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Al-Nakba Day - Palestinian human rights a global priority

Lee Rhiannon 16 May 2011

Imagine your home is invaded, you are forced to flee your land and live in a tent as a refugee and that is where you raise your family.

Last month I met a young Palestinian woman who described to me how this had happened to her father 63 years ago.

It was 15 May 1948, a date commemorated by Palestinians as Al-Nakba Day. It means “day of the catastrophe”.

For Israel, this year  marks the 63rd anniversary of its birth as a nation state.

Three-quarters of a million Palestinians became refugees as they fled the fighting or were forced from their homes in the 1948 conflict that followed the creation of the Jewish State. More than 500 Palestinian villages were destroyed. Former Arabic village and road names were Hebrewized. Some ancient mosques and Christian churches were destroyed. Olive and orange trees were razed to the ground and many traces of Palestinian life removed.

Some Israeli historians and observers have called this ethnic cleansing.

The young Palestinian woman who told me what happened to her father in 1948 described the immense sadness he still suffers for not being able to return to Palestine – his birth country. Her 72-year-old father (who lives in Australia) like millions of other Palestinians waits for the day that he can return to his village, his history and dreams.

I have been told that many Palestinians still hold the keys to their homes as a symbol of their long- hoped for return.

In 2005 there was a worldwide Palestinian population of 10.7 million, of which an estimated 7.2 million, approximately 70 per cent, are refugees. They constitute the world’s largest refugee population and have been refugees for the longest period. Since 1948 there have been three generations of refugees. Many still live in camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza Strip).

Photo taken at the Baqa’a camp - home to over 140 000 refugees in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. It is one of ten official Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan.   Jordan itself has over 320 000 Palestinians living as refugees, after fleeing the violence of the 1948 and 1967 Arab-Israeli wars. It is the only country that gives citizenship to Palestinians.

Of all the refugee camps – Gaza Strip with 1.5 million Palestinians – is probably the most devastating. UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron has described Gaza as a prison camp. Amnesty has called the Gaza Blockade – ‘collective punishment’.

70 per cent of Gaza's children are refugees - 588,000 out of a population of 840,000. The latest report by the United Nations – Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs occupied Palestinian territory - found that the supposed easing of the blockade by Israel since June 2010 has done little to improve people’s livelihoods. The daily suffering continues as health conditions deteriorate alarmingly.

Successive Israeli governments have designed a system of fragmentation to pull apart the Palestinian social  fabric. Despite the physical barriers, walls, checkpoints and the impossible permit system that aims to divide and confine the Palestinian people, Palestinians have maintained their dignity and hope.

As reflected in numerous United Nations resolutions there is broad recognition that the human rights of Palestinians must be restored.

I could not find any statement from Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd on Al-Nakba Day. If our former prime minister wants to lift his international profile he would be wise to follow the lead of many European countries that are increasingly backing calls for human rights for Palestinians and not voting with the Israel, USA and Australia block at the United Nations when resolutions on this issue are debated.

Come on Mr Rudd show some independence and leadership on one of the most critical human rights issues of our time.

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