Many Israeli, Palestinian and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) promote a so-called Palestinian “right of return.” This refers to the return of Palestinians displaced during the 1948 War of Independence – as well as their descendants – to houses and properties in Israel.  A similar number of Jews were also expelled from Arab countries and made refugees in the wake of the war.

Some organizations claim that a “right of return” should be acknowledged in the framework of a “just” peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Others allege that this is a legal right, inalienable and non-negotiable, that is supposedly rooted in international law and/or UN statements such as  UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (article 11). Groups including the NGO Development Center (NDC, see below) distort the record, falsely identifying Resolution 194 as a Security Council resolution passed under Chapter VII of the UN Charter and, therefore, obligatory.

Importantly, Resolution 194 does not mandate a wholesale “right of return” to Israel for Palestinians displaced in the 1948 War.  Instead, it “permits”, if “practicable,” the involved countries to allow both Jewish and Arab refugees who wish to “live at peace with their neighbours” to return to their homes.  In lieu of returning, the resolution suggests that compensation be paid for lost or damaged property “by the Governments or authorities responsible.”  Responsible parties would include not only Israel, but the Arab governments who initiated the 1948 War and Arab leaders who encouraged, or in many cases, forced residents to leave. 194 notes that compensation should be based on principles of “international law or in equity,” which clearly weigh against any unfettered “right of return.” The resolution also established a committee to facilitate repatriation and/or resettlement.  Nothing in the resolution speaks about a “right of return” for descendants.  Significantly, international law does not allow one group claiming self-determination to erase the self-determination of another group.

For further analysis of these issues, see: “Return of Palestinian Refugees to the State of Israel” (translated from the Hebrew), Yaffa Zilbershats and Nimra Goren-Amitai, The Metzilah Center for Zionist, Jewish, Liberal, and Humanist Thought, February 2011.

Examples of NGO quotes in support of a “right of return”:

International NGOs

1. Human Rights Watch (United States)

  •  “Human Rights Watch called on Israeli and Palestinian leaders engaged in final-status negotiations to uphold the right of return for Palestinian refugees as part of a comprehensive solution to the Palestinian refugee problem…a peace agreement between the two sides should allow Palestinians in exile to choose freely among three options: returning to their country of origin, integrating into the country of asylum, or resettling in a third country.” (“Israel, Palestinian Leaders Should Guarantee Right of Return as Part of Comprehensive Refugee Solution,” Human Rights Watch, December 21, 2000)
  • “In the case of the Middle East peace agreement currently being negotiated, the agreement should recognize this right for Palestinian refugees and exiles from territory located in what is now Israel or in what is likely to be a future state of Palestine…The right is held not only by those who fled a territory initially but also by their descendants….The right persists even when sovereignty over the territory is contested or has changed hands. If a former home no longer exists or is occupied by an innocent third party, return should be permitted to the vicinity of the former home.” (“Human Rights Watch Policy on the Right to Return,” Human Rights Watch, no date)
  • “Ken Roth, HRW’s executive director, would send letters to Clinton, Arafat, and Barak urging them to accept the organization’s position. The right of return, he wrote, ‘is a right that persists even when sovereignty over the territory is contested or has changed hands.’” (“Minority Report,” Ben Birnbaum, The New Republic, April 27, 2010)

2. Amnesty International (United Kingdom)

3. International Federation of Human Rights – FIDH (France)

  • “The FIDH recalls that a sustainable solution negotiated by the parties shall rely on the relevant UN resolutions prohibiting the annexation of territories and recognizing the right of return to Palestinian refugees.” (“Israel: FIDH denounces US support to rogue state policies,” FIDH, April 20, 2004)

4. International BDS Movement

  •  “The call urges various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law by…Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.” (“Introducing the BDS Movement,” The BDS Movement, no date)

5. International Solidarity Movement

  •  “The right to return is a core goal of the Palestinian liberation struggle…In recent years, the right to return has also emerged as a key demand of international solidarity activists supporting Palestinian aspirations for freedom.” (“On June 5th support the Palestinian refugees’ right to return,” International Solidarity Movement, 22 May 2011)
  • “The right of return is an inalienable right. Denial of the right of return is a perpetuation of ethnic cleansing which is a war crime. The right of return is a basic right, derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and all international and regional covenants. It is an individual right derived from the sanctity of private ownership and a collective right derived from the Principle of Self-Determination. It has no statute of limitation and cannot be extinguished by a treaty or the establishment of a state. It is affirmed by the UN Resolution 194 and repeatedly confirmed by the international community over 110 times in 50 years, unparalleled in UN history. Legally, the Return can ONLY be implemented to the refugee’s home and land in 1948, not anywhere else, even in Palestine.” (“In the belly of the wailing “democracy” called Israel,” Jesus Martinez, International Solidarity Movement, May 21, 2007)

6. IHH (Insani Yardim Vakfi, Turkey)

7. “Return from Exile” plan of the Free Gaza Movement (United States)

  • “On the day of the action, approximately 100 Palestinians and supporters will fly to Lid airport (Ben Gurion International Airport). They will take a variety of routes and arrive on different flights. Both the Palestinians and their supporters will be nationals who do not ordinarily require visas to visit Israel. However, they will be selected from among those who have personally been denied permission to enter. The nationalities of the volunteers will qualify them to board the flights. However, Israeli customs authorities will probably stop them upon arrival, place them in detention, and try to deport them as soon as possible. El Al flights should be avoided, where Israeli security would probably prevent boarding. The volunteers will nonviolently resist deportation, through non-cooperation and by refusing to comply with airline passenger requirements. Previous resistance of this type has shown that the captain of the aircraft will refuse to accept such passengers, who will then be returned to detention. Lawyers will be arranged in advance, who will argue that the volunteers should be permitted to exercise their right to enter, and to remain at least until their cases are heard. Some cases may be appealed to the High Court and possibly to the International Court of Justice, if there is a means to do so. The message is that the volunteers want only to visit their homes and country. They will carry copies of documents and pictures showing their place of origin, and possibly copies of keys, as well. They will insist that although they have the right to live in their homes, their purpose at this time is merely to visit.” (“The Return from Exile Project,” Free Palestine Movement, no date)

Israeli NGOs

8. Coalition of Women for Peace (CWP)

  • “The state of Israel persists and intensifies its control over the Palestinians. By doing so Israel confirms that the Nakba is not yet over. Ending the occupation, lifting the siege and realizing the right of return are all vital elements in achieving a just peace.” (“Stop the Siege of Gaza: About this campaign,” Coalition of Women for Peace, September 12, 2010)
  • “We, citizens of Israel committed to promoting a just Israeli-Palestinian peace, turn to you with request that by the power of your position and the position of Sweden as the president of the European Union, you will take action to generate a European political move with the aim to remove the obstacles for a just peace: dismantlement of all settlements, end to the Israeli occupation in the Palestinian Territories, realization of the Right of Return according to the UN General Assembly Resolution 194.” (“Letter from CWP to Prime Minister of Sweden,” Coalition of Women for Peace, August 25, 2009)

9. Israeli Committee against House Demolitions (ICAHD)

  • “The refugee issue must be addressed squarely. It is negotiable, but it requires two pre-conditions: acceptance of the refugees’ right to return, so that it is not merely a “goodwill” or “humanitarian” gesture on the part of Israel; and acknowledgement by Israel of its responsibility for driving out half the Palestinian people in 1947/48, as well as for the expulsions of 1967. It is Israel’s steadfast refusal to accept the refugees’ rights and to make that symbolic yet crucial acknowledgement of responsibility that makes the resolution of this fundamental issue impossible.” (“Civil Society as a Watchdog in the Current Negotiations,” Jeff Halper, Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, September 19, 2010)
  • “We should be able to agree on a set of principles that must guide any attempt to achieve a just solution. At a minimum they would be…An addressing of the refugee issue, based on the right of return and Israeli acknowledgement of the role it played in driving the refugees from the country.” (“Mobilizing for September?,” Jeff Halper, Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, April 15, 2011)

10. Gush Shalom

  • The “right of return” as a “central element of a sustainable and just solution of the Palestinian/Arab Israeli conflict… a universal right anchored in international law.” (“Right of return: Questions that raise in the public debate in Israel” (Hebrew), Gush Shalom, no date)
  • “The determining question is: How many can we bring back? The minimalists will speak about 100,000, the maximalists about half of a million. I myself spoke about an annual quota of 50,000 for a period of 10 years. But this is a matter for the negotiations, which should be undertaken with a spirit of goodwill, out of an honest desire to bring this sorrowful matter to a successful end, while taking into consideration the fact that we are speaking about the fate of living human beings who deserve rehabilitation after dozens of years of suffering.” (“Right of return” (Hebrew), Uri Avneri, Gush Shalom, January 14, 2001)

11. Zochrot (An Israeli NGO promoting the “Nakba” myth)

  •  “Recognition of the Palestinian refugees’ rights to return to their houses is a necessary condition for the establishment of peace and a real democratic regime in Israel. The right of return is not related to the nature of the final political arrangement (two states, one state, confederation, etc.) but is a pre-condition of all of those. The return of the Palestinian refugees is the most important challenge for Jews in Israel… The return will allow Palestinians the beginning of a reconciliation process with the Jews and will mark the end of the colonial phase in Israel.” (“Who are we?” (Hebrew), Eitan Burstein and Norma Mursi, Zochrot, 2007)

12. Alternative Information Center (AIC)

  • “The following is a talk given by Michael Warschawski at The Haifa Conference for the Right of Return…Israel accepted, was made a member state and immediately after announced it has no intention of implementing the UN resolution. The Palestinian national movement and the international solidarity movement should initiate a long-term campaign for the suspension of Israeli membership in the United Nations until Israel complies with its formal commitment concerning the return of the refugees. Such a campaign will again put the refugee issue in its legitimate place, at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and the heart of its solution.” (“The Palestinian Return and Right of Return?No Deal!,” The Alternative Information Center, July 2, 2008)
  • “Complete end to the 1967 occupation of the Palestinian and Syrian territories, in accordance with international law and resolutions; Recognition and fulfillment of the Palestinian Right of Return, as both an individual human and national collective right.” (“About the AIC,” The Alternative Information Center, July 28, 2010)

Israeli-Arab NGOs

13. Adalah

  • “In order to build an equal and democratic society, free of repression and violence, and as a basis for historic reconciliation between the State of Israel and the Palestinian people and the entire Arab nation, the State of Israel must recognize its responsibility for past injustices suffered by the Palestinian people, both before and after its establishment. The State of Israel must recognize, therefore, its responsibility for the injustices of the Nakba and the Occupation; recognize the right of return of the Palestinian refugees based on UN Resolution 194.” (“The Democratic Constitution,” Adalah, March 20, 2007)

14. Ittijah

  •  “The conference was organized by the Association for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced Persons in Israel, Zochrot (Remembering the Nakbah in Hebrew), The Emil Touma Institute for Palestinian Studies and in cooperation with Ittijah Union of Arab Community Based Associations.” (“Final Declaration: The Second Right of Return and Just Peace Conference in Nazareth,” Ilan Pape,, December 2005)
  •  “We, the undersigned Palestinian refugee organizations, civil society movements and institutions in the Palestinian homeland and in exile are national organizations working to defend the right of return...The rights of Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons to return, restitution and compensation are fundamental rights under international law and relevant UN resolutions – particularly UN General Assembly Resolution 194 and UN Security Council Resolution 237. The content of these rights is non-negotiable irrespective of the manner in which they will be exercised…Signed…33. Ittijah: Union of Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations (Palestine).” (“Letter of Palestinian Refugee Organizations to President Mahmoud Abbas,” International Solidarity Movement, September 26, 2008)

15.  Mossawa

  •  “The State must formulate a move that will include official recognition of the Arab-Palestinian disaster of 1948, as well as an official historical apology in the name of all past governments for the injustice and discrimination. In this context, the State must respect the rights of some 25% of the Arab citizens that became internal refugees in their country after 1948 including their right to return to their original communities…Moreover, an appropriate deliberation of the historic rights of the Arab minority must also include the issue of the Palestinian refugees who were expelled from their ruined homes and villages and disinherited from their property.” (“An Equal Constitution for All?,” Yousef T. Jabareen, Mossawa, May 2007)

16. Mada al-Carmel

  • “Reconciliation also requires recognizing the Right of Return and acting to implement it in accordance with United Nations Resolution 194.” (“The Haifa Declaration,Mada Al-Carmel, May 15, 2007)
  • “This project must rely on justice, meaning on the right of return to the Palestinian homeland, on a life of dignity, and on the right to self-determination. It must re-formulate the right of self-determination to one where the Palestinian person stands in its center.” (“Workshop: The future of the struggle and the role of Palestinians in Israel (March 2011)” (Hebrew), Mada al-Carmel, March 11, 2011)

Palestinian NGOs

17. Badil

  •  “BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights is an independent, community-based non-profit organization mandated to defend and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees and IDPs.” (“About Badil,” Badil, no date)
  • “Unlike most refugees and displaced persons, who usually seek protection against refoulement (forcible return), the primary problem facing Palestinian refugees is Israel’s denial of their right to reparations, including return, to their homes of origin. Although this right is enshrined in international law and af?rmed by many UN resolutions, in particular UN resolutions 194 (1948) and 237 (1967), it has not been enforced.” (“Refugee & IDP Rights,” Badil, no date)

18. Al Awda – the Palestinian Right of Return Coalition

  • “Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, is a broad-based, non-partisan, democratic, and charitable organization of grassroots activists and students committed to comprehensive public education on the rights of all Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and lands of origin, and to full restitution of all their confiscated and destroyed property in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International law and the numerous United Nations Resolutions upholding such rights.” (“About Al-Awda,” Al-Awda, no date)

19. NGO Development Center (NDC, facilitates funding for Israeli and Palestinian NGOs on behalf of the Swiss, Dutch, Danish and Swedish governments)

  • No endeavor would be carried out if it undermines the inalienable Palestinian rights of establishing statehood and the return of the refugees to their original homes, according to the Security Council Resolution 194.” (“The Palestinian NGOs Code of Conduct,” NGO Development Center, 2008)

20. Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR)

  • “The Oslo accords failed to address the essential elements of the Palestinian question — the right to self-determination, the right to an independent Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem, the right of return for Palestinian refugees and the removal of Israeli settlements from the OPT.” (“Philosophy,” Palestinian Center for Human Rights, no date)
  • “What is vital now is unity, national and political responsibility, and especially a focus on the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and the right of return and compensation for all Palestinian refugees…Affirms the collective and individual right of Palestinian refugees to return to the homes and land from which they were uprooted since 1948. This right is guaranteed by International Law, is an inalienable right, and does not fall by prescription.” (“60 Years of the Palestinian Nakba 60 Years of Ethnic Cleansing,” Palestinian Center for Human Rights, May 15, 2008)

21. Al-Haq

  • “Al-Haq calls upon Israel to abide by its legal obligations under international law by recognising the right of the Palestinians displaced by the 1948 and 1967 wars and providing reparations to victims of displacement…The implementation of relevant UN Resolutions recognising the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and the right of return of refugees, such as General Assembly Resolution 194, cannot be further delayed.” (“63rd Anniversary of the Nakba: the Young Will Not Forget,” Al-Haq, May 16, 2011)“
  • All such agreements, however, are notable by their failure to facilitate the implementation of the right of return for those displaced from the Palestinian territories in 1967.” (“DISPLACEMENT, DESTRUCTION AND APPROPRIATION: THE PALESTINIAN VILLAGES OF LATROUN 40 YEARS AFTER 1967,” Al-Haq, June 2007)

22. Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights

  • “Redirect efforts of existing planning and development institutions, in particular those specialized in resettlement, rehabilitation and absorption, such as the WZO/JA and JNF mentioned above) to facilitate the implementation of Palestinian and Syrian refugees and displaced persons’ right of return to their homes and properties, including the implementation of restitution and compensation for losses and injuries arising from the violations of these rights.” (“Joint oral statement before the UN Commission on Human Rights, 58th Session,” Al-Mezan, May 1, 2002)

23. Sabeel

  •  “East Jerusalem, as an integral part of the occupied territories, should be included in all political arrangements relating to these territories, including self determination, release of prisoners, right of return and eventual sovereignty.” (“The Significance of Jerusalem for Christians and of Christians for Jerusalem,” Sabeel, January 1996)
  • “Sabeel issued a statement in Arabic entitled Jerusalem, the key to Peace…It highlighted the problem of refugees and the continuing refusal of Israel to accept the right of return of the Palestinians as it is legally and morally bound to do under article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and UN Resolution 194 in 1948.” (“Sabeel Narrative Report 2009,” Sabeel, 2009)