Last Friday, May 15, Palestinians commemorated Nakba Day. Nakba, an Arabic word meaning “catastrophe,” is how Palestinians describe what happened to them following Israel’s declaration of independence in May 1948 and the corresponding war. During this period, more than 500 Palestinian towns and villages were destroyed by the nascent Israeli state’s military, which resulted in the forcible displacement and dispossession of more than 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and villages. Today, those still living and their descendants comprise more than 5 million Palestinian refugees, whose rights of return and/or compensation for their losses, as articulated in UN resolution 194 (1948), remain unfulfilled.
With the 1967 War, the ensuing Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the occupation and current blockade of Gaza, Palestinians living in those territories have experienced further dispossession and dislocation, including the loss of land for settlement construction and expansion. Palestinians therefore refer to the “ongoing Nakba,” which has meant a de facto appropriation of Palestinian land and property and denial of their basic human and civil rights.
Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an impromptu and fast visit to Israel to discuss a variety of issues with Israeli leaders as a new government prepared to be sworn in. Annexation was among the topics of particular interest, as it has featured prominently in recent Israeli election campaigns and is part of the Trump administration’s proposal, “Peace to Prosperity.” Israel has said that it can annex segments of the West Bank as soon as July. Such an Israeli de jure annexation would be devastating to any hope of peace with justice for Palestinians and Israelis, and threatens to damage other relationships in the region, including Jordanian-Israeli peace.
While Israeli appropriation of Palestinian land and property is not new, Israel’s anticipated move — like its legislation to extend sovereignty over East Jerusalem in 1980 and the Golan Heights in 1981 — would apply a legal veneer to an act deemed illegal by international laws, specifically the Fourth Geneva Convention. In all cases, the inhabitants have not been given a voice and have been denied rights and privileges because of their national identification.
As the EU weighs possible responses, voices from the Middle East are clear: in a statement last week, the Council of Patriarchs and Heads of the Holy Land Churches in Jerusalem expressed “the utmost concern” if Israel were to proceed with its plan, and the Middle East Council of Churches and World Council of Churches issued a joint letter “appeal[ing] for a firm and principled stance by the European Union against any annexation [… which] would constitute a grave violation of international law.”
Tell Congress that now is the time for the United States to oppose Israeli annexation and make clear that it will not continue to subsidize Israeli occupation and appropriation of Palestinian land in contravention of international laws and conventions and against established U.S. principles and interests in the region.
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