Palestinian history is full of anniversaries of sad events kept alive by the resilience of people who refuse to submit and kneel. This year, it is the 40th anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. It is the 60th year of Al Nakba, and it is the 90th year of the longest war in history against a people.

It was started by the conspiracy of colonial leaders, Sykes, Picot, Balfour, Weizmann, Ben Gurion and others, to destroy Palestine and its people. There were two parties in this war. The first party in this longest war, the aggressor, has well-laid plans, enormous military and political power. It has strategic bases, planes, tanks, fleets, armies and money. The second party, the defender, is the proverbial Abu Mohammad and Um Muhammad and their children in every Palestinian village. They lived on their land, were born on its soil, and were buried in it. In spite of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians killed and wounded, over 1 million injured, and over 6 million refugees living in exile, I can declare confidently that the result of this war between the two parties is a stalemate.

They have not won and we have not won, as yet. Why? Because Zionist objectives are three fold: the first is conquering the land, the second is eliminating the people and erasing their presence, and the third is obliterating their history and identity. They took the land, 78% in 1948, and 22% in 1967. But they have not enjoyed a moment of peace. The resistance did not stop and will never stop. They did not eliminate the Palestinian people. We are today over 10 million, or seven times our number in 1948. Our history and memory were not erased. The children did not forget. Those children are the backbone of resistance today.

So what is Al Nakba? It is the largest, longest, continuous planned ethnic cleansing operation in modern history. I hope you have a copy of the map which documents the essential features of Al Nakba which is as relevant today as it was in 1948.

If the figures are not of much help, then perhaps the memory of a ten year-old boy recalling AL Nakba may be more meaningful. This is what I told Uri Avnery, the Israeli peace activist, in Paris one evening.

About a million people became refugees in 1948. Their life had suddenly been transformed from a state of tranquility to a state of utter destitution: families expelled at gunpoint in the middle of night or in the heat of a summer day, screams of help, cries of pain, children lost, mothers clutching pillows instead of their children, thirsty old men shot in the head if they stopped for water in the forced march, a whole family dismembered to pieces by a bomb dropped from a plane while having supper, survivors of massacres walking about in a daze.

The scenes of devastation filled the landscape: the sea of wrecked humanity trailing along the sea coast in Gaza or in the ravines of the West Bank, resting under a tree, in a mosque or a school, counting their number; the distraught father or mother rushing back aimlessly looking for a missing loved one; houses deserted with a bed unmade, hot food in the kitchen; a dog looking for its owner; plants remain unwatered; cattle and sheep wandering about out of their open sheds. Screams of Yahud, Yahud (Jews, Jews) are heard and the tired crowd disperses frantically in crevices and behind rocks.

A jeep with mounted machine guns sprays all moving objects. A plane hovers gently, almost soundlessly, then drops barrels of destruction on concentrated masses, limbs flying in the air, hanging on a branch.

Avnery was one of those riding in a jeep with a machine gun. When he heard my recollection he was visibly shaken. His wife was almost in tears. He admitted that he was a member of the Jewish terrorist organization, the Irgun, and that he, perched on a hill and carrying his machine gun in Huleigat, saw this dazed mass of humanity moving slowly along the shoreline towards Gaza, fleeing Israeli machine guns.

He was sad and sorry. But he failed my Litmus test. I asked him if he, after what he saw and felt, would support my right to return to my home, not his. ‘No’, came his emphatic reply. This peace activist, like most I came across, is only ready to allow the Palestinians freedom in fragments of the West Bank provided that 80% of Palestine is purely Jewish and al Nakba is a sad but irrelevant historical event.

We do not need archaeology to tell us that Palestine is our homeland. We do not need to appeal to divine intervention to give legitimacy to our right in Palestine. We do not even need international law to convince us that Palestine is our homeland. They do. Those who came from Russia, Poland, Brooklyn, and Lithuania need to justify their conquest of our land. They waded in our shores at the middle of the night from a smugglers’ ship in order to wreak havoc and create our Nakba.

I am certain that the history of the Jews, especially Zionist Jews, will not anymore be marked in the future by the Christian belief that they killed Jesus Christ, nor by the Nazi atrocity committed during the heat of World War II. But it will be indelibly marked by the persistent, intentional and continuous dismemberment of Palestine and Palestinians.

In the international arena, the world (with the exception of the colonial powers which committed this crime) is supporting us. The international community in the United Nations affirmed our right of return more than 130 times in an unprecedented case in UN history. Why have the refugees returned in Bosnia, Kosovo, Abkhazia, Guatemala, Iraq and Afghanistan, and not in Palestine? The colonial powers are still waging war against us.

In the international arena, the world (with the exception of the colonial powers which committed this crime) is supporting us. The international community in the United Nations affirmed our right of return more than 130 times in an unprecedented case in UN history. Why have the refugees returned in Bosnia, Kosovo, Abkhazia, Guatemala, Iraq and Afghanistan, and not in Palestine? The colonial powers are still waging war against us.

Then they ask the victim to recognize the pure Jewishness of Israel–that Israel is a purely ethnic or religious Jewish state out of right. There is no concept in international law of this definition. There is no concept of that in the Partition Plan for a purely Jewish state. The Partition Plan protects all rights of the minority among the majority. This includes the Palestinians, half of the population in the partitioned Palestine. To make it Jewish, Ben Gurion expelled them before declaring his state.

Why do they insist on Israel as a Jewish state? There are three reasons for this. First of all, this means admission by the Palestinians and others that the right of return is null and void. The natural conclusion after this recognition is you have no right to return to a land which you admit is not yours. The second reason is that Israel will have in hand a license to expel its own Palestinian citizens who are still living on their land since 1948. The third reason is that Israel has failed to eliminate the Palestinians and want this failure to be reversed in the future. How is that?

In the next few years, no more than five, the Palestinians in the Mandate Palestine, that is ’48, Gaza and the West Bank, will be equal to the number of Israeli Jews. In the year 2025, the number of Israeli Jews will range between 7 and 8 million, and will not exceed this figure. This is because the number of Jews in the world is hovering around 13 million with little change because of assimilation and mixed marriages. Since Israeli policy requires that 5 million Jews should remain in the United States, to run AIPAC and similar institutions, that leaves only 8 million Jews for actual residence in or possible immigration to Israel. In the following 25 years, the Palestinians will be 34 million–half of them are in Palestine, and the other half just outside it. In other words, Israeli Jews will be 30% of the whole population in Palestine, just as they were in 1948.

The numbers’ game does not interest us. We do not derive any new rights in our homeland from them, nor do they diminish our rights whether we are 1 million or 30 million. It is the enemies of Palestine, who are using the numbers as a means to annihilate the Palestinians or to perpetuate another ethnic cleansing if we are too many for their liking.

But we do not need to wait 25 or 50 years to achieve and implement our right of return to our homes on the basis of numbers. Take the case of Gaza, the biggest concentration camp in the world, the new Auschwitz. People are deprived of food, water, medicine, and fuel under the eyes of the so called “civilized” world. Who are the people of Gaza? They were the inhabitants of 247 depopulated villages in 1948. They are 1.5 million people crowded in 360 km2. Their number today is equal to all Palestinian people in 1948, now crowded in 1% of Palestine. Their density is 6,000 persons per square kilometer. The occupiers of their land within sight across the barbed wire roam their land at a density of 6 persons per square kilometer. Those occupiers, from Kastinah in the north to Auja in the south, an area of about 7,000 km2, do not number more than 73,000 rural Jews. If there is an exchange of population, and the refugees return to their homes, those rural Jews would hardly fill one refugee camp in Gaza.

If 1.5 million people in Gaza march towards their homes, and the same is done by refugees in al Arroub, Fawar, and Duheisheh camps in the West Bank, the two marches will meet after only one or two hours in the middle of Palestine.

By international law standards, Gaza is a victim of genocide and war crimes. Article-6 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines genocide as “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”. Article-8, paragraph six of the same Statute, defines war crimes as “starvation, or impeding relief supplies”. That is what is happening.

The leaders of the Western world know that–what do they do? Send Condoleezza Rice to weaken the resolve of the Palestinian people, and force them to accept status quo–that is, for PA to serve as agents of the occupation, control and subdue the Palestinian people on their behalf. They prop up leaders who claim to represent Palestinians and who are ready to forfeit or at least dilute their rights.

Shall we let that happen? Absolutely not. What can we do? A lot. The right of return movement has gained great strength since the ill-fated Oslo Accords, the biggest political hoax in Palestine’s recent history. This movement is not a new invention. It is an extension and continuation of the movement for the right of return which started immediately after Al Nakba, in 1949. When people were expelled, dispossessed, and became homeless, living in the open, under trees or in schools, their only demand was not to receive food and clothing from relief agencies, but to return home. Let me read for you a moving paragraph from a letter I found in Philadelphia Quakers archives, sent by one Quaker field officer, to his head office in Philadelphia on October 12, 1949:

“Since it is difficult for the refugees here to communicate with the outside world, we have an obligation to convey what we can of their opinions and thinking at the present time…"

Above all else, they desire to go home–back to their lands and villages which, in many cases, are very close. Apparently, they do not hesitate to go back to the changed culture which is growing in Israel. This desire naturally continues to be the strongest demand they make; sixteen months of exile has not diminished it. Without it, they would have nothing for which to live. It is expressed in many ways and forms every day. ‘Why keep us alive?’–is one expression of it. It is as genuine and deep as a man’s longing for his home can be. In the minds of the refugees resettlement is not even considered.

This document is remarkable both for its clarity and its perception. Many years before today’s glossy talk of realism, the refugees’ desire to return to their land far outweighed the perils of the new Israeli savagery and domination as was still vivid in their minds by the massacre of Deir Yassin.

This burning desire to return home after sixteen months of exile is still alive and well sixty years later. Those who demand the return today are the grandchildren of those refugees. The young did not forget. It is you who are here today. Presumably Ben Gurion is turning in his grave at the thought.

So, this demand to return home never stopped. It has been taken up by the PLO and Palestine National Council of 1964. It had acquired international recognition in 1974 as an inalienable right which earned Palestine an Observer seat in the United Nations.

The eighties, after the departure from Beirut, saw a decline in this pursuit. The last credible Palestine National Council of 1988 is the last one to uphold the 1969 Palestinian National Charter. Thereafter, it has been downhill, saved only by the rising, powerful but not yet coordinated right of return movement. Today, we see on television faces of people who claim to represent Palestinians and who participate in a charade called “negotiations”. We all know this will lead to none of our national rights. It is like the proverbial Arabic saying of “cooking pebbles”.

I am not aware how and when the election of these people was confirmed by all the Palestinians. The last elections in the Occupied Territories took place in 2006, and they represent only 30% of the Palestinian people. Of those, 12% in Gaza upholds the results of this election. The leaders in the West Bank, where 18% of the Palestinians live, do not recognize these results. Moreover, Israel has promptly arrested most of those elected representatives. That leaves 70% of Palestinians who have no voice in their destiny. In terms of population and age, the boys and girls who threw stones in the first intifadah of 1988 are now young men and women, mature enough to be of great value to their cause.

Why not, then, unite the Palestinian people all over the world in a newly elected Palestine National Council? This is a national duty and urgent necessity. PNC has the ultimate authority to decide our destiny and to defend our rights. It is the only arbiter in solving our differences. From that Council, a new PLO Executive, or government in exile, should be elected. Those would be the true democratically-elected representatives of the Palestinians.

As you know, we held conferences in London and Beirut. We also talked to you in meetings in almost all Arab and foreign countries. Together with my colleagues, we met President Abbas and Mr. Zanoun, the PNC’s last speaker, urging them to call for the already agreed committee to convene to prepare for elections or selection by consensus, of a new PNC. Times have changed–old generations have left the field and new generations have come into force; some old political parties have lost their purpose, new political parties have risen–all those should have a voice in our future. The response we received from President Abbas about our demands is a string of unfulfilled promises.

Today, it is our duty; I repeat it is our duty, not to remain silent. We must put aside our marginal differences because they fade in significance as compared to our inalienable rights. We must plan, coordinate, and lobby for a new elected Palestine National Council. It is the only guarantee to protect the Right of Return. It is the only unifying body to represent all Palestinians. It is the only body that is recognized at the United Nations. We can do that by forming ourselves into small groups, clubs, societies, or affiliations calling for the same objective. These groups can be the source of electing final representatives. This would be like primaries. We should also keep up the pressure so that our voice will be heard. It is not easy but it can, and shall be, done.

If the official route does not work after several trials, there are many ways of enforcing our right of representation. One way is to call 24% of the 1988 PNC members for an extraordinary session. At this session they can take resolutions for elections which are legitimate according to the Charter. We can also hold a national popular conference to make these resolutions. In addition, we can make statements and representations widely disseminated that only decisions taken by the elected representatives are valid. We must also warn those at the steering wheel today, not to leave us a legacy of betrayal of our rights which will force us to disown them and to keep fighting for our rights.

Let us remember that any of us, who prefers their faction or their interest or their bias over their Palestinian rights, are not with us and certainly are not worthy of representing us. All factions, differences, political interpretations, even accusations, should fade in significance to our basic human right–the Right of Return.

The 90 year war in which Abu Muhammad and Um Muhammad and their children who have remained steadfast throughout, must come to an end. That is when those children are fully represented and ready to continue the struggle for the Right to Return to their homes, and to recover their patrimony, which no doubt will come.

و ما ضاع حق وراءه مطالب