APRIL 2004

The haifa initiative - a historic event
.from Professor Ilan Pappe

In the weekend, 26-28 March, 2004 the first Right of Return conference in Israel attracted more than 300 people for two days of extensive discussions, lively debates and a series of recommendations for future activity. The participants learned about the history of the Nakbah, the international and moral legal basis of the Right of Return and of possible way of implementing it.

Throughout the day letters of support and solidarity were read from the various Palestinian refugee communities in the occupied territories, the Arab world and the Diaspora. The conference was attended by representatives from the various Palestinian communities in the country and abroad; although some of the invited guests from the occupied territories were denied entry by the Israeli authorities. They > were joined by Jews and Palestinians from Israel, who came either as individuals or representatives of NGOs.

The initiating NGOs vowed to continue the struggle for protecting the Nakbah memory against its denial in Israel and abroad, for relocating the right of return at the center of peace making in Israel and Palestine and for finding the appropriate political structure in the future that would enable the return of the refugees who had been ethnically cleansed from Palestine. The initiators and the supporting NGOs are convinced that the return is the key for a better future, not only for Palestinians and Israelis, but for the region as a whole. The rectification of the evils inflicted in the 1948 ethnic cleansing, and ever since, would allow, for the first time, citizens or returnees, to enjoy normal and peaceful life on a democratic and civic basis.

For this purpose, the conference suggested various projects such as educational workshops on the Nakbah, a Nakbah Museum and the institutionalization of a Nakbah day. It also called for a better coordination with the Right of Return organizations in the world, the advancement of practical programs for facilitating the return and an urgent research of detailed schema for a joined political structure that could contain the right of return. These and other proposals would form what can be called ‘The Haifa Initiative’.

Preparations have begun for the convention of the second Right of Return
conference in March 2005.

This was by all accounts a historical moment, the significance of which will be absorbed and recognized with time. But this conference has already refuted the claim that the unconditional support for the Palestinian refugees’ Right of Return is a taboo in Israel and a non-starter for peace negotiations for the two people.  What the hundreds of people attending the conference showed was that a growing number of Jews and Palestinians in Israel regard the implementation of the Palestinian Right of Return as the only road to a lasting peace and reconciliation in the torn land of Palestine.

Ilan Pappe

Mona Baker
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