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Observing the 63rd Nakba

One of the many signs of the growing worldwide movement in support of the Palestinian struggle for their rights under international law and elemental morality is the increased awareness of the Nakba. On this 63rd anniversary of the catastrophic Palestinian experience since 1948, when an escaping and expelled 760,000 Palestinians (now this dispossessed population has grown to 4.7 million; the 160,000 Palestinians who managed to stay behind in what became Israel now number 1.3 million), there is an encouraging sense that the destiny of the Palestinian people has entered a more hopeful phase: the Arab Spring, combined with earlier political developments in Turkey and Lebanon, have shifted the regional balance toward a greater identification with the Palestinian people and their just claims under international law and morality; the growing BDS worldwide campaign has extended the symbolic battlefield in the Legitimacy War against Israeli occupation, and related policies of apartheid, ethnic cleansing, barrier wall, blockade, settlements; the decision by the recently unified Palestinian leadership to seek acknowledgement of Palestinian statehood in the United Nations this September opening possibilities for further motivating the international community to live up to its responsibilities to address Palestinian grievances that have gone unanswered for these 63 years of UN endorsement of the valid establishment of Israel,  despite it being a colonial settler state imposed on and carved out of  historic Palestine; new signs of activism among the Palestinians living under occupation and in exile; the manifest and deplorable double standards involved in supporting the violent imposition of a No Fly Zone on Libya, which is in reality an effort to achieve regime change on behalf of a rebel insurgency of unknown character, while refusing to protect the people of Gaza who have severely victimized by a total blockade that has lasted almost four years, a massive case of deliberate and criminal collective punishment outlawed by Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Against such a background the ongoing mobilization of public engagement on behalf of Palestinian rights should enlist all persons of conscience throughout the world, a populist dynamic that is happening and should intensify in the coming year. From this perspective it may soon be the case that the annual observance of the Nakba will be treated as the first truly global holiday the world has known.

Despite these developments, there is no indication whatsoever that the Israeli leadership or public has any interest in achieving a sustainable peace or that it is prepared to desist from its expansionist and annexationist approach to the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. There are a few lonely Israeli voices calling for justice to the Palestinian people. For instance, Gideon Levy calling on Israel to teach “a different heritage lesson,” that of the Nabka. Writing in Haaretz (May 15, 2011), Levy writes, “Not only is it possible to permit the Israeli Palestinians to commemorate the day of their heritage and express their national and personal pain, something that should be self-evident, but also to teach us, the Jews, the other narrative. Only on the day that the pupils in Israel also learn about the Nabka, will we know that the earth is no longer burning under our feet.”

The Nakba is of course a day of grievance and resolve for all Palestinians, including the several million living in refugee camps for decades in the countries surrounding Palestine and other millions in exile throughout the region and the world. A sustainable peace must realize the rights of all Palestinians, and must be broader and deeper than ending the occupation or establishing a Palestinian state. Palestinian representation, to be legitimate and effective, must keep faith with this wider Palestinian reality, and not confine its political program to a territorial imaginary. Just as the Palestinian solidarity movement is without boundaries so must be the campaign to achieve full realization of all of the rights of the dispossessed Palestinian people.

To live under Israeli occupation or as refugees for a day is difficult, for a week is unendurable, but to do so for decades is intolerable beyond words of outrage and empathy. We cannot grasp the enormity of this ordeal merely by underscoring the fact that Nakba occurred 63 years ago and that the added cruelty of the occupation started in 1967. Only the existential experience of being on the ground in occupied Palestine or visiting refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, or Syria can begin in a modest way to impart an understanding of the suffering and insecurity that is a daily reality of all those so confined, and even this can give rise to a false consciousness of ‘knowing.’ Those that visit can leave, those subject to regimen cannot, and that makes all the difference!

Below is the text of a press release issued in my capacity as Special Rapporteur for the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967, and released under the auspices of the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights in Geneva.

15 May 2011

The UN human rights expert on the 63th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba

Geneva  –  On May 15 2011 the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, Mr. Richard Falk, marks the 63rd anniversary of the Nakba, the catastrophic beginning of the Palestinian tragedy of dispossession and occupation, with the following statement.

“Since the Nakba on 15 May 1948 Israel has continuously confiscated Palestinian land in order to build illegal settlements and populate them with Israeli citizens. It is astonishing that no one in the international community has stepped forward, after 63 years, to coerce Israel to comply with international law.  Israel’s legacy of ethnic cleansing continues and even accelerated.

“The construction of the Wall inside the West Bank results in an additional 12% of land confiscation and demolition of Palestinian homes, in flagrant defiance of the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice.

“This past week seven Palestinian families in the West Bank village of al-Walaja received demolition orders. This is a reminder that the Nakba continues. Israel’s pursuit of what it calls ‘facts on the ground’ consistently forces Palestinians to abandon their homes, lands, and lives, creating a reality better understood as virtual annexation.

“This is a particularly notable Nakba anniversary, as it coincides with the release of information confirming that Israel secretly revoked as many as 140,000 residency permits of Palestinians between 1967 and 1994. This is not only another violation of Israel’s obligations as the Occupying Power under the Fourth Geneva Convention.  It is also a glaring example of several sinister schemes that Israel has employed over the years to rid historic Palestine of its original inhabitants, in order to make space for Israeli citizens.

“The international community needs to take urgent action to compel Israel to end its confiscation and occupation of Palestinian land.”

END

In 2008, the UN Human Rights Council designated Richard Falk (United States of America) as the fifth Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights on Palestinian territories occupied since 1967. The mandate was originally established in 1993 by the UN Commission on Human Rights.

Learn more about the mandate and work of the Special Rapporteur: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/countries/ps/mandate/index.htm

OHCHR Country Page – Occupied Palestinian Territories: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/MENARegion/Pages/PSIndex.aspx

OHCHR Country Page – Israel: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/ILIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Nikki Siahpoush (Tel.: + 41 22 928 9430 / email: nsiahpoush@ohchr.org) or write to sropt@ohchr.org.

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About the Author

Richard Falk

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Richard Falk
Richard Falk is an international law and international relations scholar who taught at Princeton University for forty years. Since 2002 he has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and taught at the local campus of the University of California in Global and International Studies and since 2005 chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. He is the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.