May 28, 2003 Special Dispatch No. 507

Nakba Day: Statements on the Palestinian Right of Return

May 28, 2003
Palestinians | Special Dispatch No. 507
Throughout this year's observance of Nakba Day (Catastrophe Day) which took place on May 14 and 15, 2003, a number of Palestinian Authority officials and representatives of Palestinian organizations reiterated their determination to implement the "Palestinian right of return." These sentiments were voiced during marches held in Gaza City and Ramallah, as well as in refugee camps, and appeared in communiqués and speeches issued by various Palestinian officials. The following are excerpts of these statements:
Arafat: 'No Substitute for Our Homeland'

In his Nakba Day speech, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat said:"…The great imperialist Zionist conspiracy against our Arab nation and against our homeland Palestine began at the 1897 Zionist Congress in Basel and reached its accursed zenith on May 15, 1948. On that cursed day, the State of Israel arose, by means of weapons and imperialistic conspiracy, on the ruins of our homeland Palestine. Our people were expelled from [their] homeland, and [were] slaughtered in exile, dispersion, and the refugee camps…"

"Palestine is our homeland. There is no substitute for it. We have no other homeland. Every Palestinian refugee looks forward to the day he will embrace his homeland and seek to restore his identity… During the 55 years [since the establishment of the State of Israel], martyrs fell in the [struggle for] the freedom of the homeland and the return of its sons…"[1]

Fatah: The International Community Must Pressure Israel

A communiqué issued by the Fatah movement stated: "Our national goals will not be realized unless we reinforce our inner cohesion… and adhere [to] our steadfast principles, headed by the right of return and self-defense…"

"The Fatah movement calls on the international community… to bear the international and historic responsibility towards the Palestinian people and to support its just struggle [for] the right to return to its homeland and to its homes, and to pressure the government of Israel to honor and implement the legitimate international resolutions, headed by [U.N. Security Council] Resolution 194 which supports the right of return of the Palestinian refugees… The right of return of the Palestinian refugees is an historic, natural, legal, and sacred right that must not be waived…"[2]

The Fatah bureau at Al-Azhar University in Gaza declared: "…The right of return is a collective inheritance and personal right emanating first of all from the historic Arab right over the land of Palestine, and second from the sanctity of private property and the impossibility of eliminating [this sanctity] by occupation…"[3]

Compensation Means Selling the Land

In a sermon at Al-Aqsa Mosque, Mufti of Jerusalem Iqrima Sabri said: "Regarding the refugees' right of return:
A number of meetings are to be held this week in which the issues connected to the refugees' right to return to their homes will be discussed. In order to emphasize this right according to religious law, and in answer to the [arguments] of those advocating compensation [instead of the right of return], and also in answer to the proposal that includes the refugees' return only to within Palestinian Authority territory,[4]it is essential to clarify the religious law regarding this matter. [The law] does not permit accepting compensation in exchange for the land of Palestine, because compensation is, legally, selling; selling [the land of Palestine] … is absolutely prohibited by religious law, and the [seller] is excommunicated from the [Muslim] community. What applies to people applies also to countries and governments. Furthermore, [according to] the legacy of religious law, the son must take what his father leaves, and no one has the right to speak in the name of the legal heir…"[5]

'The Right of Return is Not a Dream but a Goal We are Acting to Realize'

During a march in Gaza City, Palestinian Legislative Council member Jamal Al-Shati said: "…The right of return is not a dream but a goal we are acting to realize. This requires a framework and organization of the national and governmental effort… taking into account that the refugee problem is the mother of all the problems… What will truly decide the future of the region's security and stability is the refugees' return… to their villages and homes, from whence they were expelled and driven away, in accordance with Resolution 194."[6]

The Federation of Palestinian Workers' Unions issued a communiqué stating: "The right of return remains the main goal of the Palestinian national struggle… The defense of this right has been placed on the shoulders of our people, wherever they may be – whether within the homeland or in the regions of asylum …"[7]

The Palestinians Reject All Repatriation Efforts In Order to Keep the Nakba Alive

In an interview with the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, the secretary of the PLO's Palestinian National Council's Refugee Committee, Walid Al-'Awadh, said: "…It is troubling to find Palestinian voices, among them officials [who waive the right of return]… among them the Popular Campaign for Peace [of Ayalon and Nusseiba] which waives this right… and says it will be implemented only within the 1967 borders… The right to struggle for the establishment of a Palestinian state is legitimate and it must not be replaced in any way with another right… because [the establishment] of the state is our right and the return of the refugees to their homes is also our right. [This is all the more true] because the refugees fought and sacrificed tremendous [numbers] of victims to defend this right and rejected all the repatriation programs aimed at eliminating this problem…"

Al-'Awadh stressed, "No one has the right to waive [the right of return], because we inherited it from our fathers and grandfathers… and it has become the property of the generations not yet born."[8]

Fatah Revolutionary Council member Dhiab Al-Lauh added in a meeting at the Gaza City Fatah office: "We [Fatah] want to convey a message to the entire world, that our people is alive and well, and that the Palestinian cause is alive… and requires a just solution in all its aspects – first and foremost the refugees' problem and ensuring their right to return to their homeland and their homes, from which they were expelled and banished."[9]

The Palestinian Culture Ministry published a communiqué which stated: "…[Israel] cannot eradicate the Nakba from the memory of our people, from its culture, from its history, from its heritage, and from its day-to-day life. On the contrary – our people's adherence to the right of return has only increased…"[10]

Ismail Abu Shanab, a Hamas leader, spoke in Gaza City on behalf of the Supreme Council of National and Islamic Forces: "…The revival of Nakba day this year marks the Palestinian people's insistence on continuing its struggle to defeat the occupation and establish an independent Palestinian state. [Similarly,] it underlines the continuation of the struggle for the implementation of the refugees' right of return…" Abu Shanab also expressed his rejection of any agreement that did not include the right of return, and called for including in the school curricula historical landmarks in the life of the Palestinian people, among them "the story of the [refugees] abandoning their villages, in order to preserve the Palestinian memory and strengthen the clinging of the [coming] Palestinian generations to their right to return to their homes."[11]

Anyone who Waives the Right of Return is Not Considered a Palestinian

Former spokesman for the Greek Orthodox Church Atallah Hana told a conference held in the Dehaishe refugee camp marking the Nakba: "Anyone who waives the right of return is not [considered] a Palestinian. There is not a single Palestinian, not within [Israel] and not outside it, to give anyone power of attorney to waive the right of return… The vision of the establishment of a Palestinian state whose capital is Jerusalem is not imaginary, and the same goes for the right of return. These things can be implemented if the Palestinian people clings to its steadfast principles and its principled Arab and pan-Arab positions… There are those who say that the Zionist entity is a strong entity that is capable of imposing solutions by force, with the help of the political support it possesses. But we have the historic rights and adherence to the land. The power of truth is stronger than all the Zionist control."[12]

[1] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Palestinian Authority), May 16, 2003.


[3]Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Palestinian Authority), May 16, 2003.

[4]Sabri is referring to the Popular Campaign for Peace, initiated by the president of Al-Quds University in east Jerusalem Professor Sari Nusseiba and former Israeli General Security Services chief Ami Ayalon In Article 4, the plan stipulates that the Palestinian refugees will return only to the Palestinian state. The plan was first published in full in the Palestinian daily Al-Quds on November 30, 2002, and was recently republished.


[6]Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), May 16, 2003.

[7]Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), May 16, 2003.

[8]Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), May 15, 2003.

[9]Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), May 15, 2003.

[10]Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), May 15, 2003.

[11]Al-Ayyam (PA), May 16, 2003.

[12]Al-Hayat Al-Jadida(PA), May 15, 2003.

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