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Nov 2001 • Vol 1, No. 6 •

Open letter to President Arafat from Dr. Salman Abu Sitta

Dr. Salman Abu Sitta is a former member of the Palestine National Council.
He is an author and a researcher on refugee affairs.

October 20, 2001

His Excellency Brother President
Yasser Arafat
President of the State of Palestine

Asalaamu Alaykum wa Rahmatullah,

You have spent your entire life defending the rights of the Palestinian people. I have been a witness of this ever since I met you as a student at the University of Cairo, when we, a small group of Palestinian students, gathered in Egypt after we were cut off from our homes and suddenly became refugees without a country and official identity in 1948. Since that time, you promised us to struggle relentlessly and uncompromisingly for our right to return to our homes and country; a right that has today become a slogan among our people and known as the right of return sacred, legal and obligatory.

Towards this end, secret struggle was started in Gaza in the 1950s and because of it you assumed the leadership of the Palestinian Liberation Organization in the 1960s and the Palestinian resistance movement in the 1970s. And on account of it, you urged the United Nations in 1974, with an olive branch in one hand and a gun in the other, to support the right of return with no prevarication. Thus, UN Resolution Number 3236, which was adopted on 22nd November 1974 “reaffirms also the inalienable right of the Palestinians to return to their homes and property from which they have been displaced and uprooted, and calls for their return.” Indeed, the same Resolution “further recognizes the right of the Palestinian people to regain its rights by all means in accordance with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations” and not by speeches in international gatherings only.

After the invasion of Lebanon, the sojourn in Tunisia, and Oslo disaster, you returned from the last Camp David talks and were welcomed by our people with great honor because you stood firm in the face of immense pressure and refused to compromise the right of return, the basic and fundamental right; and core of our conflict with Zionism for the past fifty years after the Nakba Catastrophe.

It goes without saying that the right of return is a sacred and inalienable right that cannot be extinguished with the passage of time nor by any political agreement. It is an individual and collective right and no one has the right to surrender it under any circumstances. This is what the child stone-throwers, the elderly in the camps, the diplomat in the UN, and the legal experts in the international arena all acknowledge.

This right is denied by Zionism because it is established with the aim of ending the Palestinian existence in Palestine through the largest ethnic cleansing operation in modern history. It is renounced by a small group of dissidents and turncoats among us, on the premise that return is impossible and impractical, as if our right to our homes is dependent upon the pleasure of the usurper himself and subject to the existence of an unwanted enclave in our land.

Although this argument is illegal and immoral, our studies have proven clearly before foreign parliamentarians and researchers in strategic studies that return is possible in every sphere; geographic, demographic, agricultural, economic, and construction; except in a small area that does not affect more than three percent of the refugees. Yet, this return is denied by Israel through the enforcement of 24 racist laws, which Israel has enacted and has been condemned by the international community.

But if we were to ignore a renegade view here and there while being assured that 98 percent of our people, according to the latest survey, reaffirmed their adherence to their right of return; we cannot by any circumstance ignore the renegade views of an official in the Palestinian Authority, assumed by the public, though denied by himself, to represent the view of the Authority.

On 17th October 2001 the New York Times published an article stating that Dr. Sari Nusseibeh, whom you recently appointed as the successor of the late Faisal Husayni, delivered a speech at the Hebrew University saying “that there could be no peace and a Palestinian state could only be reached if the Palestinians abandon a longstanding demand (not their right) to return to their homes.” And that the Intifadah was a convulsion more than an organized revolt “hopelessly mired in bloodshed”—aimless, and sowing confusion among Palestinians and not a popular revolution.

Should this report be confirmed, its view does not represent us nor does it speak on our behalf. Though the person who uttered it is free to speak in an individual capacity, he is not free to say this as an official. Hence we disassociate ourselves from his statement. This was declared by more than 200 associations that seek to defend the right of return in Palestine and all over the world. Had he delivered that speech in Arabic in any of the camps the response of the refugees toward him would have been be quick and decisive.

Therefore, I have no doubt, your Excellency Mr. President, that you would do what you deem appropriate, without delay, in the interest of your long history and determined struggle in defense of our rights to return, whether the adversary is near or far.

I extend greetings and utmost respect.
Salman Abu Sitta





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