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      The Right of Return Congress
  • Closing Statement of the London Conference 18-10-2003

    (authorised translation)

A conference organized by the Preparatory Committee in support of the right of return was convened in London on 17-18 October 2003. Its first aim is to intensify popular Palestinian activities to defend this right, which forms the basis of any serious attempt to resolve the Palestine question. The second aim of the conference is the coordination of efforts of the Palestinian civil society in Palestine, Arab countries and foreign capitals in order to protect this right. This requires the formation of a permanent secretariat to play the role of higher coordinating council for the purpose of coordinating activities and recruitment of supporters for the right of return among Arabs and friendly peoples world-wide. They would form an organized lobbying force that supports and defends the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes from which they were forcibly expelled.

The conferees explained that the conference is politically independent and bears absolutely no association with any factional or party agenda. Its primary agenda is to undertake specific tasks by those who believe in its mission and is able to execute its objectives.

The conferees emphasized their allegiance to the Palestinian Liberation Organization, recognizing the need for the Organization to preserve the national consensual programme, strengthen democratic methods of operation, and open its ranks for all Palestinian forces working on the ground in Palestine.

The conference heard a number of presentations over the two-day period on the conditions of the Palestinian refugees and their proposed plans of action in their various places of exile: in 1948 Palestine, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Emirates, Europe, USA, Canada and Far East. These were followed by intensive discussions. After the deliberations all the participants presented practical suggestions for future operations. The following tasks were identified for the next phase:

Management and organization:

1. The formation of a higher coordinating committee that acts as a convener. It should function as an initiator and coordinator composed of:
(a) members of the Preparatory Committee of the conference. [The original committee consisted of the late Dr. Edward Said, the late Dr. Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, Dr. Haider Abdel Shafi, Mr. Shafiq al Hout, Dr. Salman Abu Sitta, Mr. Bilal al Hassan, Prof. Naseer Aruri, Mr. Majed al Zeer, Ms. Abla Abuelbeh].
(b) a coordinator from every country where there are Palestinian refugees
(c) the coordinating committee will have a permanent council comprised of a limited number of officials to coordinate between the various geographic regions. They are: Dr. Salman Abu Sitta, Dr. Naseer Aruri, Mr. Bilal al Hasan, Mr. Majed al Zeer and Ms. Abla Abuelbeh.

2. The conference chose Dr. Salman Abu Sitta as its general coordinator and official spokesperson.

Practical operations

In an attempt to specify practical and achievable tasks, the conference approved the following work plan:

1. To intensify the culture of return among Palestinians as a fundamental and essential basis of joint action by centers of research, writers, journalists and educators to spread the culture of the right of return at the broad popular level, especially among the youth and students. This requires the provision of basic information about the conditions of the Palestinian people, their right of return to their land and homes, and encourages the transmission of this information to future generations.
2. The conference adopted a manifesto concerning the right of return (attached). This was presented by the coordinating committee of the conference. It reads in brief: "The right of the Palestinian refugees and exiles to return to their homes is a fundamental and inalienable human right, which does not diminish with the passage of time or any political agreement. The Right of Return is also derived from the sanctity of private ownership and is not annulled by occupation or change of sovereignty. The Right of Return is basically an individual right and does not lend itself to delegation or concessions in any agreement or accord. It is also a collective right”.
3. The conference decided that one of its tasks in the immediate future is the formation of lobbying bodies in every country where there are Palestinian communities and active civil society organizations. This would be done through dialogue and contacts, winning supporters within members of governments, parliaments, trade unions, research centers, academic institutions, and media experts. The conference delegates in every region should formulate a practical programme suitable for their region in coordination with the permanent council.
4. The conference acknowledged the need to prepare a national database about the expulsion of the Palestinian people (al Nakba) from their villages, their current places of refuge, numbers, material and social circumstances, the international resolutions that support their right of return, and responses to the claims advanced by parties opposed to the right of return. These studies would be translated into other languages so that they can be adopted by all those concerned with this issue.
5. The conference decided that the permanent council will issue a newsletter to report the activities of the local committees in the region. In this way all parties would be kept informed of developments.

Political level

The conference will examine the various political positions announced from time to time relating to the right of return. Examples are the recent so called 'Geneva Agreement' and the survey published a few months ago claiming that a large percentage of the Palestinian refugees do not wish to exercise their right of return to their homes in present-day Israel. The conference declared its rejection of the so-called Geneva Agreement and expressed its astonishment as to how a few persons could assign to themselves the task of conceding the inalienable Right of Return and confining the return to the areas of self-rule or resettlement in Arab countries; ignoring the terms of UN resolution 194 which confirms the right of the refugees to return to their homes from which they were expelled in 1948. The conference declared that the Palestinian National Authority is obliged to put an end to the initiatives of these individuals so that the impression is not conveyed that matters are moving in this direction. Since the PA has itself announced that this understanding is unofficial and non-binding then it must condemn this proposed and any such agreement, as it deviates from the fundamentals of the Palestinian national position.

The conference examined the public opinion polls which some research centers claim were conducted to serve the cause of the right of return. It has since become evident that these surveys were concocted to serve objectives that are rejected by the Palestinian people generally and the Palestinian refugees in particular. The conference affirmed the need to coordinate its efforts by all means to combat the role played by these centers which claim objectivity and knowledge.

The conference heard from participants about the dire condition of the Palestinian refugees in some Arab countries. It decided to initiate political contacts with these regimes to improve the living conditions of the Palestinian refugees.

The conference specifically examined the condition of the Palestinian refugees in Iraq and the urgent need for UNRWA to provide humanitarian support for them, noting that Iraq is one of the Arab states where UNRWA does not carry out its duty toward the Palestinian refugees residing on its territory. With regard to the refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which have for many years been suffering from tyranny and destruction by the Israeli occupation forces, the conference asserted the need for international protection undertaken by UNRWA and the UN. This requires coordinated Palestinian, Arab, Western and international efforts.

It is important to note that the conference was convened through personal efforts. The delegates bore the costs of travel and accommodation, thus confirming the civic and social nature of their work and avoiding any support that ties the conference with any external party.

The developments of recent years, which acted as a wake up call, have shown that the right of return has gradually turned into a popular movement with increasing and far-reaching influence on the Palestinian and Western public. Similarly, this movement has imposed its imprint on Palestinian negotiators to the extent that it forms a safeguard against any compromise and dereliction of duty. The right of return movement is expected to grow significantly both within the Arab world and internationally. This conference marks a major step in that direction.



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