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The Right of Return to Free Palestine

Salman Abu Sitta, 15 May, 2024

Source: https://mondoweiss.net/2024/05/the-right-of-return-to-free-palestine/

The Right of Return to Free Palestine

76 years later, Palestinian return to the homes and lands we were expelled from in 1948 is feasible and, of course, legal. To Palestinians, it is also sacred and inevitable.
A young Palestinian looks at a poster listing the villages that demonstrators at the Great March of Return plan to return to once the Palestinian right of return is honored, March 30, 2018. (Photo: Mohammed Asad)

Editor’s Note: The following text was prepared as a speech to present to the Global Anti-Apartheid Conference on Palestine held in Johannesburg, South Africa on May 10-12, 2024.

Dear Friends in South Africa,

I have the honor to address you today. As millions of Palestinians, we have the greatest gratitude and admiration for South Africa, which among 193 UN member states, was the only one to stand before the International Court of Justice and charge Israel with the heinous crime of Genocide. South Africa, like us, knows the meaning of Apartheid, colonization, ethnic cleansing and erasure of a nation from its homeland.

We all remember what Nelson Mandela said, “Our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of Palestinians”. 

There are many common features of our histories. 

The Israeli Genocide in Gaza is deeply rooted and well planned for more than a century. You heard the myth propagated in Europe a century ago that Palestine was a land without people. It turned out to be a Zionist plan to make it so, a land without a people, to empty it, to expel its people and kill them.  In 1940, Yousef Weitz, the Zionist colonist under the British Mandate, declared, before Israel was declared,  that “not one [Palestinian] village” will remain in Palestine.  That was the plan for Al Nakba

In 1948, 530 cities and villages were attacked and depopulated by a Zionist European army of 120,000 soldiers in 9 brigades which carried out 31 military operations and committed 90 massacres, occupied 78% of Palestine. They made its people refugees till to today. They are now 9 million Palestinian refugees.

The hypocritical West cries that the hostages must return home. They send bombs to kill, they cast veto to kill international law, they prevent entry of food and medicine, they aid and abet total destruction of Gaza.

 All this is in order to release captured East European settlers “to return home”.  

I fully agree that all hostages must be freed to return home. 

But who are the real hostages?

They are two million Palestinian refugees in Gaza Concentration Camp, from 247 towns and villages in southern Palestine expelled by Israel in 1948, through dozens of massacres. They are crammed in a concentration camp called Gaza Strip at a density of 8000 persons/km2. Its area is 1.3% of Palestine, or 365 km2. Their homes are in the southern district of Palestine, which is 12,500 km2. 

Who occupies their home now?

East European settlers from Romania, Poland, Ukraine and Russia. Their number is only 150,000, at a density of only 7 persons/km2, one thousand times less than the owners of the land, the refugees in Gaza.

So, who are the real hostages? 

Are they the 150 European settlers held in Gaza for 200 days?

Or, are they the two million Palestinian refugees held in Gaza camps who are attacked by land, air and sea and blockaded for 76 years, or 27,000 days?

I ask you. who are the true hostages?

I maintain without reservation: All hostages should be free to return home. Palestinians to Palestine and Settlers with foreign passports to wherever they want to go.

For 76 years, the Palestinians never stopped claiming their Right to Return home.

The UN resolution number 194 calling for the Right of Return has been affirmed by the UN more than 130 times, the longest in UN history. 

International law and a myriad of UN conventions support the Right of Return.

Shall I tell you some of these?

Fourth Geneva Convention art 4. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights art 8 and 13. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, art 7 and 8. The International Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, art 5 and 6. … and many more.

Why are the Palestinian still not allowed to return home?

Because the original perpetrator of the crime and his cohorts are still doing it. These are the Western powers which created Israel, which recently vetoed the ceasefire resolutions three times. They are still supplying Israel with bombs to kill and political protection. 

The original crime is still going on. 

In the face of all this, the Palestinians are defiant and resolute.  They have no intention of giving up their Right of Return. They do not want to remain refugees forever. 

So we have a duty: to plan for their Return.  

First, we see who and where the refugees are. 

Next, we see who occupies their land in Israel? 

We made a detailed study, village by village, city by city, to find how many Jews live in Palestinian lands and where. 

We found a startling result: 

There are 246 Palestinian village lands which have no Jews today. 

There are 272 village lands which have few Jews, less than 5000.  

So, if we now repopulate Palestinian villages by the return of the refugees, we do not find any appreciable problem of Jewish displacement. 

In Galilee, the Little Triangle in the center and in Beer Sheba, there is already a sizable Palestinian population, ready to welcome their kith and kin.

Then, where are the Jews in Israel?

Generally, Jews live in 924 listed localities with a total population of 5,509,778 (year 2020) within the armistice line of 1949. But this large number may be misleading. Only 14 of them have a population of over 100,000; 12 have a population between 50 and 100,000, and 29 localities between 20 and 50,000. 

That means that 87% of Jews live in only 55 localities, or five percent of the total number of localities. The area they occupy is 1,400 km2 or 6% of Israel’s area.

The conclusion? The return is feasible and of course legal. To Palestinians, it is also sacred and inevitable.

We can plan the return of the refugees from their camps. We know exactly where they come from. The route to return home takes from 15 minutes to 45 minutes and it is never longer than 45 km. In Gaza they do not need busses, they can simply walk home.

When they arrive home, they will find the debris of their destroyed homes. The debris is covered by the trees planted by the Jewish National Fund to hide the crime. 

Now they can start rebuilding their homes.

We gave this task to young Palestinian architects as their graduating project. We hold an annual competition among them, now in its 8th year. The competition is judged by international jury in London.

So far 270 young Palestinian architects participated in the reconstruction of 60 villages, distributed all over Palestine.

Once again, the young people are leading the way to liberation.

Justice will be made at last.

But all this needs the implementation of one basic principle.  This principle is essential, just, non-negotiable and inevitable. It is the abolishment of Zionism and all its components: war crimes, dispossession, occupation, Apartheid, racism, discrimination AND GENOCIDE.

After the passage of 76 years, we Palestinians never lost the determination to return home. As you see, the Right of Return is sacred to all Palestinians, its legal in every chapter of international and it is feasible and surely inevitable.

Therefore, I call upon this august assembly here today to do all they can, by any means, to come to the aid of Palestine.

To stop immediately the Genocide of Gaza

To stop the daily butchering of Palestinians, in Gaza, more than 120,000 killed and wounded in seven months.

To bring all Israel leaders to the International Criminal Court.

To volunteer, by any weapon you have, for Palestine.

To call on all states to intervene on the side of South Africa in the ICJ against Israel.

To call on states on boycott Israel and to divest from it. 

To spread the truth about Palestine at the world stage. 

Who is afraid of truth? Only the guilty, the criminal.

That is the remedy for the present Genocide in Gaza.

But the final peace will only come to Palestine with justice.

Justice means that the return of all refugees to their homes.  

Justice means that Apartheid, occupation, war crimes are all ended.

Justice means that Zionism, like Nazism and Fascism and all human ills, are terminated and punished. 

For over hundred years, Palestinian people valiantly fought for their freedom against Western colonialism and its tool Israel. A small number of people against a mighty force.  They never gave up, they never surrendered, they deserve to be free.

I say, like you and like all honorable people in the world, 


Thank you.