Israel’s refusal to grant Palestinian refugees right to return has fuelled seven decades of suffering

  • Nakba Day on 15 May marks the displacement of more than 700,000 Palestinians following the creation of the State of Israel in 1948
  • More than 70 years later, Israel still denies Palestinian refugees their right to return to their land
  • Amnesty International’s dedicated Nakba website describes the heartbreaking struggles of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territories

Israel’s failure to respect the right to return for Palestinians who were forced to flee their homes in 1948 is a flagrant violation of international law that has fuelled decades of suffering on a mass scale for Palestinian refugees across the region, said Amnesty International, marking 71 years since the Nakba (catastrophe), as it is known to Palestinians.

Amnesty International’s dedicated Nakba website 70+ Years of Suffocation showcases powerful images and testimonies that tell the heartbreaking stories of Palestinian refugees living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), Jordan and Lebanon. To mark Nakba Day, Amnesty International is asking people from around the world to show solidarity with Palestinian refugees and demand that Israel respect their right to return.

“More than 70 years after the conflict that followed Israel’s creation, the Palestinian refugees who were forced out of their homes and dispossessed of their land as a result continue to face the devastating consequences,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa. 

“This weekend almost 200 million people will tune in to watch the Eurovision song contest in Israel, but, behind the glitz and glamour, few will be thinking of Israel’s role in fuelling seven decades of misery for Palestinian refugees. 

“There can be no lasting solution to the Palestinian refugee crisis until Israel respects Palestinian refugees’ right to return. In the meantime, Lebanese and Jordanian authorities must do everything in their power to minimize the suffering of Palestinian refugees by repealing discriminatory laws and removing obstacles blocking refugees’ access to employment and essential services.”

There can be no lasting solution to the Palestinian refugee crisis until Israel respects Palestinian refugees’ right to return

Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director

There are currently more than 5.2 million registered Palestinian refugees. The vast majority live in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Israel has failed to recognize their right under international law to return to homes where they or their families once lived in Israel or the OPT. At the same, they have never received compensation for the loss of their land and property.

Many have been forced to live their entire lives in overcrowded camps in dire conditions and are denied access to essential services. 

“Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territories are trapped in a cycle of deprivation and systematic discrimination with no end in sight. For many of them life is full of suffocating restrictions and has become a living hell,” said Philip Luther.

Challenges for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan

To mark Nakba Day, Amnesty International has gathered new testimony from Palestinian refugees describing the restrictions they face in Lebanon and Jordan.

Although the majority of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon were born in the country and have lived there all their lives, they cannot acquire Lebanese nationality, and many remain stateless and deprived of access to public services including medical care and education.

Several Palestinian refugees in Lebanon told Amnesty International how their hopes of pursuing professional careers and building a better future have been shattered as a result of discriminatory laws that bar Palestinians from practising over 30 professions including medicine, dentistry, law, architecture and engineering. Such restrictions have trapped many Palestinian refugees in deprivation and poverty.

Mohammad, a 21-year-old Palestinian refugee, described how his hopes of becoming a dentist were crushed when he discovered he cannot work as a professional dentist in Lebanon simply because he is Palestinian. He told Amnesty International he hated life in the camp: “I am surrounded by poverty… I want to create a better life for myself, away from all of this misery.”

Sara Abu Shaker, 14, has chosen to pursue her dream of studying medicine even though as a Palestinian she can never practise as a doctor in Lebanon.  

“Even if I can’t be a doctor here, I could go to Palestine and help those in need, particularly the underprivileged children. I want to save lives…,” she said. 

Around 2.1 million Palestinian refugees live in Jordan, some 370,000 of them in camps where conditions are generally sub-standard. Around three quarters of Palestinian refugees in Jordan have been granted Jordanian citizenship, giving them access to health care and education. However, over 600,000, including some 150,000 who fled to Jordan from the Gaza Strip following the 1967 Israeli-Arab conflict, were not naturalized and do not have sufficient access to public services. 

Jundia Awwad, 48, whose family is from what is now southern Israel, was born in Jordan and has lived her entire life in Jerash refugee camp. She described the anguish of living as a refugee in Jordan. 

“I grew up in the hope that tomorrow we will return to Palestine but instead we stayed in houses made of asbestos sheets…. I want to live like other human beings. I want health care, proper education and infrastructure. I want equality,” she said.

A decision by the US authorities in 2018 to cut funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), which provides essential services, including health care, education, emergency assistance and jobs, to millions of Palestinian refugees has put further strain on their lives.

“The situation for Palestinian refugees is untenable and grows closer to breaking point with every year that passes. How much longer can Palestinian refugees be expected to be condemned to a life of suffering, deprivation and discrimination simply because of their origin?” said Philip Luther.

To produce its dedicated Nakba website Amnesty International teamed up with Tanya Habjouqa, an award-winning photographer,  to document the personal stories of a select number of Palestinian refugees in different camps in Jordan, Lebanon and the OPT.