A Palestinian engineer by profession, Salman Abu Sitta was born in the Beersheba district of mandate Palestine. For years he has been advocating the Palestinians' "right of return" to their homeland and the repopulation of their former towns and villages.
In fact Abu Sitta is best known for his cartographic work on Palestine. Founder and president of the Palestine Land Society, an independent non-profit scholarly society dedicated towards research and information-gathering on Palestine, he is also the author of six books, including his bestselling memoir, Mapping My Return (AUC Press, 2017, paperback).
During his visit to the Egyptian capital earlier this month, Abu Sitta was invited to speak at the Netherlands-Flemish Institute in Cairo. Here are highlights of his talk.
There’s a myriad of resolutions against the violations [committed by Israel] classifying them as illegal and as war crimes. Yet vetoes are being upheld. The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement has been greatly successful, thanks to people like you.
The Balfour Declaration
After WWI, Palestine was to be independent. In the end, Iraq became independent but not Palestine because of the Balfour Declaration. The fate of the state of Palestine was included in a secret agreement between Britain and rich Jews such as [Walter] Rothschild, [2nd Baron Rothschild, leader of the British Jewish community]. Britain had no legal rights to give Palestine away, its land. It was plain treachery!
Settlers and the Nakba
Britain left Palestine at the end of its mandate in 1948 and allowed immigrants into Palestine. This led to a large wave of Jewish European settlers there. By 1947 there were 500,000 Jewish settlers. The United Nations proposed the Partition Plan for Palestine at the end of the British Mandate. The Zionists accepted it but not the Palestinians. Seven hundred Palestinian villages came under the control of Jewish settlers but Palestinians were not ready to be ruled by foreign settlers. The Partition Plan had no legal basis. In March 1948 it was dropped, which led to a lot of bloodshed. The Jews took over 80% of Palestine, deporting Palestinians from 6,700 Palestinian villages. They formed an army and occupied the land.
Ben-Gurion was very upset that the Partition Plan was dropped and ordered that the settlers occupy as much of Palestine as possible. April 1945 to 1946 was the worse period of the Nakba: 35 massacres were committed during that time.
Later, in 1948, the settlers led 31 military operations. The village of Burayr, for example, was surrounded from three sides. The settles threw grenades inside the houses and set the village ablaze. They left one side of the village open for the Palestinian villagers to flee as refugees. Ben-Gurion declared the state of Israel on the ashes and ruins of these Palestinian villages.
Palestinian villagers were taken prisoners and sent to concentration camps where they were subject to forced labor. I don’t think many of you heard of concentration camps in Palestine.
In 1990 I went to Geneva to see the International Committee of the Red Cross and was allowed access to their archives and files. They even had the names of the Israeli officers who committed these crimes against Palestinians. The ICRC only visited five concentration camps but the survivors of these camps, who now live spread out across the Arab world told me there were a lot more than five camps.
There are seven million Palestinian refugees today. The UN only has the figure for the registered Palestinians. The number of Palestinians jailed by Israel would be equavalent to three and a half million Dutch if applied to the Dutch population. This is today’s realpolitik. If you kill, steal, destroy… it seems that you are given license.
There are today thirteen million Palestinians in total. They will fight all the time. They will not give up and will not go away. The whole world stands beside Palestine except for the Western colonial powers—Israel, the US, and some European states, and they are determined to keep it up. This is the only colonial project that is being fed arms, money, and uses vetoes.
Today 75% of Jews in Israel live in three main areas, as was the case under the British Mandate: Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa, so Palestinian villages could realistically be repopulated.
Holland and Palestine
Holland in 1922 endorsed the Balfour Mandate. Holland also voted against Palestine becoming a member of UNESCO and is not forthcoming in applying international law in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
Israel, under the Geneva Convention, as an occupying power, is obliged to run [Palestinian] schools and hospitals and is responsible for rebuilding them if they destroy them.
In the European Union / Israeli Association Agreement, Israel can participate in the agreement’s technical and scientific research cooperation. One of the conditions is that Israel abide to the human rights clause. Holland however exempts Israel from it.
Reviews of Mapping My Return
“This memoir is crucial to understanding why and how the Palestinian question has not been put to rest after 68 years.”—Al-Ahram Weekly
“This books most important contribution to scholarship may lie in Abu Sittas subtle refutation of the notion that Palestinian refugees were passive victims of an unwelcome fate. . . . As a comprehensive account of nearly a century of Palestinian history, [Mapping My Return] is an invaluable resource for anyone with an interest in the experiences and records of Palestinian refugees.”—Anne Irfan, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies
“Abu Sittas memoir conveys a still burning sense of outrage at the injustice of the dispossession of the Palestinians and the denial of their rightsa personal and collective Nakba without end.”—Ian Black, The Guardian