When Palestinian Arabs speak of the "right of return," what exactly do they mean?
Most people would say that it means that Palestinian Arabs and their numerous descendants would have the unlimited right to move back to the homes they left in Palestine in 1948, in line with UN GA resolution 194. That same resolution goes on to say that those who choose not to "return" would be compensated.
In other words, it is characterized as a right for people to be able to determine their own destiny and as a human right for people to live wherever they want to.
This is not true.
There was a Gaza Nakba rally yesterday, and the speakers made very clear that their concept of the "right to return" is the exact antithesis of human rights.
The speakers there complained about "the danger of attempts to dilute the letter and the concept of the right of return and to try a new concept instead, the compensation of Palestinian refugees, or the establishment of houses for them in other lands."
One of the speakers said that the PA negotiating about the "right of return" is "another catastrophe for the Palestinian people, stressing that the right of return is a sacred right, individually and collectively, under which there is no statute of limitations, that can only be achieved only through resistance and the unity of Palestinian ranks, and [he who negotiates on these concepts] is a traitor."
Another speaker supports keeping Palestinian Arabs in camps because they have been the basis of the "Palestinian revolution" and they were where resistance started. He added that even the idea of Palestinian Arabs moving to "Palestine" is anathema.
There is a common thread here: none of the people advocating for the "right of return" in Arabic accept the basic concept of individual choice.
If an Arab in a Lebanese UNRWA camp wants to become a citizen of the country in which he is born, he must be denied that right because it conflicts with this fictional "right of return."
If an Palestinian Arab born in Syria whose grandfather was born in Jaffa wants to move to Jericho upon the creation of a Palestinian Arab state, he is denied that right because it conflicts with the "right of return."
If an Arab in Europe who descended from Palestinian Arabs wants to take money to drop his claim to move "back" to a land he has no interest in living in, he is denied that opportunity because the people who support the "right of return" do not want to dilute their support.
They explicitly say that they prefer Palestinian Arabs to be stateless and miserable in camps in order to keep them angry at Israel. The anachronistic camps which should have been dismantled five decades ago are held up as shining examples of Palestinian Arab unity - a unity that is externally imposed, not by Israel but by Arab leaders who are dead-set against providing basic human rights to those Arabs unfortunate enough to have had their ancestors living in Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, the UNRWA definition of "refugee."
By definition, human rights are individual rights, not collective rights. The "right of return," by taking away all individual choice, is the very antithesis of human rights. It is an aggressive assault on the human rights of millions of people, purposefully cloaked in the false assertion of being a "right."
The nakba exists today because of this assault on human rights perpetrated by Arab leaders and acquiesced to by Western powers, foremost the UN. Even if one believes that Israel is responsible for the start of the nakba, the perpetuation of it for 62 years is squarely the responsibility of the Arab world and the Palestinian Arab leadership who gladly bargain the human rights of their people for their own political purposes.
And the organizations that claim to care most about human rights do not say a word about this open assault on the human rights of millions.