Arafat Foundation opens a data base of stolen Palestinian property.

Salman Abu Sitta’s memorable talk for Stop the JNF on Saturday February 6th proved, if proof were needed, that the refugees’ Right of Return is a live and compelling issue. As if to underscore this fact, recently the Arafat Foundation has released records of land ownership before the Nakba, classified as secret for many years, as reported here. The published records give Palestinians access to documentation for 540,000 plots of land across sixteen districts of pre-1948 Palestine, (not including the Naqab); the archive shows ownership, evaluations and, sometimes, tax classifications of the land.

These records originated in the UN Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP), established in 1948, the membership of which comprised the US, France and Turkey. The brief of the commission was to support the parties in reaching a “final settlement.” This aim, as we know, was never realised, but the Commission did set up a detailed database of the property seized in the Nakba belonging to Palestinian refugees, as well as endowments and the  property of churches. This wealth of documented information remained with the UN until 1973 when Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Israel received copies: the PLO received a copy later.

The political context for the launch of the database is interesting. The Trump plan endorsed rampant annexation, encouraged illegal settlement and negated refugee rights. Trump’s labelling of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was meant to take the city “off the negotiating table”. The aggressive US moves against UNRWA have the same aim: to undermine refugee rights – and diminish support for refugees. The database may offer a riposte to these moves against the Palestinian refugees and their rightful ownership of the land.

It remains to be seen how the Arafat Foundation database can best be used by Palestinians and campaigners who support the justice of their cause. But the database certainly underscores Salman Abu Sitta’s core mantra: The Right of Return is “Sacred, Legal and Feasible.”  Annie O’Gara