write about the Palestinian resistance – in itself – is part of our resistance.

Our popular resistance also includes our refusal to give up hope, and our determination to live on our lands on which – as late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish wrote – “there is what makes life worth living”.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement

For decades, Israel has denied Palestinians their fundamental rights of freedom, equality, and self-determination through ethnic cleansing, colonization, discrimination, and occupation. Until today, the world community has failed to hold Israel accountable for its crimes. Therefore, Palestinian civil society called for a global citizens’ response: a comprehensive Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel which emerged in 2005.

The boycott movement is part of the history of the struggle of the Palestinian people since the beginning of the colonization of Palestine, starting during the 1936 revolution and continuing after the Nakba. The current global BDS movement against Israel is a strategy that allows people, in Palestine and all over the world, to play an effective role in the Palestinian struggle for justice. The BDS campaign is shaped by a rights-based approach and highlights the three broad sections of the Palestinian people: the refugees, those under military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Palestinians in Israel. The call urges various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law by: (1) Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall; (2) Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and (3) Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

In terms of creating real change, the global BDS movement has far reaching aims and powerful strategies, by garnering traction abroad, public institutions, the private sector and the international populace to act on their responsibility to fight against injustice. Some people, however, question the importance and effectiveness of the boycott movement. Our response to those people is that the BDS movement is a duty of every individual. The BDS movement and international solidarity were among the main pillars that led to the termination of the apartheid regime in South Africa. As people living under occupation, we have to work together to hold Israel accountable for its crimes and the BDS is an effective means to achieve our goals.

When we talk about boycott campaigns, we do not only refer to the boycott of products produced in Israeli settlements. Boycotting settlement products must be paired with boycotting all Israeli products and divestment from all Israeli companies or companies profiting from the Israeli occupation. We do not only mean economic boycott but also academic and cultural boycott of Israel and all Israeli institutions as a contribution to the struggle to end Israel’s occupation, colonization and system of apartheid.

We feel that the BDS movement is one of the most meaningful and practical tools available in our struggle. We feel that through BDS we can actively do something to defend our dignity and affirm our national identity. Palestinian commitment and participation in the BDS movement is a keystone for mobilizing effective international solidarity with Palestine and putting an end to the Israeli occupation.

Resistance shall continue as long as we continue to believe in our rights and the justice of our cause

We – the participants of the Refugee Youth Forum- decided to write this publication as our duty and a small contribution to the ongoing struggle of the Palestinian people and because we believe in the importance of resistance to achieve our aspirations of freedom and self-determination. We believe that the resistance will continue to develop and will continue until the liberation of our land.

There are different ways to resolving conflict by peaceful means. In Palestine, we must work together to build a strong Palestinian society. We should not only resist the occupation of our lands, but also the occupation of our minds and resist against those who say victory is impossible. We should resist by keeping our hopes in a better future, in keeping our faith in our national rights and through the spirit of the real Palestinian sumud (steadfastness). With the infinite possibilities of resistance, we will continue to exist until we achieve our dreams of freedom, justice, and self-determination.

Our Rights between Hope and Reality

Palestinian refugees are the indigenous people of Palestine, the majority of whom were dispossessed and expelled from their original towns and villages in the years of the Nakba (1947-1949). This dispossession has continued as generations of Palestinians have lived with the denial of their basic rights by the colonizers of their land. Today Palestinians are the largest and longest suffering group of refugees in the world counting some 10 Million refugees worldwide. For the past 67 years, Israel has denied Palestinians most of their basic rights as human beings including their right to return to their original towns, villages and homes.

Under Israeli military occupation Palestinians have no right of free speech, assembly or movement. Palestinians are being arrested and imprisoned without charge or trial; our houses are being invaded and searched. The borders, imports, exports and movement between our towns and cities are all controlled by the occupiers. Despite all these discriminatory actions against them, Palestinians continue to struggle for their basic rights. In the second publication of the “Refugee Youth Forum” we discussed strategies of resistance and conflict resolution. This is our third publication which is the result of collective work between 72 refugee youth. Here, we discuss the basic rights we are fighting for as refugees. Opinions and information was gathered through various focus groups that discussed pivotal rights including civil, economic, social, cultural rights as well as the Right of Return. We also discuss in this publication why the Israeli occupation denies us from these rights.

Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights aims to ensure the protection of economic, social and cultural rights of all peoples including the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to health, the right of education and many others. In Palatine, however, Israel’s systematic violation of the rights of Palestinians has continued for decades. Since the Nakba, Israel has put in place a system of laws, policies, and practices of institutionalized racial discrimination that denies Palestinians their right to self-determination, and denies them their basic rights. Today, the discriminatory policies of the occupation continue as well as the destruction of houses, hospitals, water and sanitation systems and other essential infrastructure. The economic, social and cultural rights of Palestinians including the right to education, the right to protection, the right to adequate standard of living, continue to be denied by the occupiers.

Although Palestinians have limited resources, we value our cultural, social and economic rights. For example, the right to education is highly valued among Palestinians. Despite occupation, colonization, and other discriminatory practices imposed on Palestinians, Palestine is recognized throughout the Middle East for its academic achievement. Literacy rates in Palestine are among the highest in the Middle East. For us, education is one of Palestine’s most important assets. The Israeli occupation, however, continues to violate our right to education by damaging the education infrastructure in Palestinian cities, villages and refugee camps.  For example, dozens of Palestinian schools and university buildings in Gaza Strip have been destroyed beyond repair as a result of Israeli attacks on Gaza. Hundreds of Palestinian students put their lives in danger to reach their schools in Hebron and other cities because of the attacks of settlers. Thousands of Palestinians in Jerusalem have no classrooms. Classrooms in UNRWA schools in the refugee camps are overcrowded with students and schools suffer lack of space and resources. Israeli military checkpoints and road closures have also impacted the ability of thousands of Palestinians to reach their schools and universities by impeding the movement of administrators and students alike.

In addition to violating the rights of Palestinians, the Israeli occupation uses illegal apartheid policies against Palestinians including the destruction of houses of Palestinians, checkpoints, and the Israeli Apartheid Wall. During the Oslo Peace Process, the West Bank was divided into three areas, “Area A, Area B and Area C.” The Palestinian Authority was granted limited authorities in Area A and Area B, while Israel retained military control over both areas. Israel was given exclusive control over Area C, which includes the territory where Israeli settlements are located, and comprise the majority (60%) of the West Bank. In the following years of the Oslo accords until today, the Israeli occupation has continued with discriminatory policies that facilitate the confiscation of Palestinian land, demolition of Palestinian property and construction of more Israeli illegal settlements. Unfortunately, the Oslo accords contained no practical mechanism to insure the economic and social rights of Palestinians in areas under its control.

Israel’s policies of colonialism and discrimination have denied the Palestinian people the opportunity to exercise the rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The policies of the Israeli occupation have prevented Palestinians from realizing their rights including the right to self-determination and equality the rights to work, education, an adequate standard of living and health. These rights are basic demands for realizing peace on our land.

Civil and Political Rights

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1966 recognizes that all people have the right of self-determination, the right to life, and the right to nationality among others without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, religion, political opinion, national origin, or other status. Palestinians, however, are denied many basic political rights and civil liberties including freedoms of expression, the press and political association.

Israeli policies and practices in the West Bank and Gaza include extensive use of collective punishments such as curfews, house demolitions and closure of roads, schools and community institutions. Tens of thousands of acres of Palestinian land have been confiscated, and thousands of trees have been uprooted. Palestinians are also subjected to detention and imprisonment in addition to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.

The Right of Return

When we discuss our rights as Palestinian refugee, the right of return is always present. The right of return is enshrined in international law, has historical precedent, and is repeatedly affirmed by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194, passed in December 1948, and states that

“…the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.”

The right of refugees to return to their homes is a fundamental right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that those who leave their homes in a time of war have the absolute right to return to them. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination’ and the European, American and African Conventions on Human Rights all acknowledge the rights of refugees and indigenous people. According to international law, refugees have the right to return to their homes of origin, receive real property restitution, and compensation for losses and damages.

Some people assume that the return of Palestinian refugees is impossible. But we respond to those people that the right of return is a legal individual right, and no one except the Palestinian refugees themselves can negotiate it away. The Right of Return is an individual right and as such cannot be delegated, diminished, or given up by any representative on behalf of the collective Palestinians in agreements or treaties with foreign bodies. We, refugee youth, do not accept or recognize any compensation as a substitute for return.

Israeli Fears of the Right of Return

Our grandparents, parents, and Palestinians in general have been insisting on our right to return to our original homes ever since 1948, while Israel has consistently refused to allow return. Even though Palestinian refugees have a right to return that is guaranteed by international law, Israel denies the rights of Palestinians to their lands. The primary problem lies in Israel’s fear about the political and legal consequences of digging into its dark past. Recognition of the Right of Return means an acknowledgment of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the crimes that Israel committed during the years of the Nakba and continue to commit against Palestinians today. Recognition of the Right of Return would uncover Zionist false myth that Palestine was ‘a land with no people for a people with no land’.

Denying the return of Palestinian refugees is central to Israel’s systematic oppression of Palestinians as Israel forces them to remain displaced inside the land of historic Palestine and internationally. Israel denies return because the Zionist ideology does not want a non-Jewish population. This discriminatory practice is not legitimate under international law, and Israel’s exclusionary immigration policies – allowing any Jew to enter and gain nationality, but denying entry and nationality to people with Palestinians heritage (and all other non-Jews) who are entitled thereto––is a clean violation of all international human rights conventions including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Some people argue that an acceptance of the Palestinian right to return would generate widespread fear of Jewish displacement. The right of return, however, is a practical demand. In reality around 80 percent of Israeli Jews currently live on around 15 percent of the land occupied by Israel. Although a relatively small number of Jewish Israelis live in the areas of Israel to which refugees would potentially return, Palestinians could return to their original villages.

Without the Right of Return, Palestinians remain marginalized. As Palestinian refugees, we are morally and legally entitled to choose whether to return to our homes of origin and to claim restitution and compensation for lost property. We demand our Right of Return and we demand compensations for the psychological suffering, the material losses and damages and war crimes which the refugees endured for 67 years, in accordance with international law.

Holding Israel Accountable for Human Rights Violations and the BDS Movement

The violation of Palestinian rights because of the Israeli occupation is severe and goes beyond the examples described in this publication. Israel must be held accountable for its violations of human rights. One way of holding Israel accountable for its crimes is through supporting the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

The Palestine solidarity movement, primarily through the BDS campaign, is influenced by and committed to both international and human rights law. The BDS call, made by Palestinians in 2005, urges various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law by including 1) Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall; 2) Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and 3)Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

Political, economic, academic and cultural boycott of Israel is an affirmation of the legitimacy of Palestinian resistance to injustice occupation and an effective way to hold Israel responsible for its crimes against Palestinians. It is important to expose human rights abuses and violations of international law by the Israeli regime, and to hold Israel accountable for its violations.

Today the BDS movement has become a household term in the realm of social and political activism. Many projects and organizations like those participating in the “Refugee Youth Forum” support the principles of the right of return, and supporting the BDS movement. We expect, and hope that the BDS movement will continue to play a significant role in reviving the resistance among the Palestinians and those who believe in freedom and justice worldwide.

Our Demands are Just Rights  

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” Palestinians, like all the peoples of the world, desire and deserve peace and freedom and the opportunity to exercise their inalienable human rights. Ending Israel’s occupation is the first step to ensure this as well as putting an end to the culture of impunity that Israel has been accustomed to after years of colonization. Palestinians deserve to enjoy human rights as do all the people of the world in addition to the Right of Return which is sacred, inalienable, and non-negotiable.

We dream of a better life that is not marked with violence, tragedy or suffering. We want a future Palestine where Palestinians have the right to choose where to live, what and where to study, and where people have the freedom of expression. We, the Palestinian youth, will not succumb to coercion and repression from the occupier and we will continue to struggle until we achieve freedom, justice and peace on the historical land of Palestine.