"We declare openly that the Arabs have no right to settle on even one centimeter of Eretz Israel... Force is all they do or ever will understand. We shall use the ultimate force until the Palestinians come crawling to us on all fours."
-- Rafael Eitan, Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defence Forces - Gad Becker, Yediot Ahronot 13 April 1983, New York Times 14 April 1983.

That every Palestinian has a legitimate, individual right to return to his or her original home and to absolute restitution of his or her property.

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CPRR Press Conference #1
3 March 2000
Washington D.C.

On 3 March 2000, CPRR held the first in a planned series of press conferences about the Palestinian refugee issue, with board members Hanan Ashrawi, Palestinian Legislative Council for Jerusalem; Francis Boyle, University of Illinois; as well as Palestinian refugee Jawdat Hindi, from Tantura, a small village 24 kilometers to the south of Haifa.


Note: Where news reports below have mispelled CPRR's name and Arabic place names, this has been corrected

Federal News Service: Council for Palestinian Restitution and Repatriation news conference, Re: Palestinian refugees

Section: State Department Briefing
Location: National Press Club, Washington, D.C.
Time: 10:10 a.m.

MR. HINDI: Ladies and gentlemen, I present myself as one of the few lucky persons who had a chance to live after Tantura (ph), the massacre that is now documented by an Israeli professor. And I hope that you got your copies of that.

I was born in Tantura (ph). Tantura is a small village 24 kilometers to the south of Haifa, a coastal village with inhabitants not more than 2,000. I was born in 1926. The people lived happily and with good relations with their neighbors, inhabitants of the old settlement, the Zikhron Yacov (ph), which was not more than 14 kilometers from Tantura (ph).

In April 1948, Haifa was occupied by the Zionists. And all the people of Palestine and especially the places that were not far away from Haifa, they tried to find something -- a solution to themselves. The people of my village decided to keep good relations with the Jews, their neighbors, but at the same time to protect themselves and to defend their village if they are attacked by Zionists.

Twenty-second and 23rd of May 1948, the people had a normal day. Farmers went to their land, came back to their homes, fishermen -- because it is a coastal village -- came back. And everybody went to his bed, and we were thinking that nothing will happen to us.

After 12 midnight -- I speak of myself and my family. My father had passed away years before and I was the eldest, so I lived with my mother and sisters and brothers. We walked upstairs -- explosions and the house was shaking. Showers of rapid fire and so many things. And we didn't know what to do.

Then we rushed out of the house. We met our neighbors coming this way and that way, and we were talking. And everybody was concerned of the 30 young men who were guarding us, because the village had in that time only 30 rifles and 30 men were every night escorting us.

And we thought ourselves in our homes safe. Then, an old man advised us to go back to our homes and to lock the door as well. We went. After one hour, the door was broken and soldiers rushed into our house, kicking with their boots, pointing their guns into our heads. All of us were scared. But I am -- being the eldest, I looked at the youngest -- how they were scared.

Then they pushed us out of the house. We went out and we found that the neighbors are coming this way and that way -- the same like the soldiers did to us. And we gathered in an open place. And we waited there, the soldiers laughing, hugging each other. And all of a sudden, a family was coming from out of the side. And suddenly we heard shooting and we looked there and all the members of that family fell down -- parents and children.

And then they drove us. And we went through the roads -- bodies here and there, killed people, men, children, women -- and we were gathered in at the seashore in front of a high building. There they separated the women from men, and they ordered us to sit down and to raise our hands over our heads and not to look up to but to look down.

After maybe 15 minutes, an officer came. And by signaling to us to raise our faces and to look at him. And he started pointing with his fingers: you, you, you, you, and doing the same signal just to let them know to come out. Ten people were gathered. Then he talked in his own language. And four soldiers came and pointed their guns to the backs of the 10 men and they drove them a ways -- where to we didn't know.

Another official came and the same happened. Ten people were gathered and four soldiers that drove them back. The third time.

The fourth time, I was called out. But they didn't call anybody else. Then the officer talked to two soldiers. I didn't understand what did he say. Then they pushed me and one said in a broken Arabic: "Your home, your home." What I understood that they wanted to come to my home. So I led them there.

When we reached our home, soldiers were there, eating and drinking, laughing. And the two soldiers came into the house. They started searching every corner of the house. They found nothing. Then they drove me back.

We passed a narrow lane, a narrow road. The two soldiers started fighting each other. I didn't know why. Then one of them pointed his gun into my head. The other pushed him and said in his language -- (speaks in foreign language). Anyway, at last they pushed me and we went back to the place where the people are gathered. They talked to their officer.

The officer told me to sit down. I sat down. That man who had been pointing his gun to my head -- he wanted to kill me. And he didn't. He kicked me with his boot and spat into my face.

After one hour -- you can say that from sunrise up till four in the afternoon -- they started searching the women and children - - infants. And they took all their jewelries and money. Then they drove them into trucks and then to a nearby village called Freidis (ph), a village which was occupied by the Jews, and the second day -- or it might be the first week, I'm not sure of that, but not more than days -- they took all the people, all the women and children into the border area to Tulkarem (ph) city, the nearest town from a place -- Natania (ph) as I remember was the name of that.

Anyway, for the women after one hour they came also and drove us in trucks to the Zikhron Yacov (ph). This is the nearby settlement. There was a police station -- a big one. And they pushed us into that station. And we stayed the night there in the prison and in some open spaces. We stayed there that night.

Then they took us to a deserted Arab village called Im Khalid (ph). And the houses were demolished. Some of the houses were still, and they kept us there. Then by force -- beating us -- we put the wires around the whole village and worked for a whole week to make our own prison. And this was called prisoners of war camp.

Now what about those groups of 10 people who were guarded and then four soldiers -- they were driving 10 people and so on? When we met in the Zikhron Yacov (ph) that night, the first time I heard about that. The four soldiers drove the 10 men. And they ordered them to pull the bodies of the killed people and then ordered them to dig a big hole and to drag the bodies into that hole.

Then they ordered eight of them to stand around the opening of the hole. And then they started shooting at them and the eight fell into the same hole that they had digged. Then they ordered the two -- (starts crying) -- excuse me -- and then they ordered the two who were saved to cover the bodies. And then they drove them back to where we were gathered, just to tell what happened.

Four groups of 10 people were taken before they took me. How many did they take after that? I don't know. But for sure, there were many. And at the same time, no weapons at all were with the people in their houses. All what we had -- 30 guards -- and they were at the borders of the village. But they started shooting in the roads, in the houses and so on.

So after these days, maybe last month, I heard that an Israeli professor is documenting our massacre and at the same time so many channels of the news had reviewed that.

We stayed in there as prisoners of war for a long time. And I forgot my name. They called me in that time -- (speaks in Arabic) -- Prisoner of War Number 3310.

Then they started the exchange of prisoners of war with Jordan. Their soldiers came back to them. But why did they pushed us to Jordan as exchanging their prisoners? We were not Jordanians, but they pushed us to Jordan. Why they didn't let us go back to our homes, our mothers, wives, children -- they were expelled before us and we were pushed out.

Really when I came Tantura (ph) -- I met the people of Tantura -- most of them are refugees still in camps in Syria. Me and my brother, when we went out, direct we went to Syria, and then we found that -- for my good luck, for we were fortunate -- an uncle who was in Lebanon, in Beirut. He studied -- he was a physician after studying in American University there. And he stayed in Lebanon. He came to Damascus and took his sister, my mother, brothers and sisters and lived with them.

So we came to Beirut, lived four months and then we went to Syria and worked there. And then I worked in Kuwait and I came 1888 (sic) to the United States and I am now a United States citizen. And thank you very much.

MR. BOYLE: Thank you, Mr. Hindi, for that very moving story. Having worked with the Palestinian people for the last 20 years, I can assure you there are enormous numbers of stories that are just as tragic and compelling as the one we heard from Mr. Hindi.

As you know, the final status negotiations have now begun in theory with respect to the Middle East. And the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their home is a critical issue. There are over five million Palestinian refugees around the world, as well as internally displaced people. Before I introduce our keynote speaker, I've been asked to say a few words about their legal rights.

As a condition for its admission to the United Nations Organization, Israel formally agreed to accept General Assembly Resolution 181 of 1947, dealing with the partition of the mandate for Palestine into two states, a Jewish state and a Palestinian state, as well as an international trusteeship for the city of Jerusalem.

And Israel also expressly agreed to accept Resolution 194 of 1948 -- the Palestinian Right of Return. And let me just read you the critical paragraph. Again, this is what Israel accepted as a condition for its admission to the United Nations Organization, and I quote: "Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors 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 in equity should be made good by the governments or authorities responsible."

Now, Prime Minister Barak has recently stated that he would not tolerate the return of any Palestinian refugees to their homes. What do we say to Prime Minister Barak? That if he carries out that illegal policy, he jeopardizes Israel's continued participation in the activities of the United Nations General Assembly.

If Prime Minister Barak is going to deny the right of the Palestinian refugees return to their home, he will abrogate and violate one of the most important conditions for Israel's admission to the United Nations. And this could produce the most severe consequences for Israel. They could be suspended from participation in the United Nations by the General Assembly -- exactly what the General Assembly did to the former Yugoslavia and to the South African government under the apartheid regime.

Now, we've spent a lot of time here in the United States for many years arguing that Soviet Jews had a right of family reunification, and that those Soviet Jews being kept in the Soviet Union against their wishes had a right to leave and join their families. And that was the correct position to take, and the United States government repeatedly invoked Article XIII, Paragraph 2 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights on behalf of Soviet Jews.

Well, I am invoking that same provision of Universal Declaration of Human Rights on behalf of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. And it says quite clearly, quote: "Everyone has the right to return to his country," unquote. That was as of 1948. And that supplements Resolution 194. And the United States government has consistently taken the position that that is a binding requirement of public international law. The same principle applies to the Palestinian refugees.

Just recently, historically, we've had two instances where the United States government has stood up for the rights of refugees to return to their homes. In the Dayton Agreement that was drafted by the United States government under the supervision of Richard Holbrooke, it says quite clearly that Bosnian refugees have a right to return to their home. And of course, they do.

The same principle can and must be applied to the Palestinian refugees. And just recently, a year ago, NATO intervened in Kosovo to guarantee the right of Kosovar Albanian Muslim refugees to return to their homes. And the same principle must be applied to the Palestinian refugees.

There will no peace in the Middle East unless the right of the Palestinian refugees, as recognized by Resolution 194, is implemented. In the future course of these final status negotiations, they must be conducted on the basis of Resolution 181, Resolution 194, subsequent General Assembly resolutions and Security Council resolutions, the Third and Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, the 1907 Hague Regulations and other relevant principles of public international law.

There is a remarkable opportunity for peace in the Middle East today -- a comprehensive peace settlement. But what is needed now from the Clinton administration -- which I regret to report we are not seeing, for whatever reason -- is the same type of dynamic leadership and will for peace that was demonstrated by President Jimmy Carter over two decades ago.

The governments of Israel and the United States must seize this historic moment for peace. Otherwise, I doubt very seriously history will give any of us a second chance for obtaining peace with justice for all people in the Middle East.

It is now my honor and pleasure to introduce our keynote speaker, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi. It was my great distinction to have served as the legal adviser to the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East Peace Negotiations from 1991 to 1993. That delegation was headed by Dr. Haidar Abdul-Shafi (ph). Dr. Abdul-Shafi (ph) was not able to attend our session today because of a prior commitment. But he is on our board of directors.

The Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace negotiations was a real people's delegation. These were not professional politicians, diplomats and bureaucrats. These were people who represented the Palestinian people living under occupation. They were the best and the brightest that the Palestinian people, living under one of the most brutal occupations in the modern world, could offer and send to Washington, D.C.

And of them all, of course, Dr. Ashrawi was selected to be the official spokesperson for the entire delegation. And in this capacity, she really became the official spokesperson for all of the Palestinian people -- not only living in occupied Palestine but also in the Palestinian diaspora.

Before this, she was a professor in her own right -- like me, an honorable profession -- but then selected to be come a diplomat and come and fight and do battle for her people, which she did most effectively, as we all know.

Eventually, Dr. Ashrawi returned home. She rose to become Minister of Education in the Palestinian Authority, served for a period of time, and then decided to return to private life, where she has established her own human rights organization dedicated to the proposition of pursuing peace with justice for all in the Middle East.

It's my great honor and pleasure to introduce Dr. Hanan Ashrawi.

MS. ASHRAWI: Thank you, Francis. Thank you, Jawdat. I am very glad to be here among you today. I've always maintained that spokespeople are never appointed. They are the ones who in a sense strive to represent the fullness of the humanity and existence and identity and aspirations, as well as history, of their own people.

And this is the source, I believe, of anybody's credibility. But what we heard today this morning, to me, is exactly what is needed, in terms of a corrective force on a terribly flawed process. We need first the human narratives. We need to identify the victims and to recognize our humanity.

And we need to correct a version of history that has constantly suffered from exclusion and denial. Because historically, when the victim speaks out, even with some personal experience and as an eyewitness and as an advocate -- especially when the adversary is so powerful -- the victim's narrative is often denied or distorted or confiscated or misrepresented.

And ironically, the Palestinians, like many victims, became doubly victimized because they were blamed for their victimization. So to get the narrative out and the individual identification of the human reality of what probably would have been called nowadays ethnic cleansing -- one of the most tragic I wouldn't even say "incidents" but an ongoing injustice perpetrated against a whole people -- a human tragedy whose extensions, repercussions, consequences we are still witnessing that has often been denied, has in many ways to be validated by an audience, by an acceptance, and most importantly, to be incorporated in any means, any attempt at solving the conflict. If we do not have a firm grasp not only of the facts and the truths and the human reality, but also the causes of the conflict itself, and if we do not attempt courageously to solve these causes, to address them directly in a candid and forthright and courageous manner, there can be no solution.

And the second most important aspect, of course, is the legal aspect. We are witnessing now attempts at negating international law to apply to the Palestinians. We are witnessing attempts, Israeli and American, to sort of make temporary transitional arrangements as the terms of reference for any solution, and thereby to bring the Palestinians to relinquish those rights which were guaranteed to them by law, and foremost of which is the right of return.

The essence of the human tragedy, of the Palestinian tragedy, is, of course, the human dimension; the fact that there was a systematic attempt at the negation, dispossession, dispersion of a whole nation and a denial of those people of their rights to natural continuity and life on their own land, of the right to their own identity, of the right to their own history, of the right to their own homes and lands.

So any solution to the Palestinian question and any attempt at achieving a genuine peace has to address that core human issue from, first of all, a recognition of the facts and the identity and also firmly based on international law and legality.

We are not going to relinquish our right of return. Many of you may say, "Well, you are not a refugee. Why do you speak out?" I'm speaking out because we are all firmly committed, first of all, to the human unity of the Palestinian people and nation. We are one people, one nation, and a solution has to address all people.

Two, as you were told, there are Palestinian refugees who are dispersed and in exile throughout the world, but there are also Palestinian refugees within Palestine. In the West Bank and Gaza we have over 1.1 million refugees, but also Palestinian refugees within what has become Israel. And these are not just displaced persons, but these are people who were forcibly, forcefully evicted from their homes. Their villages were among the 418 villages entirely demolished by Israel. And even though there were not just U.N. resolutions but even decisions within Israel to have them go back to their homes and lands, they have not been allowed to return to their homes.

We are seeing multiple dimensions and compound aspects of this human tragedy. And we are witnessing at the same time a resurgence of official denial of this tragedy, and ironically, within the context of the peace process. We are being told that issues on permanent status agenda, which are the core issues that determine not just the justice or injustice of any solution, but whether there can be a genuine peace that can lay claim to legality and to permanence, that these issues can be unilaterally prejudged and concluded by Israel, with U.S. collusion, very frankly, and at the same time with a distortion of the law.

So when we look at permanent status agenda, we have the issue of Palestinian refugees. We have the issue of Jerusalem. We have the issue of boundaries, core settlements that are illegally built on Palestinian land, and then other issues pertaining to worker rights and external relations and security.

Without something addressing and recognizing the Palestinian refugee question, there can be no solution. We are not interested in appeasement. We are not interested in a temporary truce. We are interested in a historical reconciliation. For that to take place, every individual narrative, not just Jawdat's narratives, has to be validated, acknowledged and affirmed, and the instruments for the solution of this very human tragedy have to be put in place.

This is the historical redemptive part. If we ignore that, we won't be just making peace with less than half or with one-third of the Palestinian people. It's that one-third who are not refugees, who will not accept any peace that fragments them or that denies the rights of the refugees. In a sense, we are all refugees. We have all been alienated and painfully separated from our rights, from our history, from our most basic rights.

So what we need is, first of all, a genuine recognition, an admission of guilt and culpability by Israel; the real authentic narrative of the Palestinians to come out, to be acknowledged, to be recognized. And it is ironic that only when Israeli historians like Benny Morris (sp), Tom Sager (sp), Finkelstein (sp), -- (inaudible) -- and others have the courage to try to set the historical record straight, to explore through the very scholarly work examining the archives, intelligence archives of Israel, the documents of the British mandate and so on, that the real story began to come out, because it was not being told by the victim but by the oppressor, by the perpetrators of the act. So it began to gain an audience.

It's being fought, I know. There are many people who don't want their story to come out. They don't want to tarnish it. They don't want to have reality intrude on the myth and the image and the legend of the heroic creation of the state of Israel. People don't want to face the tremendous pain and suffering, the incredible cost that establishment of the state of Israel involved, particularly with the Palestinian people.

And so once these historians started speaking out, some others, who were also part of the act of commission, who were in the armed Jewish gangs in 1947-'48, whether in the Haganah or Stern started speaking out, actually; whether it is the historical guilt or whether it is a recognition that now people can face the truth. But they started speaking out and they started, in a sense, a public confession of their role in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, which included systematic, brutal, cold-blooded murder, like (Tantudah ?), which just finally came out only this year, a few months back, or massacres like those of Deir Yassin as well and later massacres of (Urkasa ?) and many unknown massacres.

Two, there was a systematic attempt at the expulsion of Palestinians through fear and intimidation. There was also a very conscious expulsion where people were herded off, were put in trucks and buses or were made to walk by force of arms, and where they were expelled. There was also a general atmosphere of fear, intimidation, threats of further massacres. The 418 villages that were totally demolished are still a very eloquent expression of this type of ethnic cleansing that has gone without accountability and with total impunity, actually.

And, of course, the worst crime, it seems to me, has been the silence and the denial of the facts and of the history and of the real human narrative and the refusal to assume responsibility. To compound that real injustice was also the subjugation of Palestinian rights to political convenience and political deals. And one thing that we must not do in the peace process is to accept such a distortion, and once again to subjugate Palestinian rights to political convenience or to the politics of power or to strategic alliances.

Israel is not a country above the law and is not a country that should be held by different standards. There are uniform standards that govern the behavior of all civilized nations. They should apply equally across the board. If Israel wants to be a country, a state among states, then it has to abide by these standards. It has to be held responsible, not just for its past sins and crimes, but also for the ongoing, continuing violations that it is involved in.

Israel cannot be given a priori dispensation. They cannot wipe the slate clean and say, "Now we will deal with history in another way. The political process is a new process and must not be taken back." Well, for the process to have integrity and legality and credibility and to achieve results, it has to be precisely with these issues, with this narrative, with the Palestinian refugee question, with the unity of the Palestinian people as a people, as a nation, who had a past and therefore should have a future.

The present is extremely painful and difficult. When Israel talks about, legislates a law of return for any Jewish people who happens to be anywhere in the world, to gain instant rights in Palestine and Israel, we are being told that the right of return of the Palestinian refugees, which is not only based on the specific resolution relevant, pertinent to the Palestinian question, whether it is 181, 194 in particular, which has been annually reaffirmed, actually, has never been denied, 194, but also using universal criteria, universal instruments of human rights. The Hague regulations, the third and -- (inaudible) -- regulations and all the precedents that we have missed and miss, of resolutions, of precedents, of instruments of international humanitarian law that guarantee us those rights.

And yet we are being told to show a positive attitude and to be committed to the peace process. We must not talk about issues which are delicate and sensitive and which might upset the Israelis. Well, reality is much more painful than even describing it. So if the victim cannot speak out and if we cannot deal with these issues, and if we cannot resolve them, there can be no peace.

International law is there in order to protect the vulnerable and the helpless. And the Palestinians have always been vulnerable and exposed and helpless. But once we've decided that we do not cherish the role of victim and that we want to sort of sake history, take the bull by the horns and change the course of history, we are being told, "You must adopt the narrative of the others. You must abandon or distort your history."

We are not going to do that. Every time we speak out, we get statements, official statements about how this is extremist language and it's against the peace process. A peace process that is not based on international law is no peace process and no instrument of peace. A peace process that does not recognize the essential human component on the human tragedy and does not come to grips with it and attempt to solve it is no peace process.

We did not enter negotiations to surrender. We entered negotiations to affect an historical reconciliation. And to do that, the refugee issue, Jerusalem, our land boundaries, our rights, resources, these have to be recognized and these have to be solved on the basis of justice and historical redemption, if you will. Otherwise, if these narratives continue to be excluded, if Palestinian refugees are going to be treated by different standards, if Israel continues to be above the law and immune from accountability, then we certainly don't want such a rogue state as a neighbor.

It is not Iraq or Iran. We believe that the real rogue state in the region is another 'I' -- Israel. Unless it abides by international law, unless it comes to grips with its own history and unless it takes serious steps to have this legality incorporated in the peace process, not just as a recognition of guilt, as I said, but also as a means of rectification, we will not be able to have peace. And anybody who tells you that the Palestinians will be happy with a few reservations here and there (that are?) described as Bantustans or will be happy in an apartheid system or will accept to suffer from collective amnesia suddenly and forget their past and forget their human reality, these people are sadly mistaken.

This is precisely the substance of peace. And people who want to make peace have to have the courage to address these issues. Otherwise, we'll be skirting the issues. We will be dealing with a temporary truce. But then the causes of conflict will remain in place and they will erupt eventually. The peace process is not there to prepare the ground for future conflict. It is not the capitulation of the weak or the exploitation of the weakness of the weak by the strong. It is the vindication of the suffering of the weak in order to overcome it, in order to find genuine solutions, and in order to effect historical reconciliation which will empower the weak and create a situation of human parity based on international legality that would bring about a peace that can lay claim to permanence and justice.

I thank you for coming here today. And I think what Doug has said has been more eloquent than anything I can say. But I urge you to keep your ears open, to listen carefully to the individual narrative and to the real history, to the new historians or the post- Zionist historians, if you will, and from those, to glean the necessary lessons and mechanisms to effect a real solution.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

MR. BOYLE: Thank you, Dr. Ashrawi. I've been asked to chair the question-and-answer session. So raise your hand, identify yourself, whom you would like to answer the question, and we'll take it from there. Yes.

Q (Inaudible) -- for the neighboring countries and -- (inaudible). What is the solution that's going to -- how is the situation going to -- (inaudible)?

MS. ASHRAWI: Yes. This is really a crucial question, because the refugee question is key to stability and to peace in the whole region. I've attended several meetings and conferences in Europe, where they talk about, you know, displacement, where they talk about refugees and immigrants or they talk about political asylum. And they say this is going to disturb or upset western demographic standards, western labor issues and so on.

And I said one country in Europe maybe has 10,000 refugees and Palestinians who took asylum there. I said what you have is the tip of an iceberg. It's the neighboring countries -- in any conflict, the neighboring countries are those who suffer and those who have to accept massive demographic pressure, shifts and distortions in their own country.

Now, the three major countries, of course, neighboring countries that took in Palestinian refugees were Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, of course. The condition of the Palestinian refugees in these areas, the conditions are not the same. In Lebanon, and it is no secret, the plight of the Palestinians is particularly tragic because of internal Lebanese problems, balances, demographic, sectarian, whatever balances. The Palestinian refugees have been sort of living in a time warp with a total denial of their human and civil rights. And their suffering has been compounded. They're not recognized as human beings with full rights, and they have been treated as a political problem, as a threat to a demographic balance, but without really addressing the real human and political issue.

Now we hear talk openly that -- and, of course, there are movements in Lebanon and elsewhere saying that they are against absorption of Palestinian refugees. Nobody is calling for the absorption of Palestinian refugees in their host countries. We are calling for respect for their human and civil rights in their host countries, to be treated as human beings, until we solve the question on a legal and political basis, number one.

Number two, the right of return should be affirmed. It's not what we are against. Of course people don't want to be absorbed; otherwise they would have been absorbed. They have a right to their own identity, to their own homes, to repatriation and to restitution of their rights, which is why I particularly like the name of CPRR. And the host countries cannot, under the heat of the moment, in the course of the peace process, start trying to make individual deals to solve the question of the refugee population in their own countries. What is needed first is a unified Arab position on the right of return. We need coordination and a unified strategy with the Arabs on negotiating the right of return.

Three, the Palestinian leadership, the PLO, is the only body empowered to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians and to represent all the Palestinians, including the refugees. And the refugees have to be part of this negotiation and the solution. They cannot be excluded. They are not pawns.

Now, we understand that there are political problems and difficulties in different countries, but that doesn't mean that the Palestinian refugees are (game?) and it doesn't mean that bilateral agreements with Israel, with any host country -- be it Jordan, be it Syria, be it Lebanon -- would be acceptable to us.

The refugee question has to be solved in total as a central issue of solving the Palestinian question based on the implementation of international law, and in particular U.N. Resolution 194, and then there will be a real solution. But no single country can negotiate the nationality, the plight, the residency and the rights of the refugees it hosts. And until we do that, we urge all host countries to treat the Palestinian refugees with the dignity, the consideration and the legal rights and human rights that they deserve.

That's why it's become very, very urgent. This fragmentation of the Arab position will be to the detriment of everybody. And I believe it's the Palestinians who will have to take the initiative, but we have to have a receptive Arab world in order to coordinate that. We understood that Jordan, for example -- there were talks about compensation of Jordan for hosting refugees, and there were talks about future compensation for Jordan for absorbing refugees or integrating the Palestinians in Jordan.

Now, such talk at this time would be extremely dangerous. This cannot be done, as I said, separately. The refugees are not just populations in each country. They are a serious not just demographic but political issue, and they affect directly the stability of the region and the security of the whole region, because they're not going to disappear. And if there is an abstract decision taken by big powers that the refugees will be absorbed wherever they were, it doesn't mean that that decision can be resolved -- or can be implemented, sorry. And it doesn't mean that the Palestinian refugees will accept it. And I cannot separate the Palestinian refugees from the rest of the Palestinians who are not refugees. Again, as they are two-thirds of the Palestinian people, you have a total consensus among the Palestinians that this is the cause of the Palestinian condition.

Q My name is Khalid Jhashan. I'm with N-triple-A-ADC. I'd like to commend CPRR for undertaking this worthy campaign that fills a huge vacuum in the continuing struggle of the Palestinians to achieve justice and lasting peace. My question is actually addressed to Francis with regards to the legal background of this issue. You mentioned two precedents with regard to this case. You forgot to mention possibly a third one. Would you care to comment on the recent proactive role that the U.S. administration has taken in securing compensation for victims of the Holocaust and making several countries in Europe pay for their sins of the past, if you will? Is this applicable? Is this also a third kind of precedent that might be applicable to the case of the Palestinians?

MR. BOYLE: It is a precedent, yes, although in the case of the Palestinians, of course, we want them all to go home, whereas many of these Jewish refugees from the Nazi Holocaust have decided voluntarily to settle in other countries. And I can certainly understand why Jewish refugees from the Nazi Holocaust would not want to go back to Germany or Austria or whatever.

But the critical point to keep in mind under Resolution 194, this is an individual right that each Palestinian refugee has. Do they want to go back to their home or, like the Jewish refugees from the Nazi Holocaust, do they want to stay where they are and accept reparations for the property and other things that have been taken from them? So it is a precedent in the sense of the either/or of Resolution 194, yes.

Q My name is -- (inaudible). The (arguments?) of time so many times are thrown back in our faces when we discuss the aspects of return of refugees -- (inaudible). How do you -- (inaudible)?

MS. ASHRAWI: Well, since, by international law -- and I'm sure Francis can answer that better -- war crimes are not subject to -- what do they call it when....

MR. BOYLE: Statute of limitations.

MS. ASHRAWI: Yes, statute of limitations. And I believe what happened to Palestinians is a form of ethnic cleansing, which is a war crime par excellence. And the right of Palestinian refugees has never been relinquished in any way or modified, because 194 has been affirmed annually in the U.N. by member states, and then it has become even more pressing.

So the fact that suffering has been extended over such a long period of time doesn't mean that now we will modify or relinquish those rights that they have because they've suffered longer than other refugees. It's the fault of the international community that Israel was not made to comply with the law, was not made to implement U.N. resolutions. But to make the Palestinians pay the price again because Israel did not comply would be another serious mistake.

And I believe the question of time can be answered not just in legal terms and in human rights terms, but also can be answered in terms of political necessity if there is to be peace. The Palestinians, who have long been waiting for their right to return to their homes, should have that right not just acknowledged, but should be made possible to exercise.

Now, if you want to start discussing the implementation, if your home has been demolished, your village razed and obliterated from existence and so on, it doesn't mean that you don't want to go back. You may want to go back, but you will also have to have compensation and you will have to be repatriated and compensated for your loss for the use of your land that others have used, for the disruption in your life, as well as for the property itself.

So it's not an impossible issue. And I think, using the yardstick that this is sensitive for Israel or that this will upset the demographic balance in Israel or this will not be in conformity with Zionism, we as Palestinians do not view our job to safeguard Zionism. It is our job to safeguard our rights.

Q (Off mike.)

MS. ASHRAWI: Yes. Well, I have with me here the documents pertaining to the refugee question, both in negotiating talks and strategic documents from the Palestinian negotiation affairs department. And it's not the Palestinian Authority that's negotiating; it's the PLO that is negotiating. There is a consensus among all Palestinians, which is an issue not subject to manipulation by a government, to say, "I have the right or I have been given the mandate to undermine or modify the rights of Palestinian refugees." Therefore, this consensus exists at the public level, at the popular level, at the official level.

I was telling friends here that we have meetings almost every day, at least once a week, public meetings, discussions, seminars -- (inaudible) -- specialized talks, expert papers and so on, on permanent status issues, and in particular on the refugees. And there is a strong drive and will among the people that this issue has to be resolved by implementing 194 and that nobody has the right to abandon 194 or to find alternative solutions.

And I think the PLO is quite aware that this is one area that we cannot in any way give concessions or abandon rights and stay in power as a representative of the Palestinian people as a whole, because if you have the majority of the people who are sending you a very clear message and who have taken a very clear, decisive, firm stance on this issue, your legitimacy, your legality would be in serious doubt if you stopped representing those people.

So the legality and the legitimacy of any representative authority has to come from the people, and this is the people's position. And no leadership, PLO or otherwise, can change that. And I believe firmly, from all the people I've talked to -- and I am in touch daily with them -- that there is no inclination to attempt to sell short the Palestinian right of return.

MR. BOYLE: I do want to emphasize for the news media the one point Dr. Ashrawi made. The Palestinian Authority does not have any legal right to represent the Palestinian people as a whole for any reason whatsoever. That authority is in the hands of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which has an executive committee that currently serves as the provisional government of the state of Palestine.

The state of Palestine today now has a de jure diplomatic recognition by about 127 or 128 states. That's more than have diplomatic recognition, the last time I looked, with Israel. That's de jure diplomatic recognition as a state. They also now have the state of Palestine de facto membership at the United Nations organization. We would have de jure U.N. membership at the United Nations organization if not for the clearly illegal threat of a veto by the United States government.

We have de facto recognition as a state by most of Europe. And the only thing that has kept Europe from recognizing the Palestinian state de jure has been massive pressure applied by the United States government. Now, last spring the European Union adopted a position that they are prepared to give de jure recognition to the Palestinian state within a year. And I believe that this will come to pass.

And certainly I believe that Palestine will be admitted de jure to the United Nations organization. It's only fair under Resolution 181 -- one state for the Jewish people, one state for the Palestinian people, U.N. membership for Israel, U.N. membership for Palestine. It is inevitable. It will happen. The longer it takes, the more difficult negotiating peace will be.

But again, the critical point to keep in mind is that the Palestinian Authority does not have the right to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian people. That's in the PLO, its executive committee. And the PLO represents all the Palestinian people, not just those living in occupied Palestine.

Another question, please. Yes.

Q (Off mike.)

MR. BOYLE: All I can say is this to the Israeli people and their supporters here in the United States. it was my job, as the legal adviser to the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace negotiations -- my instructions were to figure out a way to do this in good faith. My client is the Palestinian people, all of them. But, of course, in doing this, I had to take into account the reasonable good-faith expectations of the Israeli people for peace with justice. I can assure you the will is there on the part of the Palestinian people and the Palestinian leadership for peace with justice. But there will be no peace if the United States and the Israeli government attempt to impose a Bantustan on the Palestinian people. It will not happen.

Hanan, why don't you make the final conclusion? We're about out of time.

MS. ASHRAWI: Okay. To respond to that question, I think the PLO has always been a sort of national representative body, because in a sense it represented Palestinians everywhere, not just in one location. The Palestinian National Authority represents the Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza, where we had direct elections. But it emerged from the interim phase agreements. So we say that the PNA is temporary for part of the people or part of the land for some of the time, until we end up with statehood.

And now what we have to do is really work on embodying statehood in Palestine, and that's another issue which takes a long time to respond. And I think this year, we will see the Palestinian state officially sort of being declared and accepted. The important thing is to make sure that we have the constitution and the institutions of state and the separation of powers and the democratic principles implemented, as well as the sovereignty over all of the territories occupied in '67. That's the real question, because Israel wants to dictate its own terms on what the Palestinian state should be, its territorial domain, as well as the degree of sovereignty or control.

As far as Israeli public opinion is concerned, of course you don't have a consensus and of course you have many opinions. And I think it's split down the middle. There are many anti-peace forces in Israel. There are extreme fundamentalist elements in Israel who think that they have the power of life and death over the Palestinians and should continue to do that. It's these forces who assassinated Rabin, these forces who assassinated many others, the many massacres of Palestinians killed daily by people who don't react to them with the sort of tragic dimension that accompanies the killing of an Israeli because of this double-standard assessment of human life, and, of course, the desensitization and inurement when it comes to Palestinian life and rights.

What has to be done is to form a force for peace in Israel by having a public discourse and strategy and policy that would validate peace, that would not, on the one hand, maintain the mentality of the occupier and the racist mentality of control and domination, and at the same time claim that they want to make peace and then try to distort the peace process to fit conditions of occupation or conditions of control. This isn't going to happen.

So while we have contributed to the formation of an Israeli public opinion towards a peace strategy or a peace movement and we have been in dialogue for a long time, at the same time there is a tremendous gap between the decision-making, on the one hand, and public opinion on the other. And there are serious internal fragmentations within Israeli public opinion.

To influence public opinion, you have to have the courage and the openness to clearly state, as an Israeli leadership, what is needed to make peace. You cannot, as they say, have your cake and eat it, too. You have to state clearly that all territory occupied in '67 has to be restored to its owners, that the substantive issues on permanent status agenda have to be resolved on the basis of legality, foremost among which is the right of return, and you have to be truthful with your constituency. You cannot mislead them into peace.

And that is one of the serious shortcomings of the Israeli leadership. There is a crisis in leadership, and generally we find that both parties in Israeli, both main parties -- there are many other parties -- generally are competing on the terrain of extremism rather than on the language of peace.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Associated Press article: "Palestinians Push for Compensation"

March 3, 2000

Filed at 4:40 p.m. EST

By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Taking a page from their long-time enemies, a group of Palestinians is thinking about using the courts to get compensation for homes, farms and other property seized during establishment of the Israeli state decades ago.

Just as Jewish groups worked to win compensation from Germany for holocaust victims, the newly formed Council for Palestinian Restitution and Repatriation is studying ways to win repatriation or compensation for an estimated 5 million Palestinian refugees and displaced persons throughout the world.

Repatriation is the "most important human right of the Palestinian people who were dispossessed, forcibly expelled from their homes in 1948," the group's chairwoman, Maysam Faruqi, said at a press conference Friday.

"... Therefore a just peace will not take place unless that right is achieved an fulfilled."

Hanan Ashrawi, former Palestinian spokeswoman, then education minister, is an advisor to the new Washington-based group, which includes educators, lawyers and other professionals.

The key speaker at the press conference, Ashrawi said Israelis must also acknowledge the suffering caused Palestinians during establishment of their nation.

"What we need is first of all a genuine recognition and admission of guilt and culpability by Israel and the real authentic narrative of the Palestinians' (suffering) to come out, to be acknowledged, to be recognized," she said.

"There was a systematic dispersion of a whole nation and a denial ... of their right to their own identify ... right to their own history, a right to their own homes and land," Ashrawi said in "what probably would be called nowadays ethnic cleansing."

Ashrawi followed to the podium Jawdat Hindi, a retired school teacher who said he witnessed a massacre in his village of Tantura as a teenager, when he and his relatives were taken from their home in 1948 and sent to a prisoner of war camp by soldiers.

The 74-year-old Hindi of Raleigh, N.C., said he later lived in Jordan and Kuwait before coming to the United States in 1988 and becoming a U.S. citizen. He said he can visit his hometown as a U.S. citizen, but not as a Palestinian.

Ashrawi said "human narratives" like Hindi's must be told to a world that has long ignored or denied Palestinian suffering.

"There are many people who don't want the story to come out ... they don't want to have reality intrude on the myth and the image and the legend of the heroic creation of the State of Israel," she said.

"If the victims cannot speak out and if we cannot deal with these issues and we cannot resolve them, there can be no peace."

The question of Palestinian refugees -- living mostly in occupied territories and neighboring Arab states -- has become one of the thorniest issues in Palestinian-Israeli peace talks and must be addressed by final peace treaty due in September.

Palestinians say they have a right to return. Israel has said it would allow people to go back to areas they left in 1967 -- roughly areas which are to be returned to Palestinians in the peace deal. But those who left land in 1948 that is now in Israel would not be allowed, Israel has said, while indicating it would agree to some compensation to them.

Sunday, March 5 2000
15:35 28 Adar I 5760

Jerusalem Post article: "Refugee issue threatens Israel's UN standing, says PA adviser"
By Janine Zacharia

WASHINGTON (March 5) - Prime Minister Ehud Barak's pledge that no Palestinian refugees will be permitted to return to their homes inside Israel under a final settlement is a violation of UN law and could threaten Israel's membership in the world body, according to a Palestinian legal adviser.

"If Prime Minister Barak is going to deny the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their home, he will abrogate and violate one of the most important conditions for Israel's admission to the United Nations," Francis Boyle, legal adviser to the Palestinians during past Middle East negotiations, told a press conference organized by the Council for Palestinian Restitution and Repatriation in Washington on Friday.

"And this could produce the most severe consequences for Israel. They could be suspended from participation in the United Nations by the General Assembly," added Boyle, who is affiliated with the University of Illinois.

Boyle said that as a condition for admission into the UN in 1949, Israel agreed to accept UN Resolution 194 that says Palestinians should be allowed to return to their homes if they wish or receive adequate financial compensation if they choose to remain elsewhere.

An Israeli Embassy spokesman in Washington discounted Boyle's notion that Israel's position vis-8ˆ-vis refugees would affect its UN membership.

"The issue of the Palestinian refugees is on the agenda for the final-status talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and it will hopefully reach an agreed solution. Israel, of course, rejects the wholesale return of refugees to Israel," said spokesman Mark Regev.

Hanan Ashrawi, a former PA spokeswoman and minister who now heads a human-rights organization in the West Bank, lashed out at Israel and the US for trying to coerce Palestinian refugees into rejecting their right of return.

"We are witnessing attempts - Israeli and American - to sort of make temporary transitional arrangements as the terms of reference for any solution, and thereby to bring the Palestinians to relinquish those rights which were guaranteed to them by law, and foremost of which is the right of return," Ashrawi said.

"We are not going to relinquish our right of return," she added, calling the US and Israeli efforts a "distortion of the law." Yet Ashrawi said that compensation would also have to be a considered option.

With even harsher criticism, Ashrawi accused Israel of being more of a rogue state than either Iraq or Iran. "If Israel continues to be above the law and immune from accountability, then we certainly don't want such a rogue state as a neighbor. It is not Iraq or Iran. We believe that the real rogue state in the region is another 'I' - Israel," she said. Boyle said Jewish demands for property restitution in Europe were a model for the Palestinian cause. More than four million Palestinian refugees are dispersed throughout the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring Arab countries. The refugees are part of final-status negotiations aimed at achieving a permanent solution by September. The talks have been stalled for three weeks.

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