Ladies and Gentlemen
I was waiting for this day for at least three years, the day when we get together to inaugurate Palestine Land Studies Center. Here we are now at this crowning moment. The situation in Lebanon, very well known to you. made it difficult for me to attend in person at this time. I hope very soon this situation will change to the better.
First let me do a pleasant task:
I would like to extend our thanks in Palestine Land Society (PLS) to President Fadlo Khuri for his support of the establishment of Palestine Land Studies Center (PLSC). Also, our thanks are extended to Dr Imad Baalbaki and Prof Lina Choueiri who constantly worked on making this project come true for a number of years. I give credit also to Kaoukab Chebaro, who now moved to the US, and who gave great support to the project from its inception.
I reserve special and extended thanks to Prof Howayda Al Harithy, the founding director of PLSC. Howayda shepherded the project through difficult times in Lebanon, not least during the Corona ravages. We hope she will deliver the project in full force to a new directorship at the right time and to the right people
Ladies and Gentlemen
I have just come from Gaza Strip after several decades of forced absence. I saw hundreds of thousands of school children going to school in the early morning. There are half a million of these children, out of two million people, in this tiny strip. Only 30 km by 12 km.
Why is it so crowded
? The question always arises without any one caring to find the answer. The people there were driven to Gaza Strip from 247 villages in the southern half of Palestine. They were attacked and depopulated by Israel in 1948 and pushed into this tiny strip.
While in Gaza, I heard the constant hum of Israeli drones flying over our head. day and night, causing disturbed sleep, anxiety and even trauma among children. These drones and airplanes showered death and destruction on Gaza regularly.
The enemy which expelled them 73 years ago still haunts them from the sky, and reaches out to their classrooms.
Now UNRWA schools are under pressure from Western donors, not to teach these children where they had come from, why they are refugees and what is Nakba. They have to deny they are Palestinians
coming from Jaffa, Majdal, Isdud. They have to deny their origin, history and geography
else, be deprived from funds to run the schools.
Now why do I tell you all this
on the day we open a research center?
Because the war against Palestinians which started in 1948, or even earlier, a century ago, never stopped. It is not only military. It is a planned, persistent and permanent war to erase the Palestinians’ history and geography.
I can personally testify that this war is deep rooted. Not only during al Nakba which I have witnessed, but ever since.
Sixty years ago, I had a cultural shock. In 1962 I was doing my PhD in engineering at the University of London. I was searching for maps of Palestine but I could not find the name anywhere, neither in the Royal Geographical Society, nor in the British Library.
It turned out that the name Palestine was deleted and was replaced by the name “Israel”. That was in Britain
. which left Palestine only ten years earlier, after thirty years of betrayal and bloodshed in Palestine.
This denial started the Palestinians’ long battle for recognition and survival. They often present the world with a faded picture of an old house or a photo of a grandfather, a passport, a stamp with the word Palestine on it, or a railway timetable.
This is just to prove, not an ancient history, not an archaeological relic, but a continuous reality of land and people, visible to the eye and registered in every official record.
What a shame.
What a tragedy to deny the existence of a country, which has a historical record longer than any European country.
I started on a long trek, from the time my hair was black till it turned silver, to collect every map, document or record I could find about erased Palestine.
It required a lot of travelling, searching and enquiring.
In the UK, there are dozens of depositories of such material, scattered all over the country, whether political, military, academic or personal.
There are sources in Germany, such as in Munich, housing the first ever aerial photos of Palestine in the WWI.
There are sources in Paris, in the Bibliotheque Nationale which houses Napoleon maps of Palestine in 1801.
And of course, there is the US Library of Congress, a very important source.
Then you have the UN library in New York and Geneva. This library is particularly relevant as it contains maps of the Armistice Agreements in 1949 and the subsequent Israeli wars. It has a special file on "the atrocities" in 1948, that is massacres, a big but incomplete file.
There are still untapped resources in the Vatican, St Petersburg in Russia, in the Ottoman Archives in Turkey and many other places.
From that harvest, we now have at PLSC library
10,000 books on Palestine from the 19th
century to the present time. All such books describe our country, mostly by surveyors from Europe, where the myth that Palestine is “a Land without People” was created.
We also have,
2000 maps of Palestine in the last 200 hundred years, listing a total of 55,000 names created by those ‘imaginary’ people of the land. Those names stretch over a record of 2000 years, longer than any record in Europe.
Also, there are,
5000 Aerial photos of Palestine in 1945, taken just before the unceremonious, hurried departure of Britain from Palestine.
Also, there are,
300 aerial photos of Palestine by German Air force, in the First World War. This is the first record of air war.
And of special value, there are
500,000 land property records by the UN. This is the record of Palestinian property seized by Israel which amounts to 94% of the part of Palestine that was renamed Israel.
In addition, there are,
14 volumes of the documentation about Palestine borders, separating it from the rest of the Arab world from 1833 to 1947.
Several thousand fortnightly reports about every district in Palestine from 1920 to 1948.
12 volumes of Zionist and Israeli archives from 1830 to 1955.
Documents of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Palestine 1948- 1950, in Geneva.
Reports of UN Truce Observers Supervision on Atrocities 1948, DAG 13/3.3.1.
Archives of AFSC (Quakers) on Palestine, Philadelphia, in the period 1948-1950. As you may know, the Quakers were the first to build the first refugee camps in Gaza.
… and many more.
Well, what to do with all this data?
Knowledge must be put to use, to correct a mistake and to pursue justice.
Let me give you an example.
Barely one month after Oslo disaster, Edward Said, wrote a scathing critique of it. His every word sounds relevant today.
What could an article by an intellectual do?
Lots of activities followed. Many luminary Palestinian personalities, such as Haidar Abdel Shafi, Ibrahim Abu Lughod, Shafiq al Hout, Naseer Aruri and many others (I am included) organized conferences, wrote articles and petitions to expose Oslo fiasco.
Twentytwo years ago, I formed in London the Palestine Land Society. The idea was to represent our cause in a scientific
, factual and relevant manner, in order to face the deluge of denial, deception and misinformation which filled the Western cyber space.
Using the data we had, we produced over 400 papers and articles about the refugees, the Right of Return and al Nakba history.
We also published books and atlases.
Most notably, we published the Atlas of Palestine 1948 and the larger Atlas of Palestine 1917- 1966, in 600 pages. Both depict every minute detail in Palestine at al Nakba and just before and after. This Atlas was published first in English, then in Arabic and I hope in Spanish to be published in a month or two.
Last summer, we published the Atlas of Palestine 1871- 1877. This depicts Arab Palestine before the onset of Zionist colonization. In this Atlas, there is not a single Jewish colony in its 13,000 names’ register.
We also published the Return Journey Atlas in three languages, Arabic, English and Hebrew. It shows Palestine that we knew before al Nakba and superimposed on it the Zionist colonization today. So, we know what happened to each piece of land before and after.
These atlases are now found in many universities and institutions. Although our enemies are numerous, there was no refutation of its facts. This is not the case of political or historical analyses. So, here this is an advantage
for this kind of work.
What is the value of all this for the region?
We had to make this knowledge available to Arab students. What is better choice than AUB? AUB has admirably carried out this mission in the region since 1866.
Many bright Arab students cannot travel to Western universities because of visa restrictions or lack of funds. If we bring the research material from the West to AUB, they have the opportunity to come to AUB to study it.
In 2017, we started talking with AUB about setting up Palestine Land Studies Center
(PLSC) here. We got a very warm reception. Because of Corona we delayed the inauguration until the appropriate time. We hope it is today.
But our plan is ready.
We want to create a body of knowledge for three periods, past, present and future
, the silenced and denied past, the near past in the last hundred years. We want to document the history of Nakba in terms of the new understanding of international law about war crimes, ethnic cleansing, Apartheid, universal jurisdiction, International Criminal Court, International Court of Justice and the like.
We wanted to know in more detail the Palestinian population at various periods, at home and after their dispersion, where they were and where they are now.
We wanted to re-examine recent history in the light of new knowledge. Interpretation of history is always changing as the law changes, as the sense of justice takes a new meaning and as it acquires a new weapon of enforcement.
Then we have the present
We want to analyze what our adversaries plan for us beyond al Nakba. As you know the Israeli-inspired Western so-called Peace Plans presented to us over 55 schemes in the last 70 years. These plans, clothed in a peace garb, have similar features:
- None of them comply with international law.
- None of them force Israel to roll back its occupation, or admit its war crimes or call for reparations.
- None of them endorse the Inalienable Right of Return.
- All of them urge Palestinians to accept their expulsion and dispossession for a loaf of bread and a shelter, somewhere in the world, outside Palestine.
Almost all of them have failed. Almost all. except one, Oslo fiasco. Every book written on it stated that IF
the Palestinian team possessed the knowledge, the facts, the documents, perhaps it would not have become the disaster it is today.
Take the last scenario, the scheme of Trump and his son-in-law, the Deal of The Century. When we analyzed it on maps and in figures, it turned out to be no more than a quirk of Trump’s imagination and his son-in-law, super imposed on well- known Israeli schemes. Such tragic comedy could not have materialized if we had available the irrefutable facts and
a strong leadership.
But it is in the future
that we trust. Young Palestinians around the world are filling cyber space with their achievements in all fields of endeavour. All they need is the ammunition for their travail.
I hope they will make use of the huge data base, now stored in PLSC.
They already started in some way.
We organized an annual competition, now in its 6th
year, among Palestinian and Arab architectural graduating students, to reconstruct destroyed Palestinian villages in the same place for the same people. We gave them large data about a number of villages to choose from. We asked them to prepare plans to rebuild it for the future after return, with ten times the 1948 population and with the amenities of the 22st
century. The British jury, who gave the awards for the winners, were amazed at the creativity of these young architects.
There are many other ideas.
In PLSC, we prepared about three dozen projects for the full-time researchers to be recruited.
They shall deal with future Palestine, its demography, which Palestinian and Jewish population will be there and under what conditions, Palestine land ownership and land use, its urban landscape and the reconstruction of destroyed Palestine,
the logistics of implementing the Right of Return,
the legal and practical implications of unravelling occupation, Apartheid and racism,
the documentation of war crimes and the role of international law in dealing with them,
the due reparations, how can they be applied and implemented,
the preservation and the updating of archives on Palestine, both from enemy and friendly sources,
the education of the young people and the correction of Palestine history in school curricula, especially in the West,
the support of Palestine around the world, or the lack of it, friendly or hostile in fighting Apartheid, occupation, racism, and colonialism,
There are many more subjects.
Here at AUB, students can find in PLSC rich material for joint projects in all inter-disciplinary fields in:
Geography, cartography, history, archaeology, statistics, population studies, international law (and Right of Return), economics, contemporary politics, water engineering, urban planning, Palestinian written and visual culture, Palestinian youth education, archive management, IT and media.
To do all this, it is imperative
that PLSC should have full time staff of researchers.
They will work on a number of ready important projects.
All this needs ample budget. This fact is to be remembered.
Now I have a word to the young people, future students at PLSC. I say this:
“You do not need to wear a uniform and carry a gun to assert your identity or recover your lost home. You just need to be diligent and determined. Never despair. Never lose hope. Never betray your roots.
Claim your own rights. You do not want to take anything from anybody. You just want to take back what is taken from you. It is a noble human endeavour.
Remember. If there is no Palestine there is no Lebanon no Syria no Egypt. And there is no history for this region in the last 2000 years since Jesus Chris. They want us to believe. This will never happen”.
In conclusion, I am confident that our path is planned and the vehicle is here. Now we need the fuel to make it run.
I look to the day, soon I hope, when PLSC produces a paper, holds a conference or take up an international issue, and present a brilliant plan which will have an impact on our future. It can and it will happen.
With your help, let us make it happen soon.
Thank you for being here today.