For more than 75 years, the Israeli-perpetrated ongoing Nakba has resulted in the protracted forced displacement of 66 percent of the Palestinian people. The ongoing Nakba is maintained by Israel’s colonial apartheid regime’s policies and practices, namely: land confiscation and denial of use, denial of access to natural resources and services, annexation, suppression of resistance, denial of residency, segregation, fragmentation and isolation, the imposition of discriminatory planning and permit regime, and denial of reparations. The Israeli policies and practices that maintain this system and deny the Palestinian people’s rights to return and self-determination go beyond mere human rights violations. Rather, they constitute the Israeli regime’s three main pillars: Palestinian displacement and transfer, colonization and apartheid. These pillars, which are translated into Israeli laws, policies and practices, aim to control the maximum amount of land with the minimum number of Palestinians. Correspondingly, the perpetuation of the Nakba – made feasible by the lack of practical measures to hold Israel accountable for its international crimes – reflects the extent of international complicity with the Israeli colonial-apartheid regime in Palestine.
As a result of the ongoing Nakba, 9.17 million Palestinians have experienced forced displacement and/or transfer, which includes a total of 8.36 million refugees and 812,000 internally displaced persons, constituting the largest and most protracted refugee population in the world. Meanwhile, Palestinian refugees in exile continue to find themselves in an international protection lacuna. Arab countries, for example, deny Palestinian refugees their human rights, including those stipulated in the Arab League Protocol on the Treatment of Palestinian Refugees (Casablanca Protocol, 1965) to which they are signatories. In Syria, the demographic and political weight of Palestinian refugees has been targeted and weakened during the war and ensuing political strife. In Lebanon, the government treats Palestinian refugees as ‘foreigners’ and deprives them of their civil, economic and social rights to the point that a significant percentage suffers from extreme poverty. These actions are justified under the false pretext of preserving the right of return and Palestinian identity. Depriving Palestinian refugees of their human rights during the period of their refugeehood, however, constitutes a violation of return as it enables the continuation of Israeli policies, and the repeated displacement of Palestinians. At the same time, western states practice discrimination against Palestinian refugees fleeing armed conflicts in a number of Arab countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Libya.
After 75 years of ongoing Nakba, the international community continues to neglect its legal and moral responsibilities towards the Palestinian people, and to provide support and immunity to the Israeli regime. Western states have been obstructing the enforcement of international law and accountability mechanisms vis-à-vis the Palestinian people. This obstruction is exemplified by vetoes of United Nations Security Council Resolutions, the failure to enforce dozens of existing resolutions, undermining ICC investigations, ignoring UNRWA’s chronic funding crisis, neglecting to provide effective protection for Palestinian refugees, and the lack of practical measure to hold Israel accountable, such as arms embargos and sanctions. This lack of action has resulted in an umbrella of political, economic and military impunity for the Israeli colonial-apartheid regime. Moreover, the complicity of Western states is demonstrated in colonial and discriminatory statements made by the presidents of the USA administration and the EU Commission in congratulating the establishment of the Israeli colonial-apartheid regime.
The United Nations, originally responsible for the illegal partition of Palestine, continues to ignore the necessity of a human rights-based decolonization approach and solution to the core issues of the Israeli colonial apartheid regime. The decolonization approach for Palestine is particularly relevant since the UN Conciliation Commission for Palestine, the agency mandated to provide international protection, including the right of return according to UNGA Resolution 194 has been defunct for as many decades as the ongoing Nakba. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Refugees (UNRWA), which is the sole agency responsible for assisting Palestinian refugees, is still regarded as a temporary agency whose budget depends on the voluntary contributions of states, which decreases annually despite the increase in the number of refugees and their growing needs. In the absence of a compulsory funding mechanism, UNRWA is being sabotaged through the imposition of securitization procedures and conditional funding by Israel and the US, particularly with the recently proposed USA draft law. This situation has resulted in the drastic reduction of services as Palestinian refugees’ needs continue to rise. Other strategic attacks on UNRWA that call for transferring its responsibilities to other agencies and organizations constitute unlawful attempts to alter its mandate – the only way the mandate can be altered is through a UN resolution, which would thereby not only protect UNRWA but also by extension, Palestinian refugees. Such a resolution must necessarily expand UNRWA’s mandate to include all Palestinian refugees and provide all the components of international protection (i.e., physical, legal, and humanitarian protection).
The historic and current international response to Palestine is one that is based in a conflict resolution paradigm and a humanitarian approach. The ‘conflict’ in Palestine is perceived to be between two equal parties with equally valid claims requiring a ‘balanced’ response. Both the paradigm and the approach are erroneous as they fail to take into consideration Israel’s violent colonial origins and have, as such, grievously obscured the root causes and ignored Israel’s domination and oppression of the Palestinian people. The reality, however, is that Palestinians are confronted with two Israeli forms of domination – colonization and apartheid – which deny the Palestinian people’s inalienable rights to return and self-determination. As such, the right to resist foreign domination and oppression as a means of liberation and in pursuit of the rights of self-determination and return is an irrefutable fact in the case of Palestine.
The only approach and solution to the ongoing Nakba is a comprehensive rights-based decolonization framework. This approach must tackle the root causes of the Israeli colonial-apartheid regime and fulfill the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, specifically the rights of self-determination and return. To decolonize Palestine in a way that will achieve a lasting and just peace means uprooting and dismantling the pillars of the Israeli regime: forced displacement and transfer, colonization, and apartheid.
v Return is our right and our will
v One people, one destiny, and return is certain
v Ensuring a stable and adequate budget for UNRWA without political conditions is an obligatory international responsibility
v Granting refugees their human rights in host countries supports their right to return to their original homes