Dr Salman Abu Sitta

Delivered at Palestine Writes PalFest,

    Philadelphia, 23 -Sept 2023 


Thanks to Palestine Writes and the indefatigable Susan Abulhawa and team. Thanks are also to the moderator Diana Buttu, the legal voice of Palestine.

Looking at the young people in the audience, it gives me great hope that the future of Palestine is in their good hands.   But let me ask them this question.


Because you are born in exile, you or your parents or even your grandparents. They came here because they were refugees. They were expelled from their ancient homeland Palestine, older in history than London, Paris or Berlin, not to speak of Philadelphia.

It is the most tragic event in our history. What would future generations think of us when they read about our history and ask: How could you let this happen? And if it did, why did you not reverse it fast?

Let me tell you in the clearest expression.

The Palestinian Nakba is unsurpassed in history. 

Consider the facts:

Our country Palestine was invaded by a foreign army. It was occupied by the force of arms through a trail of massacres. It was emptied of its people, who were driven into refugee camps.

Palestine’s physical and cultural landmarks were systematically obliterated. Its geography was taken over and renamed fictitiously by the invader. Its history was erased from all records and replaced by a mythical version.  Its heritage was expropriated as the invader’s own. 

The victims, the refugees in camps, were attacked by tanks, artillery, air and sea. They were chased out in refugee camps, in Gaza, in Sabra and Shatila and in Jenin. Not once or twice, but constantly for 75 years or 27,523 days to be exact. 

Yet in this part of the world where you live, the destruction of your homeland and dispersion of your people were celebrated as a miraculous act of God and as a victory of the righteous few over the savage many.

This tragedy, which unfolds, even now, day by day, leaving the deniers without a cause, was carried out according to a premeditated plan outside our country, meticulously executed, supported by the very same colonial powers that created the tragedy in the first place. 

It was carried out, not in the era of bow and arrow in a distant continent, but in the era of camera and TV, in the era of the UN, the guardian of the international law, in the heart of the heart of the ancient world.

Yet, the cries of the victims are silenced and denied, the calls for justice are framed as acts of hatred.  At the colonial courts, telling the truth and speaking on behalf of the victims are punishable as criminal acts.

This is indeed unsurpassed in history.

But we Palestinians are still here, wounded, dispersed, yes, but we are alive and defiant. We have three quarters of the world in sympathy with us.
So, who is afraid of truth? Only the guilty, the criminal.

Who is left blind to the truth? only the criminal’s cohorts. They have to carry the burden of al Nakba crime forever.  Like Sisyphus, they have to roll the rock of their crime up to the top of a mountain, only to roll it back down to the bottom. The guilt and its remedy have yet to be atoned for.

In spite of all this adversity, we will survive and recover our patrimony. 

But how?

This is our job and duty. First let us lay out the facts.


You were told that Israel in all its conquests was in a state of self defence against ‘foreign invaders’. But who was foreign and who were the invaders?  
These maps explain. 


The Zionist Invasion was carried out in full force starting in April 1948, by a Zionist European army of 120,000 trained soldiers, many were veterans of WWII, formed into 9 brigades, which carried out 31 military operations to conquer Palestine. 

In six weeks, it attacked and depopulated 220 villages and 11 cities out of eventual 560 villages and towns. It carried out 22 massacres out of 50 that took place over the course of al Nakba.

Massacres were a weapon of ethnic cleansing.

All this took place under the watchful eye of Britain and before a state called Israel was declared and before any Arab regular soldier entered Palestine. The news of the massacres inflamed the Arab world. They came to help but it was too little and too late.

Eventually, the Zionist control of the land increased from 6% under the British to 78% in 1948. Now it is 100%.

Not one acre of this land was obtained by just or legal means under any line in international law.

So who was the aggressor, the invader and who was in self defence?


Why are the Palestinian still denied the Right to Return home?

The Right of Return resolution 194 has been affirmed by the UN more than 130 times, the longest in UN history. International law and a myriad of UN conventions are supporting the Right of Return.

Shall I tell you some of these?

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

Why then are we not allowed to return home?

Because the original perpetrator of the crime and his cohorts are still doing it. The crime is still going on.

On the other hand, we are still defiant, and we have no intention of giving up


  • We plan for the future. That is what we do. We do not dream of the Right of Return. We plan for it.

  • Let us start planning the return of the refugees. First, we have to chart the map of the Future Palestine.

    • Three elements should be examined.




Land People Law

 1. The people
 2. The land
 3. The applicable laws

The last two, the land ownership and the applicable laws are well documented. It is the   people that we need to examine.  

People in Palestine consist of:
1. the remaining Palestinians in Palestine 
2. the  returning refugees 
3. the immigrant Jewish population.
All are well documented.



       Where are the Palestinian refugees today 
      Here they are. We know everything about them.


     They can return because most of their lands are still empty. 


     Let me show you how.
 We can identify the following regions because they have similar characteristics:

 1.Galilee region

 2.Coastal region between Haifa and Jaffa

3. Central region containing Tel Aviv and
Jewish concentration

 4.South 1 which is Gaza district

5.South 2 which is Beer Sheba district.  Both South 1,2 constitute Southern District.

There are 246 Palestinian village lands which have no Jews today and 272 village lands which have few Jews, less than 5000 Jews.  These village lands are shown in green. Beer Sheba district is practically empty save for repopulated Palestinian cities. 

Jewish land during the Mandate is shown in blue and is today fully populated. Cities (whether mixed or not) are shown in brown. Unlike villages, Israel destruction of cities was limited to old quarters.

The Palestinian village lands which have more than 30,000 Jews are shown dotted. That is where the Jews are majority over the returnees.

They are few and are naturally adjacent to Jewish areas. So if we now repopulate Palestinian villages by the return of the refugees we do not find any  appreciable problem. In Galilee, the Little Triangle and Beer Sheba, there is already a sizable Palestinian people, ready to welcome their kith and kin.

 CONCLUSION: the return is feasible and of course valid.

 Final Population Review  


From the above it is clear there is no demographic problem in the return of refugees. 

Where are the Jews?

Jews live in 924 localities with a total population of 5,509,778 (year 2020) within the armistice line of 1949. The distribution of those localities is revealing. Only 14 of those localities have a population of  over 100,000 and 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 55 localities, or five percent of the total number of localities. The area they occupy is 1400 km2 or 6% of Israel’s area

It is interesting to observe that this area where the majority of Jews live now is almost the same area they lived in during the British Mandate. 

The remaining settlements are very small. The original purpose of these small settlements was actually to hold and set roots in the refugees’ land to prevent their return. 

{For example, the kibbutz and moshav population is 390,542 living in 638 settlements excluding the Beer Sheba district. The original kibbutz consisted of 30-50 soldiers in a fortified military post who act as farmers in peacetime and act as a garrison base in unsettled times. The kibbutz and moshav’s contribution to agriculture does not exceed 1.5 percent of Israel GDP, while at the same time they consume 70 percent of water.) 

Therefore, the conclusion is this:  it is possible to implement the return of the refugees without major displacement of the occupants of their land.

The Jewish majority concentration can be identified in three cantons: Tel Aviv , Haifa and West Jerusalem. 

Jewish Urban Canton Details 

Jerusalem canton needs special political, historical, and demographic treatment.   

Central Canton 

(It is exclusively Jewish, can be divided into three sub-cantons, all are on Jewish land shown blue. The first one C11  is Tel Aviv canton, and C12 Rishon Le Zion, and C13 Herzliya canton. To ensure physical continuity between these three cantons, some parts of Palestinian village land are added onto these cantons, shown in black. Cities are shown in brown. Palestinian land with new Jewish population over 30,000 are shown dotted.   Canton 1 is in three parts to allow Palestinian villages to circulate.)

We can see that BUA generally covers Jewish areas and partly spills over to Palestinian areas. In this specially crowded area, about two dozen depopulated villages out of 560 (4%) are over-built by new construction. That is where the highest concentration of Jews in Israel.

   Haifa Canton 

This comprises Haifa and colonies between Haifa and Acre. This canton is different but simpler. It is different in that has an equivalent number of Palestinians and Jews. The record In Haifa shows that mixed population can live harmoniously.

In Haifa canton, mixed population could remain as they were before 1948 and now. The population of Al Tira village, south of Haifa, now annexed to Haifa has the choice to accept annexation to Haifa or to remain independent as they were.

KIBBUTZ AND MOSHAV This leaves us with concentrations of rural kibbutz. There are five blocks.

Block 1 on the coastal plain, which has an area of 178 km2 and a Jewish population of 372,253 Jews and only 15,220 Palestinians. Block 2 is upper Marj Ibn Amer, which has an area of 119 km2 and Jewish population 51,671. Block 3 is lower Marj Ibn Amer with an area of 104 km2 and a Jewish population of 50,475. Block 4 is an area of 123 km2 with a Jewish population 15,723, and Block 5 is an area of 59 km2 with a Jewish population 6,757.

I am sure you have not been told about this population distribution before. You certainly have not been told about Israel’s confirmation of it, 25 years ago. It was investigated by Israel’s multi-expert survey conducted in 1995, entitled Israel 2020 


Now let us plan the route of Return. We start by first by emptying the camps, one by one. {Five cases)

We start with Al Buss Camp in Lebanon.  This map shows the original villages of refugees in this camp. It also shows you have travel only 25 km to reach Palestine and only 5 km to reach your first village in Palestine.

   Same in Yarmouk in Syria..


    Same in Muzdar Camp in Jordan.


     Same in Duheisheh Camp in the West Bank.

   We can empty Al Nuseirat Camp in Gaza the same way.​ 


When they arrive they find only the debris of their houses buried under JNF planted trees, so called JNF parks. JNF is classified, not as a war criminal, but as a tax exempt charity dedicated to improve the environment.




The refugees would return to destroyed villages. Palestinians have to rebuild their houses again.

​Let us start with one village Al-Qastal Jerusalem district



Here we have the opposite case. One village located in many camps.. 
We find the village people in these camps. 

A young Palestinian architect finds his village and his grandfathers house. He draws plans for the construction of Al-Qastal. He is rebuilding his grandfathers house. He is Yazan Nasrallah.



Then we can rebuild Hirbiya again,


                                                                                                   GAZA RETURNS

Gaza, Gaza, the defiant, the Stalingrad of Palestine. The long term Concentration Camp, the home of permanent uprisings, not immortalized in movies. 

These young people were determined to return, even though they were shot, killed and maimed. They wish to break free from the concentration camp. It has a density of 7000 persons/km2 to their homes which are almost empty at 7 person/km2.   

They want to break free and return home for 75 years.
Let us imagine the “imaginable”. 

Those settlers live in 212 tiny settlements. Their total population is 150,000 in all southern district, 12,500km2. the land where Gaza refugees came from. This number of population excludes three Palestinian cities, Beer Sheba, Majdal and Isdud. 

Here you have it.150,000 settlers in the land of two million Palestinians, crammed in Gaza strip. The number of all these settlers is comparable to one refugee camp in Rafah (133k).

What travesty of justice! What travesty indeed.

Imagine that those few settlers decided to leave, to go to Tel Aviv or head to al Lydd airport. Imagine that they saw the huge wrong done to 2million Palestinians and they decided to clear the way for them to return to their homes in 247 villages.  

Imagine this. Is it difficult to do or easy?

Well, we did this exercise. We grouped them in 9 convoys. They could travel north in buses or in their cars. The journey will take 45 minutes to one hour. In one day or two, they will be gone. And two million Palestinians from 247 villages can return home. At last. After waiting 75 years.

Justice will be made at last.

The phases of return are worked out in this Table 

The most dramatic is of course the return of Gaza refugees, followed by those in Jordan. The rest is easy. Allowing for the reconstruction of destroyed villages, the full repatriation and resettlement could take 4 to 6 years, 


I am an engineer and a planner. I must ask: how much does it cost to rebuild the destroyed villages? Not much really. We need to build two million dwelling units and their infrastructure.  We have enough engineers and labour to do that. We built much bigger projects in the gulf.

Where do we get the money from?

The cost can be offset by the revenue that Israel collected from Palestinian property for 75 years. The United Nations says so. Resolution 70/86 on Palestine refugees’ properties and their revenues (2015) requires Israel to keep record of revenues of utilizing their property.

More than that. A recent estimate of the present value of material Palestinian property seized by Israel, prepared by Economics Prof Atef Kubrusi of McMaster University, and submitted to Adam Smith Institute is a whopping 350 billion USD. It is the biggest robbery in history.

This does not include the compensation for non material losses such as loss of nationality, exile and family dispersion, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and other crimes, which have been paid in WWII cases..

There will be good news for the American taxpayer. When return is complete, the taxpayer will be relieved from paying 3.8 billion dollars annually to Israel. 

UNRWA should be able with its predominantly Palestinian staff to supervise the repatriation for the Palestinians. 

           The YOUNG DID NOT FOREGT 


But we cannot wait for the big day when we return. We have to plan for it. 

Seven years ago, we started an annual competition among graduating Architectural students in 14 universities, in Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon. The competition is about reconstructing destroyed villages.  This September we started the 8th year of the annual competition.

In the competition, we provide students with a file about their selected village, in GIS format, from aerial photos, Mandate surveys, village books and sketches and house plans, also map of the present site from Satellite images. We also give them a forecast of population. 

British Jury judge the submissions every year and they select the best three plans. Awards for this year were given first week of September. This is one of them.

So far, 270 young Palestinian architects participated in the rebuilding program. We have now detailed plans for the reconstruction of 50 destroyed villages, divided geographically, north, south, centre and vernacularly. mountainous, coastal, rainy areas or arid.  

What is better than forming an association of these talented architects?

They formed PRAA Palestine Reconstruction Architects Association.

The future is theirs. 

If you are an architect please join them.

But all this needs the implementation of one cardinal principle.  This principle is essential, just, non=negotiable and inevitable. That is the abolishment of Zionism and its components: war crimes, dispossession, occupation, Apartheid, racism and discrimination.

People, all people of any creed, should live in peace and in harmony, without killing, occupation, dispossession or claims of supremacy.


I have faith, unshakeable faith, that the March of Justice will reach its destination.

I have faith that this child will return home.

In spite of all the overwhelming power against defenseless Palestinian people, it has not succeeded over seven decades to break their will or to diminish their spirit.

You are here, in the festival of Palestine Writes. a solid proof.

But you, every one of us, has a duty.

At your own home, teach your children that Palestine is and will always be their home. 

At the world stage, spread the truth about Palestine. 

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

Palestine Writes. Palestine Lives.

Palestine shall be free from the river to the sea.

Make this your unshakeable duty.

Thank you.