Palestinian petitions: activism in exile (Refugee History Blog)

In April 2020, a group of Palestinian NGOs from Shufat refugee camp joined in a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court. The petition demanded that the Israeli Ministry of Health open COVID-19 testing centres for Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem, including those living in the densely-populated Shufat camp. Media coverage largely discussed the petition’s ultimate success in the context of Israel’s pandemic policies for Palestinians.  Yet the latter’s decision to contest the government in this way speaks to another story as well: Palestinian refugees’ use of petitions to demand their rights.    

In fact, there is a long history of Palestinian refugees deploying petitions as part of their political activism. From the early aftermath of their dispossession in 1948 – known as the Nakba or ‘catastrophe’ – Palestinians have continually organised and submitted petitions to a range of international organisations. Most often, they appealed to the UN and its various bodies, particularly the Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). But over the years Palestinian petitioners have also targeted the League of Arab States, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, among others. This was not an entirely new phenomenon for Palestinians after the Nakba: many had submitted petitions to the Ottoman Sultan (before 1918), and the British authorities in Palestine (from 1918-48). The legacy of this tradition might provide some explanation as to why petitioning remained so popular for Palestinians in exile, although it is not the whole story.  

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