Qurei on Palestinian Right of Return

Introduction by Nicola Nasser

Agreeing to the Israeli neo-historian Ilan Pappe’s interpretation of the term "Nakba," Palestinian chief negotiator Ahmad Qurei said that peace and peace negotiations with Israel "could not hang on forever," warned that "the horrible alternative option could not but be the total collapse of the dreams of coexistence and the resumption of the bloody struggle," urged Israel to reach a solution for the Palestinian refugee problem "based on the principle of acknowledging the Right of Return, and compensation for the sufferings of the Palestinian people," and to adopt a "culture of confession" and "apologize" for what happened, and "to uphold the responsibility for all that happened" in 1948 as "a necessary first step that would pave the way to achieve a just and lasting peace, which makes room for all on the land."

Qurei’s remarks came in an article in Arabic published be the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Al-Quds daily to commemorate the Palestinian Nakba “catastrophe” of 1948, when Israel was created.

Following is the full text of Qurei’s article:

On the Anniversary of the Nakba

By Ahmad Qurei
Translated into English by Nicola Nasser

Six decades have passed and the painful memory of the great historic transformational event, termed “the Nakba,” recurs anew.
We recall now, with deep sadness and agony, the sad memory of that major catastrophe, which befell the Palestinian people in 1948, committed by a premeditated Zionist scheme, with unlimited support and flagrant collusion by the colonialist powers which were in hegemony over the world at the time.
Despite the passing of time, oblivion remains unable to accumulate over the grave historic event and incapable to dump that tragedy, the trails and repercussions of which are still haunting the Palestinian people to this very moment, without history stopping for a while to renew the bleeding wound in the body of this question, since then until now.
Less than two decades later, what remained of Palestine fell in a blitz war that erupted in June 1967; what remained of the land, in addition to what was seized in 1948, was subjected to an oppressive long-term occupation, which is still leaning heavily on every particle thereof after four decades or more, practicing all the measures that violate international law and legitimacy, which the occupation insists on trivially ignoring, to arrogantly continue its aggressive measures, including annexation and usurpation of land, annexation, confiscation and Judaization of the Holy City, a horrible cancer-like settlement, while persisting on the unjust siege it imposes on Palestinian cities and villages, and constructing the Apartheid wall, with what catastrophes it entailed on the Palestinian ground, citizens, economy, unity of society, the educational process, and other details of the various dimensions of human life, let alone other oppressive practices that touch on the daily life of the Palestinian people under occupation at the roadblocks and crossings as well as inside the terrific Israeli jails and prisons.
All of the forgoing is still persisting while the world and its major powers, who dominate global policy, are watching unmoved; what is worse is that those practices persist under the umbrella of the peace process, the principles of which were signed by both parties in 1993, and which we still pursuing to realize and reach the virtual and honest translation of the concept of comprehensive and just peace, which we hope and aspire it would materialize so tranquility could be the rule in the land of peace.
On May 15, 1948 Palestine was the victim of an existential dismemberment process almost totally; it disintegrated politically, socially, economically and demographically, its people displaced from their homeland and their unity shuttered between a minority who remained and a majority who were lost in near and remote exiles and dispersed in the Diaspora, creating the major problem of the refugees who were expelled from their homeland, which is one of the major problems witnessed in modern history that still makes the region prone to potential renewed wars and horrible bloody struggles.
Vis-à-vis a problem of those dimensions and that degree of gravity, we had had to try the peace gamble; such an option dictates that the party who is armed to teeth has to be convinced that his arsenal will lead only to a larger catastrophe, and that to eradicate the trails of the tragedy of 1948, which led to the transfer of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homeland, requires finding a satisfactory solution for the refugee problem, a solution based on the principle of acknowledging the Right of Return, and compensation for the sufferings of the Palestinian people resulting from their expulsion from their homeland, displacement from their homes and properties inherited from their fathers and forefathers and from places that are instilled in their memory and dreams.
Vis-à-vis the attempts for pushing the Palestine Question into oblivion, the Palestinian memory remains vigilant not to give in to the overwhelming force that endeavors to make it forget.
Sixty years on since the Nakba, the various Palestinian generations of all ages are still holding on to their national culture and collective memory, strongly and stubbornly refusing all fictional alternatives for the homeland, and adhering to their legitimate rights to their homeland and land, and to the goals of return and recovery of all their usurped rights on the basis of the resolutions of international legitimacy, in the forefront of which are resolutions 242, 338, 181, 194, and others.
The occupation of Palestine by the Zionist military force in 1948 was accompanied by a propaganda and ideological campaign, which immediately embarked on promoting a false narrative, to the effect that the Palestinians voluntarily left their land, out of their free will and without coercion, in response to the request of Arab parties whose armies took part in the 1948 war, so as to enable those armies to fight their battles away from the Arab population density lest they get harmed by the exchange of fire and the battles that could have erupted in the areas of population centers.
However this fragile and incredible narrative had in no time collapsed vis-à-vis the facts of history. The wider and most solid refute thereof came from Israeli neo-historians, distinguished by bravery and scientific and objective search for historical truth, and by a great moral commitment, which contributed to the collapse of the foundations of the Zionist narrative from within the Israeli society itself.
Those neo-historians have largely drawn on the Israeli documents themselves, which are periodically released from time to time; these documents constitute the raw material to expose the ethnic cleansing plans against the Palestinians inside Palestine and the operations of genocide and arbitrary transfer that were the essence of the colonialist Zionist plan to take over Palestine, and implemented especially after the Partition Resolution passed by the United Nations on November 29, 1947 and continued incessantly during the first months of 1948 until the middle of that year.

The foundation of the Zionist idea in its formulation and evolution was based on the confirmation that the realization of the Zionist dream in creating a state for the Jews in Palestine will not be and will not have the chance to be realized on the ground without the Zionist movement first enforce its strategy that was based on uprooting the Palestinian people from their land by all means and methods, which are essentially based on violence and lack the minimum of humanitarian spirit, moral norms and purity of arms.

Based on the fact that what happened in Palestine in 1948 was not a voluntary immigration or in response to an Arab request, but a matter that was proposed and planned by the symbols of the Zionist movement since the early thirties of the twentieth century or earlier and approved by the movement’s historical leadership and symbols at the time, who contributed to a specific and systematic plan that had developed over the years to end up with what is known as Plan “D” (Tokhnit Dalet in Hebrew), according to which the Zionist gangs embarked on the massacre strategy and put it into effect in several Palestinian towns and villages.

That plan was built on a wide data base and on a plenty of accumulated information on urban and countryside Palestinian communities, all their available potentials, including land, population, families, revolutionary activists, transportation roads, agricultural and animal wealth, and other bare and accurate information. The targets of the plan were built on a basic pillar, namely the practice of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Palestine, with killing as the first tool, as the Zionist leaders of the time raised the slogan, “kill every Arab you meet,” which evolved later into committing and recommitting massacres and genocide operations in the context of a strategic plan in several sporadic places in the cities and villages of Palestine, whose people, even the unarmed and women, children and elderly had not survived the killing or spared terrorization and collective transfer practiced against them, so the Palestinian land would be a monopoly for the Jews in order to establish their state thereon after the evacuation of the indigenous natives thereof.

Based on that fact, after a profound reading of the Israeli documents from the Jewish National Fund and the various Jewish military organizations, in the forefront of which is the “Haganah,” their archives, papers and the memoirs of the symbols, political leaders and field commanders of the Zionist movement during the recent decades which preceded the horrible historic events of May 1948, including the killings, destruction, terrorization, rape and mutilation of bodies, alongside a premeditated psychological and information war, the brave Israeli researcher and historian Ilan Pappé concluded the fact that ethnic cleansing was practiced against the Palestinians, constituting a crime against humanity, which entails trial if international norms and standards are to apply thereto and which were applied thereafter in other parts of the world, specially during the last decade of the twentieth century.

Consequently Pappé ended up to absolutely refuse the concept and term of “the Nakba” to describe what befell the Palestinian people in 1948. The Nakba is a fluid and unspecific term; it refers to the deed itself, which befell a people, rather than to the perpetrator, and fails to name and specify the perpetrator’s crime and thus acts to absolve from responsibility the side that committed the deed and bypasses the victims of the operations who fell as the result of this deed; i.e. the Nakba is a term that could apply to natural disasters and catastrophes like earthquakes and volcanoes, for which nobody is held responsible except the nature itself or even ultra-natural powers. Ethnic cleansing however is a concept that refers the responsibility for its perpetration to whoever is the decision-maker and those who practiced it premeditatedly in reality and in history.

Hence, the concept of the Nakba was accepted by the Israeli official authorities because it implicitly absolves them from their historical responsibility for the military operations they carried out as well as for the massacre strategy they adopted and led to the arbitrary expulsion of Palestinians from their land by force and terrorism to wander aimlessly in the exiles in a tragic journey that is sustained by more wars launched by Israel, which deepened their suffering and contributed to making their problem intricate. The perpetrator in all cases is known and his responsibility for the series of catastrophes is identified and documented since 1948 to this day.

We, from our position on this available part of historic Palestine, are embarked on several multi-faceted battles.

While we work to reinforce the steadfastness of our people on their land, we strive with all our capabilities to consolidate our national achievement, i.e. the creation of the Palestinian National Authority on the land of Palestine, and struggle to push forward the project of transforming it into an independent Palestinian state with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as the capital. At the same time, we will continue fighting our political battle in defense of our legitimate rights as represented in preserving the Arab character of Jerusalem, stopping the settlements and the Apartheid Wall, extracting the right of refugees to return to their homeland, and sweeping away the occupation from the land of Palestine.

We persist now, energetically, on fighting a fierce battle of peace with the purpose of bypassing the Israeli spirit of violence and the force infatuated by its arms, a spirit of violence that is promoted by those who want to evade the prerequisites of peace.

Peace could not hang on forever and it could not anymore accept the idea of the Israeli evasion and prevarication. There is no doubt that finishing off that spirit of violence cannot be done without adhering to peace itself as the principle and the acceptance by each side of the other. Similarly negotiations cannot go on forever vis-à-vis a dead end.

The horrible alternative option could not but be the total collapse of the dreams of coexistence and the resumption of the bloody struggle, which kills both the human spirit as well as the spirit of civilization and brings back the ideology and practice of ethnic cleansing to be the eternal shame of its perpetrators at all times.

Agreement on the historic narrative of what happened in 1948, the adoption of the culture of confession by those who committed the massacres, to apologize for what happened, and to uphold the responsibility for all that happened seems a necessary first step that would pave the way to achieve a just and lasting peace, which makes room for all on the land.

-This article was first published in Arabic by the Jerusalem-based Palestinian daily, Al-Quds, on May 15, 2008.

-Ahmad Qurei is the chief Palestinian negotiator, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and a member of the Central Committee of Fatah.

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