It has been fifty-two years since the displacement of nearly a million Palestinians from their homeland. Now their numbers are estimated at 4 million, scattered in many countries near and far, living mainly in refugee camps. As if surviving some of the worst living conditions is not enough torment, Palestinian refugees remain a target for outside parties, besides Israel. The unmistakable animosity directed at refugees and refugee camps by their "host countries" reflects the lack of true solidarity toward the Palestinian plight. A fourth generation of children is now blooming in the refugee camps. However, the camps have never been called home, for they simply do not feel like home.
Two forces have served to keep the right of return a priority for most Palestinian refugees, especially those crowding many refugee camps in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and even Palestine. One factor is the legitimacy of such a right. United Nations resolution 194 which affirmed the right of return and or compensation, has been reaffirmed 110 times since its authorization in 1948, and has left little doubt regarding the legal rights of such a demand. This factor was of course in addition to most Palestinian refugees rooted belief of the immanent return.
Yet, moreover, other reasons have contributed to the Palestinian refugees' perception of Palestine as the "El Dorado" of their time. The hardship which most Palestinians in Diaspora have endured, mainly by those who were naturally assumed to be the defenders of the just Palestinian cause was a convincing reason to reinforce the need for return, time and again.
And now while the fate of the refugees is considered one of several controversial topics on the final status negotiations agenda, many organizations and individuals including Palestinians, are accelerating their efforts to ensure that the era of the refugee camps is itself coming to a close. But not all of those concerned with the return of refugees are motivated by the implementation of international law, the moral and the historical rights of Palestinians in Palestine.
In the past as well as the present, Palestinian refugees have been used as a political tool, to prove a point, to express a grievance, or for vengeful purposes. The mid 1990's mass deportation of thousands of Palestinians from Libya, the earlier black Sunday massacres in Palestinian refugees camps in Jordan and the similar massacres, and the denial of civil rights in Lebanon are all lively examples of the lack of true hospitality toward displaced Palestinians. Once you consider the Israeli military's ceaseless aggressions throughout the years against refugees, a clearer picture is likely to emerge that although the right of return may have seemed unattainable, it remained the only option for 4 million displaced Palestinians who dared not forget.
The awaited return which succeeded to survive as a dream, failed to manifest as an actual reality. The Palestinian Authority's (PA) failure to play the role of an equal peace partner with Israel, made it evident that the refugee issue will be just another lost battle in the ongoing, little rewarding peace talks. As the certainty of the refugees' right of return deteriorated, fear swelled among those whose futures were at stake. A growing sense of alarm also increased among those "host countries" who have little interest in accommodating them.
The recent mortar shell attacks on a peaceful Palestinian neighborhood in Baghdad introduced a new phenomena of anti refugee sentiment. The attacks which cost the residents of the area 4 deaths and dozens of injuries are explained by observers as warming signals to those who would dare to settle Palestinian refugees in Iraq. Rumors which spread in the last a few months spoke of a secret negotiations aimed at removing the Iraqi sanctions in exchange for Iraq hosting to approximately 2 million Palestinian refugees. Some describe that a violent rejection of the deal, is a reflection of Iraq's religious and ethnic minorities' fear of the imbalance that such a settlement would bring about. It is the same fear of disproportion that is causing many Lebanese groups to reject similar deals.
Fifty two years after the expulsion of the Palestinian people, refugee camps remain standing and as well as the refugees themselves. Ceaseless attempts were used to undermine their relationship with Palestine and their significance as a determining factor in the quickly emerging new reality in the Middle East. It is likely that such attempts will not only cultivate failure, but will also inflict more harm on those who are already struggling for an identity and a place to call home, the refugees. Continuing to undermine the relevance the attainment of true peace is indeed nave and lacks any understanding of past lessons. Lasting peace is unlikely to last without a just solution of the refugee problem; a solution that is, which stems from United Nation resolution 194, which calls for both the right of return and or reparation for 52 years of losses.