This book features contributions from a range of prominent international authors including Edward Sa'id, Noam Chomsky, Ilan Pappe, Alain Gresh and Nur Masalha. The chapters tackle the main aspects of the Palestinian refugee issue under the subheadings; "The Historical Context", "The Interests of the Major Actors", "Return or Permanent Exile" and "The Search for A Just Solution". In the introduction Edward Sa'id aptly describes Palestinans' emotions towards this issue, saying "For Palestinians, a vast collective feeling of injustice continues to hang over our lives with undiminished weight."
In the first article of the book, "The Right To Expel: The Bible and Ethnic Cleansing", Michael Prior explores the religious perogative Zionist Jews and Israelis use to justify founding their state in Palestine and expelling its people. The author asserts that all colonizers invariably seek some ideological principle to justify their actions thus appealing to the Bible to justify inhumane behavior is not uncommon in the history of imperialist colonization emanating from Europe. The view that the Bible provides the title deed for the establishment of the State of Israel and for its policies since 1948 is so pervasive in Christian Zionist, Jewish Zionist, mainstream Christian theology and university Biblical studies that any attempt to debate the issue will elicit opposition. Prior concludes that in order to justify a Jewish 'right to return', rather than using military might to affect it, Jews all over the world would have to constitute a clearly defined community which could demonstrate its recent expulsion. The moral cause for the Jews' return is undermined where there is a considerable time span between expulsion and the determination to resettle. The right to return dissolves as that time span exceeds reasonable limits; otherwise international law and order would collapse.
Nur Masalha, in his article "The Historic Roots of the Palestinian Refugee Question", argues that the Palestinian refugee exodus of 1948 was the culmination of over half a century of secret (Zionist) plans and, in the end, brute force. The Zionist (Jewish) leadership, especially David Ben-Gurion and the military commanders, was primarily responsible for the displacement and dispossession of three-quarter of a million Palestinians in 1948, with Israeli resettlement schemes after 1948 aimed at 'dissolving' the refugee problem, not resolving it. This stemmed from a fear of refugee return and a determination to extirpate the problem from the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Masalha states that any genuine reconciliation between two peoples as opposed to a political settlement achieved by leaders can begin only by Israel taking responsibility for the displacement and dispossession of the refugees. Holocaust denial, for example, is abhorrent and in some European countries, a crime. Acknowledging the Nakba through an official Israeli appology would also mean taking responsibility for monetary compensation, restitution of property and reparations. In an epilogue to his article, Masalha paints a bleak picture of the general Israeli tendency saying; "... there is a consensus among the Zionist parties in Israel, from Meretz on the left through the Labour and Likud parties and on to the extreme right, against the Palestinian right to return to the pre-1967 borders."
Ilan Pappe, Noam Chomsky and Jaber Suleiman criticize the Oslo Accords and events leading up to them. Suleiman concludes that the Declaration of Principles and its four annexes are clear when it comes to Israeli interests, but vague and ambiguous when it comes to Palestinian rights. Such ambiguities favor the stronger party, allowing it to interpret the documents to serve its own interests. He adds that the documents serve to make the negotiations the reference point for Palestinian rights rather than vice versa.
Joseph Masad explores the idea that no official body representing diaspora Palestinians was party to either the Madrid or Oslo processes. This, he says, makes it imperative, as many Palestinians have recommended in recent years, that free elections be held in the diaspora to elect a new representative leadership that can negotiate with Israel and the international community on behalf of diaspora Palestinians.
Salman Abu Sitta, meanwhile, states that the right of return is sacred for all Palestinians and built into their psyche. He supports this contention with statistics, observing that 86 percent of refugees live in historical Palestine or within a 100-mile radius of it. This proximity highlights the bond to their places of origin and also explains why over three dozen resettlement schemes have failed. Abu Sitta goes on to refute Israel's argument that the refugees cannot return due to lack of space, stating that 78 percent of Israelis live in 14 percent of Israel, while only 200,000 Jews exploit the rural lands of five million refugees packed in refugee camps and denied the right to return.
He then puts forward two scenarios. He asks us to imagine that the 362,000 registered refugees in Lebanon are allowed to return to their homes in Galilee, a largely Arab region even today. Furthermore, if Gaza's 760,000 registered refugees returned to their homes in the south, still lying empty, they could reinhabit their original villages. He concludes that the return of the refugees is the most important stabilizing factor for permanent peace in the Middle East and that their return to agricultural pursuits would take up the slack in Israel's GDPand properly utilize wasted water in these vast, unexploited and currently confiscated lands.
Jan Abu-Shakrah, for her part, refutes the post-Oslo context in which some analysts, including Palestinians, have suggested Jewish and Palestinian compensation claims be "thrown into the cauldron" of compensation calculations for the Palestinian refugees. She states that not only are such links unlawful and historically baseless, more ominously they are designed to undermine Palestinian refugee rights and to exempt Israel from its obligtions.
Naseer Aruri in "Towards Convening a Congress of Return and Self Determination" claims such a conference would serve as a constituent assembly, filling the legal vacuum which plagues the Palestinian nation. Neither the PNC in its present form, nor the so-called Legislative Council representing the West Bank and Gaza, is qualified to fulfil that function. To justify his claim, he raises this important question; "How can a council representing two million Palestinians in the so called self-rule areas, leaving the bulk of the Palestinian populations out, most of whom are refugees, negotiate momentous issues with Israel, while under Israeli occupation and according to inequitable conditions imposed by Israel itself?"