BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Palestinian scout groups from across the Middle East rallied over the weekend in a unified event to demand the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
The event, "Scouts Lead the Way, The Camp is Our Address, Return is Our Choice," was organized by by the Palestinian Scouts' Association and saw activities organized in Balata refugee camp, Shufat camp in Jerusalem, Ein al-Hilweh in Lebanon and Yarmouk camp in Syria.
It was the first time Palestinian scout groups have organized across borders to march in unity for national Palestinian issues of concern and the events were connected via a video link.
After playing the national anthem and holding a moment of silence for Palestinian victims of the conflict, head of the Palestinian Scout Association in Palestine, Muhammad Jamil Sawalmeh, opened the events by emphasizing how the scout movement had preserved Palestinian culture across a generational and geographic divide.
In the besieged Yarmouk camp, scouts gathered in front of the Palestine Hospital with signs reading: "The right of return will always be the principle we hold in our hearts." Groups also held signs expressing the "readiness of the Scouts to serve the sons and daughters of Yarmouk through our ordeal".
In Balata camp near Nablus, scout groups chanted: "I am a refugee from Jaffa, and I live in Balata camp. I demand my right, and the right of my brothers and sisters in Syria and Lebanon to return to our homes. And we are certain to return! Our heart beats with Yarmouk!"
Secretary of the Palestinian Scouts Association in Ein al-Hilweh camp in Lebanon, Khaled Awad, reiterated the solidarity of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon with refugees in Syria and criticized attacks on Yarmouk camp by armed forces.
In Jerusalem, head of the scout movement Maher Muhsin declared solidarity with refugees in Yarmouk, while in Lebanon's Ein al-Hilweh camp scout leader Khaled Awad condemned all armed attacks on the besieged Damascus camp.
Taysir Nasrallah, a member of the Palestinian National Council, highlighted the concerted efforts of Palestinian communities to raise funds and campaign for Palestinian refugees in Syria, calling for immediate intervention to end the siege of the camp.
The Palestinian scout movement is older than the state of Israel, and Palestinian scout leaders participated in jamborees in Britain in 1929 and in Budapest in 1933.
The first global recognition of Palestinian scouts was in 1928. In the 1936 revolution, scout leaders were considered the core of the Palestinian army.
More than 760,000 Palestinians -- estimated today to number 4.8 million with their descendants -- were pushed into exile or driven out of their homes in the conflict surrounding Israel's creation in 1948.
Around 160,000 Palestinians, who remained in Israel after 1948, now number around 1.36 million people, or 20 percent of the country's population.