The Right of Return of the Palestinian People

Euripides wrote, in Media [Medea, Translation by R. Warner]:

"O country and home,
Never, never may I be without you,
Living the hopeless life,
Hard to pass through and painful,
Most pitiable of all.
Let death first lay me low and death
Free me from this daylight.
There is no sorrow above
the loss of a native land."

Obviously, Daniel Pipes, a well-known Muslim-hater, anti-Palestinian and pro-Zionist propagandist is oblivious of Euripides and/or is prejudiced in application of such sentiments. His biased views in favor of savage activities of his co-religionists in Israel (and let alone his anti-Muslim stance) have made him a darling among the neo-conservative hawks here in the Bush Administration.

That is why it is not surprising to see that on Friday, August 29, ?03, notwithstanding strong opposition from Muslim Americans, President Bush invoked his constitutional authority (Article II, Section 2) to recess-appoint him to serve as a member of the Federally funded U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) through the end of the current session of Congress, or January 2005.

Pipes’s article "The Refugee Curse", NY Post, appeared on August 19, 2003 (see also: Having read his propaganda materials, the exaggerated claims and half-truths for a number of years, his writings don’t excite me any longer. Had it not been for the controversy surrounding his nomination to the USIP, in all likelihood, I would have ignored this New York Post article as well. However, as one who has always hoped to see human tragedy end, I simply could not resist my temptation from reading what new, if any, he had to say on the Palestinian refugee problem.

I was simply dismayed. Pipes has not changed. He still behaves and acts like a fixated, drooling, bull dog that wants to attack Palestinians to please his Zionist masters. His treatment of the Palestine refugee problem displays his sheer inhumanity and demented arrogance. His schizophrenia about the Palestinian people, the vast majority of whom are now living in Diaspora, is once again documented in this latest tirade; thus, proving once again why he was an utterly BAD choice for the USIP. If President Bush wanted to salvage his image among Muslim Americans, without whose support he arguably could not have won the tightly contested election in 2000, he should have rescinded Pipes’s nomination. Truly his failure to rescind will only portray him negatively as a double-talking, neo-Crusader of the 21st century.

Diversion is a great tactic in warfare. By diverting attention, the shrewd combatant tries to confuse his enemy. Israel and her reps have perfected this tactic against the uprooted Palestinians. What struck me most about Pipes is his disheartening silence about the influx of Jewish immigrants to Israel. However, he had the audacity to fault the right of return of Diaspora Palestinians to the Occupied Territories. He knows that such a return would change the demography, making the Jewish state lose its Jewishness. So much for the entire hullabaloo about Israeli brand of democracy and secularism!

It is because of such a dichotomy and diabolism in its official position that this rampart, apartheid state, symbolizing western hegemony over the Middle East, has encouraged only the Jewish immigration into the land, while throttling any influx of Diaspora Palestinians or their children now living in refugee camps and elsewhere. In the "Proclamation of Independence" of Israel on May 14, 1948, it is stated: "The State of Israel will open to the immigration of Jews from all countries of their dispersion." The "Law of Return" of 1950 states in Section 1: "Every Jew has the right to come to this country as an oleh" (meaning: a Jew immigrating into the land). The Nationality Law of 1952 states in Section 2(a): "Every oleh under the Law of Return, 1950, shall become an Israel national." Is not it bizarre that an Eastern European Ashkenazi (i.e., Khajarite) Jew with no blood relationship whatsoever to the land of Israel can claim citizenship to this land while a native Palestinian, born in the territory but uprooted, and his/her children are barred from that fundamental right to return to his ancestral home? Why such discrimination on the basis of religion, may I ask Mr. Pipes’ Truly, the state policy of Israel has been nothing but racism.

Through her refusal to admit the rights of Diaspora Palestinians to return to their homeland, Israel and her immoral backers in the world scene have shown their real ugly faces. From her days of conception through her birth to this very day, the pariah state has always been a colonial undertaking that aimed at uprooting indigenous people while planting outsiders. As part of a sinister government plan, the life of every ordinary Palestinian is made so miserable, with routine demolition of homes, farms, schools and commercial centers, confiscation of land, business, cutting off water supply, and the trigger-happy savage policy of "shoot-first, ask-later", within the territory that they are forced to take the exit route.

Pipes wants to strangle Palestinians. He now wants to stop funding of the UNRWA, an organization set up in 1949 to look after the uprooted Palestinian from their homes. He knows very well that this is one of the last remaining world organizations, which tries to relieve suffering of millions of Palestinian refugees. If the flow of some $100 million (a pitiful sum by all account, esp. in comparison to billions that Israel receives from the US alone, but nonetheless important for uprooted families) could be stopped, he fancies that the Palestinian refugee problem would evaporate in thin air; they would be forced to assimilate in the territories (like Cuban Americans) where they now live, and thereby they would be unable to pose a threat to Israeli democracy. He is quite diligent in his lobbying to make that happen. He mentions that two of the pro-Israeli Congressmen Chris Smith and Tom Lantos are already working towards stopping U.S. funding (approx. $100 million) for UNRWA.

Pipes’s analogy of the Palestinian refugee problem with others is intellectually flawed on several grounds. While Cuban Americans can return to Castro’s Cuba any time they want, the same is not true for the Diaspora Palestinians. The latter had been forcibly evicted. A portion of their land was unlawfully given away to outsiders, who later were able to grab the remaining portion as well. In spite of a quarter century of devastating war, the Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran still have a home to return to, but not the Palestinian refugees. There is hardly a parallel of such human tragedy in the post second world war era.

The right of a person to return to his home in his native country traditionally has been included among an individual’s fundamental rights. In cases where persons had been forced to leave their country because of force majeure, such as war, the right of return could not be questioned. In our times a noteworthy case in this dimension is that of the Palestinian people, forced to flee their ancestral land by reason of military and political action and then to find the right of return denied them on political and legal grounds.

Since Pipes tries to divert our attention away from history, away from causes to effects, away from problems to symptoms, here is some information for our readers. The first great exodus of Palestinians fleeing from their homeland took place in 1948, and the second great wave followed in the 1967 Middle East War. From then on the majority of the Palestinian people have been in exile, unable to return to their country, despite the right of those wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors in Palestine having been endorsed repeatedly by the General Assembly since 1948. A UN Economic Survey Mission reported estimated that 726,000 Palestinians had fled as refugees during the first exodus.

Based on a draft resolution presented by Great Britain, the General Assembly on 11 December 1948 passed resolution 194 (III) which, in paragraph 11, categorically declared: "… that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors 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 in equity, should be made good."

By June 1967, before war again erupted in the Middle East, the Palestinian Arab population numbered about 2.7 million. Of these a million were in exile, mostly in neighboring Arab countries, particularly in Jordan. Another million lived in the "West Bank", the portion of Palestine under Jordanian control. 400,000 lived in the Gaza strip under Egyptian control. The remaining 300,000 had remained in Israel and Israeli controlled territory. (UN: Economic and social council document E/81/Rev.1)

In the 1967 war, Israel occupied the entire territory of historical Palestine (and in addition areas in neighboring Arab states). There was a second great exodus of Palestinian refugees – almost half a million. By 1970, according to expert demographic estimates, of about 3 million Palestinians, less than half lived within the borders of Palestine – about 400,000 as Israeli citizens, and about a million as inhabitants of the "occupied territories" of the West Bank and Gaza. Of the remaining 1.6 million, about 800,000 were in Jordan, 600,000 in Syria and Lebanon, and the remaining 200,000 scattered in other countries.

For two decades (from 1953 to 1973), the Palestinian issue was dealt basically as a "refugee problem". Then, in 1974 the UN General Assembly explicitly recognized that the Palestinian people were entitled to self-determination in accordance with the UN Charter, and reaffirmed their inalienable right of return in this context. From then on the Palestine question was no longer only a refugee problem, but a crucial political issue acknowledged by the Assembly as a lying at the heart of the Middle East problem.

Following the 1967 War new UN resolutions called for the return of the Palestinian refugees. In 1967, Security Council resolutions, considered binding on all member states, required Israel to undertake obligations to cooperate in the return of the second wave of Palestinian refugees to their homes. Resolution 237 of 14 June 1967, endorsed by the General Assembly, in its Resolution 2252 (BS-V) of 4 July 1967, declared:

"… that essential and inalienable human rights should be respected even during the vicissitudes of war…

"Calls upon the Government of Israel… to facilitate the return of those inhabitants who have fled the areas since the outbreak of hostilities".

Resolution 242 of 11 November 1967 called "for achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem."

Thus all member states of the U.N., in particular Israel which is in occupation of the territories from which Palestinians have been exiled, are under obligation to facilitate the return of Palestinians to their homes. However, Israel has throttled the return of Palestinians to their homes, while through her legislation entitled "The Law of Return", she enables only Jews to exercise this right. It is evident that Palestinians are completely excluded from the purview of this law.

In 1975, reaffirming to the previous year’s resolution, the UN General Assembly established the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. The Committee on Palestinian Rights presented its report in May 1976. Excerpts in the right of return follow:

"It was emphasized that the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination could be exercised only in Palestine. Consequently, the exercise of the individual right of the Palestinian to return to his homeland was a conditio sine qua non for the exercise by this people of its rights to self-determination, national independence and sovereignty.

"In this respect, it was pointed out that Israel was under binding obligation to permit the return of all the Palestinian refugees displaced as a result of the hostilities of 1948 and 1967. This obligation flowed from the unreserved agreement by Israel to honour its commitments under the Charter of the United Nations, and from its specific undertaking, when applying for membership of the United Nations, to implement General Assembly resolutions l8l (II) of 29 November 1947, safeguarding the rights of the Palestinian Arabs inside Israel, and 194 (III) of 11 December 1948, concerning the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes or to choose compensation for their property. This undertaking was also clearly reflected in General Assembly resolution 273 (III). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of 12 August 1949, also contained relevant provisions concerning these rights. The States directly involved were parties to this Convention.

Unfortunately, as we have noticed, Israel, with tacit approval of the USA, has been able to defy international laws and charters. Her hegemony over the US Congress and Senate is so strong that she virtually has been able to hijack US foreign policy. And with people like Pipes in the USIP, she will have one more trustworthy chum to speak on her behalf justifying her wanton violations of human rights and denying the rights of Palestinians to return to their home. If Pipes were genuine to see an end to the Palestinian refugee problem, (rather than stopping funding for UNRWA) he would have advocated for halting of all the billions that our government provides to Israel, which has only emboldened this rogue state to the deterrence of peace.

The great philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote in 1970: "No people anywhere would accept being expelled en masse from their home country; how can anyone require the people of Palestine to accept a punishment which nobody else would tolerate"? Probably, Russell was lucky not to have met Pipes or his kind who masquerades as an objective analyst but is nothing more than a propagandist for Israel’s marauding activities. It is people like him who try to take our attention away from ground-zero realities of dispossession, dehumanization, demolition, sadism and abuse of human rights against the weak and the dispossessed that are routinely practiced by rogue states like Israel. They deviously like to portray Israel as a model of democracy and secular state, while she is not. Truly, it is a strange world!

Mr. Pipes started with a puzzle on Palestinian refugee problem. I have a huge list of puzzles for him to answer. Here below only a handful are provided:

1. Which country alone in the Middle East has nuclear weapons? Which country in the Middle East refuses to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and bars international inspection?

2. Which country in the Middle East seized sovereign territory of other nations by military force and continues to occupy it in defiance of UN Security Council Resolutions?

3. Which country in the Middle East created 726,000 refugees and refuses to allow them to return to their homes, farms and businesses it confiscated against the UN Security Council resolution 194?

4. Which country in the Middle East is in defiance of 69 UN Security Council Resolutions and has been protected by U.S vetoes?

5. Which country confiscated almost 750,000 acres of land from the 1.5 million acres comprising the West Bank & Gaza Strip?

6. Which country in the Middle East refuses to prosecute its soldiers who have acknowledged executing prisoners of war?

7. Which country uses bombs, missiles, rockets and mortars against stone-throwing kids?

8. Which country is rewarded for disallowing UN and Human rights groups from investigating into mass murder of people in occupied territories?


[1] J. Badi (ed.) Fundamental Laws of the State of Israel, (tr. Leo Kohn), New York, Twayne, 1961, pp. 8-11.

[2] Ibid., pp. 156-7.

[3] Ibid., pp. 254-8.

[4] The annual budget of UNRWA is approx. $300 million, of which the US contribution is approx. $100 million.

[5] There is no official Cuban ban on return of self-styled refugees.

[6] Some information in this essay was based on a UN report prepared for the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, in pursuance of General Assembly resolution 32/40B of 2 December 1977, by the Special Unit on Palestinian Rights. (United Nations, New York, 1978)