Palestinians have fiercely defended their right to return to the lands and villages they were forced to leave between 1947 and 1949 as Israel was created.
This video by refugee rights group Badil, Introduction to Practicalities of Return, features interviews with refugees and experts and scenes of the lands from which Palestinians are exiled.
In the video, Eitan Bronstein of Zochrot – an Israeli group that supports the right of return for Palestinians – observes that expulsion was only one part of the Nakba – the ongoing violent dispossession of the Palestinians. The other key element has been Israel’s prevention of return.
Therefore ending the Nakba requires creative and practical thinking and planning for return.
Attempts to return
In the early years after their expulsion Palestinian refugees made many attempts to return home, often just to recover personal property. Many were shot and killed by Israeli forces.
In May 2011, thousands of Palestinian refugees marched toward the borders of their homeland from Lebanon and Syria in a dramatic reassertion of their commitment to return. Then, too, they were met with lethal Israeli fire.
Today, Palestinian refugees and their descendants number 7 million. Israel continues to deny their right to go home solely on the racist basis that these Palestinians are not Jews and thus constitute a “demographic threat” to Jewish political and numerical domination of the country.
But the right of return is recognized by international law.
A number of Palestinians have now set up permanent camps in the villages.
In the video Nahida Zahra talks about the history of this movement and explains, “The idea was supported by all the families of Kufr Birim, many of us believed in it.
“The idea was that we would return to our village and we didn’t need to wait for a legal decision or political agreement.”
Israel has reacted to this action, handing a demolition order to the return camp.
“This time we are not leaving here,” Zahra says, recalling earlier temporary attempts to come back to the village.
Make return real
To make return a reality for many more people, there’s a need to create and disseminate practical ideas. Part of this process is joint planning between refugees and architects to imagine what rebuilt communities towns would look like.
This is already happening, says BADIL’s Terry Rempel, and it is vital to challenge the idea that return is impossible because homes have been destroyed.
Rempel points to the double standards of international organizations and governments that have actively promoted the right of return for refugees from other countries such as Bosnia, while arguing that it is impractical only in the case of Palestinians.
Yet the approaches taken in Bosnia can also offer practical solutions for restoring Palestinian refugee rights while protecting all stakeholders, Rempel says.
Thinking about return, several speakers argue, must go hand in hand with a process decolonization and de-Zionization.
This, they say, lays the ground for a just and inclusive political solution based on equality and nondiscrimination for all who live in historic Palestine.
As Amal Obeidi, a young woman from the ethnically-cleansed Palestinian village of Lifta, says, “borders are sometimes psychological, imposed on us by the occupation as if we will never return.”
The first step on the road is to shatter those psychological borders. This thought-provoking video helps to do just that.
For more information from Badil, visit their website: badil.org.