November 29 marks the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, which was first called for by the United Nations General Assembly in 1977 as a reminder to the international community of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, nationhood and the right of return.
This year, the annual observance comes amidst an alarming situation exacerbated not only by the COVID-19 pandemic but also by Israel’s simmering human rights violations and escalating policy of apartheid, mass collective punishment, mass demolitions, and ethnic cleansing.
Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, including East Jerusalem, continue to live under a 53-year long Israeli military occupation and its violent settler-colonial practices that include home demolitions, house evictions, residency revocations, settlement expansion, child arrests, arbitrary detentions, torture and denial of freedom of movement, amongst other issues.
This year’s observance is also a stark reminder that Palestinians living inside the state of Israel are increasingly treated as second-class citizens with state-sectioned laws that continue to deprive them of the equality citizens are granted in democracies.
At the same time, Palestinian refugees in exile across the Arab region and the world, continue to grapple with dire conditions in poorly-equipped refugee camps and substandard migrant facilities, where they have been facing discrimination. In particular, Palestinian refugees from Syria have been caught up in the violence of the war-torn country, as the conflict enters its 11th year. Their status and ability to return to their homes remains uncertain.
The situation of stranded Palestinian refugees at the Polish-Belarusian border is just as alarming. Hundreds of refugees have been trapped in the buffer zone between Poland and Belarus, where they have been subjected to mistreatment by local authorities and to abject humanitarian conditions exacerbated by food shortage, medical neglect, and cold weather.
On 17 November, it was reported that a 44-year-old Palestinian refugee was arrested in the train station while on her way to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, along with a group of refugees. She was later found dead in mysterious circumstances. No further details were made available. According to reports, the victim is from the Neirab refugee camp in Aleppo, northern Syria.
Several countries including Poland and Greece have also passed legislation that human rights advocates say aims to legalise pushbacks of migrants, including Palestinian asylum seekers, across borders, in breach of the countries’ commitments under international law.
The commemoration of the International Solidarity Day also brings to the forefront Israel’s ceaseless attacks against human rights advocates under the terror cliché. This reminds us of Israel’s recent designation of six Palestinian rights groups involved in humanitarian work in the region as terror organizations. The decision will harm countless refugees who depend on these organizations for lifesaving support. The measure amounts to a policy of apartheid seeking to silence human rights promoters and evade accountability for human rights breaches, in violation of international human rights and humanitarian law.
On this occasion, the international community should immediately call upon the Israeli government to reverse their decision and restore these organizations’ ability to continue their important work and respect the freedom of association and expression, without any interference or harassment against the organizations or their staff.
Similarly, state bans across the United States of America and a number of European countries on parties doing business with companies that participate in a boycott of Israel should be reversed. Arbitrary anti-boycott laws are a violation of free speech rights guaranteed under international law and a discrimination that chills internationally-protected political advocacy in support of Palestine.
On this very special occasion, the international community should also bear in mind that the US-Israeli ad hominem campaigns against UNRWA continue to threaten Palestinian refugees’ legal status and pose serious concerns that the potential lack of aid will further disrupt their livelihoods. Yet Palestinian refugees remain committed to fighting for their right of return to their homeland from which they have been forced out since 1948. This right has been guaranteed by UN Resolution 194 (III), resolving that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours 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 equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.”.
On the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, PRC encourages UN bodies, world governments, NGOs and CSOs to speak up for the Palestinian cause, particularly the refugees’ plight, and to increase their support for UNRWA until the occupation of Palestine is ended, refugees return to their homes, and an independent Palestinian State with Jerusalem as its capital is established on the 1967 borders, as per international law and relevant UN resolutions. Until these rights are restored, the longest struggle in human history will keep going.