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Home haq alawda The ICJ Ruling on the Wall (Autumn 2004) Are They Really New Refugees? The Hidden Reality Behind the Wall

Are They Really New Refugees? The Hidden Reality Behind the Wall

Written by  Terry Rempel

 In September 2003, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied territories warned that the construction of the separation (‘apartheid’) wall in the West Bank is creating a new generation of refugees and displaced persons.1 The UN and local non-governmental organizations estimate that nearly a quarter of a million Palestinians will be affected by phase one of the wall in the northern West Bank.2 This number is likely to more than double as the wall snakes around Jerusalem and winds its way down through the southern West Bank. 

The wall is generally viewed as another tool of Israel’s ongoing military occupation. Bringing down the wall has become a symbol for ending that occupation. The request by the UN General Assembly to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2003 for an advisory opinion about the legal consequences of the wall and the subsequent ruling of the court six months later are also limited to the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories. There is, however, another hidden reality, which brings into question the very assumption that the wall is only about the occupation.  
 
Who are the newly displaced?
 
Approximately two-thirds of those affected in some degree by phase one of the wall are non-refugee Palestinians. The remaining third are 1948 refugees – i.e., those Palestinians who were displaced from their homes and villages and sought temporary refuge in parts of Palestine that did not become part of the state of Israel.
 
Phase one, which runs from Salem checkpoint in the northwest Jenin district, through Tulkarem and Qalqilya governorates, to Masha village in the Salfit area, created nine so-called enclaves – i.e., areas isolated by the wall. This includes five enclaves west of the wall with 14 communities and four enclaves immediately east of the wall. The UN estimates that another 33 communities further to the east will be affected in some way due to the loss of land, irrigation networks, and infrastructure.
 
More than 220,000 people will be affected in some degree by phase one of the wall. Approximately six percent (13,636 persons) are located in enclaves west of the wall of whom 1,870 are 1948 refugees. Sixty-three percent (138,593 persons) are located in enclaves on the east side of the wall. This includes 67,250 1948 refugees. The population of other affected communities is 69,019 (31 percent) of whom 7,355 are 1948 refugees.
 
Of those persons who have been affected in some way by the wall – i.e., inability to access lands, businesses, schools, clinics and hospitals, and maintain family ties – the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) estimates that more than 2,000 households or nearly 12,000 persons had been displaced from localities that the wall passes through. According to the mayor of Qalqilya, 4,000 people have left the city because of the wall. Not all persons, however, are physically displaced by the direct construction of the wall.
 
Refugees or internally displaced persons
 
At first glance, it would seem that Palestinians who have been displaced in the West Bank as a result of the wall are internally displaced persons. The defining characteristic of internally displaced persons is that they have not crossed an internationally recognized border. While the international community does not recognize the route of the wall as an international border between Israel and a future Palestinian state, the question that has to be asked is whether the wall creates a de facto border that, in effect, creates refugees rather than internally displaced persons.
 
Israel has argued that the wall is temporary in nature designed solely for security reasons. UN observers question this premise. Commenting on the wall one year ago (September 2003), UN Special Rapporteur John Dugard observed that, “the Wall has all the features of a permanent structure. [Emphasis added] The fact that it will incorporate half of the settler population in the West Bank and East Jerusalem suggests that it is designed to further entrench the position of the settlers. The evidence strongly suggests that Israel is determined to create facts on the ground amounting to de facto annexation.”3
 
This permanent structure includes walls and fences, gates and crossing points monitored by Israeli soldiers, and a permit system under which all Palestinians residing in so-called enclaves or wishing to enter such enclaves require special permission from the Israeli military administration. Israelis do not require permits to enter these zones. According to UN reports, Israeli soldiers while explaining new procedures for entry into enclaves in the northern part of the West Bank have, on several occasions, referred to these enclaves as ‘Israel.’4
 
In short, the wall appears to have all the trappings of a de facto border between Israel and the West Bank. Palestinians residing in the nine enclaves created by phase one of the wall have a special residency status that is different from Palestinians living in other areas of the West Bank. Those Palestinians who are physically displaced from these enclaves and those who live outside the enclaves but are unable to access their lands would appear in practice to be refugees rather than IDPs. While the first have, in effect, ‘crossed a border’, the latter case it is the ‘border’ that has crossed the refugees.
 
The determination of whether Palestinians displaced by the wall are refugees or IDPs is important insofar as it determines the relevant protection regime and mechanism.  Refugees fall within the provisions of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. UNHCR is mandated to protect Convention refugees. Due to the unique circumstances of the Palestinian refugee issue, and the interpretation of UNHCR’s mandate in UNRWA’s area of operations, however, there is no mechanism to provide protection to refugees in the West Bank, including those displaced by the wall.
 
Internally displaced persons do not fall within the scope of the 1951 Refugee Convention. There is no convention that sets out the rights of IDPs and concomitant obligations of states, although the non-binding 1998 Guiding Principles on Internally Displaced Persons do provide universal guidelines for IDP protection. Unresolved issues of UN mandate and institutional responsibility for internal displacement, however, continue to hamper effective provision of international protection of IDPs. No single agency is recognized as having an explicit mandate to provide international protection for internally displaced persons.  
 
Occupation or ethnic cleansing?
 
What is little known about those communities affected by the wall is that, in addition to refugee and non-refugee Palestinians, they also include Palestinians who lost land and means of livelihood in 1948 (i.e., village lands fell on the ‘Israeli’ side of the 1949 Armistice Line or ‘Green Line’) but were not displaced from their homes and villages, persons displaced internally as a result of the 1967 war, and villages who have lost land to Israeli colonies over the past 37 years. In other words, this is not the first time that many of those affected by the wall have lost their land and means of livelihood.
 
Approximately one-third of those villages affected by the first phase of the wall were separated from large parts of their lands by the 1949 Armistice Line. This includes three villages located in enclaves west of the wall, five villages in enclaves on the east side of the wall, and another 13 villages that are not (yet) enclosed by the wall, but will lose land and suffer other damages as a result of the construction of the wall. At least one locality experienced major internal displacement in 1967 and most have lost land to Israeli colonies.
 
 Estimated Land Lost in 1948-49, Villages affected by Phase One of the Wall
 

Jenin
Non-Refugee
Refugee Families
Land Lost in 1948-49 (dunums*)
Barta’a Sharqiya
3,404
150
9,435
Rumane
3,186
313
9,740
Anin
3,514
54
3,730
Zububa
2,007
243
11,746
Tannik
1,035
34
27,306
Zabda
785
19
360
Total
13,931
831
62,317
 
 
 
 
Tulkarem
 
 
 
Baqa ash-Sharqiya
3,869
140
36
Nazlat ‘Isa
2,366
50
17
Faroun
3,016
80
2,429
Qaffin
8,263
107
13,060
Deir al-Ghusun
8,942
117
12,932
‘Attil
9,831
330
108
‘Ilar
6,503
70
154
Zeita
2,971
120
4,767
Kafr Jammal
2,415
21
5,589
Kafr Sur
1,185
12
2,059
Total
49,361
1,047
41,151
 
 
 
 
Qalqilya
 
 
 
Qalqilya
41,616
3,900
16,107
Hable
5,725
44
4,159
Kafr Thulth
4,062
27
1,450
Jayyus
3,078
23
58
Falamya
658
5
7
Total
55,139
3,999
21,781
Grand Total
118,431
5,859
125,249

Sources: “Palestine Arab Town and Village Lands outside the Territory Occupied by Israel under the General Armistice Agreements of 1949,” Appendix V, in Sami Hadawi, Palestinian Rights and Losses in 1948. London: Saqi Books, 1988, pp. 224-228; The Impact of the First Phase of the Barrier on UNRWA-Registered Refugees.
* One dunums = 1,000 sq. meters.
 
Of those villages that lost land in 1948 and are affected by the wall, there are 118,431 persons of whom 5,859 are refugee families. In other words, more than fifty percent of Palestinians affected by the wall are from villages that already lost land to Israel due to the location of the 1949 Armistice Lines.
 
This hidden reality challenges the underlying assumption that the wall is only about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. In reality, the wall must be seen as part of a systematic process that has pushed more than half of the Palestinian people outside of their historic homeland, leaving another twenty percent displaced inside Israel and the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories. One has to ask exactly who is pushing who into the proverbial sea.  
 
In his most recent report to the Commission on Human Rights, John Dugard clearly spelled out three objectives of Israel’s separation wall: (1) to incorporate settlers within Israel; (2) to confiscate Palestinian land; and, (3) to encourage an exodus of Palestinians by denying them access to their land and water resources and by restricting their freedom of movement.5 These three objective describe Zionist policy towards Palestinians since the movement decided to establish a Jewish state in Palestine more than a century ago.  
 
This fact is often missed by those who campaign against the construction of the wall. Understanding this hidden reality raises the question of whether it is really possible to bring down the wall and end the occupation without addressing the very nature of Israel itself.
 
Terry Rempel is coordinator of information and research at BADIL.
 
Notes
1 Report of the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights, John Dugard, on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, submitted in accordance with Commission resolution 1993/2 A, E/CN.4/2004/6, 8 September 2003.
 See, generally, reports of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palesti
Terry Rempel

Terry Rempel

Terry Rempel is a PhD Candidate in Politics at the University of Exeter, UK. He is a founding member of BADIL and former Coordinator of Information and Research.