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Nakba Day: Amnesty slams Israel's 'flagrant' refusal of Palestinian right of return

More than 700,000 Palestinians were forced out of their homes in 1948 [NurPhoto]

Date of publication: 15 May, 2019

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Amnesty International slammed Israel's refusal to recognise the Palestinian right of return for more than 5.2 million refugees as a 'flagrant violation of international law'.
Israel's failure to make good on the right of return for the more than 700,000 Palestinians expelled from their homes 71 years ago and their descendants  is a "flagrant violation of international law" which has fuelled the decades-long suffering of Palestinian refugees, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.

The human rights organisation described the condition of Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan and Lebanon as a "living hell" in a statement published on the 71st anniversary of the Nakba.

The Nakba, or "catastrophe" in Arabic, is commemorated yearly on 15 May - the date when Israel declared itself an independent nation state in 1948, leading to the displacement of thousands and the subsequent occupations of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

"This weekend almost 200 million people will tune in to watch the Eurovision song contest in Israel, but, behind the glitz and glamour, few will be thinking of Israel's role in fuelling seven decades of misery for Palestinian refugees," said Philip Luther, Amnesty's Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

After Israeli singer Netta Barzilai won the 2018 Eurovision contest in Portugal, Palestinians and allies pledged to boycott the 2019 contest over the occupation of Palestine.

But efforts by activists calling for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) of Israel have failed to move the competition.

"More than 70 years after the conflict that followed Israel's creation, the Palestinian refugees who were forced out of their homes and dispossessed of their land as a result continue to face the devastating consequences," he explained. "There can be no lasting solution to the Palestinian refugee crisis until Israel respects Palestinian refugees' right to return."

Read more: Nakba: Seven decades on, Palestinian elders hope to return back to their stolen homeland

Amnesty has called on citizens worldwide to "show solidarity" with Palestinian refugees and calls on Israel to respect their right of return.

The human rights organisation also urged Jordan and Lebanon, where the majority of Palestinian refugees who were forced from their homes in 1948 and 1967 fled, to improve conditions and minimise their "suffering".

There are more than 5.2 million registered Palestinian refugees, the majority of whom live in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

They are "trapped in a cycle of deprivation and systematic discrimination with no end in sight", said Luther, calling on Lebanon and Jordan to end "discriminatory laws" and remove barriers to employment and access to essential public services for Palestinian refugees.

Seventy years of suffocation

Amnesty on Tuesday inaugurated its own website commemorating the Nakba under the title "Seventy+ Years of Suffocation", on which the human rights organisations has collected tens of testimonies from Palestinian refugees in Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan.

In the testimonies, Palestinian refugees recall attacks by Israeli soldiers on protests and refugee camps, and poverty, statelessness and limited access to education and healthcare in Jordan and Lebanon.

In Lebanon, Palestinians are blocked from working in 39 fields, including medicine, law and engineering.

"My mother told me I can't be a doctor because I am Palestinian. But I want to study medicine despite the Lebanese law," said Sara Akram Abu Shaker, a 14-year-old Palestinian refugee in Lebanon.

"Even if I can't be a doctor here, I could go to Palestine and help those in need particularly the underprivileged children. I want to save lives, I want to be like Razan al-Najjar."

Najjar was a 21-year-old Palestinian paramedic killed by Israeli forces during a Great Return March along the border between the besieged Gaza Strip and Israel last year.

Palestinians are also denied access to work in certain fields in Jordan.

Those who fled to Jordan from the Gaza Strip remain stateless and are routinely denied access to basic services.

"I have no health insurance and they can lay me off at any moment," said Sara, whose parents fled to Jordan following the 1967 war.

When her son developed a whooping cough, doctors at a local hospital refused to admit him as he was not a Jordanian citizen.

"He couldn't breathe. I took him again to the hospital but this time with the birth certificate of the son of my Jordanian friend," she said. "In no time, my child was admitted to the hospital for treatment."

In Aida refugee camp near Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, Amnesty spoke to Abdel Majid Abu Srour, an 85-year-old refugee who fled his home near Jerusalem in 1948, never to return again.

Abdel Majid fell onto the ground in December 2017 when Israeli forces fired tear gas in an attempt to disperse a nearby protest against US President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

"I lost consciousness for 15 minutes. I said a death prayer because I thought I was going to die," he said.

"Nothing is shocking to me anymore."

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