The Palestinian Nakba and the right of return

 30 May 2016 - 1:05

By Dr Noureddine Miladi


On 15 May 1948 the name of Palestine was removed from official maps in the West and replaced by Israel. That move marked a historical turning point given that the name ‘Palestine’ dates back thousands of years. A bedrock of human civilization, Palestine was home to great world religions and prophets. That date in history also marked the expulsion of over 700 000 Palestinians from their villages in what was known as the ‘Nakba’ (Catastrophe) or the ‘exodus’. Those Arab inhabitants formed about 80% of what was later installed as Israel.
The forced eviction ofnative Palestinians entailed the systematic destruction or confiscation of their homes and villages. The aim was to obliterate the physical existence of Arab Palestinian history. Whole villages were bulldozed to prove that the occupied settlements were ‘a land without a people’ ( Israeli historian and author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Ilan Pappe speaks about the attempt to obliterate the memory of over 1300 years of Palestinian history and so was described by few other historians.
Since then, and over the last six decades since the installation of the state of Israel, the remaining Palestinians have faced systematic marginalization and sometimes attempts to uproot them from their homes. While the rest were transported into refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and other parts of the Arab world including Europe and the USA. The war in Syria has added to their misery by further displacing tens of thousands of them from Syria into other neighbouring countries.
For the remaining Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank the Israeli governments have established a systematic apartheid system which has culminated in the separation wall in 2002. This separation barrier, dubbed the “Apartheid Wall”, is an 8 meters-high fence over 700 kilometres long and ‘cuts far into the West Bank and encompasses Israel’s largest settlement blocs containing hundreds of thousands of settlers’. By 2004 it had resulted in the separation of ‘35,000 Palestinian farmers from their lands and crops’.
Ethnic discrimination and violation of basic citizen rights became the norm. Scores of examples can be brought into light but suffice to mention the establishing of a network of Jewish-only roads, deprivation of Palestinians from their basic human rights, establishing special check points for Arabs facilitating long delays for their movements and systematic arbitrary detention.
Stories of such violations used to be in the past reported quietly and sometimes required courage of access. But nowadays stark violationsof Palestinians’ basic rights are reported everyday in front of international media. Social media too has managed to report scores of the day-to-day routine stories of Palestinian suffering under the occupation.
Palestinian sources witness everyday the increasing land grabbing from them where ‘Settlers are recruited worldwide to come to Israel, enjoy state-subsidized housing on free land taken from Palestinians, and are allowed to carry weapons which are denied to Palestinians.  Settlers are protected by the Israeli Occupation Force (IOF) (wrongly called the Israeli Defense Force) and enjoy impunity from arrest and prosecution for their frequent violence and intimidation against Palestinians’.
What is further disturbing is that the Israeli brutal occupation falls back on direct and indirect support from the USA and other western powers. The legal protection of Palestinians has always been threatened by the blockages in the UN Security Council. Attempts to highlight Israel’s abuse of human rights and unlawful land confiscation get recurrently vetoed by the US government.
Western powers bear responsibility in the sustenance of Israel regardless of its abuses. Lots of the actions that are being practiced in the occupied territories and in Israel are not tolerated in Europe or US. The USA and other western powers have been ostensibly supporting democracy and justice in various parts of the world. This mission seems inept when it comes to the Palestinians’ plight. Israel remains an incongruous exception!
Nevertheless, Palestinians have shown, over the years,stout resilience towards their cause and an unwavering steadfastness in clinging to the right of return to their confiscated lands and homes since 1948. Even the brutal Israeli assaults on Gaza in 2009 and 2014 have not thwarted the Palestinians efforts to persevere in their mostly peaceful struggle against the occupation.
The right of return was revived after the Madrid Peace Summit in 1991. The UN declaration number 195 dating 1949 which stated that Palestinian refugees should be reinstated back to their properties got discussed again. Soon after, many international and regional organizations have attempted over the years to campaign for the right of return of Palestinians.
Considering its length,it is evident that by far the Israeli occupation is the worst and most brutal occupation of the modern age, and its defiance of international law is done in broad light and is witnessed by the international community. Peace is not possible to achieve in face of the continued neglect of the rights of Palestinians. Key to any successful peace process and a real settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will be to grant the right of return to the refugees and compensatetheir families for theirdestroyed/confiscated homes and properties.
For how long could Palestinians employ the Ghandian model in their struggle? Isn’t it time that world powers bring back justice to Palestinians and establish peace with a fair solution to both Palestinians in the occupied territories as well as those in diaspora?

The writer is a university professor of media and communication. He can be reached via email: [email protected]