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Le Comité pour l'exercice des droits inaliénables des palestiniens réaffirme leur droit au retour soixante ans après qu'ils aient été spoliés de leurs terres - Communiqué de presse de l'ONU, webcast (20 juin 2008) Français
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Source: Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP)
20 June 2008

General Assembly
GA/PAL/1095

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New YorK

Committee on the Inalienable Rights
of the Palestinian People
309th Meeting (AM & PM)

SPEAKERS IN SPECIAL MEETING TO MARK 60 YEARS OF DISPOSSESSION OF PALESTINE

REFUGEES SAY PLIGHT IS LONGEST-STANDING CRISIS ON UNITED NATIONS AGENDA

Palestinian Rights Committee Chair Says Unresolved Question Is without Parallel;
Calls Refugees Easy Prey for Extremists, Permanent Source of Regional Instability


The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People convened a special meeting today to mark 60 years of dispossession of the Palestine refugees, with many speakers calling it the longest-standing crisis on the agenda of the United Nations still awaiting a solution.

Describing the unresolved question of Palestine as “without parallel in the history of the modern world”, Committee Chairman Paul Badji of Senegal noted that six decades had elapsed since hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had been compelled to abandon their homes and property, after Israeli forces took over large portions of British-controlled Palestine. 

The question of Palestine refugees had become a central aspect of the Arab-Israeli conflict, yet the issue seemed to have moved somehow to the periphery of the attention span of the international community, he said.  The right of return of the Palestine refugees was not just a high-minded, but unattainable, humanitarian ideal, or a bargaining chip in the context of a future settlement.  Neither should the Palestine refugee issue be one of those intractable chronic situations that could only be expected to be deferred indefinitely. 

“We simply cannot allow millions of Palestine refugees to continue to suffer forever, locked into a marginalized existence, disempowered, with little dignity or control over their environment, disgruntled, an easy prey for extremists, and a permanent source of regional instability,” he said, noting that, today, 4.5 million Palestine refugees still lived in camps in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  The total number of Palestinian exiles around the world stood between 7 and 8 million.

Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, delivered a message from Mahmoud Abbas, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and President of the Palestinian National Authority, in which he thanked the international community for its show of solidarity with the Palestinian people.

“Each passing year has witnessed the deepening of this injustice, the continued trampling of the human dignity of the Palestinian people, the further shredding of the fabric of their society and the compounding of this tragic conflict,” said Mr. Abbas, in his message.  He called on the international community to intensify efforts to advance the stated goals of the peace process -- to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territory, and to establish the independent State of Palestine on the basis for the pre-1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. 

Several speakers also stressed that a durable and lasting solution to the question of Palestine was linked to a just resolution of the refugee issue.  Cuba’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, called for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to continue with its mandate until a just solution was found, as echoed by others.  Turkey’s representative voiced appreciation to UNRWA for having fed, housed, educated and provided health care to hundreds of thousands of refugees.

Andrew Whitley, Director of the New York Office of UNRWA, said that the Agency’s work had been largely transformed from that of an emergency relief organization in its early days to that of a human development agency.  The Agency was currently grappling with expensive camp-improvement schemes, even as it dealt with the problem of chronic mental illness and stress in the overcrowded camp areas.  As part of that effort, it would hold an important donor conference in Vienna on Monday on the reconstruction of the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon.

Also today, four panellists offered their views on the socio-economic impact of being dispossessed:  Laila Atshan, Lecturer from Birzeit University in Ramallah; Susan Akram, Professor at the Boston University School of Law; Michael Fischbach, Professor of history, Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia; and Nadia Hijab, Senior Fellow and Co-Director of the Washington Office of the Institute for Palestine Studies. 

Ms. Asthan noted that Palestinians found their lives dictated by outside forces, which compelled them to choose between imprisonment and exile.  After a 60-year legacy of dispossession, normal human development was at best suspect.  Both Ms. Akram and Mr. Fischbach touched on the difficulties of arriving at a settlement because the essence of the refugee problem, as it had emerged by the 1950s, had remained the same:  that Israel had continued to rule out restitution and compensation.  Ms. Hijab said better organized civil society efforts, involving both Palestinian exiles and Jews, were keeping those issues alive, but, nevertheless, observed that the past 60 years had been “long on resolutions, but short on resolve”.

Other delegates participating in today’s special meeting were the representatives of Pakistan (on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference), Mauritania (on behalf of the Arab Group), Lebanon, Malaysia, Indonesia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Morocco, Jordan, Syria, Mali, Tunisia and Chile.

The Permanent Observer of the League of Arab States also spoke.

Background

The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People met in a special meeting today to mark 60 years of dispossession of Palestine refugees.  (For additional information, see Press Release GA/PAL/1094)

Opening Statements

PAUL BADJI, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said the Committee had convened today’s special meeting in order to mark 60 years of dispossession of the Palestine refugees. 

He said that 60 long years had elapsed since hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had been compelled to abandon their homes and property in 1948.  In 1949, Israeli forces had taken control of large portions of Palestine, which had been under British mandate.  The war had led to 800,000 Palestine refugees, an event the Palestinian people still mourned as Al-Nakba.  The United Nations became involved in the situation from the very beginning.  In fact, no other question had so mobilized the Organization’s time and resources. 

The question of Palestine refugees had become, and continued to be, an essential aspect of the Arab-Israeli conflict.  Under General Assembly resolution 194 (III), the Assembly had decided that those Palestine refugees who so desired must be allowed to return home and that compensation should be paid for the property of those refugees who decided not to go back.  Over six decades, the Palestinians had remained refugees, a status transmitted from one generation to the next.  In 1974, the General Assembly adopted resolution 3236 (XXIX) that reaffirmed the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, namely the right to self-determination, the right to sovereignty and the right to return to their homes and property from which they had been displaced or uprooted.  The Committee had been established the next year. 

Nowadays, 4.5 million 1948 refugees were registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).  One and a half million were not registered, either because they did not meet the formalities or did not need assistance.  There were also 950,000 displaced persons from the 1967 war and 350,000 internally displaced in Israel.  About one third of the refugees still lived in refugee camps in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  The life of Palestine refugees was particularly deplorable in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.  In the West Bank, refugees were subjected to demolition of their homes.  Confiscated land had been set aside for the exclusive use of some 480,000 Israeli settlers.  Thirty-eight per cent of the West Bank was inaccessible to Palestinians.  The continuation of settlement activity ran counter to international law and Security Council resolutions.  The construction of the separation wall was contrary to the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice.

About 1 million people in the Gaza Strip were refugees, he continued.  The humanitarian conditions in Gaza had increasingly deteriorated.  Those refugees had been caught between the closure of crossings and Israeli measures amounting to collective punishment.  UNRWA had been forced to temporarily suspend its operations due to lack of fuel.  At least 80 per cent of Gazans were now fully dependent on food aid and humanitarian assistance.  The international community should hold Israel fully responsible for the welfare and protection of the refugees in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including the Gaza Strip.  Paying homage to UNRWA, the Agency that had assisted Palestine refugees since 1948, he said the important work of the Agency was often restrained by under-financing.  He appealed to all donors to continue to support UNRWA and to be generous in their contributions.

In April, the Committee had convened an international conference on Palestine refugees at the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris, in order to assess the situation and to discuss international efforts at finding an agreed, just and fair solution to the Palestine refugee problem, he said.  “Clearly, a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is overdue.”  The Committee continued to support the Middle East peace process based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), and it fully endorsed the two-States solution, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side within secure and recognized borders.  The Committee also welcomed the Arab Peace Initiative and the Quartet’s Road Map, as well as the outcomes of the Annapolis Conference.  It commended the active role of regional partners for finding a political solution.  It was important that, in the permanent status negotiations, the parties seriously focus on all the core issues:  borders; settlements; Jerusalem; and refugees. 

“When Palestinians talk about the tragedy of Al-Nakba, they always mean the dispossession and deprivation of the entire Palestinian people of their homeland, their property and their identity.  Under international law, and also on a moral ground, all of us have a responsibility to continue to work towards bringing about a just solution to this problem,” Mr. Badji said.

RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, delivered a message from Mahmoud Abbas, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and President of the Palestinian National Authority. 

In that message, Mr. Abbas noted the solemnity of the occasion, marking the passage of 60 years since Palestinians were forcibly expelled, or had fled in fear, from their homes.  In so doing, they had become a stateless people “whose tragedy continued until today”, during the catastrophe referred to as Al-Nakba.  Just as the world had noted on other solemn occasions -- notably on the observation of the fortieth year of occupation by Israel of the Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and other Arab territories since 1967 -- the Palestinian people were still struggling for the realization of their inalienable human rights, including that of self-determination and the right to return.

The long years of struggle were an opportunity to reflect upon the steadfastness and resilience of the Palestinian people, who never gave up on their legitimate and inalienable rights, despite waves of crisis and upheaval, he said.  “They have remained committed, under the leadership of their sole legitimate representative -– the Palestine Liberation Organization –- to their goal of establishing their independent State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, in the Palestinian Territory that has remained under Israeli foreign occupation since 1967,” he said.

He expressed gratitude to the international community for its show of solidarity with the Palestinian people, who had lost homes, property, their heritage and their very homeland in what had been a calamitous war.  More than half of Palestinians were refugees, with millions living in camps and denied their inalienable right to return to their homes in peace.  A remainder lived under Israel’s occupation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.  “Each passing year has witnessed the deepening of this injustice, the continued trampling of the human dignity of the Palestinian people, the further shredding of the fabric of their society and the compounding of this tragic conflict,” he said.

Three generations of families, numbering more than 4.5 million people still awaited fulfilment of their right to return, as well as just compensation for their losses and suffering, he said.  They also continued to endure serious hardships, including poverty, repeated displacement, instability and conflict.

He said that the Palestine refugee question was the longest-standing refugee question in the world, and was due directly to Israel’s intransigence and its disrespect for international law and United Nations resolutions, particularly General Assembly resolution 194 (III) of 11 December 1948.  Israel denied the right of Palestinians to return to their ancestral homeland, even as it actively implemented a law of return permitting the immigration of any Jewish person from anywhere in the world. 

UNRWA had provided essential assistance to the refugees and had served as a stabilizing presence in the lives of refugees, young and old, he said, thanking the Agency.  He also deeply appreciated Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the donor community for their support of the refugees and UNRWA.

Meanwhile, Israel had carried out its repressive policies against the Palestinian people with impunity, he said, committing systematic human rights violations and war crimes by killing, injuring, imprisoning, displacing and collectively punishing Palestinian civilians.  At the core of Israel’s illegal policies against the Palestinian people was a desire for “expansionism”.  Not only had it seized more land in 1948 than was allotted to it by General Assembly resolution 181 (II) of 29 November 1947, which partitioned historic Palestine and led to Israel’s establishment, but it had continued to pursue illegal policies directly aimed at acquiring, and de facto annexing, large areas of Palestinian land it had occupied since 1967.

He said Israel had been carrying out a “massive colonization campaign” in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, in contravention of international law, United Nations resolutions and the International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion.  It was doing so via the illegal construction and expansion of settlements, and the building of the separation wall, intended to entrench and protect the settlements.  Settlement colonization had been especially intense in and around Occupied East Jerusalem, which was the heart of the Palestinian Territory.  Israel was actively pursuing additional policies to further obstruct Palestinian access to the city and to physically sever it from the rest of the Territory.

He said hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers had been illegally transferred to settlements and settlement outposts in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, in grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and Additional Protocol I.  A permit regime and hundreds of checkpoints had the further effect of completely restricting Palestinian movement, resulting in the destruction of entire communities and socio-economic devastation.  Such illegal practices altered the demographic composition, character and nature of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and destroyed its contiguity.  It was undermining prospects for achieving the two-State solution on the basis of several Security Council resolutions, the Arab Peace Initiative and the Quartet Road Map.  That unlawful colonization campaign constituted a core obstruction to a just and lasting peace settlement, and must be rejected and condemned.

He called on the international community to intensify its efforts to address the issues, which were preventing the Palestinians from advancing the stated goals of the peace process -– an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the establishment of the independent State of Palestinian.  Only a settlement based on international law and United Nations resolutions could bring the conflict to an end.  He urged all parties, including the Quartet, to seize the moment to promote the process renewed at Annapolis and the opportunity created by the Arab Peace Initiative.

He gave special recognition to the United Nations for its assistance to the Palestinian people and expressed appreciation for the efforts of the Palestinian Rights Committee and the Division for Palestinian Rights, and other United Nations bodies that had worked to draw attention to the plight of the Palestinian people.

ANDREW WHITLEY, New York Director, UNRWA Representative Office, said that there would be an important donor conference in Vienna on Monday on the reconstruction of the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon.  That would be the largest and most challenging project ever undertaken by UNRWA.  Implementation carried implications that extended well beyond the plight of the 30,000 refugees who had fled the camp during the fighting, some of whom had been displaced for the third time in their lives.  “From their point of view, the story of dispossession and displacement commemorated by today’s meeting appears to have no ending,” he said.

Palestine refugees were the largest refugee group in the world and the one that had suffered exile, isolation and exclusion for the longest time, he said.  The total number of persons who identified themselves as Palestinians was estimated at around 10 million.  About 6 million were refugees or internally displaced persons.  Four and a half million refugees were registered with UNRWA today.  They included those who had been able to prove residency in the British Mandate of Palestine between 1946 and 1948 and had lost both their homes and means of livelihood –- as well as their descendants.

He said, “Contrary to a myth prevailing in some quarters, propagated by those who wish to portray Palestine refugees as a pent-up reservoir of desperate people, kept in a state of dependence in order to swamp Israel one day with a tidal wave of returnees, […] most refugees have been able to succeed in standing on their own feet.”  Less than 30 per cent of registered refugees today live in the 59 designated official camp areas.  Only about 8 per cent of them were classified as persons unable to support themselves and their families, and thus in need of relief aid.

Describing the evolution of the challenges faced by the refugees since 1948 and 1967, he said UNRWA’s work had been largely transformed from an emergency relief organization to a human development agency.  Today, UNRWA was grappling with expensive, large-scale camp improvement schemes that could be compared to urban rehabilitation schemes.  It was also coming to grips with the entrenched problem of poverty resulting from social and economic exclusion, as well as with chronic problems of mental illness and stress in the overcrowded camp areas.

It was a sad coincidence that the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was also that of Al-Nakba, he said, adding, “This is a testament to our collective failure to give concrete meaning to human dignity for Palestinians and to achieve a lasting and just peace in the Middle East that includes a durable solution to the refugees’ plight.”  Describing the situation of refugees in the West Bank and Gaza, he said that, tragically, Palestine refugees had also faced exclusion from the justice afforded by international law.  Violations by the occupying Power of clear provisions of international law served to underscore among Palestinians a sense of exclusion from the protection of the international system.

He said that, as UNRWA served as the instrument of the international community’s continued concern for the well-being of the Palestine refugees, it was its duty to speak out to defend, protect and promote their rights and ensure that their needs and concerns were heard.  “Under international law and also on a moral ground, all of us have a responsibility to continue to work towards bringing about a just solution to this problem,” he concluded.

Statements

RODOLFO BENITEZ VERSON (Cuba), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, recalled that more than three quarters of historic Palestine had been forcibly seized in 1948, leading to 4.6 million Palestinians being scattered around the Middle East as refugees.  The international community must stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people in the face of such injustice, and should not delay addressing the issue in a comprehensive manner, because the Palestinian people had suffered and waited too long for justice.  Their prolonged suffering was regrettable, and the denial of their fundamental human rights unacceptable.

He said that the situation in the Gaza Strip was especially critical, and called for an end to the unlawful siege of Gaza and the collective punishment of the entire Palestinian civilian population living there.  The Movement noted that a truce had been achieved, but it stressed that there was still an urgent need to end the prolonged and illegal Israeli occupation of all occupied Arab territories, and to establish an independent and sovereign Palestinian State, with East Jerusalem as its capital.  Indeed, many countries had expressed their strong condemnation of Israel’s illegal practices.  Those were deliberately aimed at altering the character of the Palestinian land or annexing it.

The Movement also recognized the important role played by Jordan, Lebanon and Syria as hosts to Palestinian refugees, he said, also recognizing the international community for its principled support of UNRWA, whose mandate must continue to be extended until a just solution was achieved.  The Movement also reaffirmed the permanent responsibility of the United Nations as a whole towards the question of Palestine, until it was resolved in all its aspects.

FARUKH AMIL (Pakistan), speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said that hopes for peace in Palestine had been dashed repeatedly by Israel’s prolongation of the illegal occupation of the Arab territories and the propensity to resort to the threat and use of force.  The Muslim world had been disappointed by the inability, partiality and unwillingness of the great Powers to promote just and durable solutions to the several crises in the Middle East.  The just and legitimate struggle of the Palestinian people of self-determination and freedom from foreign occupation enjoyed the strong support and solidarity of the entire international community.  The right to self-determination and the right of Palestine refugees to return to their homes were inalienable rights that could not be denied for long. 

He said that a durable and lasting solution to the problem remained linked to the establishment of an independent, sovereign and viable State of Palestine, on the basis of pre-1967 borders, and a just resolution of the refugee issue, in accordance with General Assembly resolution 194 (1948).  OIC called for the achievement of a just, comprehensive and lasting peace based on international law and relevant United Nations resolutions, including Security Council resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973), 1397 (2002) and 1515 (2003). 

Those resolutions, he continued, contained a comprehensive framework for the solution of the Palestinian problem -– from the fundamental issue of complete Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and all other occupied Arab territories to the achievement of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people to exercise self-determination and sovereignty in their independent and viable State of Palestine, on the basis for the pre-1967 borders, with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital.

ABDERRAHIM OULD HADRAMI (Mauritania), on behalf of the Arab Group, said that since Al-Nakba, during which Palestinians fell victim to many horrors, several United Nations resolutions had been passed, including one that divided the land into Palestinian and Jewish areas.  But no resolutions had yet been able to end the tragedy facing the Palestinian people, amounting to a dramatic failure of the international institution that allowed the partitioning of those lands in the first place.  Meanwhile, Israel’s illegal policies demonstrated its desire to spread its territory, while refusing to agree to the Arab Peace Initiative and violating all resolutions aimed at achieving a just and lasting solution.

He said that Israel’s building of the wall was a further usurpation of Palestinian Territory, which had complicated the situation by undermining the possibility of a two-State solution.  Israel must choose between peace and expansion; peace could not happen unless Israel ceased its violations.  He appealed to the international community to take measures to compel the occupying Power to comply with relevant United Nations resolutions and its legal obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention and the various opinions of the International Court of Justice.  The Security Council, in particular, must take responsibility to put an end to the tragedy.  Concerted efforts must be made to strengthen adherence to international law, beginning with recognition of the right to return and the withdrawal from all territories occupied since 1967.  He praised the Palestinian people for their resolve, saying that their national identity remained strong, despite their life in refugee camps or in exile.

CAROLINE ZIADE ( Lebanon) said that, for 60 years, the United Nations had adopted resolutions condemning Israeli practices, protecting the unique status of Jerusalem and dealing with the refugee problem.  Yet after 60 years, Gaza and the West Bank were still suffering from the catastrophe.  The Palestine refugees now counted three generations.  Their inalienable rights were confirmed by Assembly resolution 194 in 1948, including the right of return or of compensation.  UNRWA had been established to deal with a temporary problem, but had become a constant fixture in the Arab world. 

She said that, since 2005, relations between Lebanon and the Palestinians had improved.  The Lebanese Government had based its policy on the respect of sovereignty of Lebanon and the right of the State to exercise its authority over all Lebanese territory, as well as to safeguard the rights of the Palestine refugees.  There were some 400,000 Palestinians living in camps in Lebanon.  The Nahr el-Bahred camp was well known because of the confrontation that had taken place between the Lebanese Army and a terrorist group, which had claimed the lives of some 168 Lebanese martyrs.  It had not been a fight with Palestine refugees, but with a group of criminals. 

The Lebanese Prime Minister had established a plan for reconstruction of the camp, in coordination with UNRWA, the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestine refugees living there, she noted, adding that some 1,500 families had been returned to a rebuilt part of the camp.  The Government hoped that the Arab and international community would contribute to the donor conference for the camp’s reconstruction, to be held in Vienna.  Progress in the fair and just settlement of the Middle East conflict had become necessary.  Return of the refugees would help to reach a resolution to all crises in the region.  “It is time for peace in the Middle East,” she asserted.

ZAINOL RAHIM ZAINUDDIN ( Malaysia) said that, as 60 years of Al-Nakba was being marked, “it is difficult for us to fully comprehend the depth of pain and anguish of the Palestinian people”.  It was sad that, 60 years ago, a nation could rejoice with the birth of their State at the expense of the suffering of the Palestinian people.  Despite the long history and the relentless effort of the Israeli occupation regime to break the spirit and body of the people of Palestine, the Palestinians’ spirits remained high, their resolve intact and their hopes and aspirations clear.  The Palestinian cause should retain the attention of the international community and that of the Committee.

He said the Al-Nakba and the occupation of the Palestinian Territory by the Israelis could not be sustained.  “It is galling to note that the plight of the Palestinians after all these years appear to not have resonated and impacted on the conscience of those who have the will, means and power to alleviate the sufferings of the Palestinian people.”  Today, the population of the refugees had grown to over 4 million.  The international community and, in particular, the major Powers, had the responsibility to correct that situation.

Until there was a solution to the Palestinian question, any hope of achieving peace in the Middle East would remain elusive, he said.  That would be tragic for the people in the region and the international community.  “The price to exact peace is indeed high, but the dividends to be derived from it are higher still,” he added.

BAKI ILKIN ( Turkey) said that settling the question of Palestine refugees, which had embroiled several States, including Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and others, should be central to any peace plan.  It was also crucial to tackle the deteriorating humanitarian condition facing many refugees, such as 80 per cent of Gazan refugees, who were dependent on UNRWA and the World Food Programme for food.  In the West Bank, the Palestinians suffered as a result of the construction of the separation wall and Israel’s expanding settlements.  The world had a responsibility to those refugees, by helping advance a lasting, comprehensive settlement that responded to their aspirations.  The parties involved should focus on carrying the political process forward with determination.  He welcomed the ceasefire concerning Gaza and Israel, since both Palestinians and Israelis deserved to feel secure from counterattacks. 

He said his Government would continue supporting the movement towards a just and durable peace based on a two-State settlement.  Meanwhile, it would continue helping to meet the needs of refugees.  So far, Turkey had agreed to contribute several million dollars to the Nahr el-Bahred camp, and was already receiving projects from the Palestinian Authority.  It was also participating in the “Industry for Peace” project, involving private-sector entities from Turkey, Palestine and Israel, through which it was creating employment opportunities for Palestinians.  Finally, he voiced appreciation to UNRWA for having fed, housed, educated and provided health care to hundreds of thousands of refugees.

MARTY M. NATALEGAWA (Indonesia) said that today’s Special Meeting of the Committee provided a forum for the international community to reflect on ways to collectively address the predicament of Palestine refugees and the denial of justice over the past six decades, and to renew the commitment to a just solution.  The Palestinians who had fled their homes in 1948, and their descendants, had gone through humiliation and dispossession for far too long.  For that reason, it behoved the Committee to recommend to the General Assembly a programme of implementation designed to enable all Palestinians to exercise their collective and individual rights to national independence; sovereignty; and to return to their homes and property.  At a practical level, partnerships between UNRWA, host authorities and donor agencies should be strengthened.

He said he understood that a just and long lasting solution of the issue was dependent on the political settlement of the Arab-Israel conflict.  However, the reverse was also true -- that without a just solution to the issue of Palestine refugees, lasting peace in the region could not be achieved.  Addressing the issue of Palestine refugees should be part of efforts to achieve a political settlement.  The international community should redouble its collective efforts to promote the realization of two co-existing Palestinian and Israeli States, and to restore the right of return for Palestine refugees.  Building a viable Palestinian economy constituted a vital building block in the creation of a durable peace in the region.  In that connection, Indonesia and South Africa, acting within the framework of the New Asian-African Strategic Partnership, would convene a Ministerial Conference on Capacity-Building for Palestine, in Jakarta in July.

YAHYA MAHMASSANI, Permanent Observer of the League of Arab States, said that more than 4.5 million Palestinians were living in difficult humanitarian conditions, but they still held on to their hope of returning to their ancestral lands.  Because of the Israeli aggression and occupation, some of them had become refugees for a second time.  The refugee question was a legal and humanitarian issue.  Any settlement of the Palestinian question that did not include the issue of refugee returns would not be a just and lasting settlement, according to [the former] Count [Folke] Bernadotte in a report to the United Nations. 

He said that Israel had been established by an Assembly resolution and it was obliged to implement Assembly resolution 194 (1948).  The question of refugees and their rights were linked, not only to the legal foundations, but also to the roots of the Palestinian people, which were thousands of years old.  The question was a part of inalienable rights, and included, among other aspects, the right to establish a Palestinian State, with Jerusalem as its capital.  A solution to the refugee question, according to United Nations resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative, was a fundamental principle for ending the Arab-Israeli conflict.  Israel’s continued creation and expansion of settlements in the Occupied Territories was a threat to the peace process, with grave ramifications for the region.  The international community must put an end to such practices.

SOCORRO ROVIROSA ( Mexico) recalled that the international community still had much to do to achieve a solution to the problem that had prevailed since 1948.  Sixty years ago, UNRWA was given the task of creating a register of Palestinian refugees.  Since then, it has provided humanitarian assistance to millions of people stripped of the means of human development.  The refugee problem had arisen out of a complex political situation, which underscored even further the need to arrive at a comprehensive and sustainable solution to the Middle East conflict.

She recalled the words of Louise Arbour, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, regarding the gravity of the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which had a negative impact on the peace process.  She urged all parties involved to observe international law, including humanitarian law and the Security Council resolutions regarding the settlement of the refugee question.  All positive developments so far must be backed by actions, including recognition of Israel’s right to exist, as well as the right to create a Palestinian State that was politically and economically viable, within secure and recognized international borders.  She expressed her Government’s solidarity with the Palestinian cause, and reiterated its support for efforts aimed at a comprehensive solution to the situation in the Middle East.  Political dialogue and negotiation was the only means for achieving peace and stability in the region.

MARIA RUBIALES DE CHAMORRO ( Nicaragua) said Al-Nakba was a word that marked the conscience and memory of the Palestinian people, symbolizing the loss of their Territory.  The Palestinian people had fallen victim to an expansionist plan that had violently expelled 800,000 Palestinians from their homeland.  The Israeli Government, at the same time, had enacted laws to block their return and confiscate their property.  Sixty years later, the reality of the refugees remained the same.  About 5 million refugees were still living in camps, where, in misery, they continued to lay claim to their right to return to their property.  In addition, the relentless Israeli military machinery frequently bombed and attacked refugee camps.

She said that the principles of international law had been a dead letter to Israel, which had not redressed the historic injustices, despite United Nations resolutions.   Israel continued to oppose the return of refugees and failed to compensate for the confiscations.  There could be no peace in the Middle East without a solution involving the right of return of thousands upon thousands of Palestinians or corresponding compensation, as well as the elimination of illegal settlements, compensation for the plundering of land and water and the return to the 1967 borders.  Her country continued to express its solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people.

HAMID CHABAR ( Morocco) expressed admiration for the Palestinian people, who had remained steadfast in their struggle to enjoy their inalienable rights.  The Special Meeting was an opportunity for other States to show their solidarity and commitment to the Palestinian people, whose leaders were subjected to arbitrary arrests, their property frequently dispossessed, and public infrastructure destroyed several times over.  Such acts took place amid the intensifying spread of Israeli settlements, the building of the illegal wall on Palestinian Territory, air attacks and other incursions, which together constituted a policy of collective punishment against the Palestinian people.  The Moroccan Government was concerned by Israeli policies aimed at altering the nature of Al-Quds and, for that reason, it urged the international community to stand firm in preserving the legal status of that holy city.

He urged Israel to end all modifications it was making to the land, because such on-the-ground modifications fuelled the cycle of violence and instability.  Israel’s occupation and colonization of Palestinian land did not help create a climate conducive to the search of a just solution.  The meeting at Annapolis had created a positive dynamic aimed at final status negotiations, including settlement of the Palestinian refugee question.  Any agreement must provide a fair solution to the question of Palestine refugees, who had a right to return to their homes and to recover their property.  Morocco remained committed to helping both parties reach a settlement through already agreed frameworks.  The practice of colonization as a premeditated policy by Israel did not help to usher in peace between the parties, a sentiment shared by many other States.  He expressed solidarity with all Palestinians living in exile, and voiced appreciation for the work done by UNRWA.

MOHAMMED AL-ALLAF ( Jordan) said that the suffering of the Palestinian people, who had been disposed and whose basic human rights had been denied for 60 years, would always be remembered.  They had never given up their right of return.  The international community and the United Nations had the moral and humanitarian responsibility to address the problem of a people that was burdened by occupation and prevented from exercising their basic human rights.  For decades, Jordan had had a cultural and humanitarian relationship with the Palestinian people.

He said that Jordan’s policy towards the Palestinians was based on two inseparable commitments:  the principles of international legitimacy; and the support of a people that was defending its rights.  The question of refugees was a cornerstone in the question of Palestine.  Without a just solution to that problem, a lasting peace could not be established.  It was one of the major issues in the final status negotiations.  Jordan hosted 1.8 million registered Palestine refugees, as well as 600,000 refugees as a result of the 1967 war, and had suffered tremendous financial burdens as a result.

A solution to the problem should be based on the inalienable right of return or compensation, based, in particular, on General Assembly resolution 194 (1948).  It should be understood that the refugees would exercise their right to return to the territories of a Palestinian State to be established in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

MANAR TALEB ( Syria), aligning himself with the statement by the Non-Aligned Movement, noted that the question of Palestine was the longest-standing crisis on the agenda of the United Nations.  The crisis persisted because Israel, whose own legitimacy stemmed from a General Assembly resolution, continued to flout international resolutions.  It seemed to be an established practice of that State to refuse to meet its obligations under international law.  It continued to bring in foreign settlers from distant lands, so as to seize the Palestinian homeland.  Israel seemed to hold itself above international law by continuing to deny the Palestinians their right to return, among other rights. 

He said his Government extended every possible support to Palestine refugees living in Syria and would continue doing everything possible to help them until they could return home.  Syria afforded Palestine refugees the same rights as Syrian citizens with respect to access to education, health care and employment.  The total amount spent on Palestine refugees amounted to $137 million, so far, but because finding a solution to the Palestinian question was an international responsibility, the international community must also support UNRWA in its continuing mission.  In turn, UNRWA must work at enlarging its donor base. 

At the same time, he called on the United Nations to intervene immediately to end the siege imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip.  That would allow UNRWA to provide services and emergency humanitarian aid without hindrance.  The United Nations must also compel Israel to cease its daily aggressions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which had now reached the scale of terrorism.  Israel must be held liable for the crimes perpetrated by Israeli forces and settlers, the last of which had been perpetrated yesterday near Nablus, where olive and orange groves had been set on fire.  Concluding, he recognized the services and staff of UNRWA.

OUMAR DAOU ( Mali) reaffirmed his country’s solidarity with the Palestinian people in their heroic struggle against the Israeli occupation, saying, “Today, more than ever, the plight of the Palestine refugees challenges our conscience.”  Sixty years of suffering and dispossession, stripped of their universal rights, had been the sorry fate of the Palestinian people.  The international community had a paramount duty to alleviate the suffering of that people and ensure their rights, including the right of return. 

LAILA ATSHAN, lecturer, Birzeit University, Ramallah, describing herself as a psychologist who had been born into a refugee family, said that Palestine refugees should be empowered.  It seemed as if Palestinians were now refugees in their own countries, often isolated by the wall.  A Palestinian seemed to have two choices:  exile or jail.  If one wanted to be near home, mobility was restricted; if one wanted freedom, one lost the right to live near home.  “Looking at 60 years of occupation, it only gets worse,” she said.  “Why is it so complicated that the more work seems to be done on it, the less achievement there is?” 

She said that, in refugee camps she had visited recently, the number of refugees since 1948 had multiplied fourfold on the same space of land, which made for very confining circumstances.  The issue of space was extremely problematic.  The camps had become jails.  There was an air of resignation, and some people became drug addicts.  Soccer could not be played, and even bicycling caused problems.  There was no privacy, not even for couples.  She was also concerned about what she called “the responsibility of resistance”.  Israelis, by their behaviour, had taught the current generations that they were an enemy Power.  Many young people, therefore, felt forced to participate in the resistance.  The camps were also producing violent behaviour, which labelled them as being problematic. 

Another issue was dependency, she said.  United Nations services were essential for survival, but had developed dependent “personalities”.  The normal development of human beings had been neglected. 

Since 1948, women had been the ones who had saved the families, always managing to earn some money and, with great creativity, holding the family together.  Those women also carried the frustration of men, who, through closures and the wall, now were unemployed.  Women were under enormous stress, which also did not contribute to normal human development.  It was time for the international community to evaluate what kind of work was being done and what had to be done.  The quality of life of refugees was being jeopardized.

SUSAN AKRAM, Professor, Boston University School of Law, focused on legal mechanisms by which Palestine refugees were dispossessed of their property, centring on the case of Kafr Bir’im Village, established 400 years ago by a Christian Palestinian community.  While it was true that the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan had allocated more than half of Palestinian land to the Jewish population, additional land had been seized by the Israeli side when the Government legalized dispossession through certain key laws:  emergency regulations; the absentees’ property law of 1950; settlement of title/land registration process; and the public purpose ordinance.

She said that emergency regulations had been used to convert Palestinian land into closed military areas, under the guise of security concerns, after which the Israeli Government had declared them “abandoned”.  That had allowed the Government to confiscate the land, withstanding all challenges in court.  With regard to Kafr Bir’im, villagers had been assembled in the community church after the 1948 hostilities and asked to leave.  Their land had been confiscated and turned over to Jewish settlers, or turned into protected parks.  Around 12,000 dunams of land had been lost by the Kafr Bir’im community in that manner.  The only structure left standing had been a church, where some villagers still worshipped on special holidays, passing a sign declaring the area a Jewish village.

Much Palestinian property had not been put under land title, which meant that retroactive changes to land laws had led Palestinian ownership of more than 15,000 dunams of land to be declared invalid, she said.  Almost all Bedouin land, for example, had been nationalized and turned over for Jewish settlements in that fashion.  While Ottoman land codes and land laws under the British mandate would have recognized the right of Bedouins to those lands, only a sliver had been left for farming and grazing under new Israeli law.  But titled Palestinian private property had also been subjected to seizure -- for example, under a Public Purpose Ordinance, which held that “change of purpose for benefit of Jews exclusively” was an entirely justifiable reason for seizure.

She said that, where 94 per cent of land in Palestine had been Arab-owned before 1948, almost 80 per cent of it had been confiscated to date, leaving 3 per cent in Arab hands.  Dispossession was still ongoing, with more than a 1,000 land orders filed since 1967.  Also, a quiet transfer of the remaining property was taking place through revocation of residency permits, denial of family reunification requests, deportation and, most recently, the construction of the separation wall.  Land was also being confiscated for “military purposes” by the use of military orders -- for example, to construct roads to be used only by military vehicles or to build settler bypass roads. 

While it was possible, in theory, to claim restitution for 70 per cent of the land confiscated by Israel -– whose cases remained unsettled -– there were no mechanisms to implement durable solutions, she said.  Only one request had successfully reached the International Court of Justice, resulting in the 2004 advisory opinion on the wall.  A petition submitted by Kafr Bir’im villagers to the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2005 had inexplicably remained “un-filed”.  It had been re-filed in 2006 and moved to the United Nations Human Rights Council, but petitioners had been told this year that the Council would no longer consider the petition.

MICHAEL FISCHBACH, Professor of history, Randolph-Macon College, Ashland, Virginia, said that, after the 1948 war, Israeli forces ended up controlling 77 per cent of British-mandated Palestine, areas that became the new State of Israel, with the remaining 23 per cent being the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  Approximately 750,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled by Jewish forces, leaving behind homes, farmland, businesses, farm and business equipment and personal property.  The Palestinians’ catastrophe represented a tremendous windfall for Israel, as Jewish agricultural communities began to utilize the abandoned land.  The provisional Israeli Cabinet voted to bar the refugees from returning to their homes.  Another windfall had been the vast amount of abandoned property.   Israel had also confiscated moveable property, such as farm implements, animals, furniture, vehicles and factory inventory. 

He said that nobody agreed on the value of property the refugees had left behind.  Various figures from Israelis and Arabs, and the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP) had surfaced.  A UNCPP estimate from 1964 put the value of land at $825 million, in 1948 dollar values.  Also according to a UNCCP estimate, abandoned moveable property was valued at some $77 million.

The United Nations had defined the parameters of the refugee problem through the passage of General Assembly resolution 194 (1948), which called for refugee repatriation and property compensation, he said.  It had also created a three-member Conciliation Commission, whose efforts at peacemaking in 1950 (the Geneva Conference) and in 1951 (the Paris Conference) had failed.  After Paris, UNCCP had abandoned its conciliation efforts.  It brokered arrangements, by which Israel returned frozen bank accounts and items in safe deposit boxes to their refugee owners, but the Commission essentially ceased functioning in 1966.  Records detailing ownership of more than 458,000 individual parcels of land that were owned by Arabs as of 14 May 1948 remained locked in the United Nations Secretariat Archives in New York.

He said that the Oslo Accord of 1993 had set the stage for the first significant diplomatic discussions about the refugee property since the 1950s.  The question had been broached at the Camp David II Summit in July 2000.  The Palestine Liberation Organization had called for property restitution, not compensation.   Israel had discussed compensation, not restitution, and had proposed creation of an international forum to deal with property compensation claims from all sides in the conflict. 

In Taba, Egypt, in late January 2001, the two sides had come as close as they ever had to reaching a peace deal, he recalled.  Negotiators for the Palestine Liberation Organization had offered a detailed proposal:  restitution of the land of repatriated refugees; compensation for abandoned moveable property for repatriated refugees; and compensation for both land and moveable property for non-returning refugees.  The Israelis had continued to reject property restitution and, once again, had proposed the creation of an international fund and an international commission for handling compensation claims.

In conclusion, he said that, despite the passage of time and the changing of circumstances, the essence of the refugee problem, as it had emerged by 1951, remained the same.  Negotiators would do well to consider the full ramifications of that fact when proposing lasting peace proposals, or else such efforts would be doomed to failure.

NADIA HIJAB, Senior Fellow and Co-Director, Washington Office, Institute for Palestine Studies, Washington, D.C., observed that the past 60 years had been “long on resolutions, but short on resolve” and that no one had been able to “make Israel do what it did not want to do”.  It had consistently failed to acknowledge its role in creating the refugee problem.  Discussions regarding compensation for Palestinian losses were effectively stymied, after that issue was linked to the compensation of Jewish refugees from Arab States.  At the same time, Israel was demanding that it be recognized as a Jewish State, thus reaffirming the negation of the right to return, and suggesting that Palestinian citizens of Israel would not get equal rights as Jewish citizens because they were not Jews. 

She said that Palestinians continued to be dispossessed even today, by various means.  For instance, Palestinian citizens of Israel were prevented from uniting with their spouses who resided in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  The United States had marginalized the role of the United Nations in the current peace process, where appointee Tony Blair had been given the narrow responsibility of overseeing “institution-building”.  Economic development was given priority over the establishment of political rights, with great fanfare given to the recent Bethlehem Investment Conference, at a time when Palestinians were hemmed-in by road blocks and the separation wall.

However, she noted that civil society was playing an increasingly vocal role with regard to the right of return.  Although some groups concerned themselves simply with finding homes for refugees -– whether in Israel or in third countries -- others were working towards the full promotion of Palestinian rights.  The latter had become particularly active after the announcement of a two-State solution.  Those groups were active in creating information clearinghouses -- for instance, calculating the amount of space within Israel that could be used by refugees and posting that information publicly.  They were also active in nurturing networks between refugee communities in the Arab world and in Europe.  

She said she was encouraged to see some agitation for Palestinian rights among both Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel.  Those, and other advocates, were learning to use other forms of power -– economic, social and cultural –- to promote their cause, leading to boycotts and divestment efforts, such as the “Hang Up on Motorola” campaign and the boycott of Caterpillar bulldozers, often used in Israeli raids.  The issue of dispossession, an outgrowth of the Zionist movement, was kept alive by better organized civil society efforts, in partnership with exiled Palestinians.

Before the floor was opened for discussion, HABIB MANSOUR ( Tunisia) expressed his country’s support for the inalienable rights of Palestinians, who continued to live in terrible circumstances because of the illegal actions of Israel since 1948.  They had been prevented from enjoying their inalienable rights for 60 years and had not been allowed to live in their own sovereign State. 

He said that, despite the Annapolis Summit, difficult conditions for the Palestinian people still existed because of the Israeli siege, which also continued to hamper the peace process.  Israel could not continue with those flagrant violations of international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention.  The colonial policy, the peace process and the problem of refugees required that the entire international community must work together.  Tunisia had constantly provided aid and support to the Palestinian people and supported the right of refugees to return to their country. 

JORGE TAGLE ( Chile) said he wished that the current event was not necessary.  He expressed his country’s solidarity with the Palestinian people.  This year, Chile had received 117 Palestine refugees.  Welcoming those refugees, the President of his country had said that Chile had received international solidarity and that now it was its turn to extend its hand.  Chile wished to show its special solidarity with the Palestinian people, without loosing sight of the ideal of finding a solution in which two States would live side-by-side in harmony.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers stressed that, in order to empower refugees as well as civil society, the partnership between civil society groups on the ground and various United Nations agencies should be deepened and strengthened.  One speaker recalled the fact that the United Nations had organized meetings with civil society groups in the region.  Another speaker noted that the petitions by villagers had been born out of extraordinary partnerships between villagers and local and international lawyers. 

Closing Statement

Mr. BADJI, Committee Chairman, said the unresolved question of Palestine was without parallel in the history of the modern world.  The Palestine refugees, however, seemed to have moved somehow to the periphery of the attention span of the international community.  The right of return of the Palestine refugees was not just a high-minded, but unattainable, humanitarian ideal, or a bargaining chip in the context of a future settlement.  Neither should the Palestine refugee issue be one of those intractable chronic situations that could only be expected to be deferred indefinitely.  “We simply cannot allow millions of Palestine refugees to continue to suffer forever, locked into a marginalized existence, disempowered, with little dignity or control over their environment, disgruntled, an easy prey for extremists, and a permanent source of regional instability,” he said.

Working solutions must be sought, he said, by convincing just a few sceptics, clearing up some of the fog of the convenient misconceptions clinging to the issue, and challenging some of the “myopic and complacent” views.  The situation of the Palestine refugees and the vortex of problems which it entailed were not becoming better with the passage of time.  The problem demanded a permanent solution.  The United Nations position was that, without a just solution to the issue of Palestine refugees in accordance with General Assembly resolution 194 (1948), a sustainable peace in the entire region would not be achieved.


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For information media • not an official record

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