Yes, this is the longest running unresolved refugee problem in the world. It is also the most important. Hardly any event in the Middle in the last century and until today, whether political, military or social, was not affected, or caused in some way, by the Palestine Question.
More importantly, it is the longest war in history against a people, a civil people whose only desire is to live in peace and freedom in their homes and country. It is now the 90th year since colonial powers, including Zionism, represented by Balfour, Weizmann, Sykes and Picot, conspired to dismember Palestine and scatter or eliminate its people.
Much of this Palestinian suffering took place under the auspices of the League of Nations, proclaiming “the Sacred Trust of Civilization” to be bestowed on Palestine. Such arduous and ill-fated mission is still being carried out by the UN, now more than ever before being hindered by the same colonial powers which manipulated it and the League of Nations as a cover for its plans, or totally ignored it.
Although this history is well-known to you, there are still dark corners which need to be exposed and a fresh look taken for the simple reason that such tragic history is still active and relevant. The sterling conclusion is that although the land of Palestine is conquered and occupied, the Palestinians, killed, maimed, wounded, imprisoned, dispossessed as they are, nevertheless they are still a vital force to be reckoned with. They increased 15 times, from the 700,000 Arabs whom Balfour derided as “black backward tribes” with no rights but “prejudices”, to over 10 million Palestinians today, half in Palestine and the rest all over the world.
This is what Allenby found when he conquered Palestine in 1917 and what Balfour who did not own, promised those who have no title. [Slide-1]
Palestine was a typical Arab country. Just like any other, it had a minority, in this case Jews, who did not exceed 9% of the population.
Twenty-eight years of the British Mandate changed everything. The British Civil Administration was headed by the Zionist Herbert Samuel who put the framework for an Israel, complete with its separate structure and army, ready to be proclaimed in 1948.
In spite of strenuous Zionist efforts and British collusion, the Jews managed to control only 5.5% of Palestine land but were able to bring in new immigrants by various methods-legal and illegal-up to 30% of the total population.
Another injustice took place when the UN, in its infancy, was persuaded in 1947 to pass a recommendation to split Palestine into two states in which the immigrant Jews would have sovereignty over 55% Palestine or 10 times their max holdings during the Mandate. [Slide-2] That was the trigger for the Palestinian refugees’ ethnic cleansing.
Why? Because 457 Palestinian towns and villages suddenly found themselves under the sovereignty of Jewish immigrants. Because half of the citizens of this new state would be Palestinians.
Ben Gurion would of course have none of that. He started ethnic cleansing before the British left and before Israel was declared. [Slide-3: 30sec]
Half of the total refugees were expelled in this period, before any Arab soldier could intervene. This went on after 15 May 1948. Seven months later, 78% of Palestine was conquered and 85% of its inhabitants became refugees. To this day, 21,900 days, later. This is al Nakba.
Direction of Ethnic Cleansing.
The Global Distribution of the Palestinians.
What do these figures tell us? First the total refugees are considerably greater than UNRWA figures. There are about 1.5 million not registered with UNRWA. The reasons, already acknowledged by UNRWA, are that original registration was based on need for food and care. City people did not need it and Beersheba population did not know or refused out of pride.
The second fact is that the refugees constitute two thirds of the Palestinian people, or three quarters if you include those displaced in 1967. This ratio is unprecedented in recent history and should bring shame to all those who were involved in creating it.
The third fact is that, after 60 years of wars, occupation and suffering, 88% of Palestinians still live in historic Palestine and a ring around it, not more than 100 miles wide. Only 6% are in other Arab countries and 6% in foreign countries. A most tragic example of refugees life is that of Gaza Strip. Who are they? They were the inhabitants of 247 villages in Southern Palestine, totally ethnically cleansed in 1948.
Today 1.5 million people live in the biggest concentration camp in the world, the new Auschwitz, locked up in 360 km², deprived of food, medicine and fuel and subject to daily slaughter. [Slide-7] Those who were silent because they did not know about Nazi atrocities in WWII have no excuse today. It is all splashed on TV screens and newspaper headlines. If you miss that, read the reports of OCHA, or Prof. Richard Falk of Human Rights Council.
Just imagine the Palestinian population before al Nakba, who were 1.5 million in all of Palestine, are crammed in 1% of Palestine. That is Gaza Strip.
What justification there is for this suffering–witnessed by silent millions and supported and aided by the same colonial powers which initiated it?
The UN has given its verdict in its resolution 194, repeated over 130 times since 1948. Why was it not implemented?
I am sure you know the political reasons. A part from these reasons and as an added tool, there is a thick cloud of manufactured myths to mislead the world, by saying that the return is not physically possible, or it may pollute the purity of the Jewish Community–an obviously racist concept.
We have made many studies to refute that. Briefly I would like to show few diagrams to illustrate this question.
Let us take the Northern District of Israel and show the composition of population. These are Ashkenazis, Russians and Arab Jews in addition to remaining Palestinians. If the refugees return to their homes [Slide-8], where their kith and kin already live there, there should be no problem of their accommodation.
The existing population is about a million, half of them are Palestinians. The returning refugees are about 800,000. There is no conflict of location or ownership.
If we repeat the same exercise for the populated part of the Southern District, the result is more striking. The existing population is about 850,000 of which 150,000 are Palestinians. [Slide-9] The returning refugees are about an equal number But most of the Jews live in a few originally-Palestinian cities. All the rural Jews controlling this district do not count more than 72,000 persons, smaller than any single refugee camp in Gaza. In Gaza, the owners of this land live at a density of 6,000 person/km² while the rural Jews roam their land at a density of 9 p./ km².
Thus Israel holds most of the refugee land in reserve, or in captivity, waiting for the forlorn hope that the refugees would sign away their right in their land. This will never come.
Hence, the new slogan of the “Jewish” State was publicized. There is no concept in international law, or even in the Partition Plan, for a purely ethnic Jewish State. This slogan is meant for the world, and the Palestinians in particular, to accept that Israel is entitled to deny the refugees The Right of Return and to authorize Israel to expel its own Palestinian citizens if Israel considers them a “demographic bomb”.
This is a blatantly racist notion, morally repugnant and politically dangerous. Consider this diagram. [Slide-10] These are population projections of Palestinians and Israelis in Palestine today.
It is clear that the Palestinian will always be a majority. It just depends on where and when. That is unless Israelis commit another Nakba or a “bigger holocaust” as the Israeli Army Deputy Chief warned Gaza people.
Will the world wait until this happens? Will they accept that a holocaust, under any other name, whether slow or fast, plain or hidden, be committed in the 21st Century? Will they conclude a 90-year war against the people of Palestine by their genocide?
I am sure they will not. Nor the Palestinian will let this happen. The UN remains the only bastion that holds the banner of international law and principles of justice. To their credit, those who are present here believe in this principle. Those absent do not. Let us therefore stand by the Palestinians to achieve the most basic of human rights: to return home.