Tuesday, May 15, 2012 marked the 64th anniversary of the Nakba (Day of the Catastrophe) in which more than 700,000 Palestinians were displaced, as their homes and villages were destroyed following Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948. Many Palestinians fled under military assault by Israeli forces, others fled in fear as news of massacres in the villages of Deir Yassin and Tantura spread. They fled leaving behind many of their belongings, clutching the keys to their homes in hopes to return one day. That day has yet to come, and the commemoration of the Nakba beckons the world to return once again to the Palestinian refugee plight.
To this day, Israel has continued to deny the Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homeland and pay just compensation, a violation of U.N. Resolution 194, of 1948. According to international and human rights laws, all refugees have the right to return to their homes -- a right that has been reaffirmed by international human rights organization such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The number of Palestinian refugees has grown to more than 4.5 millions, a majority living along the borders of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Israel away from their original homes.
The U.S. supported Resolution 194 until 1993 when the Clinton administration began to place the Palestinian refugee rights as a matter to be negotiated between the two parties in conflict. However, this unresolved matter revolves around the issue of Israel’s self-definition as a Jewish majority state, a point that conflicts with the ethnic, religious, and national origins of Palestinian identity. Key resources and property are granted to Jewish citizens in order to strengthen the Jewish-Israeli identity. The spheres of identity and land in this protracted conflict are intertwined and will be a point of contention in negotiations.
Nevertheless, settlement building in the West Bank has continued to grow given the settlers’ powerful influence within Netanyahu’s Likud government. And as PolicyMic pundit Marko Ceperkovic pointed out in a recent article, Israel has demolished 889 Palestinian structures in East Jerusalem and the West Bank during the course of a year while legalizing Jewish settlements building in the same regions. If there is any hope for negotiating an end to the refugee issue, this hope is continuously thrown away as Israeli settlement building grows. The underlying concerns of the Palestinian refugees regarding their right to return must be visible and taken into account in future peace talks. All key stakeholders in this conflict are important, including the millions displaced by the war.
Nearly 60 years since the beginning of the conflict, millions of Palestinian refugees and their families are left without homes and without peace. Their living conditions are deplorable and many rely on international humanitarian aid for assistance. They continue to struggle with their dreams to have a better life, to live in the land of their ancestors; the realization of these dreams growing dimmer and dimmer. The refugees live the Nakba everyday, enduring the indignity yet continuing to struggle against the injustice, and upholding their identity in the face of occupation. The world must recognize the struggles of the Palestinian refugees and realize that their rights and their aspirations to live a dignified life are just as importance as everyone else's.