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The Question of Palestine: Towards the Realization of the Inalienable Rights of a Displaced People

29 November marks the annual observance of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People or Palestine Day. It was first observed in 1977 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 32/40. The Resolution called for the creation of a Special Unit on Palestinian Rights within the Secretariat which would organize the annual observance of this day. The Unit would coordinate and consult with the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

The General Assembly created the Committee in 1976 and mandated it to realize the inalienable rights of the Palestine people, including the right to self-determination, sovereignty, independence and the right of return.

Historical context

General Assembly Resolution 181 (II) was adopted on 29 November 1947 to implement the United Nations Partition Plan with Economic Union for Palestine. The Partition Plan would see what was then ‘Mandatory Palestine’ become two independent states: an Arab state and a Jewish state, with the city of Jerusalem under a Special International Regime.

The Partition Plan was meant to address and resolve an increasingly unstable situation in Mandatory Palestine. The British Mandate of Palestine was established in 1920 under the Sykes-Picot Agreement, following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Several years earlier, the British government issued the Balfour Declaration, which proclaimed British support for “a national home for the Jewish People” in Palestine. Mandatory Palestine, whose population had been majority Arab, thus saw a rising Jewish population in subsequent years. Tensions between the two populations continued to escalate until the expiration of the Mandate in 1948.

The Partition Plan was never realized. The British Mandate expired on 14 May 1948, and the State of Israel came into existence in its place. The 1948 Arab-Israeli War began the very next day. Less than a year later, the war ended with the State of Israel taking over the majority of the area designated for the Arab state under the original Partition Plan and Jordan and Egypt taking over what remained.

Unforeseen consequences and a displaced people

The consequences of the Arab-Israeli War had a transformative, devastating and permanent impact on Palestinian society and identity. It is estimated that more than 700,000 Arabs were displaced during and after the war in what would become known as the Nakba, which, roughly translated from Arabic, means catastrophe. Following the war, these Palestinian refugees were denied the right of return to their land.

By 1967, the Six-Day War would end with Israel seizing the remaining Palestinian territories. Since then, the question of Palestine has played a significant role in international relations, but the Palestinian people have still not fully realized their inalienable rights.

In support of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people

The events of the last century led to the exodus of the majority of Palestinians from their traditional homeland. As of December 2020, there are a total of 5.6 million registered Palestinian refugees who continue to be denied the right of return to their land. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), many of them live in refugee camps where “socioeconomic conditions…are generally poor, with high population densities, cramped living conditions and inadequate basic infrastructure such as roads and sewers”.

The Palestinian people are tied together by the idea of a homeland rather than the reality of it. It has been over 70 years since the Nakba and there are now three generations of exiled Palestinians who continue to be denied their inalienable rights. Thus, to show solidarity with the Palestinian people is to support the call for a just and peaceful solution to a devastating ongoing situation which continues to displace millions of people.

For more information, see the Committee’s 2021 Annual Report.

Edited by Ali Shahrukh Pracha


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