There is no alternative to the right of return

Mudalala Akel, 86, has lived as a refugee in Gaza since her family was forced to leave their home in Palestine during the Nakba in 1948. Akel still holds the key to her family’s home, May 2008. (Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)


To the People of Palestine,

Whether you live within the “Green Line,” in Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, or in exile, you shall return, there is no doubt that you shall return.

Today the skies will echo as you state with one united voice: “There can be no alternative to our return,” all sounds will melt away as your voice rises to say “There can be no peace without our return to our original lands and homes.”

You who shall return, raise your voices and say “This is our land, this sky is our sky, this rock, tree, moon, and sea are our country, it will always be our Palestine.”

You who shall return, 60 years ago on this day was our Nakba, and today after 60 years we confirm, that we have never let the banner of return fall to the ground, and that the hour of return to our original homes and lands has come. Today we do not commemorate so we can weep over what was lost, we come together to march forward; to march home.

You who shall undoubtedly return,

It has been said that this was a land without a people for a people without a land; but what was the reality? Our people have inscribed their presence on the history of this land, deeply engraving their national identity as people struggling for liberty, dignity and freedom on every stone. Now these stones fly in the face of the oppressor’s lies that deny our existence and our rights.

It has been said that by dispersing us to the far corners of the earth, we will disappear or melt away; but what was the reality? A people with roots reaching far into the depths of Haifa, Akka, of al-Majdal and Um Rasrash; a people whose history, civilization and culture has sprouted on every inch of this earth with the roots extending back to the land of Palestine.

It has been said that with the passage of time, our elderly will die and our youth will forget; but what was the reality? From the memory of our people have emerged generations that paint the history of Palestine, its villages, houses, its sage and its oranges, a painting to which all compasses point, for despite the distances and directions that separate us; Palestine will always be the compass.

It has been said that we were deceived by a mendacious offer of peace, and rushed on our knees to reap its rewards; but what was the reality? A popular uprising, an intifada that stood up in the name of truth to those who trusted their own treachery.

It was said that by caging us with their wall, and co-opting the world to besiege us, the strength of our hope would die away, and our voice with it; but what was the reality? They were suffocated by our chants, to the point where their leader David Ben-Gurion said, “Every time I hear of the right of return, I tremble afraid of what the future holds, I begin do doubt the reality of Israel’s establishment …”

Yes, you who shall undoubtedly return, your chants are the ones that force doubt into the minds of those celebrating their so-called independence. For their crimes of the Nakba, still chase them, haunting them even after 60 years. What is the difference between Ben-Gurion who had no fear for his newborn state except that the refugees may return, and Ehud Olmert who trembles when he hears a reference to our right to return? It is the ghost of the victim, the pride of the first generation of refugees, both the living and the deceased, and the insistence of today’s generation that they will indeed return.

To our people across the globe,

Can we even count the number of political projects that aimed and attempted to strip us of our rights? Their names, sources and dates change, but all have experienced the same fate in history’s dustbin; a fate that shames the conspirators, and that proudly decorates you who refused to surrender. The main target of all of these projects was your right to return, whether through complete denial of the right, through attempts to resettle you elsewhere, or by finding those who would offer congratulations to the Jewishness of their state, or by attempting to recast your struggle as one seeking humanitarian charity, or by attempting to alter the meaning of your right as one to return to the West Bank or Gaza, or more recently, by equating your rights to those of the Jewish faith who came from Arab lands to settle on yours.

Can a right be lost so long as its bearers continue to demand it? One thousand times we say: NO!! It is the wise saying of our ancestors that no right can be lost so long as the right-bearers fight for it. Your right exists so long as you and your land exist.

Yes, our right to return to our homeland is enshrined in international law, not least in UN General Assembly Resolution 194. However, this resolution brought nothing new to the law, it simply restated the most basic principles of law and morality: that any human being has a right to go home, and that any person forced to leave, has the right to reclaim all that was taken from her; and that the only way to extinguish these rights is for the refugee herself to choose not to return.

Those that expelled us can reject and conspire and deny, but we continue to remain steadfast and resist and resist and resist, and we will continue to resist until we return. For there is no right that is not granted without the sacrifices of struggle, and there is no oppressor that can continue to commit grave injustice for ever.

Our right is enshrined first by our existence, and second by this universe’s moral code, and third by law. As such there is nothing to fear from a wandering beggar knocking at the doors of the world’s governments, and there is nothing to fear from a Zionist leader consumed by the doubt of his and his state’s legitimacy, and there is nothing to fear from violent stick of the Unites States’ empire nor from its carrot, for this right cannot be defeated by war, nor stolen by a conspiracy.

Today, on the 60th anniversary of our Nakba, we do not come together to respond to the inane stupidities of this or that jester, nor to the projects that aim to resettle us or provide us with their charity; today on the 60th anniversary we come together to announce a new beginning to our struggle, to announce that the march to the actual return and to real freedom has begun, and will not end until all of our rights, including our return, the restitution of our property, and the compensation for all that we have endured, have been implemented.

Today we reaffirm our rights, not least those articulated in UN General Assembly Resolution 194; we reaffirm our reclamation of our national unity and an end to internal division through open discussion, and we reaffirm our commitment to the project of reviving the Palestine Liberation Organization, the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and the uniting framework of the our people and our struggle. As such, it is imperative that we prioritize the following steps in relaunching our march along the road of return:

  • To reflect the reality that the Nakba did not end in 1948, but has continued every day since then as Israel works to expand its control of our land and expel our people from it. As such we call for the adoption of the phrase “Ongoing Nakba”;
  • That we refer to the Palestinians who managed to stay within the part of Palestine occupied in 1948 as the “Palestinians within the Green Line” or the “Palestinians in 1948 occupied Palestine” when referring to them, instead of phrases that deny them their Palestinian identity. Also to refer to “Historic Palestine” when referring to the Palestine’s borders during the British mandate, as well as stressing that the right of return is to the refugees’ “original homes and properties”;
  • Consolidating and bolstering the culture of return through our society’s formal, popular and civil institutions, and ensuring that this is disseminated consistently and as widely as possible through all means;
  • Considering a person or organization’s stance on the right of return as the litmus test that determines our relationship with Israeli institutions and entities, and a measure for differentiating between projects as ones aimed at normalization or not;
  • Strengthening the popular campaigns in Palestine, the Arab world and internationally, particularly the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, as well as the campaign for academic and cultural boycott, and the campaign against the Israeli apartheid wall;
  • Organizing an international campaign to push the United Nations to readopt its resolution recognizing Zionism as a form of racism;
  • To stress in our work, language, and daily life the important distinction between Zionism and Judaism, and that Israel is a product of international Zionism that is nothing other than a colonial apartheid state;
  • To be very clear that any political arrangement, including the “two-state solution,” that does not include the full implementation of the rights of the refugees, is in no way a solution, and no more than an insulting and deceptive way of conflict-management;
  • To ensure that the Palestinian narrative is properly documented, and included in all Palestinian educational curricula;
  • Closely working with international movements that are in solidarity with our struggle to strengthen its place on the international agenda; and mobilizing Palestinian solidarity with the causes and struggles of oppressed people around the world, particularly the struggles of indigenous peoples for sovereignty and liberty.

You who shall undoubtedly return,

After 60 years of expulsion, exile and refuge; after 60 years of international impotence, and the failure of international organizations to enforce their own decisions; and after 60 years of Israeli arrogance, we declare that the commemoration of the Nakba as of today will nothing but a date to renew our commitment to struggle until we achieve our return to our original homes and lands. We declare the return to be the program of our struggle, and not just a demand, and will continue as such until the end of the Nakba, “whether they like it or not” as Yasser Arafat once said.

We shall return.

The National Committee to Commemorate the Nakba at 60-Palestine represents national movements and networks, including the Council of National and Islamic forces, the Global Palestine Right-of-Return Coalition, the Popular Committees and youth centers of the refugee camps all over Palestine, the Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, Badil Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO), the Civic Coalition for the Defense of Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem and the PLO Department for Refugee Affairs (DORA). It is the committee responsible for implementing and coordinating the commemoration events across Palestine.

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