May 15, 2008 marks the 60th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, when Palestinians were forced from their homes and ethnically cleansed en masse in a premeditated and organized campaign carried out by armed Zionist militia.Historical accounts indicate that the forced migration of Palestinians from their homeland had been planned well in advance. The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 was built on the violations of the rights of the Palestinian people. After widespread massacres and killings, more than 700,000 Palestinian civilians were brutally uprooted from their homes, villages and towns, and forced to become refugees in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and surrounding Arab countries. In addition, thousands of other Palestinians were internally displaced within the land subsequently occupied by Israel.
Since the establishment of the State of Israel, and after its expansion in 1967 when it forcibly occupied the remainder of Palestinian West Bank land (including occupied East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip, Israel has relentlessly confiscated Palestinian land in order to build illegal Jewish settlements, erasing the history of Palestine in the process. Israel's campaign of "Establishing facts on the ground" has consistently forced more Palestinians into exile, and the Israeli authorities continue to seek to rid the land of its original inhabitants.
Palestinians who live in Israel continue to live as an ethnic minority in their homeland, and are subjected to systematic discrimination. As an occupying power, Israel confiscated approximately 40% of the area of the West Bank in order to house approximately 400,000 Israeli settlers, who live in the West Bank live in violation of international law. These settlers enjoy the privileges of a segregated transport system which allows them easy access to Israel via roads from which Palestinians are banned.
They also control water resources and land resources. This de facto status of apartheid has increased in the fifteen years since the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians. As opposed to creating sustainable opportunities for peace, Israel used the relative calm after the signing of the Oslo Accords to establish new facts on the ground through the expansion of existing settlements and the creation of new settlements, which subsequently impeded any progress in the peace process.
In 2002, the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) developed a new policy to enforce these facts on the ground. Israel began construction of the Annexation Wall inside the West Bank, resulting in additional land confiscation. 58% of the West Bank has now been illegally confiscated by Israel.
As a result, Palestinian population centers have been transformed into separated Bantustans. Israel has strategically destroyed any chance of the creation of a viable Palestinian state on the land it occupied in 1967.
Despite a unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Israel has continued to control the lives and movements of the entire civilian population of the Gaza Strip. Israel claims the Gaza Strip has enjoyed relative freedom since August 2005.
However the situation on the ground leaves no doubt that Israel continues to occupy the Gaza Strip both legally and militarily. Israel controls all land, sea, and air terminals and crossings into Gaza, and also continues to conduct extra-judicial executions against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, as well as conducting frequent military incursions into densely civilian areas, causing death, injuries and extensive damage to civilian property.
The anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba coincides with an unprecedented deterioration in the human rights of the Palestinian people. Israel is implementing a policy of escalation against the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).
Israel continues to conduct settlement activity in and around Jerusalem, including occupied East Jerusalem, enforcing a Jewish character upon the entire city, and continuing to isolate Palestinians from their own land. Israel is also continuing construction of the Annexation Wall, as well as expanding existing Jewish settlements.
Israel has also escalated killings and executions of Palestinians. Since the beginning of 2008, three hundred and fifty Palestinians have been killed in the OPT, including 326 people in the Gaza Strip, and 56 children.
Furthermore, Israel is tightening its siege of the Gaza Strip. Rafah International Crossing Point, has been effectively closed since June 2006, and Israel has imposed further restrictions on the civilians of the Gaza Strip since the Hamas takeover in June 2007. The humanitarian situation has continued to deteriorate for the 1.5 million civilians of Gaza.
Having declared the Gaza Strip "A hostile entity" in September 2007, Israel continues to impose additional measures of collective punishment against the civilian population.
These have included drastic cuts in essential fuel supplies, including supplies for the Strip's only power plant. These new restrictions have inflicted additional suffering on the civilian population as a result of extended power outages and a chronic lack of fuel for domestic use.
The fuel crisis threatens to unleash a humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip, and continues to seriously affect the work of hospitals, plus the delivery of safe drinking water, sewage and garbage disposal facilities and other essential services.
In addition, the 60th anniversary of the Nakba coincides with a deteriorating internal political situation in the OPT, which has also resulted in widespread human rights violations.
The deterioration has seen security chaos erupt across the OPT, whilst bloody internal clashes between Fatah and Hamas in the Gaza Strip culminated with Hamas takeover of Gaza in June 2007. This situation has caused a mass fragmentation of Palestinian political structures, especially regarding the Palestinian Authority Presidency in the West Bank, and Dismissed Government Cabinet in the Gaza Strip.
Palestinians are living under two de facto governments; one in the West Bank and another in the Gaza Strip.
This divide in the Palestinian Executive has also resulted in divides in the judiciary and the legislature. National institutions have also collapsed as each party or faction has tried to enforce its control on what it sees as its territory, and the accumulated affect has been seen in severe deterioration to civilians' freedom and basic human rights.
Hamas has cracked down on Fatah activists and institutions in the Gaza Strip; and Fatah-dominated Palestinian security forces have cracked down on Hamas members and institutions in the West Bank.
The current internal Palestinian situation threatens the Palestinian people and their demand for their own self-determination. Palestinians have endured years of catastrophes and disasters. What is vital now is unity, national and political responsibility, and especially a focus on the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and the right of return and compensation for all Palestinian refugees.
In light of this situation, PCHR:
1. Calls upon the leaders of Palestinian parties and movements, especially Fatah and Hamas, to conduct a serious and constructive dialogue to end internal Palestinian differences, and to unify the ranks in order to achieve our national goals of liberating the land, ending the occupation, and establishment of an independent state.
2. Affirms that the least expected from a Palestinian leadership divided for nearly a year is the fulfillment of Palestinian goals of ending the occupation. The only party benefiting from this split is the Israeli occupation which continues to implement its settlement project and establishes new facts on the ground every day.
3. Affirms the collective and individual right of Palestinian refugees to return to the homes and land from which they were uprooted since 1948. This right is guaranteed by International Law, is an inalienable right, and does not fall by prescription.
4. Calls upon the international community and the High Contracting Parties of the Fourth Geneva Convention to fulfill their legal and moral obligations of implementing International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law; to end the suffering of the Palestinian people, which includes guaranteeing the right of return and compensation for Palestinian refugees based on UN GA Decision 194; and to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, which is the real core of the conflict in the whole region.