by Emilia Micunovic
20th June marks World Refugee Day. Palestinian refugees are arguably the most forgotten about refugee population in modern history – forgotten about for seven decades. Their population status was even revoked by The White House in 2018 as a means to remove the ‘issue of refugees’ off the negotiation table. There are currently over 7.5 million Palestinian refugees across the globe.
Palestinians have been subject to ethnic cleansing ever since the settler-colonial project began and most violently in 1948 during the Nakba, or Catastrophe, with illegal settlements being built on stolen land till the present day.
While the right to return is protected by international law (UN Resolution 194), which is why the third demand of BDS calls for promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties, they are prevented from doing so simply because they are not Jewish. For in Netanyahu’s own words, Israel is “The nation-state of the Jewish people, and the Jewish people alone”.
After being uprooted, UNRWA (United Nations Relief Works Agency) was a lifeline for Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, and in camps in The Middle East. Whilst being the only source of education and healthcare for 500,000 Palestinian children, its services provide a basic level of dignity to over 3 million Palestinian refugees who depend on it.
However, in 2018, in a long-term plan to end political and humanitarian aid for the Palestinians and further subjugate Palestinians to collective punishment, and in one move under the auspices of Trump, funding was cut by US$350,000,000. UNRWA has already been forced to cut back on vital services, including the closure of some of its schools.
The UN describes World Refugee Day as a reminder that “all people can contribute to society – even refugees”. However, Palestinian refugees are prevented from returning to their villages and society, as existing Palestinian societies face the threat of being uprooted or bulldozed daily.
How is the plight of Palestinian refugees linked to The University of Manchester?
Historically, Chaim Weizmann – Zionist leader, first President of Israel, and scientist at The University of Manchester – established the Manchester University Students’ Zionist Association in 1908. After his significant contributions to the Admiralty in the manufacturing of explosives earned him immense recognition, he was subsequently the catalyst for creating what he promoted as a “Jewish national home in Palestine”.
Today, we can still find a plaque of Chaim Weizmann on University grounds – not just a dark reminder of where and when the settler-colonial project in Palestine began (The University had even attempted to ‘celebrate’ the anniversary of the declaration, in partnership with the Israeli embassy and the Zionist Federation), subjugating the population to over 70 years of ethnic cleansing and human rights violations, but also a symbol of the Zionist legacy of which the University maintains its links to the illegal settlements.
Today, the University directly contributes to the plight of Palestinian refugees: It maintains ties with institutions which further the settler-colonial project, such as Hebrew University of Jerusalem, as well as investing over £10 million in companies which are complicit in human rights violations against Palestinians, such as Caterpillar and Booking Holding Inc. The latter appears on the UN’s first ever blacklist of companies which violate International Law in Occupied Palestine.
We demand that the University ends its ties to Israeli’s settler-colonial regime – perpetrator to the longest refugee crisis in modern history. Until then, BDS stands with Palestinian refugees in their struggle to return to their homeland.