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COMMENTARY: Right to return of Palestinians must be preserved, upheld

International law recognizes the right of refugees to return to their homes after displacement. Therefore, the right of return is non-negotiable for Palestinians as it is the crux of the struggle for freedom from occupation. The concept of Palestinian right of return calls for the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to their homeland. It serves as the bedrock of the struggle against the vicious eviction of an indigenous people from their homes. 

The Palestinian refugee population is the world’s largest, with approximately 7 million around the globe. To understand the Palestinian struggle, it is imperative to recognize the reality of how the Israeli state was established. One of the many tactics used to hasten the removal of Palestinians was the execution of Plan Dalet. This particular military campaign ordered Zionist terrorist groups Stern, Haganah and Irgun to slaughter Palestinian inhabitants and destroy their villages. After many other concentrated campaigns formulated by Zionist paramilitaries, villages were left depopulated, bulldozed and later renamed. 

As previously mentioned, international law affords refugees the inviolable right to return to their respective homelands. This was formally established by the United Nations in 1948 when it adopted Resolution 194, which was addressed as follows: “Refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the governments or authorities responsible.” 

Created in response to the growing number of Palestinian refugees in the midst of the numerous massacres committed by Zionist paramilitaries, Resolution 194 was intended to compensate for the lives and lands stolen by occupying forces. But, even today, this resolution is neither enforced nor respected by the state of Israel. 

When Don Stevenson of the American Friends Service Committee asked the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Eliahu Elath, if Israel would accept the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes, Elath responded by saying, “Israel would commit suicide if she took back all the refugees.” 

Israel continues to disregard and wholeheartedly oppose international law through its continued construction of illegal settlements on indigenous lands and implementation of apartheid. We have reached an important point in global affairs where everyone must ask themselves, why are Palestinians continuously treated as exceptions to the international law meant to protect human rights?

March 30, 2019 marked the one-year anniversary of the Palestinian Great Return March. Every week for more than a year now, Palestinians in Gaza took to the “border” to assert their right of return in protest of Israel’s siege and occupation. It prevents Palestinian refugees both internally displaced as well as abroad from returning to their cities and villages of origin, many of which were depopulated in the 1948 Nakba. 

This “border” is a system of electric fences that imprisons millions of Palestinians in Gaza within enclosed enclaves lined with barbed wire. It is a key part of the frustrations that led grassroots activists, civilians and political groups to mobilize for their return. 

The Israeli government has been swift, absolute and brutal in its repression of these demonstrations. This extends even to murdering more than 271 Palestinians mostly in response to the Great Return March protests over the past year, including more than 50 children and injuring no less than 10,000. 

Additionally, many more have been injured due to the inhalation of tear gas, which instigates the nervous system, causing such problems as uncontrollable muscle spasms. In firing tear gas canisters and live rounds of ammunition upon crowds of peaceful protestors, Israeli Defense Force (IDF) militants are responsible for these casualties. 

In May of last year, Israel’s Supreme Court unanimously rejected a motion by six human rights groups to change its regulations which allow IDF militants broad legal leeway to open fire upon unarmed civilian protesters. This practice has been allowed to continue with impunity to this day. In any other context, such an act would correctly be considered a war crime. This decision, along with the Israeli policy of refusing to recognize Palestinians’ right of return, has cost far too many lives and continues to put many more in a state of never-ending peril. 

The question of Palestinian right of return is simply not a question at all. It is their right according to international and humanitarian law. But, the world overlooks Israel’s continuous human rights abuses at every level of Palestinian life, attempting to suffocate and erase them by depriving them of resources, shooting live rounds at protesters and denying them return to their homes.

Students for Justice in Palestine is a recognized student organization at Rutgers University—New Brunswick.


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