Veteran PLO official Hanan Ashrawi has stressed that the rights of the Palestinian people are inalienable, and the right of return is at the top of those rights. Citing UN Resolution 194 and the Geneva Convention of 1951 on the Status of Refugees, the PLO executive Committee member insisted that such rights, individually and collectively, cannot be waived and will not become obsolete with the passage of time.
In a statement released on Thursday to commemorate World Refugee Day, Ashrawi said: "This day embodies Arab and international solidarity with our people's rights, particularly their right to return to their homes from which they were forcibly displaced in 1948. Until today, they are still pressed under two injustices: the Israeli occupation on one hand and exile on the other."
Pointing out that Israel bears responsibility for producing and perpetuating this human tragedy in a stark violation of international conventions, particularly the Geneva Convention, Dr Ashrawi noted that the number of Palestinian refugees now stands at 5.3 million according to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). "This represents the largest number among the world's refugees," she added.
Ashrawi drew attention to the attempts by the US Congress to change the status of Palestinian refugees. If passed, a legal amendment would see the US dropping refugee status from the children and grandchildren of those Palestinians who were ethnically cleansed from their land in 1948 by the nascent state of Israel. The knock-on effect would be that such newly "non-refugees" would not be eligible for aid from UNRWA.
She noted that the intention behind the amendment is to end a human rights issue that has a pivotal political dimension, as well as to comply with the demands of the pro-Israel Lobby. "This is a cynical and cruel manipulation of human suffering. The international community should confront such attempts to distort the situation because nobody has the right to annual or confiscate Palestinians' rights."
The concept of Palestinian refugee status and self-determination were, Ashrawi's statement concluded, formulated by the international community and have been reinforced by the Palestinians themselves for the past 65 years.