Anatomy of the Nakba: The right of return

In the Jalazoun Refugee Camp, Palestinians residents are struggling to survive and yet dreaming of getting back to their home.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

On May 15 of every year, Palestinians mark "Nakba Day" – when the state of Israel was founded in 1948 – to reaffirm their right of return to the lands from which their ancestors were forcibly displaced. The commemorations during that day often shed light on the stories of Palestinians who had to flee or were expelled from their homes, heading to neighboring countries such as Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

Yet, the Nakba produced a great deal of internally displaced people inside of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs). The Jalazoun Refugee Camp is a great reminder of how the history of displacement and dispossession is lived as much outside as it is inside the OPTs.

Situated just right outside the temporary capital of Palestinians in the West Bank; Ramallah, the Jalazoun refugee camp is as old as the Nakba today.

It is home to over 11,000 registered Palestinians from 36 displaced Palestinian villages in Lid and Ramla areas. It was one of the first camps built for internally displaced Palestinians in 1948.

Space is limited, water doesn't run, men cannot find jobs and children do not have a safe place to play.

Two elderly sisters Fatima (69) and Khadija (65) reside in a destitute house with only very few furniture and vessels. The house has no electricity, no water and no roof. It is covered by a tarpaulin and stones to prevent the wind from having it blown away.

They look up and Fatima says: “This is not our home. We will get our home.”


Sixty-seven years have passed since the Palestinian Nakba and the forced eviction of more than 700,000 Palestinians from their ancestral homes and villages.

Yet, the only UN resolution granting these Palestinians the right to return to their homes and villages continues to be mere ink on paper.

On Dec. 11, 1948, the UN General Assembly issued Resolution 194. Thirty-five UN member states approved the resolution, 15 rejected it and eight abstained from voting. The resolution sent a ray of hope to Palestinians forcibly evicted from their villages after the creation of the state of Israel.

Article 11 of the resolution says that refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date. It adds that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the government or authorities responsible.

This means that Resolution 194 directly recognized the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and villages, deeming this an important principle of international law. It also gave refugees the freedom to choose whether or not to stay where they were or return to Palestine.

Today, according to UNRWA, there are 5,094,886 registered Palestinian refugees residing inside and outside the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In fact, internally displaced people, like the resident of Jalazoun, account for 2,020,847 of the total number. They are dispersed in Gaza, in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.

Refugee camps inside of the OPTs, such as Jalazoun, are a reminder that the refugee question of Palestinians is not limited to families that left to neighboring countries, that indeed statelessness produced by the Israeli occupation is a symptom suffered by all Palestinians, inside and outside Israel’s voluntarily undefined borders.

The right of return is a fundamental demand in the quest for justice for the Palestinian people.

But as the Jalazoun camp testifies, families that are in the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip also await their return to what they call their home.