A Condition for a Just and Durable Peace in the Middle East
A Joint Statement issued by Organizations and NGOs of Internally Displaced Palestinians and Palestinian Refugees in Palestine and Lebanon
51 years after the massive eviction of the Palestinian people by the Zionist forces, the Palestinian refugee question remains unresolved. Israeli governments, past and present, have obstructed the return of the Palestinian refugees and maintained exclusive Jewish control of refugee lands and properties by means of racist laws and policies. As a result, some five million Palestinian refugees, i.e. some 70% of the Palestinian people, have been forced to remain in exile. Others have remained in their homeland as internally displaced persons, deprived of access to their homes and properties by Israel. Lacking social and political security, Palestinian refugees continue to demand their right to return home, regain access to their properties, and receive adequate compensation for material losses and damages, as well as for the psychological suffering inflicted upon them.
"No Final Status Agreement with Israel without Implementation of the Refugees' Right of Return!"
Some 600 Palestinian activists, representatives of national institutions and camp organizations, as well as children and youth from West Bank refugee camps gathered at the Khadouri Technical College in Tulkarem on 25 November, in order to state their demand for the implementation of the Palestinian refugees’ right of return to their homes and properties in the framework of a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
(Translation from the Arabic)
I know that I woke up early after their departure; and that some time later I realized that they were gone. Their departure was like rain pounding my bones; like a home awaiting its owners. I know that they were now called refugees, dispersed among camps, in exile, and that their letters were lost. Lost just like the small notebook, the youths, and the picture of the mother. I know that condolences are offered in public speeches, international resolutions, and in the tender faces of the Red Cross nurses. I know that they all love as fiercely - and killed us fiercely. How am I to catch my shadow that is filled with blood and joy, while I am besieged by a refugee's relief-card?
TULKAREM, OLD CITY/JERUSALEM
Photo Exhibitions: Children of Aida camp/West Bank exhibited a photographic account of their lives and perspectives at the BADIL Friends' Right of Return Rally (Khadouri College, Tulkarem) and in Jerusalem. The exhibition in Jerusalem was coordinated in cooperation with the African Community Club in the Old City and open to the public between December 7-10, 1999.
Video Presentation: On 2 December 1999, the video documentary "Beit Jibrin: A Visit of Hope, a Visit of Sorrow" (BADIL Friends and Quinoa/Belgium, 1999) was presented to the people of 'Azza Refugee Camp/Bethlehem who had participated in the production of this video both in 'Azza Camp and in their town of origin, Beit Jibrin. A copy of the documentary was sent to the refugees of Beit Jibrin currently residing in refugee camps in Jordan.
A Call for Support issued by BADIL Resource Center and the BADIL Friends Forum on the 51st Anniversary of UN Resolution 194
Our Petition for Palestinian Restitution was drafted in conjunction with Palestinian researchers, discussed with Palestinian refugee organizations and activists in Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan in early 1999, and endorsed by many of them. The petition campaign aims to raise international awareness of Palestinian refugees’ right to restitution (right of return, return of properties, compensation for material and non-material losses) in the context of the broader, current debate about restitution of victims of past and present ethnic cleansing policies, such as victims of the Nazi crimes, Bosnian and Kosovar refugees, and others.
By mid-December, Palestinian and Israeli negotiating teams had met some ten times to discuss issues pertaining to the framework agreement to be signed in February 2000 as a first step towards a future comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian final status agreement. US Foreign Secretary Albright's visit gave rise to strong official Palestinian protests against the ongoing Israeli settlement activities in the 1967 occupied territories, including a Palestinian threat to halt the final status negotiations. Following Albright's departure, however, negotiations resumed.
The adaptation of Palestinian refugees exiled to Syria after 1948 was eased by the historical connection between Syria and Palestine ("Greater Syria"). Despite political differences between the two countries after 1920, many Syrians had participated in the defense of Palestine against Zionist colonization, especially during the 1936-39 Arab Revolt. Damascus was a stronghold of Palestinian revolutionaries and, following the defeat in the 1939 revolt, became their shelter. This relationship continued until well after the 1948 Nakba.
Palestinian Refugees from the Demilitarized Zones (1949-1956)
The armistice agreements between Israel and the neighboring Arab states included the establishment of Demilitarized Zones (DMZs) in the north along the cease-fire lines with Syria and in the south along the cease-fire lines with Egypt. Israeli expulsion campaigns, most of them headed by Ariel Sharon, were undertaken mainly in the years 1949 - 1951 and were completed by 1956.
Speaking on the 50th anniversary of the establishment of UNRWA, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan noted that "despite the urgent need to create economic and social conditions conducive to peace, UNRWA today finds itself in a state of financial strangulation." The assessment is born out in the Agency's latest annual report, which describes 1998-99 as a year of achievement but also one of continued austerity and anxiety. According to the report, "existing services were sustained only by retention of prior austerity and cost reduction measures."
"In our Holy Land, peace is still a difficult process. In these recent days it has extended to include all parties concerned. Peace will be the fruit of justice. In our context, it should restore to the refugees their dignity and their rights, to the political prisoners their liberty, and to Jerusalem it should guarantee its sacred character. Peace with the Palestinian people remains at the heart of the problem and the essential condition for peace in the whole region." (Christmas Message, 1999)
Opinion polls aiming to obtain clarity about refugee preferences in regards to the solution of refugee problems are a tool used world-wide by state and international organizations involved in the settlement of refugee problems. (The UN High Commission for Refugees/UNHCR, for example, has conducted such opinion polls in the framework of refugee repatriation in post-war Vietnam). Polls, in their common use, serve as an instrument to obtain a better picture of the mechanisms and resources required in order to solve a specific refugee problem in a way that meets refugee preferences. Thus, opinion polls, as commonly applied, are part and parcel of the implementation of the solution to refugee flows. The framework of the solution, on the other hand, is defined by the internationally recognized principle of the refugees’ right to choose amongseveral options (return, absorption in the country of refuge, third country re-settlement). Opinion polls are NOT used to determine refugee rights, as these rights are defined by international law and UN Resolutions.
Lobbying the European Union for a Just and Sustainable Peace in the Middle East - Report of the First Meeting with the European Parliament: On 17 November 1999, the European Inter-Network Group (composed of the ECCP and the four European NGO-networks) and a delegation of their Palestinian partner organizations headed by Mustafa Barghouthi/UPMRC (www.upmrc.org), met with 40 members of the European Parliament to raise three major issues related to a just and durable peace in the Middle East: a) Palestinian sovereignty and substance of the Palestinian state in creation; b) development of a sustainable Palestinian economy; and, c) the solution of the Palestinian refugee question based on international law and UN resolutions. The meeting concluded with a consensus that while Palestinian statehood is becoming a reality, the viability of the emerging state continues to be threatened by Israeli policies implemented on the ground as well as by the Israeli positions held in the final status negotiations. In a next step, the European Inter-Network Group and a Palestinian partner delegation will hold a second meeting with the European Union in order to discuss the requirements for a just and durable solution of the Palestinian refugee question. A discussion paper prepared by BADIL Resource Center (see: page #), as well as BADIL's Petition for Palestinian Restitution, were presented to the European parliamentarians as part of the preparations for the special meeting on the Palestinian refugee question scheduled for spring 2000. The Inter-Network Group and the Palestinian delegation were hosted in the European Parliament by MEP Luisa Morgentini/United Left.
Discussion Paper for the European Union
Since 1995, BADIL Resource Center has advocated for Palestinian refugee rights in cooperation with refugee community organizations in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and inside Israel; Palestinian researchers, NGOs and community activists in Lebanon, Jordan, and other countries of the Palestinian exile; international NGOs and solidarity movements, as well as UN institutions. The following brief discussion paper raises central aspects of the Palestinian refugee question for discussion in the European Parliament. We hope this discussion will continue and deepen in the year 2000.
II. The Status of Palestinian Refugees
1. The 800,000 - 900,000 Palestinian Arabs evicted from their homes and lands located in Mandatory Palestine during the military conflicts and war of 1947/8 which resulted in the establishment of the state of Israel, were given refugee status and granted protection and assistance by all relevant UN resolutions and international refugee law legislated since 1948: UN Resolution 194/1948, establishing the Palestinian right of return and the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP) as the international body mandated with the implementation of refugee return, restitution, and compensation; UN Resolution302/1949, establishment of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA); 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and; 1950 UN High Commission for Refugees. Although the exact current number of Palestinian refugees is subject to debate, recent careful studies (e.g. Salman Abu Sitta, Register of the Depopulated Localities in Palestine, 1998) indicate that some 5 million refugees and their descendents are currently entitled to protection by the above UN Resolutions.
2. The international community considers Palestinian refugees entitled to a special refugee status and protection (UN Resolution 194 and UNCCP) as well as special assistance (UN Resolution 302/establishment of UNRWA as special assistance agency). The special status of Palestinian refugees resulted from the fact that the Palestinian refugee problem was created as the direct result of a controversial UN decision (UN Resolution 181/1947, Partition Plan for Palestine). The international community thus recognized its responsibility for the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem, and conditioned Israel’s membership in the United Nations (UN Resolution 273/1949) by its explicit approval of UN Resolutions 181 and 194.
III. Durable Solutions to Refugee Flows: Basic Principles of International Law
1. The Palestinian Refugee Case should be analyzed and resolved according to UN resolutions and principles of international law, including UN Resolution 194/1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights/1948, the Fourth Geneva Convention/1949, the UN High Commission for Refugees/1950, and the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees/1951. The principles codified in the above international conventions have served as guidelines for the solution of refugee problems in other areas of the world - i.e Vietnam, El Salvador, Guatemala, Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosova, etc..
2. The guiding principle for durable solutions to refugee flows is refugee choice, i.e. voluntary participation by the refugee community. The international community and its designate on refugee matters, the UNHCR, universally recognize the following principles in fashioning sustainable solutions to refugee problems: refugee repatriation to their homes and properties; refugee absorption in their countries of exile; refugee re-settlement in third countries. UN Resolution 194 calling upon Israel to facilitate the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes and lands if they wish to do so establishes the principle of refugee choice. International denial of the applicability of this principle in the Palestinian case will continue to alienate some 5 million refugees from whatever model for a solution of their case may be designed inside or outside the political negotiations between Israel and the PLO.
3. Refugee repatriation has become the preferred option in international efforts for the solution of refugee problems, especially during the past decade. Refugee repatriation usually reflects refugee choice (unless personal safety cannot be guaranteed in the place of origin). The practical possibility of refugee return to their areas of origin inside the Israeli state is a well established fact. Recent research reveals that the current demographic distribution of the population in Israel has left major parts of Palestinian refugee land uninhabited. This land is still controlled by the Israeli “Custodian of Absentee Property” and the Israeli Land Development Authority, the latter which is authorized under Israeli law to lease refugee property for use by small agricultural settlements (kibbutzim, moshavim). Israeli official sources themselves (Ministry of Absorption, a.o.) uphold that the country’s absorptive limits for immigration have not been reached.
4. The principle that refugee losses (material and non-material) must be made good by means of restitution of property, and – if restitution is not possible – by compensation for the material losses. The principle of restitution of refugee property has been affirmed by the European Union and the European Commission of Human Rights in relation to outstanding property claims in East/Central Europe. Refugee claims for compensation for non-material losses (psychological damage, loss of opportunites, etc.) have received increasing international legitimacy. Refugee repatriation allows for maximum restitution of refugee property to refugee property owners, thus reducing the amount of financial resources required for refugee compensation and reconstruction. The right of refugees to their properties is increasingly recognized and codified in international law. The principle that a state must recognize and make good the individual refugees' right to their properties and/or compensation for loss therefore has been effectuated in Bosnia, Croatia, Kosova, and Uganda, among other recent crises.
IV. Short Term Issues
Since final status negotiations between Israel and the PLO have begun, we consider the principled issues raised above to be of utmost importance. At the same time, we would like to draw attention to a number of other issues of immediate importance:
1. UNRWA funding by the international community must be raised to a level permitting adequate services (education, health, welfare) to the growing refugee population. Although increasing international awareness of the important stabilizing role of UNRWA in the region has convinced UNRWA donors to not reduce their annual contribution, the current level of funding is still extremely insufficient (per capita UNRWA support to refugees declined from some US $200 to $80 in the 1990s). Depending on the developments in the political negotiations, two issues will have to be addressed:
(a) In absence of a political solution to the refugee question, a new international policy for UNRWA funding will have to be designed in order to avoid a situation where the Agency is fighting with a chronic budget crises at a time when frustration and need among the 3.6 million registered refugees will be extremely high.
(b) If a framework for the solution of the refugee question is established in the final status negotiations, the potential of UNRWA (in cooperation with UNHCR, other international organizations) as an organization which can contribute to the implementation process should be examined. UNRWA's mandate could be expanded to permit an active role of the Agency within the mechanism of return-restitution-compensation, in order to make use of past financial investment in UNRWA infrastructure and its long standing experience and relation with the Palestinian refugee community.
2. Palestinian Refugee Protection by European Governments: The legal status of Palestinian refugees in areas outside UNRWA's mandate is determined by the 1951 Refugee Convention. Based on Article 1D of this Convention, Palestinian refugees are entitled to the benefits of the Convention. Moreover, Palestinians who have not acquired the nationality of a third state are also stateless persons and entitled to special protection. European governments are thus called upon to adapt their residency and asylum policy to the standards set by international law, especially in the case of Palestinians, whose legal status outside the Middle East has been frequently subject to misinterpretation. (Legal expertise on this subject is available via BADIL).
V. Long Term Issues
1. A solution model based on the parameters of refugee choice, refugee return, restitution, and compensation is the only feasible approach towards a New Middle East. Refugees would finally be able to make an educated choice about whether they wish to return to their homes and lands in Israel or not; Arab host countries could tackle the issue of absorption of Palestinian refugees (those who wish so), without being bound by the political positions of the Arab-Israeli war; refugee consent and cooperation would allow for the allocation of funds (otherwise needed for compensation) to local and regional infrastructure development projects which would benefit refugees, Palestinians, Israelis, and all the people in the region. A solution based on the above parameters would lead to the de-escalation of the conflict in the whole region. It would facilitate regional demilitarization and a more efficient, co-operative use of regional natural resources.
2. The complicated issue of Palestinian refugee compensation could be resolved in a much more economic and effective way by a solution based on the parameters of refugee choice, refugee return, and restitution of property. A solution based on these parameters would be supported by the Palestinian refugees, part of whom would decide to return to their homes. They would find an infrastructure facilitating their absorption/integration (property, relatives). The amount of special financial resources for compensation (currently estimated up to US$600 billion) could thus be drastically reduced, as they would have to serve mainly for the compensation of those refugees not wishing to return.
VI. Concluding Remarks
Fifty-one years after the creation of the Palestinian refugee case, international debate and policy initiatives on the Palestinian refugee question avoid approaching this issue according to international standards and principles applied elsewhere, as if these standards and principles were not applicable to Palestinian refugees. Based on the above, we call upon the international community in general, and the European Union in particular, to start to deal seriously with the discriminatory and racist policies of Zionism (Law of Return, Jewish National Fund, a.o.) which violate international law, and obstruct a just settlement of the Palestinian refugee question, including the enforcement of the refugee's right of return. Israel's racist laws and policies remain the major obstacle to a just and durable peace in the Middle East. Similar policies by Serbia were forcibly rejected and reversed by the international community in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosova.
This brief discussion paper does not permit us to present the issues in the necessary detail and context. We hope, however, that you will accept them as points of discussion, until we will have a chance to present our approach in a more detailed, professional form in the future – hopefully in the spring of 2000. At the same time, we would like to assure you that the issues raised in this brief discussion paper are the result of numerous discussions and debates among Palestinian refugee organizations, Palestinian researchers, and international law experts. Without their contribution, we would not have been able to conceptualize our vision, and they are the ones that deserve to be heard – especially now that the future of the Palestinian refugees, i.e. two thirds of the Palestinian people, is on the negotiation table.
'A'idun (those who will return)
Advocacy Group for Right of Return Established in Lebanon: Statement of Purpose
A number of academics, social activists, and intellectuals have organized a forum for devising ways of advocating for the right of return for Palestinian refugees. An advocacy group for the right of return has been formed under the name 'A'idun (those who will return). 'A'idun is a community group, which is completely unaffiliated with any political contingent, and membership is open to all Palestinian and Lebanese activists. The struggle for the right of return is a concern shared by members of societies hosting the Palestinian refugees, and it touches the interests of the host societies, especially Lebanese society.
Developing Legal Expertise on Palestinian Refugee Rights: Workshop for legal experts from Palestine, Lebanon, Europe, and the United States;
Coordinator: Oxfam Solidarity/Belgium;
Preliminary date: 15 - 16 January 2000.
WEST BANK/Palestine -
Strategy Workshop for Palestinian Activists in Defense of Refugee Rights:
Coordinator: BADIL Friends Forum;
Preliminary date: West Bank, end of January 2000.
BRITAIN (MENL, 1/12/99): Deputy Foreign Minister Peter Hain told parliament that London backed United Nations resolution 194 that calls for refugees to be allowed to choose between return and compensation. He said Britain found it "intolerable" that the refugee issue would not be resolved in current Israeli-Palestinian talks. Hain said the international community had a "moral duty" to solve the problem of the Palestinian refugees. "Refugees shall return to their homes and compensation should be paid for the property of those who choose not to return," Hain said. "The interests of the refugees and their rights to live in justice and freedom must not be forgotten."
EUROPEAN UNION (Daily Star, Beirut, 1/12/99): Visiting European envoy Miguel Moratinos promised to help fulfill Palestinian and Lebanese demands that Palestinian refugees be allowed to return to their homeland as part of a final peace agreement with Israel. The EU considered the return of Palestinian refugees "essential for securing a stable and conclusive peace in the region," Moratinos said after meeting Lebanese Prime Minister Salim Hoss. He assured Hoss that the EU would back Lebanese and Palestinian authorities on this point
Under the Hammer of the Syrian-Lebanese Preparations for the Negotiations with Israel
The deplorable living conditions, the lack of legal protection, and the strong sense of uncertainty about the future among Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, especially since the 1993 Oslo Accords, have been documented and analyzed by several researchers and journalists. The problematic situation of Palestinians in Lebanon is the combined result of the forced withdrawal of the PLO and the collapse of its institutions in Lebanon after 1982, the international reluctance to solve UNRWA's budget crisis, and the international pressure for a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian-Arab conflict based on refugee resettlement in the Arab host countries - and consequent Lebanese government efforts to avoid refugee integration into its sensitive ethno-religiously based political system. (See also: Profile-Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon, in: ARTICLE 74/26, December 1998; al-Majdal/1, March 1999.)