We will never give up our right to return
2018-10-01 12:49:23 -
Opinion
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By Mohammed Samaana

 

After US president Donald Trump’s shameful displays of racism, sexism and Islamophobia in his own country, he came for me personally.

As the son of a Palestinian father who was ethnically cleansed from the Mediterranean town of Yafa – Jaffa in English, and renowned for its oranges, but now part of Tel Aviv – after the creation of Israel in 1948, I would be considered by the United Nations Relief and Working Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) as a refugee by descent.

This means that although I was born in the West Bank, I’m still entitled to return to Yafa despite my father’s death. Israel, however, denies all Palestinian refugees this right, leaving most of them living in impoverished conditions in refugee camps.

The UNRWA provides services for about 5.9 million refugees. The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, however, estimates that there are 7.2 million in total, accounting for about a third of the world refugee population. They are also the largest and longest suffering refugee group.

Now it appears Trump’s administration is redefining who can be considered a Palestinian refugee. The new definition will include only those who were expelled from their homes by Israel in 1948 and 1967, without considering their children as refugees. In other words, if someone steals someone’s else house and forces him out and the original owner dies, according to Trump the children of the original owner have no right to their father’s house, and the thief is entitled to live in it and claim its ownership.

This came 25 years after the signing of the Oslo Accord between the PLO and Israel, which was supposed to lead to the creation of a Palestinian state but left the issues of Jerusalem, refugees and illegal Israeli settlements until the final stage.

Instead, Oslo led to more land confiscation by Israel in order to build and expand its settlements on land that was supposed to be part of the Palestinian state. It also led to imposing a blockade on Gaza, building a wall around the West Bank, and the deaths of thousands of innocent people, including children, not to mention suffocating the Palestinian economy with unconditional American support to Israel.

Trump followed that by stopping US donations to the UNRWA which accounted for about a quarter of its budget of $1.24bn. This is already having an impact on the UN organisation which provides health and education services for Palestinian refugees. A major employer in the refugee camps, the UNRWA has responded by cutting jobs to make savings. To compare that with US aid to Israel: despite its thriving economy, Israel is the largest recipient of US military aid of about $3.8bn annually without taking into consideration other forms of aid.

Trump confirmed what we always knew about the US policy towards Palestinians, which is based on the idea that what’s acceptable by Israel is acceptable by America. But it is certainly a defining moment which shows that US policy is based on standing by oppression and injustice. America would be more respectable if its policy were based on promoting human rights, democracy and international law.

Speaking for myself and for every Palestinian refugee, we Palestinians will continue to pass the keys of our former home from one generation to the next. We will never give up the right to return to the houses from which our parents and grandparents were expelled.

 

Mohammed Samaana is a freelance writer based in Belfast.

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