Was it as a slip of the tongue - a ‘new order’? A new order allegedly bringing democracy, human rights and the rule of law to the Middle East. But how, and at what price? By ‘reshaping’ and ‘re-ordering’, a vision of self-determination is imposed upon the people of the region. A vision vested in the interest of the superpowers. A vision that calls for appeasement, alignment and acquiescence, not the expression of a people’s rights. It is this same vision that has undermined the capacity of the international community to intervene in Lebanon and the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt).
Israel’s failure to subdue the people of Lebanon and Palestine, in addition to the debacle of the United States and its coalition in Iraq, sends a clear message to the advocates of this ‘new order’: it is a failure. The people of the region have refused to submit.(1)
The Security Council of the United Nations has failed; failed to stop Israel’s war on Lebanon; failed, also, to implement all relevant UN resolutions to the conflict in the region. “When it suits Israel and the United States, United Nations resolutions such as 242 and 338 on Palestine or 638 on releasing hostages can be ignored for years. But other resolutions acquire a Biblical patina and instant compliance is required of them.”(2) Needless to say, all resolutions are intertwined and that in order to achieve ‘a just and lasting peace’ and respect for international law, they must be implemented in a comprehensive manner. This, it should be noted, is also what the people of the Middle East, including Palestinians, and the people of Lebanon and Iraq, want.
The dust had not yet settled on the rubble in Lebanon when Ehud Olmert announced: “this is no time for convergence.” Shimon Peres said there would be no withdrawal from the “territories” in the next 10 years.(1) Tzipi Livni’s extensive brainstorming visit with Condoleezza Rice in Washington apparently served to coordinate policies of regime change in Iran and the occupied Palestinian territories. Both parties, however, remained silent on the question what would replace Israel’s “convergence” plan from here on out. Two months after Israel’s war against Lebanon, the incumbent Israeli government expands rightward to survive. Avigdor Lieberman’s racist and right-wing Israel Beteinu party are the new partners to the ruling coalition and will guarantee that “convergence” plans and the like will remain in the drawer.
Today, it is almost as if there never had been such a plan. Forgotten are the days when Ariel Sharon succeeded to make his “painful concessions” and unilateral withdrawal, the only game in the global village of Middle East diplomacy. Nobody in Israel today appears interested in holding the Kadima party to account for abandoning the political project that had justified its creation.
The term, or more appropriately the use of the category of internally displaced person (IDP) at the international level is quite recent, although the phenomenon is not. The reasons for the emergence of this new category necessitate further explanation.
The welcome recognition of the IDP category, numbering nearly 25 million persons worldwide, is most likely imputable to the decreasing number of refugees around the world. Indeed, the “fortress policy” adopted by an increasing number of states has resulted in the containment of refugees, thus creating the need to provide assistance and protection to IDPs in order to prevent further movement, i.e. movement across borders. The goal could not be clearer: prevent liberalization in policy applying to the movement of persons.
“Israel has turned the Gaza Strip into a prison for Palestinians and have thrown away the key...life in Gaza has turned to be intolerable, appalling and tragic. Israel violates international law as expounded by the Security Council and the International Court of Justice and goes unpunished.... In other countries this process might be described as ethnic cleansing.”(1)
- John Dugard, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied Since 1967.
During the last Israeli aggression on Lebanon, thousands of Lebanese families fled to the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el Hilweh in Saida, to escape the Israeli planes that chased them all the way. Palestinian refugees along with local NGOs in the camp sped to relieve the guests and provide them with food, mattresses and cover to live in dignity until they returned to their villages. This time, the Palestinian refugees and the displaced Lebanese shared not only the pains of exile and old histories but also the dream of return.
The Humanitarian Crisis in Lebanon
As a result of the two prisoners of war taken by Hezbollah, Israel began attacking Lebanon on July 12, 2006. Israel’s army immediately began bombing Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure. As of 1 September 2006, 1,187 had been killed, 4,092 injured, and about 970,000 persons had been displaced during the conflict. 40 Israeli civilians were killed in Israel. Civilians make up the majority of the dead in Lebanon.
Forced displacement is not a new phenomenon for the Palestinian people, whose displacement is ongoing and in fact, an incremental part of the conflict. The Wall and its associated regime are a continuation of this policy as they alter the demographic composition of the occupied Palestinian territories. The international community has however failed to recognize, prevent
and respond to forced displacement.
“I believed that we, the Palestinians, had the right to return only because we owned this land before Israel was established.
Now, I know that the Palestinian refugees’ rights are more than a national right; they are a human and legal right, that all people and states must ensure and respect.” Layan, 15, Lajee Children’s Center, Aida camp. Resilience, resistance and the ability to maintain the struggle for freedom and fundamental rights are based on the heritage and knowledge of older generations and the energy and new skills of the Palestinian youth.
The first years of displacement
Israeli officials who made the decision to prevent the return of the displaced to their villages, were guided by three main considerations: first, the state need for land for housing projects to absorb Jewish immigrants expected from Europe and the Arab states; second, some villages were located in areas considered of strategic importance by the military, and, fearing another war with Arab states (with the aid of the Palestinians), the Israeli authorities decided not to leave these villages in Arab hands. The third and last consideration had a vengeful and punitive dimension: Israel wanted Arabs to suffer the consequences of their rejection of the United Nations Partition Plan and of starting the war.
“This camp is a clear message to the Israelis that the Palestinian people are able to survive and maintain their national identity and collective memory even in the most difficult times”, said Salah Ajarmeh, director of the local Lajee Children’s Center and coordinator of the special summer-camp administrative committee which had worked hard for weeks to see this moment arrive.
Despite the fact that Israel’s brutal “Operation Summer Rain” against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip had just begun, causing much apprehension also in the West Bank, all groups arrived, from Fawwar camp in the south, Aqbat Jaber in Jericho, to Far’ah in the north.
In the Occupied Palestinian Territories forced displacement results from various types of pressure on Palestinians by Israeli occupying forces, settlers and/or more recently, the wall. Following the events in the village of Yanoun, was the first time an entire community had to flee because of settler violence Ta’ayush, the Israeli movement of Palestinians and Jews, wrote the following “[…] transfer isn’t necessarily a dramatic moment, a moment when people are expelled and flee their towns and villages. It is not always a planned, well organised move, completed by buses and truckloads of people, such as happened in Qalqiliah in 1967.
Recent developments at the site of a destroyed Galilee village should bring encouragement Rto all those investing energy in community action to preserve the remains of a Palestinian past on the Israeli landscape. After decades of struggle, the sacred land around the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church once more stands surrounded by a traditional white stone wall. Sadly now, situated in the heart of the Israeli settlement of Migdal Ha’emek, the church needs far more protection than it ever did when it stood in the Palestinian village of al-Mujaydil.
1948 Internally Displaced Persons Palestinians are an Integral Part of the Palestinian People and must be Included Equally in all Future Solutions
One cannot help notice that the Palestinian demand for the ‘Right of Return’, whether by individuals or communities, has not been silenced since 1948. The quest for return lives on, despite the fact that the majority of Palestinians have remained refugees, both inside and outside Palestine. Forced displacement which created the refugee issue, has been yet another dimension of the Zionist project to establish the state of Israel as a racist colonial entity.
A recently released report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) titled Nowhere to Flee: The Perilous Situation of Palestinians in Iraq” (September 2006) warned that Palestinian refugees in Iraq are particularly vulnerable. There has been an increase in “targeted killings by mostly Shi`a militant groups and harassment by the Iraqi government.” Militant groups, including Ministry of Interior officials have “arrested, beaten, tortured, and in a few cases forcibly disappeared Palestinian refugees.” Entire Palestinian refugee communities have received death threats, and dozens have been killed.
Recently published World Bank and UNCTAD reports give dire warnings about the state Rof the Palestinian economy and its ability to recover from the economic crisi tsh oef s tthaties year. Their calculations are indeed shocking. The World Bank predicts that if the current situation is allowed to continue through the end of 2006, 67% of the Palestinian population will be living in poverty, while Palestinians’ average income will fall by 40%. They warn that 2006 may be the worst year in Palestinian economic history.
Before the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
“But what did we do wrong? We were just at home.”(1)
These are the words of 14 year old Ghassan Ghabeen from Beit Lahia in Northern Gaza, spoken after his house was shelled by Israeli forces on April 10th, 2006 rendering Ghassan homeless
with his parents and six brothers and sisters. His sister Hadeel did not survive the attack.
But these words could have been uttered by one of the 400,000 alestinian refugees living in Lebanon, many of whom have been ade refugees or internally displaced yet again by Israel’s ombardment that is continuing in Lebanon as I write.(2)
Entry to the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) through the only available route, via Israel, has always been a nerve-racking,tire some and extremely invasive affair. Unbearable delays, grueling interrogations, strip searches and other forms of humiliation are amongst the best case scenarios. For internationals attempting to enter Palestinian territories, the ever increasing threat of deportation is always looming overhead.