TEL AVIV (IPS) - In a new project that has tackled one of the most divisive issues plaguing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, a diverse group of academics, architects, urban planners and Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups are examining how the right of return of Palestinian refugees can be implemented on the ground.
“Based on the right of return, we developed since 2008 a project of thinking practically about return. It’s not so much about the right itself, but more about the possibilities, once there will be the right, of how it could be implemented,” Eitan Bronstein, founder and spokesperson of Israeli organization Zochrot said.
Working to raise awareness among Israelis about the Palestinian Nakba, the forced expulsion of approximately 750,000 Palestinians before and during the foundation of the state of Israel in 1947-48, Zochrot has launched an exhibition titled “Towards Return of Palestinian refugees” in Tel Aviv.
From the re-imagined layout and step-by-step return processes for the Palestinian villages of Kufr Birim and Miska, to video testimonials from Palestinian refugees themselves, a handful of detailed models, simulations and other projects were put on display.
“We believe that if people would be exposed to such projects this would show Israelis that there are possibilities of return. None of the projects talk about expelling anyone. We’re talking about how to return, but based on the rights of people who are living here to live here, and all the refugees and their descendants to return,” Bronstein said.
“We are kind of inventing a new language that hasn’t existed until now, of thinking about the return itself and not continuing to say no, it’s not possible.”
Refugees have been left out of planning process
Palestinians constitute the largest refugee population in the world, with approximately six million refugees and their descendants scattered throughout the Middle East and around the world.
Akhram Salhab is the communications officer at Badil, the resource center for Palestinian residency and refugee rights, which organized workshops with Zochrot to develop the practicalities of return project. He stressed that any discussion about the Palestinian right of return must involve the input of the refugees themselves.
“For the past 62 years, most international initiatives related to the refugees have taken place against the will of the refugees. In all respects, the refugees have been left out of planning their own lives. For the project to be successful, it must be viewed as legitimate by them. Our key objective is to include refugees themselves in the planning process,” Salhab said.
“The project is still at the fairly early stage. I think one of the reasons for this is that the project is so unique, and we are trying to work with Palestinians and Israelis to discuss these issues. No such work has been done before.”
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