Right of Return

I got this from Israeli historian and activist Ilan Pappe, who I interviewed in Toronto last year after hearing him give a really superb speech advocating boycott tactics and the Palestinian right of return. This is, as you can imagine, not a popular position to take in Israel, and he has had problems as a result. From what I have seen, he handles them with great integrity and a sense of proportion. I don’t know him well, but based on everything I know, I respect him greatly.

Below is the final declaration of the Right of Return conference which I believe he helped organize. It took place over the weekend.

The Second Right of Return and Just Peace Conference in Nazareth, December 16-18, 2005.

Hundreds of Palestinians and Jewish activists gathered on a cold and rainy day in Nazareth for a three days conference on the Palestinian Right of Return. This was the second one, following the successful first ever such conference in Israel that took place in March 2004 in Haifa.

The first day was devoted for the opening session, overshadowed by the refusal of the Israeli authorities to allow Qasim Qasim, a representative of the refugees’ network in Europe, to enter the country and participate in the conference. Nonetheless, the participants could listen to his speech through a phone call. Other guests came from the occupied territories and the exilic communities around the world.

The second day was a fruitful day of discussions that produced the following declaration (the third day is dedicated to visits to the destroyed villages of Palestine).

Final Declaration

The conference was organized by the Association for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced Persons in Israel, Zochrot (Remembering the Nakbah in Hebrew), The Emil Touma Institute for Palestinian Studies and in cooperation with Ittijah – Union of Arab Community Based Associations

By proposing the Right of Return, the organizers wished to reinforce the Palestinian cause and to develop projects for the return of refugees who find themselves in a situation of statelessness. They also wished to put this question into the center of the political debate in Israel, and to counteract a historical policy in Israel that aims to delegitimize the Right of Return. In their view, these attempts are the main obstacle for a just peace.

The Second Right of Return and Just Peace Conference in the city of Nazareth took place simultaneously with a number of similar conferences in Europe, the United States and the Arab world. It was the result of unified efforts and coordination between numerous Palestinian refugee institutions and solidarity movements, who together aimed to face the challenges of Israeli and international peace plans that will prevent the implementation of the Right of Return. Together, the institutions aimed to reinforce a Palestinian and international movement in favor of the return of Palestinian refugees to their towns and villages, of the return of the refugees’ property, and of the implementation of international resolutions, most notable the UN resolution 194 for the return of Palestinian refugees that is based on international human rights.

The conference has affirmed the commitment of the organizers and the participants to the rights of the Palestinian people, which they are convinced is not negotiable. They have raised their united voice against each plan, whatever party may propose it, that tries to weaken the Right of Return and the rights of the Palestinian people for an end of the occupation, for freedom and independence.

The organizers of the Right of Return and Just Peace Conference are proud of the participation of their Palestinian sisters and brothers from the occupied territories and the Diaspora. They are also very proud of the greeting messages of many Palestinian institutions from the West Bank and Gaza, and refugee camps in Lebanon and in the Diaspora, who have excused for not being able to attend the conference. The conference considers these messages and the participation as a sign for the importance of a new unification of the Palestinian people, wherever they may live, under a shared aim.

The conference also appreciates the participation of progressive Israelis who aim for a Right of Return of Palestinian refugees and Internally Displaced People. They are our partners in developing this project and changing the opinion of the Israeli public, in order to build a foundation for the return project.

The discussions and lectures of the conference insisted on the necessity to revive the memory, and to draw future visions on the human, legal, public and political level. They showed that there exists a potential that will be important to use for developing actions and institutional efforts, and for realizing envisioned projects.

The conference has affirmed its rejection of all projects that will abolish, avoid and destroy the Right of Return of Palestinian refugees. The conference reiterates in front of the world at large that there will be no just peace without the unconditional implementation of the Palestinian Right of Return. The organizers alert the world against the Israeli campaign to obtain international, Arab and Palestinian recognition in Israel as a Jewish State through the elimination of the Palestinian Right of Return.

The conference condemns the Israeli authorities for preventing the representative of the Palestinian refugees’ networks in Europe from entering the country and from participating in the conference. We pledge not to let go of the issue and we will take all the necessary steps to confront this Israeli policy. We also affirm that the deportation of our brother Qasim Qasim is only going to reinforce our ties with our people in exile and in the homeland; we will all stand together in our campaign for the implementation of the Right of Return.

We call upon the world public opinion to acknowledge that an ethnic cleansing operation took place in 1948 against the Palestinian people and that this policy continues unabated until today.

We ask the Palestinian leadership, on all levels, to relocate the Nakbah of 1948 at the center of its agenda and to derive the necessary and essential conclusions from what happened in the past so as to avert the occurrence of a new Nakbah.

We demand from the Israeli Academia to allow free and critical research – according to the international standards of academic openness- on the Nakbah. We call upon it to stop being a mouthpiece for the authorities while silencing any dissenting voices in it.

We leave this conference determined to strengthen our struggle for the Right of Return and to expand the popular participation in the efforts for its realization. We are looking forward to our next and third conference of the Right of Return and the Just peace – dreaming and hoping to see as soon as possible all the refugees returning to their homes and homeland.

Removing the Accidental Protection


What is behind the Gaza ‘disengagement plan’? It has been spelled out clearly enough by Ariel Sharon’s own advisor, Dov Weisglass, in an often-quoted Ha’aretz interview about ‘freezing’ the peace process in ‘formaldehyde’. Palestinian activist and commentator Azmi Bishara stated it like this:

Continue reading “Removing the Accidental Protection”

Planning the Gaza Genocide

Uri Avnery is 81 or 82 years old, an Israeli activist with a group called Gush Shalom. He was in the Israeli Parliament (the Knesset). Before that, he was in the Israeli militias, some of the elite units that did ethnic cleansing of historic Palestine in 1948 to prepare for the state of Israel. He’s a very complex person with a very long political and writing career. His cause is peace and a two-state solution. He was a friend and supporter of Arafat until his death and had a very moving interview in Ha’aretz after his death.

A Jewish Israeli, an avowed Zionist, a supporter of a two-state solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict, does not make parallels between Israel and WWI Germany easily. For some, such comparisons do come easily. But for someone like Avnery, I don’t think they do. So Avnery’s piece, ‘The March of the Orange Shirts’, which explicitly compares the settler movement in Israel to the Nazis, is even more alarming. He writes:

In the past I have often hesitated to use this analogy. We have a taboo concerning Nazi Germany. Since nothing in the world can compare with the Holocaust, no comparisons should be made with Germany of that time.

Only rarely has this taboo been broken. David Ben-Gurion once called Menachem Begin “a disciple of Hitler”. Begin for his part called Yasser Arafat “the Arab Hitler”, and before that, Gamal Abd-el-Nasser was referred to in Israel as “Hitler on the Nile”. Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz, in his usual provocative way, spoke about “Judeo-Nazis” and compared the special units of the Israeli army to the SS. But these were exceptions. Generally, the taboo was observed.

Not any more. In their fight against the “rotten” Israeli democracy, the settlers have adopted the Holocaust symbols. They are ostentatiously wearing the Yellow Star that was imposed by the Nazis on the Jews before their extermination, only substituting orange for yellow. They inscribe their forearm with their identity number, like the numbers the Nazis tattooed on the Auschwitz prisoners. They call the government the “Judenrat”, after the Jewish councils appointed by the Nazis in the ghettoes, and liken the evacuation of the settlers from Gush Katif to the deportation of the Jews to the death camps. All this live on television.

Avnery is concerned about the threat this settler movement, which he calls ‘a large fascist camp’ that is attempting ‘to overturn by force the democratic system itself’, poses to Israel’s polity. He notes that ‘this is a revolutionary movement with a revolutionary ideology using revolutionary means’.

His definition of fascism is a useful one:

There is no agreed scientific definition of “fascism”. I define it as having the following attributes: the belief in a superior people (master Volk, chosen people, superior race), a complete absence of moral obligations toward others, a totalitarian ideology, the negation of the individual except as a part of the nation, contempt for democracy and a cult of violence. According to this definition, a large proportion of the settlers are fascists.

Avnery believes that if Israeli citizens do not stand up for it, Israel’s democratic system will be overthrown. I think he is right. I also think things are worse than he writes. If, as he says, there is a fascist movement in the process of overthrowing Israel’s democracy, there is also a genocide underway in Gaza.

Let’s turn to another moderate voice. Even though she wouldn’t be accepted as such by mainstream US culture, Phyllis Bennis is really a reasonable, hard-working left-liberal, and I think it’s fair to say she’s thought of that way by most leftists. In her recent piece on the Gaza ‘Disengagement’ plan to move the few thousand Jewish settlers out of the fenced-in open-air prison for 1.3 million Palestinians that is the Gaza Strip, Bennis actually calls for pro-Palestine advocates to work on sanctions and divestment campaigns against Israel:

Since governments, especially the U.S. government, have so far been unwilling to take seriously their obligations to hold Israel accountable for its violations of international law, it is up to our global civil society to do it. Both Palestinian civil society organizations and the UN-based International Coordinating Network on Palestine have called for non-violent campaigns of “BDS” – boycotts, divestment and sanctions – against Israel’s occupation and the institutions and corporations that benefit from it.

Until very recently, sanctions and divestment were viewed, even by most of the left, as ultra-leftist deviation. For Phyllis Bennis to be advocating it strikes me as a sign that things are desperate. And in fact, I think they’re more desperate than sanctions. Phyllis is very clear on what ‘disengagement’ means:

Sharon’s planned “disengagement” from Gaza is not a step towards ending occupation; it is designed to change the character of Gaza’s occupation from direct troops-in-the-streets and settlers-on-the-land occupation to a kind of occupation-by-siege, in which Gaza will be completely encircled by an Israeli fence, as well as Israeli troops and military force. All entry and exit to and from Gaza will be controlled by Israel. The Israeli military will control all crossing points, Israel will control Gaza’s skies and seas, the building and operation of any future port or airport will be under Israeli permission (or denied permission), and the people of Gaza will have no ability to move in and out of their land, to ship agricultural products out or bring crucial medicines in, except under intrusive Israeli control.

On this question of ‘agricultural products’ (otherwise known as ‘food’) and medicine, it’s worth repeating yet again that the UN Special Rapporteur for Food found TWO YEARS AGO that 22% of Gaza’s children were malnourished because of the siege of Gaza (USAID reports said the same thing), a siege that has not been lifted at all since – so we can be sure that the situation has deteriorated steadily for two more years. No employment, no economy, only such food aid as Israel allows.

When I was in Gaza City in 2002, I was told by my Palestinian host that problems with mosquitoes were not as bad as they could be because the Israelis had to protect themselves from diseases, too. That won’t be the case once the settlers are gone. The settlers, who are just a few thousand, occupy something like 40% of the land. Because of the settlement strategy, their presence, despite their small numbers, is ubiquitous. But once they are gone and all of their buildings and infrastructure thoroughly destroyed, there won’t be any protection for the Palestinians of Gaza, not even the accidental protection of colonists protecting themselves.

That is what made people like Uri Davis, Ilan Pappe, and Tamar Yaron – also very reasonable people – panic. These Israeli activists are very worried about the consequences of the ‘disengagement’:

We believe that one primary, unstated motive for the determination of the government of the State of Israel to get the Jewish settlers of the Qatif (Katif) settlement block out of the Gaza Strip may be to keep them out of harm’s way when the Israeli government and military possibly trigger an intensified mass attack on the approximately one and a half million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, of whom about half are 1948 Palestine refugees.

Still another very good Israeli activist, Michael Warschawski, disagrees with the above. He replied to it suggesting that instead “the reason for the evacuation of a few thousands settlers from the Gaza Strip is to help in creating a “Gazastan,” part of the old Sharon plan of “cantonization of the occupied territories.”

Warschawski, like Bennis, thinks that the point of the Gaza evacuation is to create a ‘trauma’ that will help Sharon argue that no more settlements can be dismantled. This can be true and Davis/Pappe/Yaron can also be completely right that a mass slaughter is being planned (and in fact Warschawski admits as much in his piece).

But, because the stakes are so very high, it is important to be absolutely clear.

Israel’s policy towards Gaza is already genocidal. There is already a siege that has already starved tens of thousands of children and is killing and permanently damaging many more. There is already a vicious military with total control featuring snipers murdering little girls as they sit in their classrooms. The place is already fenced in from all sides. Indiscriminate missile attacks already kill dozens of people at the whim of some occupation officer and with no one, in Israel or outside, noticing or caring. There is really no question about whether they can get away with it because they are already getting away with it. There is also no question as to whether they care about Gaza because they have always been very clear about it. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin himself expressed his wish in 1992 that Gaza ‘would just sink into the sea’ (I collected this and some other telling quotes here).

Warschawski is right that Gaza and its 1.3 million people are utterly irrelevant to Sharon, Israel and the US (other than the settler movement, which cares about Gaza, though not its inhabitants). That does not mean those people in Gaza are not facing genocide. They will be fenced in, besieged, left to starve and to drink dirty water and die, like the Iraqi children of the sanctions, because the settlers’ water infrastructure will most certainly be destroyed and defiled and probably poisoned before the settlers finally leave. And when some of them think of revenge, trying hopelessly to launch a metal tube over the electric at their occupiers, Israel will be able to launch the heavy weaponry with an unheard of lack of discrimination, for there won’t be an Israeli life at risk in the killing.

And yes, the West Bank settlement project will be consolidated in the meantime, and yes, the settler movement will be overthrowing Israel’s democracy in the meantime, and who knows what new horrors will be happening in the ‘War on Terror’ elsewhere at the same time.

For now I disagree with Warschawski. I would rather see the settlers stay until there is a just solution than see the genocide advance to a new level of impunity.

We will all pay a horrible price if we allow this to happen.

Freedom Summer and Violence

It’s another summer of intifada in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

And since there’s occupation, there’s resistance. The International Solidarity Movement is doing a freedom summer this year. The International Women’s Peace Service (IWPS) is involved in a campaign already. Below are some reports from the ground.

Saturday, 11 June 2005

IWPS House Report No.77

Week of Palestinian nonviolent resistance met with Israeli military violence

– Marda village, Salfit region, West Bank

Twenty kilometers east of the Green Line, the settlement of Ariel (population 20,000) looms above a village one tenth its size. Marda was one of the four villages named in a recent Israeli court decision that canceled all previous injunctions halting construction of the Annexation Wall in the area. The government is now free to uproot trees and begin to clear the path for the Wall, and the affected villages have been promised that in the case of a decision reversal on June 21, when the final path will be decided, the damage will be undone. Villagers of Marda recognize this empty promise for what it is, knowing that the damage done is irreversible.

On Wednesday, June 1, Israeli workers with chainsaws began to cut Marda’s trees, and in a five day period, they had cut more than 800 trees. Monday, June 6, bulldozers arrived to begin uprooting the cut trees, and they have been working every day since. After years of occupation, land theft, random arrests, and army invasions, this latest offense has caused Marda villagers to say, “Enough!” Ariel already has a fence surrounding it, they note. Why does it need another? And why on our land? Ariel has already stolen most of our land; why take even more? Determined not to sit quietly while their land is destroyed, Marda farmers, in cooperation with the Popular Committee against the Wall and the entire Salfit region, and Israeli and international groups, decided to reclaim their right to be on their land and on their roads.

Saturday, June 4, 2005

The march from Marda to Kifl Hares was supposed to be proactive, preventative. Little did Marda know, when they scheduled the demo two weeks in advance to coincide with the anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank, that their land would begin to be destroyed so soon. Little did they know that their march from Marda to Kifl Hares, along the main settler highway (which had been used by Palestinians for decades before Israel’s occupation), would be more than symbolic. That they would be marching not only for the impending land destruction, but for the hundreds of trees whose crop had been cut from them just two days before.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in the center of Marda to begin their march to Kifl Hares, which would end directly next to the entrance of Ariel settlement. More than 50 soldiers met demonstrators at the entrance of Marda before they left the village, telling the crowd it could not proceed beyond a white ribbon the army had placed across the road. The front line marched directly through the ribbon with arms linked, and came face to face with a line of soldiers, also with arms linked. Soldiers were armed with guns and batons, demonstrators with flags and signs, proclaiming, “Build trust, not walls,” and “Uproot settlers, not trees.”

As villagers and supporters continued to move forward, soldiers lunged at the crowd, beating several people, including one Israeli who had to be taken to a hospital. After Palestinian village leaders and officials like Mustafa Barghouti and Kadura Fares spoke with the army commander, the army finally allowed the crowd to walk through the olive groves and across the main road to get to a new road that Israel is building on Palestinian land. Villagers slowly made their way across, happy to see that the army had closed the road completely, to both Palestinian travelers and Israeli settlers. One boy who stayed in the road longer than soldiers wanted was grabbed and taken to a jeep, only to be taken back by three Palestinian leaders just minutes later.

Demonstrators successfully made their way to Kifl Hares, followed the whole way by soldiers who continued only to let one lane of traffic pass on the settler highway. The demonstration was a huge success: Villagers completed their intended walk, closed the settler highway for some time, and made a statement to the settlers and soldiers of Ariel that their land could not be quietly stolen from them.

Sunday, June 5, 2005

Sunday morning, villagers saw Israeli workers with their chainsaws once again, cutting trees near the top of the hill as they had been the previous week. Again, farmers would not let this destruction happen without trying to stop it. About 20 adult men and one IWPS woman started up the hill, and were quickly followed by about 30 boys who ignored their elders’ order to stay below. We made our way towards the cut trees, and shortly before arriving, security guards and soldiers, whom most of us still could not see over the terraces and through the olive trees, began yelling at us not to come any further. When villagers advanced, one of the security guards fired a shot towards the ground directly in front of the crowd. “Do not move!” they screamed. “Can we talk to you?” people asked. Each time the response was, “Do not move!”

Despite the fear inspired by the private guards and army, Israeli workers had left the area quickly upon the group’s arrival, a major victory for the farmers, who had also stopped the work with a quiet confrontation the previous week.

The standoff continued for a while, with occasional pushing and shoving on the army’s part and chanting on the young men’s part (“hayalim labayta” – “soldiers, go home”). One man was hit on the arm and leg with the butt of a guard’s gun.

Soldiers briefly entered the village, throwing sound bombs and leaving quickly. The villagers stayed above, surveying the damage to their land. No soldier would claim responsibility for the situation or for the other soldiers’ or guards’ behavior, so there was no person to speak or negotiate with until Gilad from the DCO arrived. After brief negotiations, Gilad promised that the work would stop for the day and that the army’s lawyer and the village’s lawyer would have a meeting the next morning to decide how to proceed.

About a half hour after we returned to the village, the work resumed. The army had broken its promise.

Monday, June 6, 2005

At 7:30 Monday morning, farmers gathered in hopes of walking to their land to sit and stop the cutting of their olive trees. 10 farmers, 8 internationals and Israelis, and approximately 40 young men and boys walked up the hill towards the settlement of Ariel where 100-200 soldiers were spread out across the land, concentrating in two different locations on the hillside.

No Wall work was happening at first, but the farmers quickly noticed that a bulldozer had begun to uproot trees near the top of the hill east of where we were standing. The group walked towards the olive trees and was immediately met by tear gas. Soldiers fired approximately 200 canisters of tear gas in the next two hours, hitting two Palestinians directly. One farmer was taken to Rafidiya hospital and two Red Crescent ambulances treated 20 Palestinians.

At 11:00, 3 army and police jeeps entered the village and began to throw sound bombs. Palestinian boys threw stones, hitting a jeep, and four border police entered a Palestinian home, presumably looking for the stone throwers. Many cameras filmed this and the police left quickly without arresting any one.

The uprooting of olive trees continued unobstructed.

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

At 5:30 Wednesday morning, curfew was imposed on Marda, and the entire area of Marda, Iskaka, and Salfit was declared a closed military zone. The army and border police repeatedly entered the village from 5.30 am, throwing sound bombs and firing tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition into the air. Three internationals attempted to enter Marda at 6:45 am, but were stopped by soldiers and border police and threatened with arrest. Later, 5 Israelis and 2 internationals were able to enter the village and were also ordered to leave and threatened with arrest.

One young Palestinian man had his identity card taken but it was later returned to someone else in the village. Just before midday occupation forces arrested a 25 year old Palestinian. After many hours of confusion and concern, his family discovered that he had been taken to Qedumim. He is still being held.

Approximately 20 Palestinians were injured, among them a Red Crescent ambulance worker.

Friday, June 10, 2005

As villagers in Marda tried to make their way to their fields to pray the Friday midday prayers on their land, accompanied by media, internationals, and Israeli peace activists, tear gas clouded the skies. Four bulldozers that had been uprooting Marda’s trees stopped working as soon as the villagers began their march.

Mere minutes into the ascent upwards and only a few hundred meters up the slope, Israeli soldiers began firing tear gas and sound bombs at the villagers. While a number of soldiers fired from the hill, other military vehicles made their way into the village. Tear gas and sound bombs turned into rubber bullets, and the rubber bullets into live ammunition, reportedly fired directly at children. Soldiers shot tear gas towards the mosque and into a sewing factory where dozens of women were working. Four were taken to the hospital for gas inhalation.

Three Palestinians were injured by rubber bullets, one in the stomach, one in the leg, and one in the arm. One Palestinian’s thumb was broken when a tear gas canister hit his hand. Others were treated for tear gas inhalation. One international was detained for several hours and taken to Ariel police station, but was later released.

The DCO later claimed that the Israeli army fired only one rubber bullet and no live ammunition, and that a Palestinian had been shooting a Kalachnikov rifle. Villagers and Israelis collected the bullets and casings, however, and they were clearly from M16s, the rifles that the military uses.

Israeli soldiers threatened to return later that night.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

It is now Saturday, Shabbat, the day that most Israelis do not work. This apparently includes the chainsaw and bulldozer operators who have been coming daily from Ariel to destroy Marda’s land. It is a quiet day. The Israeli holiday of Shavuot begins tonight and will last for two days, hopefully ensuring that the work in Marda will not resume during this time. Shavuot commemorates Moses’ ascent to Mount Sinai where he received the Ten Commandments. Will the villagers of Marda be able to ascend their own mountain and receive anything other than tear gas and bullets?

Text: Hannah, Joy, Suraiya

Date: June 11, 2005

International Women’s Peace Service (IWPS)

Hares, Salfit

Telephone: 09 251 66 44

Mechanisms of Denial: Interviewing Ilan Pappe


lan Pappe is a professor of History at Haifa University in Israel. He is an activist for Palestinian rights. He was in Toronto in February to give the keynote speech at ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ at the University of Toronto. He was interviewed by telephone on February 5, 2005.

Continue reading “Mechanisms of Denial: Interviewing Ilan Pappe”

A Change in Palestine?

There is still much going on between Colombia and Venezuela, but I’ll hold off reporting on what’s going on in the Colombian press on the topic until the meeting tomorrow between Colombian and Venezuelan officials, the first since the crisis flared up. It’s worth mentioning though that the FARC haven’t been silent on this. The ANNCOL site is always a source for the pro-FARC perspective, but beyond that the Colombian press is full of reports of attacks across the country in recent days. In a situation where propaganda is as important as the massacres themselves, anything that is said about what the FARC did or didn’t do in mainstream press should be taken with a heavy dose of salt. But there are reports of – attacks on helicopters, the bombing of a ranch owned by a governor, various landmine operations, and attacks on paramilitaries – all within the past week. Even if the crisis is between Colombia and Venezuela, it’s worth remembering that it was after all a FARC member who was kidnapped and the FARC could have been expected to react in the way that an armed organization does.

More on the predictable. A friend recently asked me for my 10-second assessment of what was going to happen in Israel/Palestine now that Abbas has been elected. I said roughly that since there are still Palestinians there, Israel will still be doing ethnic cleansing, and there will still be resistance. His prediction was different – he thinks Abbas will make such drastic concessions that Israel’s political scene will divide, with some wanting to accept the concessions and others wanting to keep to a strict ethnic cleansing policy. To bolster his point, he could point to the resumption of diplomatic ties between Israel and the PA or the upcoming ‘handover’ of 4 West Bank towns to the PA. I, on the other hand, could point to the three different killings today, one in Qalqilya, one of a baby in Dir-al-Balah, one east of Tubas, and the statement by Olmert that Israel has no plans to stop the killing.


Palestine’s leader, Yasser Arafat, has died.

I expect that in the coming days there will be a lot of stupid things written about him on all sides. I have already read some of it. As when he was living, the point will not be to shower contempt on him and his legacy. It will be to shower contempt on the Palestinian people.

Continue reading “Arafat”