Palestinians are deprived of a political voice, and their leaders do nothing about it

Palestinian refugees are at the core of Palestinian narratives. The international community has, however, classified Palestinian refugees as a humanitarian issue. In between these diverging depictions, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) seeks to grapple with both strands to push for “international protection” within the context of the coronavirus pandemic.

With international aid for Palestinian refugees barely enough for basic necessities and thus contributing to their increased vulnerability, the PLO has requested the UN to provide protection and financial aid for them. According to reports, “Such protection and support must continue until a solution for the issue of the refugees is found based on Resolution 194.”

The political exploitation of Palestinian refugees knows no limits. UN Resolution 194, which has been accepted blindly as the framework upon which a solution should be found, is rarely criticised for shifting accountability upon the colonised population, rather than the settler-colonial framework which usurps Palestinian territory and made Palestinians refugees in the first place. Resolution 194 is part of the international narrative on Palestine and has little to do with safeguarding the rights of refugees because it fails to call for the decolonisation of their land.

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Palestinian refugees are not allowed a political platform at an international level. Hence the constant “speaking for” refugees within a humanitarian context that in turn justifies the international community’s role in deciding how the promotion of Palestinian refugees should be carried out in order to highlight the humanitarian paradigm. Humanitarian aid is about the international community first and foremost. The recipients are forced to play a part in this charade, which ignores Israel’s colonisation of Palestine as the cause of the whole issue.

Furthermore, the PLO’s request for aid promotes the international narrative of delays. Aid must be given until a solution is found, the PLO insists, yet how much emphasis is placed upon finding and implementing that solution? The international community and the Palestinian leadership have turned Palestinian refugees into accessories for political convenience. Indeed, there is hardly any mention of Palestinian refugees unless a humanitarian context is evoked, or if the UN inaugurates a project to exploit the illusion of “Palestinian autonomy”, which is non-existent in a humanitarian context rigged with deficiencies and political allegiances to the Zionist colonial project.

So I have a suggestion: how about remembering Palestinian refugees as the most prominent victims of Zionist colonisation; as people who have been deprived of their rights by the international community which allows that colonisation to continue unabated? Decades have passed since the UN Relief and Works Agency was mandated to provide for Palestinian refugees and bound to a “neutral” narrative, despite being funded by countries that prioritise their diplomatic and economic ties to Israel over and above human rights and justice. Palestinian autonomy for Palestinians, including refugees, is still a non-existent concept, because the international community has monopolised the politicisation of humanitarian aid without allowing Palestinians to participate in the process.

Each time the legitimate Palestinian right of return is tied to requests for humanitarian aid, the “right” is whittled down even further. Such rhetoric falsely equates Palestinians with a passive stance, one that the Palestinian Authority is fond of describing as “waiting”. Such projections are harmful to Palestinians; they are not waiting, they have been deprived of a political voice, and their leadership is doing nothing to counter this international violation of human rights.

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