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Saturday, 6 January, 2001, 03:00 GMT
Palestinian refugees intent on return
Palestinian refugees in Jordan
There are over 1.5 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan
By Barbara Plett in Jordan

The question of Palestinian refugees who fled Israel when the Jewish state was created is one of the thorniest facing Middle East peacemakers.


The Palestinian generation will never forget Palestine. If Arafat gives up, he's a traitor

Al-Hussein camp shopper
Fifty years later, the number has grown to some 3.5 million who demand the right of return.

According to a reported peace deal proposed by the US, that right may be exchanged for other gains - an outcome strongly opposed by refugees living in neighbouring Arab countries.

Hawkers try to sell mounds of fresh fruit and vegetables at the market in al-Hussein refugee camp.

Friday morning shoppers are busy stocking up for the week, but they're eager to talk about the controversy over their right of return to what is now Israel, about the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, and how he is handling negotiations on their future.

"The Palestinian generation will never forget Palestine. If Arafat gives up, he's a traitor," one shopper said.

Money not an issue

The majority of people in Jordan have Palestinian origins. They were allowed to become citizens, faring better than refugees in other Arab countries.


I would not be satisfied with compensation. Returning to my land is worth all the money in the world.

Shopkeeper
But despite economic hardship here, they say they are not interested in trading the right of return for financial compensation.

Muhammed Kasim, a shopkeeper whose family came from what is now the Israeli town of Lod, said:

"No, I would not be satisfied with compensation. Returning to my land is worth all the money in the world.

"It is true we do have the right of citizenship, but living here is still not like living in our country. We're only passing time, waiting to return."

Coexistence

Property loss and long years of exile have generated deep anger against Israel.

Young resident of Ein el-Hilw camp, Lebanon
The younger generation have lived all their lives in refugee camps
But this 44-year-old English teacher says many here would be willing to live alongside Israelis if that meant they could return to their home villages: "If all refugees in Arab countries turn back to Palestine and they live together with Jewish people, it is a good thing, as in South Africa.

"The minimum is to go to Palestine. All refugees people, Palestinian people, should go to Palestine, whether Israel govern us, or Arafat. But the only thing is our land."

Eighty-year-old Tawfiq Izwayed quietly listens to the conversation as he sells his green beans. He also came from the town of Lod 50 years ago. His expectations have decreased with age.

"The chance to return now would be a matter of good luck, like winning the lottery, but I think there is no way we would be allowed to go back," he said.

So far, Mr Arafat has remained firm on the right of return, and he has been backed by Arab leaders.

But observers say that is mostly a stand on principle, because Arabs know Israel will never accept an influx of Palstinians that would change its character as a homeland created for Jews.

Probably the only return these refugees can hope for is the chance to live in a small and crowded Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

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See also:

04 Jan 01 | Middle East
Right of return: Palestinian dream?
03 Jan 01 | Middle East
Mid-East rhetoric hots up
23 Oct 00 | Middle East
Claiming the 'Promised Land'
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