THE FIGHT FOR THE PALESTINIAN RIGHT OF RETURN
“This is always the case with us Palestinians, we're always getting pushed from one place to the next” says Salwa Naser, a Nakba survivor and refugee from Jaffa.1 Her exhaustion is a feeling expressed by many Palestinian refugees who’s land was stolen and who’s rights are still exploited. In many cases, Palestinians, because of their lack of national state and governance, are not supported by the international community and struggle without humanitarian aid or political negotiations. This desperation is what leads some Palestinians to violence, furthering the cycle of Israeli popularity and Palestinian discrimination. To end this cycle, Israel and the international community must recognize the rights of Palestinian refugees and grant them the aid they need.
In 1948, when Israel declared their independence over the former British Mandate of Palestine, 750,000 Palestinians were forced to flee their home villages to avoid the violent invasion of the Israeli Defense Force and, later, to accommodate the incoming Israeli settlements enforced by Israel’s government. This event became known as Al-Nakba among the Palestinians.
When they left, many Palestinians kept the keys to their family home, assuming that they would be able to return to their homes after the arab nations fighting against Israel won. However, their homes were destroyed in the war and when Israel won their War of Independence, those Palestinians were never able to return to their homes. Many individuals and families still keep their keys and fight for the right of return.
The right of return is the concept in international law that grants refugees the ability to come back to their original home and to receive financial compensation from the opposing force if their home was destroyed. Since the 1948 war, no Palestinians have been granted this right and consequently there are now more than seven million Palestinian refugees displaced around the world.4
Under occupation in the West Bank and inside the walls of Gaza, Palestinians are not allowed the same rights as Israelis are. Their travel, economic, and education opportunities are hindered because of the arbitrary checkpoints and border walls put in place with the intention to separate neighbors and divide communities. Especially in Area C of the West Bank, where Jewish settlements are allowed to develop according to Israeli law, Palestinian citizens are brutally policed by the IDF when the Jewish settlers are not.
Even given this situation, Palestinians do not receive the physical and logistical aid they need to keep their communities afloat. Though dedicated non-profit organizations do exist to offer supplies to Palestinians, refugees are still denied many of the rights they deserve within Israel’s greater borders and in other countries around the world.
Because the United Nation defines a refugee as someone who has been forced to flee his or her country,” 5Palestinians who have been relocated within Israel’s borders are not given the same aid or recognition of refugees who have actually crossed national boundaries. Furthermore, those refugees that do cross country lines are often unwelcome in countries. Many countries have strict immigration policies that make entrance into their country treacherous for already-deprived Palestinians. Especially if one is a secondary refugee, for example a Palestinian relocated to Syria who is now fleeing to Jordan, it is difficult to find a place in that new economy and society.
Many Israelis do not know the extent to which their offensive military actions affect a large population of Palestinians today. Many do not know the importance of those keys or the homes that were destroyed. Jewish Israelis should, however, be able to empathize with this loss of homeland and exploitation of rights. They should remember why gaining Israeli independence was so important to them after intense and violent displacement. Because of this sentiment, each Israeli citizen should understand the importance of a national state and the pain of being forced out of their home in the first place.
While the Jewish community can argue that they were deserving of a national homeland after centuries of persecution and to relocate after the Holocaust, this does not give them the right to immediately take someone else’s homeland. To continue the direct persecution of another people - the Palestinians - in their newly acquired homeland is hypocritical. This hypocrisy is the root of the conflict between Israel and Palestine but recognizing the shared history can be the root of peace in the future.
Given this common experience, Israeli citizens should vote for polititians that are willing to grant the right of return and support the peaceful rehabilitation of Palestinian communities. Because this demand involves complicated politics and logistics, the international community and the United Nations must give Palestinian refugees the rights to recognition and aid they deserve. The road to ending the violence between Israel and Palestine starts with the humane treatment of Palestinians.