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Home al-Majdal The Threat of Disengagement (Summer 2004)
The Threat of Disengagement (Summer 2004)

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The new issue of al-Majdal reports on an innovative Palestinian initiative to create civic structures for Palestinians in exile, the remembrance of the Nakba and attempts to hide and rename a continuing occupation of Palestinian land. Millions are left out of the negotiating process. This study will build a data base on the size, location and structure of communities throughout the world and assess how these Palestinians can build structures for better communication with their political leadership and national representatives.

Al-Majdal also looks at Nakba through Palestinian eyes and the views of Israelis who see the need for recognition of the Nakba as a seminal event in the history of modern day Palestine. It also looks at the events surrounding this year’s commemoration of the Nakba showing the renewed interest among Palestinians world wide in remembering this event.

Diana Buttu is the feature inteviewee in this issue. Ms. Buttu, knowledgeable on the Palestinian negotiating stance and Palestinian issue in general, is a senior figure in the Palestinian Authority’s Negotions Support Unit. Despite many efforts to cloak the occupation of the Palestinian territories in various guises, the occupation continues. An article on the discontinuity of education under occupation and an editorial tracing some of the events and attempts to mask the occupation during the last 10 years through to so-called withdrawals and disengagements put the facts of the continuing occupation squarely on the table.

The issue also includes an update on Palestinian refugees in Iraq, outcome of the International Court of Justice advisory opinion on the separation wall, protection of Palestinians under the refugee and stateless conventions of 1951 and 1954 and needs for rebuilding Rafah.

The Threat of Disengagement: Can Israel Separate from the Palestinians?

What will happen if Israel carries out its plan to ‘disengage’ from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank? Will the disengagement plan advance a politically-negotiated solution to the conflict? Can Israel really separate from the Palestinians?

On 6 June 2004 the Israeli cabinet voted in favor of a modified plan for ‘disengagement’ from the Gaza Strip. The plan calls for the staged evacuation of 17 Jewish colonies in Gaza (4 in the West Bank) and the redeployment of Israeli military forces outside evacuated areas. The American administration hailed the plan as “historic and courageous”. The remaining members of the Quartet were more cautious in their response.

Shifting Discourse

What exactly does disengagement mean? Ariel Sharon’s plan speaks neither about ‘redeployment’ (the term used to describe the relocation of Israeli forces under the Oslo agreements) nor ‘withdrawal’ as in south Lebanon. No where does the modified disengagement plan (the Israeli cabinet rejected the first draft) speak about ending Israel’s 37-year-old illegal military occupation. In short, the plan creates the illusion of political momentum while shifting the political discourse to conceal the reality that even if Israel eventually disengages from Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank, the occupation will continue.

De-motivation and discontinuity mark education under occupation Going to school is hard enough without being tear gassed, shot at

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; the Convention on the Rights of the Child; and other international laws and conventions enshrine the right to education. Attainment of this right, however, is being impeded and sometimes denied for lengthy periods of time to young Palestinian refugees.

As Palestinians commemorated the 56th anniversary of the Nakba, scores of Palestinian refugees who fled Iraq during the 2003 US-led invasion left UNHCR’s Reweished refugee camp in eastern Jordan and went back to Baghdad. While UNHCR feels that the conditions in the country are not suitable for return, the Palestinians, including a family of nine, felt that they would be better off in Baghdad than in the refugee camp on the Iraqi border.

 Jurisdictional arguments: The ICJ is Unlikely to Decline to Render an Advisory Opinion

It is highly unlikely that the Court will decline jurisdiction to render the advisory opinion; in fact, it has never refused to render an advisory opinion requested by a UN body. Most recently, the Court has indicated that it has broad competence to issue advisory opinions.(1) The only precedent for declining an advisory request is the Status of Eastern Carelia case, in which the Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ)—the ICJ’s predecessor—found that the consent of the two states directly involved in the dispute was required before it could render the opinion.(2)

The 56th anniversary of the Nakba was marked by a substantial increase in quality and quantity of activities, despite hard conditions and insecurity on both sides of the ‘Green Line’. Palestinian communities on both sides of the line are facing systematic Israeli state discrimination and military oppression. As a result of active community organizing, the memorial became the most visible event of this kind ever taking place in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories.

The siege imposed on Yasir Arafat, Chairman of the PLO and the elected President of the Palestinian Authority (PA) does not aim merely to isolate Arafat; it is a war against the legitimate leadership of the Palestinian people and the Palestinian national movement. It aims to weaken the spirit and morale of the Palestinian people until they kneel and accept a solution imposed by Israel and the United States. Under this imposed solution Palestinians are supposed to act as a bridge for normalization between Zionist Israel and the Arab world.

Around 100 participants marched through the streets of Tel Aviv-Jaffa covering a route that formerly connected two Palestinian villages that existed within the city boundaries until 1948. This was the second year the Israeli organization Zochrot organized a right of return march on the anniversary of the Nakba.

The political and social nature of Zionism embraces a particular vision towards the Arab person in general, and the Palestinian person in particular, concerning his/her nature, culture and the existing relationship between this person and his/her homeland. This vision, however, contradicts the entire facts regarding the Arab person’s existence; in fact, Zionism and Arab existence stand in total contradiction to each other. This vision provides the fundamental basis for Zionist policy including land expropriation and displacement of people by brutal means, and is derived from mythology and past historical events.

The fundamental nature of Zionist ideology and culture manifests itself in three main ways: racism, aggression and expansionism. By this I mean, racism that considers the other as the enemy, and aggression as a natural consequence of racism which manifests itself through Israel’s continuous aggression against the Palestinian people. Finally, by expansionism I mean occupation, displacement and expatriation of the Palestinian people, destruction of villages, new plans for collective displacement (i.e., transfer pol icies), in addition to Israel’s aspirations for additional territory, and the creation of other new tragic realities on ground.

Many have written about the Palestinian Nakba as a concept and as a major historical event with severe negative impacts on the economic, social and demographic aspects of the Palestinian situation. The Nakba is not necessarily linked to a specific date, even though is normally associated with 1948. In fact, the Nakba is a complicated historical process: it required prior planning and, at the same time, its consequences remain to this day.

The elements of the Palestinian Nakba first came to light during the late nineteenth century, i.e., since the First Zionist Congress, the Balfour Declaration and subsequent Jewish immigration to Palestine. This was accompanied by Jewish propaganda, including the slogan of Palestine as a land without people. The British Mandate facilitated the creation of a Jewish state and the transfer of Palestinian land through new laws that transformed the landholding system from collective to individual ownership.

The last few years witnessed enormous popular efforts to defend the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. These efforts included raising awareness about the refugee problem and its importance as a basis for solving the Palestinian problem. These efforts took root in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and inside the ‘Green Line’; among Palestinians in exile whether it be in Arab countries or the US and in European countries, in addition to various international fora.

There is a natural inclination among political scientists, as well as politicians, involved in peacemaking, to look at the past and memory as an obstacle for peace. Liberating oneself from the past is recommended by such people as prerequisite for peace. This view is entrenched in a wider context of reconciliation and mediation policies that emerged in the United States after WWII. This school of thought was based on a business like approach that treats the past as an irrelevant feature in the making of peace.

This means the peace makers consider only a contemporary situation – with its balance of power and realities on the ground – as a starting point for a reconciliation process. It also means that even when a blatant failure is registered in such a peace effort, the renewed effort restarts from a similar point of view; namely, one that neglects to take into account the lessons of previous failures. Noam Chomsky who noticed such a tendency in the Middle East peace process concluded that the result was a never-ending ‘peace process’ which was not meant to bring peace, but rather provided jobs and preoccupations for a large group of people belonging to the peace industry.

In March 2004 a commemoration was held near the ‘Cinema City’ (Herzliya) for the Palestinian village of Ijlil which existed at the site until 1948. Its inhabitants fled upon hearing of massacres committed against Palestinians by Zionist forces in the area. A detailed report about the village, its uprooting and the fate of its refugees, was published in the local paper ‘Sharon Times’ on the occasion of the memorial.

 BADIL: As confusion appears to prevail on this matter, could you please summarize briefly the official Palestinian negotiating position on the refugee question?

Diana Buttu: During the last round of negotiations at Taba in 2001, as in previous rounds, the PLO’s position was that Palestinian refugees have the right to return to their homes. This position is based on international law and practice. The leadership also held that Israel should apologize and accept responsibility for the plight of the refugees over the past 56 years due to its refusal to allow the refugees to return.

Taba represented a slight shift in approach to the refugee question, because for the first time there was also discussion about the question of implementation. The PLO’s position was that refugees must be presented with real choices. It is up to the refugees themselves to choose a solution. This is not a question for Israel, the Palestinian Authority or the international community. At Taba the PLO discussed four choices. Refugees would be able to choose to go to the Palestinian state, stay where they are in current host states, resettle in third countries like Canada, or return to their homes in Israel.

 The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention) provides Palestinian refugees seeking protection in third countries with the right to” ipso facto” refugee recognition under certain circumstances (Article 1D). The 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons (1954 Stateless Convention) also provides Palestinian refugees with a right to protection, based on their status as stateless persons. BADIL is currently conducting research on national practice with a view to analysing whether Palestinian refugees are granted those rights. This article presents the initial findings of the ongoing research.

In April 2004, a number of Palestinian NGOs began a series of consultation workshops to increase efficiency of advocacy efforts for a rights-based solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by means of a unified and clear message. Key topics were identified for debate in a series of nine workshops: Refugees and the Right of Return; Two-state vs. One-state Solution;

Palestinian-Israeli Relations; Israel Sanctions and Boycott; Zionism, the Jewish State and the Concept of Apartheid; Occupation, Settlements and the Wall; Resistance, Violence, Terrorism; Jerusalem; and the Future Character of Palestinian Society. Participating NGOs alternate in taking on responsibility for preparing topics, inviting speakers, hosting and reporting.

An EU-funded study at the University of Oxford will assess how Palestinian refugee communities living in exile in the Middle East, Europe, and further afield can build civic structures to enable better communication with their political leadership and national representatives.

The project, entitled Civitas, will run over the next 18 months, and will establish the precise types of mechanisms needed by Palestinian refugees outside the West Bank and Gaza in order that they might participate effectively, and contribute democractically, to the shaping of their future.

In April 2004, a number of Palestinian NGOs began a series of consultation workshops to increase efficiency of advocacy efforts for a rights-based solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by means of a unified and clear message. Key topics were identified for debate in a series of nine workshops: Refugees and the Right of Return; Two-state vs. One-state Solution;

Palestinian-Israeli Relations; Israel Sanctions and Boycott; Zionism, the Jewish State and the Concept of Apartheid; Occupation, Settlements and the Wall; Resistance, Violence, Terrorism; Jerusalem; and the Future Character of Palestinian Society. Participating NGOs alternate in taking on responsibility for preparing topics, inviting speakers, hosting and reporting.

UNRWA has launched an appeal for $45 million for emergency aid, building repairs and housing construction in Rafah, Gaza. This special appeal includes some $40 million for needs that remain unfunded from previous Agency appeals. This is in addition to the Agency’s regular program of health, education, food distribution and social services for tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees in the Rafah area.

Al-Majdal Authors