History is filled with examples of people displaced by edict, conflict and war, and there have always been questions about what should happen with such populations. Today, one of the most contentious debates over displaced persons is the one over the fate of Palestinians. Some believe that Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was passed by the United Nations General Assembly in the aftermath of World War II, guarantees Palestinians the right to return to land that they owned or lived on prior to the 1948 creation of the State of Israel. Others interpret the article differently. In this lesson, students will interpret the text of the declaration for themselves, and they'll do so having looked at the story from the perspective of a real family whose members were displaced. Video clips provided with this lesson are from A World Not Ours. POV offers a lending library of DVDs that you can borrow anytime during the school year — FOR FREE! Get started by joining our Community Network.
One and a half class periods (approximately 70 minutes), plus homework.
- know the content and substance of Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
- examine how Article 13's reference to a "right . . .to return" applies to a real-world situation: Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon experience the law as open to interpretation rather than fixed
- read informational texts and view informational video
- use listening, writing, speaking (discussion) and reasoning skills
- Internet access for research and video streaming;
- equipment to show online video to the class text of Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, either distributed to each student or in a projectable format
A NOTE TO TEACHERS The film clips in this lesson plan show life in a Palestinian refugee camp. Some clips contain profanity. Other clips describe contested history. Before you begin, you may want to send home a note to parents/guardians explaining what students will be doing and that the purpose of the assignment is to focus on the fact that laws and policies govern real people, and that A World Not Ours recounts one family's story; it depicts that family's personal experiences and beliefs. Make it clear that you will not be asking students to take a position on the issue. Invite families to connect school and home by asking students what they learned and sharing their own views on the issue with their children. 1. INTRODUCE THE IDEA Ask students if anyone has ever misinterpreted something they wrote or they have misinterpreted something someone else wrote (e.g., a text message or Facebook post). Invite them to share a few examples. Then pose your own version of this question: "If a simple communication between people who know one another is easy to misinterpret, how hard would it be to write laws that would be clear to everyone in the country or everyone in the world for many generations?" To explore that question, let students know that they are going to explore interpretations of one part of an international document that are currently in dispute.
2. INTRODUCE ARTICLE 13
In the aftermath of World War II, nations of the world gathered at the United Nations to establish rules to help prevent future conflicts, and especially to prevent the persecution and deaths of civilians. One of the resulting documents passed by the United Nations General Assembly (in December 1948) was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 13 of that Declaration reads:
- Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State.
- Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
Both Lebanon and the United States were original signatories, voting in favor of the declaration. Note: In December 1948, the State of Israel was less than one year old. It did not become a United Nations member until November 1949, nearly a year after the declaration was adopted.
Post the text of Article 13 where all students can see it (or distribute copies). Either in small groups or as a class, discuss what each of the provisions of the article means and whether they think their country is living up to this part of the declaration. It may help students to think deeply to ask them to define "everyone" and then think of categories of people to whom the enumerated right does not apply (e.g., imprisoned criminals don't have the right to freedom of movement and people who don't have valid passports can be denied entry to their own countries).
Ask students to summarize their conclusions by writing the end to these sentences:
"The intention of Article 13.1 is..." and
"The intention of Article 13.2 is..."
If time allows, you might invite students to share what they wrote. Assuming that responses are diverse, they can begin to reflect on how the meaning of a text can seem obvious until you start thinking deeply about its implications.
3. APPLYING ARTICLE 13
Once everyone has an understanding of Article 13, you are ready to help them apply it to a real-world situation. Palestinians currently consider Article 13 a basis for their "right of return" to land on which they lived prior to the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. For Palestinians and Israelis, this isn't theoretical; the interpretation of Article 13 has real-life consequences.
Introduce students to the film and let them know they are going to view four short clips. After each clip, they should jot down their thoughts in response to these questions:
- Does Article 13 support the Palestinian claim to the right of return, and what in this clip provides evidence for your answer to that question?
- Does Article 13 support Palestinians' right to work and travel within Lebanon?
- What other questions or issues does this clip raise for you? As time allows, discuss reactions to individual clips.
Wrap up viewing by inviting students to share observations about how their initial interpretations of Article 13 were affirmed or challenged when they had to apply the article to real people in a real situation. As part of the discussion, challenge students to think about why Israel would not want to interpret Article 13.2 as giving Palestinians a right of return and what the practical consequences would be for both Israelis and Palestinians. For example, how would the influx of several hundred thousand Palestinians affect Israel's capacity to function as a democracy and still retain its identity as a Jewish state?
Students might also consider whether return to one's "country" means returning to the exact place where one used to live, or simply requires the current government to allow residence anywhere within that nation's borders. How does return to one's country work if one's country, i.e., the government under which one previously lived, no longer exists?
Also challenge students to think about why those who support the Palestinians would not want to interpret Article 13.1 as entitling Palestinians to work and travel freely within Lebanon, and what the consequences of a favorable interpretation would be. For example, if the residents of Ain el-Helweh were permitted to assimilate into the population of Lebanon, would it diminish the need or desire to create lives in Israel, especially for generations who have grown up in the camp and never lived Palestine?
Either as homework or in class (if time permits), assign students to write short persuasive essays arguing either for or against one (or both) of the following statements:
According to Article 13.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Lebanon should allow Palestinians to work and travel freely in the country and should allow others into the camp.
According to Article 13.2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Palestinians have the right to return to land now controlled by the government of Israel.
After students complete their essays, invite them to reflect on the implications of laws being subject to interpretation rather than fixed in their meanings.
1. Have students engage in a formal debate based on the positions they took in their essays. As an alternative, debate whether or not Palestinians should insist that Israel recognize their right of return as a pre-condition for peace talks.
2. Research, discuss and/or debate how the right of return might apply to historical instances of displacement (e.g., Native Americans forced onto reservations, Jews expelled from Spain in 1492, Muslims driven out of Europe).
3. Investigate the broader picture of the current number of stateless persons in the world. Define the benefits of having a legal national identity and discuss ways that stateless people could be guaranteed the rights enjoyed by people who are citizens. You may want to start your research here »
4. Explore the U.S. Constitution as a living document open to interpretation by examining instances in which the U.S. Supreme Court has changed its understanding of the constitution's meaning (e.g., whether or not it allows racial segregation or whether the doctrine of equal protection extends to the LGBT community).
5. Study the full Universal Declaration of Human Rights to see what other assertions it makes about basic rights. Examine the successes and failures of the declaration's signatories to adhere to its tenets.
6. Compare and contrast Israel's Law of Return, which says that every Jew has the right to become an Israeli citizen, with Article 13 and Palestinian arguments that international law guarantees them a right of return.
Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada Report:
"Lebanon: Treatment of Palestinian refugees, including information on identity documents, mobility rights, property rights, access to social services, education and employment, and living conditions." This 2011 report offers an overview of the status of Palestinians in Lebanon.
Independent Media Review Analysis
This Israel-based website aggregates results of polls, interviews and news reports related to the Arab-Israeli conflict. A search for "right of return" will produce several thousand references going back more than a decade.
POV: Media Literacy Questions for Analyzing POV Films
This list of questions provides a useful starting point for leading rich discussions that challenge students to think critically about documentaries.
POV: A World Not Ours
The POV site for the film includes a general discussion guide with additional activity ideas.
ProCon.org: Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
To encourage critical thinking and civil discourse, this non-partisan website provides easily accessible summaries of debates over controversial issues.
Project Look Sharp: Media Construction of the Middle East
This free, downloadable multimedia curriculum provides ways for students to examine how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been represented (and misrepresented) in mass media.
United Nations Information System: The Question of Palestine
This site aggregates United Nations documents related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including key resolutions.
United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
This website provides the full text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as other related resources.
United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East
The website of the agency responsible for creating the camps in which many displaced Palestinians still live includes an historical timeline as well as specific information on Ain el-Helweh, the camp featured in the film.