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The return of Palestinian refugees

The return of Palestinian refugees

Published: October 21, 2013

Quakers distribute blankets to Palestinian refugees in Gaza, 1948.

Photo: AFSC

In the Palestinian Nakba of 1948, hundreds of Palestinian villages were depopulated and razed off the map by the Israeli forces, creating one of the worst refugee crises of the century.

Today, many of the sites no longer exist, but traces of the past can be seen at times across a deserted landscape—namely a cactus tree here, or ruins of a church or a mosque there.

Zochrot, an Israeli nonprofit organization that educates the Jewish-Israeli public about the Palestinian Nakba, recently organized a conference that tried to imagine a future where the return of refugees would be a reality.

The conference was held at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv, built on the lands of the Palestinian village of Al-Shaykh Muwannis that was destroyed in 1948.

Around the theme “From truth to redress,” 35 presenters—academics and activists from Palestine/Israel, Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Serbia, and Poland—tackled the various concepts and ideas for realizing the return of Palestinian refugees to their homeland and its spatial implications. With hundreds of participants, they addressed the Israeli conscience on the injustice that occurred.

Third and fourth generation Palestinian refugees talked about how they dreamed, planned, and are studying the reconstruction of their villages of origin.

Academics also tackled the problems of education for a culture of return. Other presenters talked about the approaches and strategies needed to achieve justice and return.

As a co-sponsor of the event, AFSC feels it is important to share a statement made by a member of the audience, Sinai Peter, a director and drama teacher from Israel:

"I was present in one of the two days of the conference. I was a curious, challenged and engaged observer. I was impressed by the fact that such a conference took place, if you will—against all attempts to bring to a cancellation of it. In the heart of "Eretz Israel Museum", founded by Rehavam Ze'evi, it took place very quietly and orderly, in three languages with simultaneous translation. The average age of the speakers (women and men, Jews and Arabs—almost equally) was around 30. It's been a long time since I heard a discourse like in that day at the conference—intelligent, refreshing, with quite a lot of optimism and constrictive spirit. Jurists, architects, activists, artists—all took part in planning the layout and characteristics of the villages that (might) come back to life. An actual mirror reflection of the "exemplary society" that was planned by the Zionist elite in east Europe in the end of the 19th century.

"Strange thing—imagining the return of the refugees. Far from the political, concrete situation. Speaking, planning, walking seriously towards making the dream come true. But who will lead this move into the truly-frightened consciousness of the Jewish majority? And how can the return be possible before pacification of the conflict? I was left with questions. But then again, when was the last time that we came out of a conference so challenged and full of questions?"

Zochrot will continue to promote awareness on the right of return of Palestinian refugees, and given AFSC’s principles for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East, including the right of return of Palestinian refugees and the right of self-determination to both people, AFSC will continue to work hand in hand with this strategic partner.

For more on the Israel-Palestine Program, please contact: Ilona Kassissieh at