On 15 May 1948, terrorist gangs acting for the nascent state of Israel attacked Palestinian cities and towns. Almost 70 massacres were perpetrated, in which more than 15,000 Palestinians were killed and 800,000 others were displaced. This carnage prompted the UN General Assembly to issue Resolution 194 on 11 December 1948.
The resolution consists of 15 clauses. The eleventh paragraph stipulates that refugees wishing to return to their homes and live in peace with their neighbours must be allowed to return as soon as possible, and that compensation be paid for the property of those who decide not to return to their homes and for every missing or injured person. The General Assembly adopted this resolution in its 186th plenary session, with 35 votes in favour of the resolution, 15 against and eight abstentions.
Despite such international recognition, and the fact that allowing the refugees to return was a condition of Israel's own membership of the UN, the resolution remains a paper exercise only. This has exacerbated the suffering of the Palestinian refugees and created a complicated reality for them.
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After more than 70 years since the Nakba (Catastrophe) of the creation of Israel on Palestinian land, there are now 13.5 million Palestinians; there were 1.04m in 1948. This natural population growth is not the problem; the real problem lies in the following facts:
- 51 per cent of Palestinians live outside Palestine, and are prevented from returning.
- 49 per cent of the Palestinians live in occupied Palestine.
- 43 per cent of the total Palestinian population inside historic Palestine are refugees.
- 2 million Palestinian refugees are registered with the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA); thousands remain unregistered with the agency.
- 7 per cent of the refugees live in 58 camps: 10 in Jordan, nine in Syria, 12 in Lebanon, 19 in the West Bank, and eight in the Gaza Strip.
This bitter reality has been caused not only by the Israeli occupation, but also by the UN's failure to implement its resolutions, which has led the Palestinians to question the feasibility of international institutions and decisions. Can the UN be the international umbrella that preserves the rights of oppressed peoples, especially since Resolution 194 is not the only international resolution that the Israeli authorities have ignored?
In fact, there are many, but several key resolutions have been ignored by the occupation authorities, most notably Resolution 242 (1967), which called on Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories to the borders before the 1967 war; Resolution 465 (1980) demanding the dismantling of existing settlements and suspending the planning and building of settlements in the occupied lands, including Jerusalem; and Resolution 2334 (2016), which affirmed that Israeli settlements built in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 — including East Jerusalem — have no legitimacy, and demanded the immediate suspension of settlement activities, while refusing to recognise any changes in the 4 June 1967borders (which were, in reality, the 1949 Armistice "Green" Line).
These and other international resolutions and decisions did not serve the Palestinian people. Nor did they alleviate the suffering of the refugees; rather, they have made life worse, and turned their displacement into a humanitarian tragedy.
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The apparent lack of seriousness displayed by the UN when agreeing such resolutions, and the fact that everyone knows that they will never be implemented, has encouraged Israel to disregard them. Instead, it continues to use them as a pretext to usurp the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. Thus, the issue of UN resolutions has always been intended for media consumption only; as a PR exercise to salve international consciences and, it is argued, ease tension on the ground.
So while it is true that the root cause of the ongoing suffering of the Palestinian refugees is their ethnic cleansing from May 1948 onwards, and the subsequent racist policies of the Zionist state, the international community must also accept its responsibility for not implementing successive resolutions.
If UN resolutions are to have any meaning and value at all, then the international organisation has to enable the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes, in accordance with Resolution 194; take practical steps to bind Israel to all international resolutions; and hold Israel to account for its bloody crimes and rights abuses. Failure to do so means, quite literally, "In memoriam: UN Resolution 194".
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.