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Our rights will not fall due to limitations nor will they be abolished by unjust rule

May 13, 2015 at 2:33 pm

On the crumbling walls of the Yarmouk refugee camp, Palestinian refugees, exiles and all others living in the diaspora in Syria are writing about their sentiments and dreams and their hopes for returning to their homeland as May 2015 continues and the commemoration of the Nakba approaches. The Palestinians of the Yarmouk refugee camp are among the first to express their determination to remain connected to the right of return to the land of their forefathers in Palestine.

The Palestinians of Yarmouk are using their children’s pens to write about their national goals for justice. They have painted and continue to paint murals and graffiti the walls with pictures of Jaffa, Haifa, Lod, Acre, Bissan, Ramleh, Safed, Tiberias, Nazareth and Um Al-Fahm… One could summarise the meaning of the history and the story of the Nakba as if it were a monologue.

It is a history currently under heaps, a history stashed in the alleyways and the neighbourhoods of a refugee camp, which is still standing against all odds. And yet, it is a history that is sprouting from underneath the rubble as Palestinian refugees remain connected to their right of return in the face of those who wish to deprive them of it and destroy the narrative of the Nakba from A to Z.

The Right of Return:

In the Yarmouk refugee camp, we see once again the revival of the eternal nation of people who remain alive and steadfast and who represent Palestinian refugees in all places. They have solidified the feeling in the hearts of generations displaced Palestinians who refuse to lose the connection to their homeland despite the multitude of calamities and misfortunes that continue to affect Palestinians in the diaspora. In the recent period, the Palestinian population in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria has suffered more than any other diapsoric Palestinian population. The Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk have embodied the steadfastness of Palestinian dignity.

The painful memory of the Palestinian Nakba is still something that very much lives among the Palestinians in Palestine and those in the diaspora and within that memory lives the longing for the nation’s land, identity and freedom, all of which are sentiments that fuel the fight for national liberation and the right of return. The Palestinian people’s connection to their homeland is what has allowed for the Palestinian cause to remain alive and steadfast in the international arena despite many outside attempts to liquidate the cause by finding a quick and easy solution to the Palestinian issue. At the forefront of these attempts is the attempt to belittle or even eradicate the question of the right of return for Palestinian refugees. There have been attempts to bury the Palestinian right of return by bringing into question the possibility of nationalising Palestinian refugees wherever they currently live.

In recent years, thousands of Palestinian refugees have been forced to seek exile in places like Brazil, Chile and India after they became twice displaced from countries like Iraq and Syria. This has certainly been the case for many Palestinian refugees in Syria, whose populations have been forcibly expelled due to the situation in the country. Some of them were swallowed whole by the Mediterranean Sea after European countries told them that there was no room for them. Despite all of these circumstances, the Palestinian people remain steadfast.

The Palestinians of Syria are currently struggling from two issues: the war in Syria, which has displaced thousands of Syrians and Palestinians alike – as any war does – and of course the circumstances of their own situation. A similar thing can be said about the Iraqi displacement after the US attacked their country.

In 2006, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese civilians fled the county after Israel attacked them. In every war there are refugees and migrants, disasters and human catastrophes. The difference between them and the Palestinian population is that the Palestinians were expelled from their homeland, which was subsequently lost; the others, on the other hand, the Syrians, the Lebanese and the Iraqis did not lose their homelands when they left. The Nakba is an on-going journey and this is perhaps the deepest part of this miserable situation.

An indisputable right:

The month of May is now known as the month of the Palestinian Nakba in the international arena, especially now at a time when the world can clearly see that the weight of the Palestinian struggle is growing heavier with the imbalance of military power. The resistance that is currently taking place in the Gaza Strip has been countered by a series of heavy Israeli and American initiatives, including the settlements, since the Madrid Conference in October 1991 until now.

It is in this light and on this path of events that the question of the Palestinian right of return has regained prominence between the Palestinian and the international communities because of the worrying nature of the conflict and its misleading categorisation as an Arab-Israeli conflict.

The facts of the conflict are glaring at us from behind proposals and settlements but these facts cannot be ignored and are solidified every day by the reality of the Palestinian experience. Palestinians who are living within the Palestinian Territories in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as well as in refugee camps within the Arab world and in the diaspora are still holding on to the right of return, which is an inalienable right that cannot be negotiated or questioned by any institution, organisation, group, authority or state. Simply put, Palestinian refugees refuse to give up their right of return because the right of return encompasses much more than the search for water, food, schooling and health care. It is a political right to the first degree and the return to Palestine is a national right that solidifies and completes Palestinian identity. The right of return is not a question of economic security and stability as many would like to portray it.

The question of the right of return is the main issue complicating the Palestinian-Israeli conflict because it is the central point of the Palestinian national liberation project and it also negates the false Israeli claim that “Palestine was a land without a people for a people without a land”. Israel need look no further than the thousands of Palestinians who were forcibly expelled from their homes to realise that this narrative is false and that the creation of the Palestinian diaspora is what allowed for the establishment of the Zionist state.

Power as an alternative confrontation:

However, despite all of the factors mentioned above, it would appear that Palestinian refugees are still worried about their right of return given the nature of outstanding regional political issues. Secret agreements between international intelligence agencies continue to complicate and discuss the question of Palestinian refugees via their own private diplomatic challenges. Naturally, Palestinian refugee populations continue to question how all of this will impact their right of return, because of meetings that take place from time to time and because of the lack of rights that they are afforded in refugee camps and in exile.

In Lebanon, Palestinians suffer from collective punishment and racist polices that completely drain the lives of Palestinian refugees by depriving them of basic rights and human experiences. These policies aim to push the Palestinians towards forgetting the right of return. In Syria, the fire continues to burn on and refugees are the main targets.

With this being said, we cannot expect Palestinians to accept that the right of power is stronger than the right of truth when it comes to the Palestinian right of return, that is, that we cannot expect that the Palestinians would willingly accept a settlement similar to the one imposed on Native Americans by the United States or on indigenous populations in New Zealand and Australia five centuries ago.

While it may be true that certain colonial policies have succeeded in Palestine, none of these have succeeded in breaking the will of the Palestinian people. They have not forgotten their national identities and their rights 68 years after the Nakba, despite occupation and unfair power dynamics in the Middle East.

An inalienable right:

The right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland is inalienable and will not disappear with time. The right of return remains a central point in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict because it is a dignified human right that is protected by international law.

On this basis, any step taken by the Palestinian authority is of crucial importance if we want to ensure the protection of the Palestinian right of return for refugees. The first of these steps is to reconsider the unity of the land and the unity of the Palestinian people as a whole, wherever they are after years of disintegration and division in the diaspora.

This step also calls for a rehabilitation of sorts for Palestinian national unity, and the rehabilitation of the Palestinian refugees themselves by considering this issue a legitimate political right. In whatever way we choose to frame it, the Palestinian right of return is inalienable and not up for negotiation. It is not up to any Palestinian or Arab negotiator to concede this right.

Translated from Al-Jazeera on 10 May 2015.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.