Opinions on the Israeli Palestinian conflict, broadly speaking, fall into two schools of thought. According to one school of thought, 1967 marks the main point of reference and according to the other 1948 marks the main point of reference.
This simplistic bifurcation has enormous implications for the way the conflict is resolved. What the 1967 school of thought considers fundamental, the 1948 school of thought considers mere symptoms and consequences of underlying injustices and wrongs that are left unaddressed for over six decades. According to this logic, political processes trying to impose solutions detached from the core issues will meet continued failure just like any prognosis attempting to cure a disease by simply addressing the symptoms.
For the vast majority of Palestinians their misfortune is the result of 1948. The estimated seven million refugees, of a global population of 11 million Palestinians, see their Nakba as an ongoing event that did not cease after the creation of the State of Israel. For them the forces that lead to their dispossession continue to impose on their lives and deny them their human rights. For them the political process, and the various solutions that have emerged, especially since the Oslo process of 1993, endorses solutions that do not address the roots of their plight, instead promote an unrealistic and unfair vision of peace.
It would not be insensible to ask why the refugee issue should continue to remain a central issue, especially after six decades, and why if it is central to the conflict there is such a disconnect between the political process seeking a solution and facts on the ground. The fact is the plight of refugees did not cease after 1948 even as Israel was obligated under international law to allow Palestinians to return to their land. Instead the numbers swelled, not only due to the generational growth of refuges but more critically the expansionist policies of Israel into Palestinian territories.
The 1967 war created another 300,000 Palestinian refugees, many of whom were already victims from 1948. The numbers grew unabated due to Israeli polices such as home demolition, bombings and incursions into Palestinian territory, the illegal separation wall, its own legalised policy of demolitions in the Negev and the ongoing siege and aggression in Gaza.
This flow of new refugees and displaced Palestinians has made the refugee issue the main constant in this conflict. The Palestinians view that Israel’s rapacious thirst for more Palestinian land without the indigenous Palestinians is the ultimate objective, is reinforced repeatedly This was the only way Israel could create a Jewish state in a region that was overwhelmingly populated by Palestinians and it is the only means by which Israel can further secure its desire to remain a Jewish state while simultaneously annexing more Palestinian land.
It would be insensitive to begrudge Palestinians for thinking there is an international conspiracy, given the length of their exile and a clear trend in Israeli annexation and colonisation, against their freedoms and aspirations. This is all the more evident now with the disclosure of Palestine Papers exposing the level of Israel’s intransigence and the acquiescence of the Palestinian Authority in conceding to Israeli demands.
The only viable solution supported by the international community at huge expense to the Palestinians, especially the refugees, is now under grave danger. That this too is improbable now as a solution within its own parameters is another proof that morality, law and justice were never factors to be seriously considered in a project whose ultimate goal is the destruction and colonisation of Palestine for the remaking of Israel.
A new international politics may emerge through the fissures sweeping the Middle East. A political process that is ultimately framed around the rule of law and not simply the political, national, religious and security aspirations of one state would bring the greatest stability to the region and the international community. Reconfiguring the question of Palestine, where the plight of refugees is given greater political attention and sincerely adopted in a solution framed around justice and rights would demonstrate that occupation and colonisation has indeed come to an end.
Reconfiguring the question of Palestine so that the plight of refugees and the events of 1947/48 are given greater prominence will rebalance the political process towards a more fair and just solution. It will be based on solving historical problems that have remained unaddressed instead of imposing a political design for the region and the refugees.
In this first edition of the Journal of Palestine Refugee Studies (JPRS) we have provided an introduction to the plight of Palestinian refugees. The broad and general themes touched here will be addressed in greater detail is forthcoming editions. This introductory edition provides a history of Palestinian exile, their profile and challenges.
The challenges for Palestinian refugees remain, first and foremost, a legal one, implementing the right to return to their land, and secondly a humanitarian one where different groups of Palestinians face social and economic insecurities. This edition will highlight these challenges for Palestinians in the occupied territories, inside Israel and for Palestinians in host countries. The challenge has also been a political: reliance on a process that has not given the required attention to the plight of refugees.
JPRS will look at all aspects of the situation facing the planet’s biggest and longest-suffering refugee population. It will look at the unparalleled disconnect between law politics in the question of Palestine. JPRS will reflect this and we are proud to present in our first edition a range of renowned expert opinion and analysis, including from the Ganeral Director of the Palestinian Return Centre Majed al-Zeer and the distinguished academics Dr Salman Abu Sitta and Dr Ghada Karmi, all of whom have experienced firsthand forced exile from Palestine.
by Nasim Ahmad