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The Palestinian Return: Special Update on Palestinian Refugees on International Refugee Day

19 June 2010

By The Palestinian Return Centre

June the 20th is international refugee day. It is an occasion to remember the 43.3 million displaced people around the world who have been forced to flee their country under the threat of violence.

Amongst them are Palestinian refugees who represent the longest and largest unresolved refugee crises in modern history. Even after six decades their condition is extremely precarious and unique.

For your information PRC has produced an update, attached with this email, on Palestinian refugees with useful facts and analysis.


International Refugee Day

June the 20th is international refugee day, marking the anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. It is an occasion to remember the 43.3 million displaced people around the world. It is a day to recognise their bravery and strength in facing adversity. It is also a day to take positive steps in providing support in their time of need.

The 1951 Convention gives recognition to the basic human rights of refugees and a commitment by the international community to provide assistance during their status as refugees until they return to their country. A major part of this assistance is to insure that a proper mechanism is established in order to secure their right to return to their lands. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is the international agency that is set up to provide this assistance.

Palestinian Refugees

Included amongst the 43.3 million displaced people are the 7.1 million, approximately three quarters of the global Palestinian population, who are refugees. They represent the longest and largest unresolved refugee crises in modern history. Many in the UK and around the world are unaware that Palestinians were expelled from their land in order to make way for Israel. Below are some basic facts about Palestinian refugees:

• Three quarters of a million Palestinians were expelled in 1948 from their lands, a catastrophe which Palestinians call the Nakba.

• Palestinians fled to neighbouring countries, some fled to different parts of the world as far away as Argentina and Bolivia.

• The international community mandated the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) to provide humanitarian relief only to those that were expelled in 1948. The agency now provides social, educational and economic assistance for refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

• The 4.8 million UNRWA registered refugees does not take into account the 400,000 that fled in 1967, Palestinians in diasporas, new refugees from Israel’s house demolition policies and wars.

• The refugees face many different challenges; economic, social and existential. They are united by a deep desire to return to their land which we’ve discovered through our parliamentary delegations to camps and the survey which PRC has carried out in the refugee camps.

• They are also united by the failure of the international community to uphold their basic human right to return to their land.

Cause of Their Displacement

Unlike other refugee crises, the roots of Palestinian displacement are contended, especially on the question of a master plan to drive Palestinians out of the land. There is however a much easier way to reconcile the plethora of studies on the origins of the refugee crisis which is to evaluate the logical conclusions of the Zionist dream and its underlying assumptions. The question has to be asked, could a Jewish, democratic State where Jews, even after the mass influx from Europe in the early 20th century comprised only 30 per cent of the population, be a realistic aspiration without ethnic cleansing?

The largest number of refugees is currently from Afghanistan. Their displacement is recognised as a consequence of violence in the region. The ongoing displacement of Palestinian refugees is not a by product of an unfortunate consequence of war, it was the only way to fulfil the Zionist dream to empty the land of its indigenous population in order to establish a Jewish state in Palestine. Zionism and population transfer are inextricably linked, it presupposes population transfer and its success lies in the continued displacement of Palestinians.

There is vast amount of credible scholarly work which shows that the violence and ethnic cleansing was premeditated and systematically implemented. One would think that the historic records and the
tremendous amount of scholarly work which shows that organised and systemic violence was visited on the Palestinians would have more credibility simply because it chimes with the theological underpinnings of Zionism itself.

The Unspoken Crime

The original sin against the Palestinians has become a taboo subject to the detriment of peace and justice. Every negotiation has failed simply because a peace process that ignores the roots of the problem cannot be delivered by anyone. Official approaches to find permanent solutions nonetheless still tend to view Palestinian refugees as unique and thus in need of a unique solution.

Consequently, International law and the human rights of refugees are marginalised, often excluded from debate.

Above all, the Palestinian refugee case is contentious because of the degree to which it poses a challenge to the state system and more notably to Israel’s desire to remain a Jewish state and not a
secular democratic state for all its citizens. At the heart of this challenge are the human rights of Palestinians and Israel’s wish to maintain its Jewish majority, a major strategic goal of Israel.

Uniquely Critical to a Legal Black Hole

For the millions of Palestinian refugees the gap in their assistance from the international community is seriously lacking especially given the length of their displacement. When the Palestinian refugee crises began in 1948 the UN recognised the grave problem facing the Palestinians. This is clearly highlighted by the fact that it set up two separate institutions, United Nations Relief and Work Agency
(UNRWA) and United Nations Conciliatory Committee for Palestine (UNCCP), exclusively to address the plight of Palestinian refugees.

Furthermore the UN mediator in Palestine, Count Bernadotte, proposed in 1948 that the right of innocent people, uprooted from their homes by the present terror and ravages of war was inviolable. They had the right to be allowed to return to their homes and this should be affirmed and made effective, with assurance of adequate compensation for the property of those who may choose not to return. As a result the UN passed Resolution 194, reaffirmed more than 100 times in the UN General Assembly in recognition of the right of return. The UN also accepted Israel as members state on the condition it upholds UN resolutions, above all Resolution 194.

From the outset the international community recognised its own complicity in creating the Palestinian refugee problem and adopted a heightened response, setting up the two separate institutions, one to provide emergency relief - UNRWA- and one to provide legal protection –UNCCP. With Israel’s total rejection to comply with international demands, UNCCP became obsolete. As a consequence there is now no recognised institution providing legal protection for the rights ofPalestinian refugees. Their condition has been reduced to humanitarian crises with UNRWA providing for their humanitarian relief.

The scope of the 1951 Refugee Convention disqualified the Palestinians from UNHCR’s mandate because according to the convention it shall ‘’not extend to a person: …. who continues to receive from other organs or agencies of the United Nations protection or assistance.” The “other agencies of the United Nations” originally referred both to UNRWA and to the UNCCP.

In the six decades since the birth of the refugee crises the Palestinian refugee issue has been reduced from a status of the highest attention, with two exclusive institutions to meet its political and humanitarian needs, to one where Palestinian refugees find themselves in acute legal, political and humanitarian vulnerability.

Impact of the Lack of Legal Protection

The earnest response from the international community has been replaced by stagnation within the international community to right the injustice. The impact of this has been grave for Palestinians and the region in many different ways:

• The conflict has continued with disastrous consequences with new waves of refugees emerging with every conflict in the region, many having experienced multiple forced expulsions. As a consequence of the 2003 Iraqi invasion, 34,000 Palestinians from Iraq could be evicted from their homes.

• Without the legal protection afforded to all other refugees, Palestinians are in a uniquely vulnerable situation.

• UNRWA is limited to providing humanitarian aid and UNHCR has not been given the mandate to fill the void. Refugees strongly urge the international community to continually support UNRWA’s humanitarian effort and also to expand its mandate to include legal protection and facilitate their right of return.

• The region has not been able to close a torrid chapter in its history and develop positively.

• Palestinian refugees continue to grow in number placing an avoidable burden on the international community for aid and assistance.

• The Palestinian people see a future with no hope and no prospect for a viable economic, social and political infrastructure to develop and give the people hope and aspiration. Against this backdrop, it is understandable that many Palestinians have lost faith in the political process.

• Explosions of violence appear with disastrous effect taking the international community further away from a just peace.

For more information please contact The Palestinian Return Centre:
Website: www.prc.org.uk
Email: info@prc.org.uk
Phone: 0208- 453-0919




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