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Present State of Conservation

The right of return is a universally recognized human right of all persons. It was first inscribed in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights as Article 13(2), stating: “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” The right of return was first inscribed within the realm of international law when, on December 11, 1948, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 194, stating that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date.” This inalienable right has since been reaffirmed in more than one hundred UN resolutions.

Despite its legal recognition, the right of return for Palestinian refugees has been postponed for almost seven decades. This status quo must be challenged so that it can finally be brought about. We must also think projectively, into the future, and imagine what would happen if the right of return were to be granted. What would happen to the camps? Would they be destroyed and abandoned? Would they continue to be inhabited, or reused for other purposes?

In order to tackle these questions we need to firstly destabilize right of return’s political foundation: the concept of exile. Exile is not a condition that needs, or even can be cured by, return. Exile is a pervasive social condition that is radicalized in the case of refugees. The erosion of rights of southern European citizens brought about by a state of austerity derives from the same regime that oppresses, expropriates, and controls refugees. Young people living in global cities around the world suffer from a similarly permanent condition of precarity. Rather than perpetuate a false dichotomy between citizens and refugees, a new alliance between what might appear to be radically distinct groups must be imagined. Exile demands to be thought as a radical, new foundation of civic space.

Exile and nationalism both stem from and respond to the same modern condition of alienation and its subsequent search for identity. Whereas nationalism tries to create collective identities of belonging to an imagined community, a political community of exile is built around the common condition of non-belonging, of displacement from the familiar. As a political identity, exile opposes the status quo, confronts a dogmatic belief in the nation-state and refuses to normalize the permanent state of exception in which we are all living.

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