The annual observation on 29 November marks the day in 1947 that the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on partitioning Palestine into two independent States, one Arab and one Jewish.
The 1948 displacement of Palestinians from land that became Israel – known as the Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic) – is the subject of an exhibition currently on display at UN Headquarters in New York.
The International Day has been commemorated since 1978. This year, it took place against the backdrop of war in the Gaza Strip, where a truce between Israel and Hamas is set to expire after holding for six days.
“Almost 1.7 million people have been forced from their homes – but nowhere is safe,” he said, while also warning that “the situation in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, risks boiling over.”
A reminder of 1948
The plight of Palestine refugees remains the world’s longest unresolved refugee crisis, said Philippe Lazzarini, head of UNRWA, the UN agency that has assisted this population for the past 75 years.
He added that “the appalling human tragedy we are witnessing in Gaza is reminiscent of the collective trauma experienced by Palestinians in 1948.”
UNRWA supports some five million Palestine refugees across the Middle East, providing education, healthcare and social protection, among other services.
Commitment to stay
“In Gaza, we are determined not only to stay, but to scale up our operation to meet the enormous needs of the community,” said Mr. Lazzarini, noting that over one million people are now housed in overcrowded shelters.
“In the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, we will continue to do whatever we can to protect our critical services delivery for as long as it is needed, providing vital stability to the region.”
Although UNRWA “remains a beacon of hope amid despair and destruction,” he stressed the urgent need for “a genuine political resolution that meets the legitimate aspirations of Palestinian refugees.”
Uphold rights, restore hope
Speaking at UN Headquarters in New York, General Assembly President Dennis Francis expressed sorrow “for the lives lost – both in the past seven weeks, and over the past seven decades.”
Like all human beings, the Palestinian people are entitled to their fundamental and inalienable right to live in dignity, with all liberties, he said. This includes freedom of movement, as well as freedom from fear and want, and unfettered access to basic services.
“It is, therefore, imperative that we restore and sustain their hope – especially among the younger generations that have never experienced what peace looks or feels like,” he said.
By doing so, the international community will have “fulfilled our duty of care – in reaffirming the fundamental principle that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” he added.
Dialogue and diplomacy
Mr. Francis said ensuring that every Palestinian sees these inalienable rights as realised and respected, first and foremost requires permanent peace in the Middle East.
He also upheld the need to re-engage in dialogue while adhering to relevant UN resolutions and international instruments.
He welcomed ongoing diplomatic efforts to de-escalate tensions and expressed support for all efforts to implement the truce and maximize its positive impact on the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
“Peace for all’
“These days of respite from hostilities must be optimised to alleviate the dire needs of Palestinians – allowing them to mourn their dead, to have unhindered access to food and water as well as other urgently needed services,” he said.
The Assembly President said the UN “cannot lose sight of one of the ultimate and primary goals that brought our Organisation into being: Peace for all.”
He appealed to the international community “to leverage its power to seek compromise, direct dialogue, while fostering trust and good-faith negotiations in the Middle East.”