This special 68-page double-issue of al-Majdal explores the important question: CAN ISRAEL SEPARATE FROM THE PALESTINIANS?
Guest articles to this topic were contributed by Awni al-Mashni, member of the Fateh Higher Committee, and Ameer Makhoul, director of Ittijah, the Union of Arab Associations in 1948 Palestine/Israel. In addition, this issue of al-Majdal includes: activity and campaign updates, a section dedicated to Refugee Protection; and a list of the names of Palestinians killed by Israeli military forces (October 2002 – March 2003).
One of the enduring questions that has confronted politicians and strategists of the Oslo process is how to resolve the Palestinian refugee issue within the confines of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What happens to the more than 5 million Palestinian refugees whose homes of origin are located inside Israel?
For most refugee experts and practitioners crafting durable solutions for Palestinian refugees within the context of two states the answer is quite simple. Individual Palestinian refugees should be permitted to exercise their basic rights to return to their homes and repossess their properties. Resettlement assistance should be provided to those refugees who choose not to return.
The third annual meeting of the Palestine Right of Return Coalition was held in Tisvildeleje (Copenhagen) between 12-15 December 2002. The meeting was convened at the invitation of BADIL Resource Center, in coordination with the Danish-Palestinian Friendship Association and the Right-of-Return Committee-Denmark, and in consultation with all Coalition members in Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Europe, and the United States.
Forty-seven Palestinian representatives and activists from 13 countries in the Middle East, Europe, and North America attended the meeting. Over four days, delegates from Palestine (1967 occupied West Bank and 1948 Palestine/Israel), Lebanon, Jordan, Germany, Holland, France, Britain, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, and the United States held detailed discussions on various issues of concern to Palestinian refugees inside Mandatory Palestine, neighboring countries, and other places of exile.
Our 2002 annual meeting was convened while the Palestinian people are facing extremely difficult circumstances in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories (OPTs) and inside 1948 Palestine/Israel. For some two years, the Israeli occupation has engaged in a campaign aimed at erasing the Palestinian cause in all its components –
national, political, and human. This campaign has threatened both the physical existence of our people and the legitimacy of our political leadership. Moreover, it has succeeded to move international public perception of the struggle for the liberation of the people and the land into the realm of "terrorism." This move would not have succeeded without the international silence and complicity that prepared the ground for the acceptance of daily war crimes committed against the Palestinian people. The affects of these war crimes have been devastating. The resulting needs of our people are overwhelming. In this context, and in order to not lose sight of the strategic objectives of our struggle in the face of hardship caused by the Zionist occupation, it is vital to continue our popular movement for the refugees' right of return. BADIL and its partners convened the third annual meeting of the Palestine Right-of-Return Coalition for this purpose.
On 11 January 2003 some 50 women and men of various ages gathered in the yard near the old city mosque in Lod (Lydda) to remember the Nakba. Eitan Bronstein of Zochrot welcomed the participants.
Dr. Mahmud Muhareb, a history lecturer at Beersheva University described the political and historical background of the 1948 war. He also described the general pattern of action taken by the Zionist forces as they expelled the Palestinian population. He also explained the way this policy of depopulation was applied in the city of Lod. The Zionist army surrounded the city leaving one path – in the direction of Ramallah – open for the local inhabitants to escape. The army then went into the houses and forced the people out. Able-bodied men were sent to labor camps. The others were directed to the road to Ramallah, while soldiers shot over their heads to scare them away.
A human rights award given by an international cosmetics company has focused attention on an oft-ignored group of Palestinian refugees: those living as exiles inside the land occupied by Israel in 1948. The Body Shop selected the Association for the Defence of the Rights of the Internally Displaced (ADRID), as one of four recipients of its annual international award in recognition of the work of human rights campaigners.
The situation confronting the 250,000 refugees inside Israel, classified by the Israeli Absentee Property Law under the surreal oxymoron “Present Absentees,” demonstrates that there can be no just solution for Palestinians without recognition of the rights of those inside the Green Line. The work of ADRID, and individual village-based societies like the Saffuriyya Heritage Association featured here, must be supported internationally as an integral part of the work of campaigning for the right of return. Palestinian refugees inside the 1948 border began to take a more active role in campaigning for their rights following the 1991 Madrid conference. It became clear that official channels, both Palestinian and international negotiators, were not going to place the issue of 1948 Palestinians (refugees or not) on the agenda. ADRID was formed in the wake of this realization, and their efforts have recently received international recognition by The Body Shop. The award has given their campaign a welcome boost. In October, members of the committee flew to London to receive the award before an audience of over 350 guests from the British media, parliament and NGOs. The honour was shared with groups from Honduras, Kenya and Bulgaria, all of whom are campaigning for rights for indigenous peoples, demonstrating that this issue has the potential to reach an international audience. ADRID is a grassroots network supporting community-based organisations campaigning for the right of return for refugees inside the 1948 borders. Providing moral and practical support, the group works to restore destroyed communal property and religious sites (graveyards, churches, mosques) and undertakes documentation of history, demography, and properties of internally displaced Palestinians.
During January 2003, BADIL organized a series of public lectures and debates on the experience of refugee return and real property restitution in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH). The lectures/debates were hosted by Palestinian refugees, internally displaced Palestinians, the wider Palestinian community and interested Israelis, and followed an earlier study tour of Palestinian refugee activists to Bosnia-Herzegovina in June 2002. The guest speaker was Paul Prettitore, Legal Advisor to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH).
In January of this year I spent one week travelling through Israel and the West Bank with members of BADIL to participate in workshops on the issues of the return of refugees and displaced persons and property restitution. I had been invited because of my experience in Bosnia working on human rights issues, particularly those regarding refugees and displaced persons. Despite curfews and roadblocks, we were lucky enough to visit Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nazareth and Tel Aviv. During my trip we arranged a number of meetings with refugees and displaced persons to discuss the situation in Bosnia to see if any of the lessons learned there could be used in Israel and Palestine. While there are many similarities between the two situations, there are also vast differences.
On Saturday, 25 February 2003, approximately 20 people gathered in Tel Aviv to participate in a discussion about the return of refugees in Bosnia and its applicability to the situation of Palestinian refugees. Although the media and Israeli public do not speak about this issue, the attendance at the lecture by Paul Prettitore, legal advisor to the OSCE in Bosnia, demonstrated that there is interest in this issue among the Israeli public.
The Case Against Sharon
On 12 February 2003 Belgian’s highest appeals court (Cour de Cassation) ruled that Israeli Prime Ministry Ariel Sharon can be tried for war crimes, including genocide, once he ceases to hold office. The court ruled, moreover, that the charges were so severe that the accused could be tried in absentia. The ruling also cleared the way for war crimes trials against Israeli General Amos Yaron (currently Defense Ministry director-general and former commander of the Israeli invasion forces in Beirut), former chief of staff Rafael Eitan, and Major General (res.) Amir Drori. These proceedings are likely to begin in the next two or three months. The ruling means that Belgian courts will conduct their own inquiry into the circumstances of the 1982 massacres in the Beirut camps and the degree of responsibility of Israeli officers and their commanders.
The divide between the Palestinian refugees’ return and an independent Palestinian state is as wide as that between the impossible and the possible. A political solution based on the balance of power between the disputing parties may lead to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on all territories occupied by Israel in 1967, but it will certainly not lead to the return of the Palestinian refugees to their homes from which they were displaced. Away from slogans devised for political consumption, any Palestinian negotiator understands this fact, although he or she does not dare declare it openly.
Israel did not acquire a colonial character after the 1967 war. Israel itself is the result of a colonialist project, or perhaps it is the colonialist project per se. It did not become more Zionist after 1967; neither were the methods of occupation more Zionist in practice after 1967 than before, including the period before Israel’s establishment in 1948.
Acquisition and control of Arab land in order to ‘Judaize’ the Galilee, and the establishment of Israeli towns in order to prevent geographic contiguity between Palestinian villages inside the ‘Green Line’, are no different in practice from the acquisition and control of Arab land and the establishment of Jewish colonies (settlements) in the West Bank. The only difference lies in the way we relate to the character of Israel. Our perception of Israel’s colonial project resembles our fragmented condition as a people. This perception is characterized by acceptance of the legitimacy of confiscation of Palestinian land and the establishment of Israeli towns inside the ‘Green Line’, while we challenge the legitimacy of these same acts on the other side of the ‘Green Line’. Thus, Karmiel is called a ‘town’ or a ‘city’, whereas we refer to Ariel in the West Bank as a ‘colony!’ We are confronted with a compartmentalized awareness that accepts colonialism inside the ‘Green Line’ and does not consider it as such, unless it occurs on the other side of the line, even though Israel employs the same practices in both cases.
A Critical Analysis of the Revised UNHCR Interpretation of the Status of Palestinian Refugees under International Refugee Law
During 2002 UNHCR launched a first initiative to address the obvious gaps (‘protection gap’) in the special protection regime for Palestinian refugees. The new UNHCR interpretation of the status of Palestinian refugees under the 1951 Refugee Convention was completed and published in October 2002. This brief analysis was prepared by BADIL in November 2002.
Since 1948 Palestinian refugees have called for international protection to enable them to exercise their right of return to homes and lands illegally expropriated by Israel. From places of exile in the Middle East, Europe, and elsewhere they have called for protection of their right to freedom of movement, family unity, access to education, work, and adequate housing. Too often, Palestinian refugees have raised desperate calls to the international community for protection from renewed forced displacement, collective punishment, arbitrary destruction of their properties, and war crimes.
Requests by Palestinian refugees for legal protection in countries outside the area of UNRWA operation continue to give rise to extensive debate in the courts over the correct interpretation of their legal status and entitlement to the benefits of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Two judgements passed by a British and an Australian court in the second half of 2002 are of special interest, as they are based on extensive examination of the various and often conflicting interpretations of Article 1D (1951 Refugee Convention), and because they were passed shortly prior and after the release of the new UNHCR interpretation.
Both Court decisions clearly contradict the UNHCR’s new interpretation in different aspects, but with similar results. While the UNHCR holds that all Palestine refugees of the wars of 1948 and 1967 living outside the area of UNRWA operation are ‘ipso facto’ entitled to protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention, both courts issued rulings which drastically reduce the size of the population entitled to such protection. In the U.K (see below, El-Ali v. Secretary of State), the Court used a very restrictive interpretation of entitlement based on the first sentence of Article 1D, while in Australia (see below, Waqb v. Minister of Immigration) – where entitlement was understood to include all 1948 Palestine refugees no longer receiving assistance or protection by the relevant UN agencies (UNRWA, UNCCP) – the same result was achieved by a very restrictive interpretation of the ‘ipso facto’ language in the second sentence of Article 1D. By thus limiting the number of Palestinian refugees entitled to protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention, both Courts appear to have been guided more by the aim to limit the scope of potential state obligations to a large and additional group of refugees than by serious concern about the most appropriate legal interpretation or the fate of the Palestinian refugees.
This article is based on a paper drafted by BADIL for the Council of Europe (CoE) Hearing on Palestinian Refugees and Stateless Persons in Europe, 16 December 2002 (Budapest)
It is estimated that there are more than 200,000 Palestinian refugees and stateless persons currently residing in Europe. The exact number of Palestinian refugees in Europe, however, is unknown. Most states do not include Palestinians as a separate ethnic or national group in population censi. Statistical information often categorizes Palestinians as ‘other Middle East.’ Estimates for the number of Palestinian refugees residing in individual European states are therefore incomplete and inconsistent. Partial estimates include: Germany (30,000-80,000); Denmark (20,000); UK (15,000); Sweden (9,000); and France (3,000). Palestinian refugees in Europe comprise approximately 3.5 percent of the global Palestinian refugee and displaced population.
based on press reports by The Regional Council for the Palestinian Unrecognized Villages (RCUV) – Negev
On 3 March 2003, the Israel Lands Administration (ILA), which controls most of the land inside Israel (including land expropriated from Palestinian refugees), destroyed more than 2000 dunums (500 acres) of crops belonging to residents of the unrecognized Bedouin village of Abda located in the Naqab (Negev). Without prior warning, two airplanes belonging to ILA, accompanied by a large number of police forces and Green “Black” Patrol members, sprayed toxic chemicals on Bedouin houses, crops, and men, women, and children working in their fields.
Children exposed to the aerial spraying suffered shock and trauma. Many of the children, who had just received gas masks, believed that the war against Iraq had begun and that chemical weapons had been used against them. The children were immediately evacuated to the closest clinic at Mitzpeh Ramon (a Jewish locality). However, the doctor on duty at the clinic refused to admit them. The children were only admitted after the Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages of the Palestinian Bedouin in the Negev (RCUV) contacted the Israeli Ministry of Health and Kupat Holim. The RCUV has subsequently sent an urgent letter to the Health Ministry requiring an official investigation in the matter.
Jaber Abu Kaff, the RCUV President who visited the children at the clinic said that spraying the crops with chemicals at Abda village was a barbarian, inhuman, and immorale act. He emphasized that the new Sharon government is proceeding with its plan to try to uproot the Bedouin from our fathers’ and grandfathers’ land. “But we will stay in our land as long as we are alive and we urge all those people with a conscience to stand with us.”
The destruction of the crops is another example of a consistent pattern of gross violations of the basic human right to property committed by the government of Israel against the indigenous Palestinian Bedouin community. This is the second time in a year that the ILA has used toxic chemicals to destroy Bedouin crops in the Naqab. In February 2003, officials from the Israeli Interior Ministry destroyed a mosque in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Tel al-Mileh based on claims that it was an unlicensed building. At the beginning of the year, the Israeli government revealed the budget (US$ 1.75 billion) and timeframe (5 years) for a plan to remove the remaining indigenous Palestinian Bedouin living in unrecognized villages from their land and concentrate them into three townships.
The plan includes funds to restart a legal process, suspended in 1976, to settle all outstanding land claims. No Bedouin has ever won a land claim to any of the more than 3,000 lawsuits filed over the past several decades. It also includes funds for land confiscation, destruction of Bedouin cropland claimed by the government as ‘state land’, and the destruction of unlicensed buildings. (For details on the plan see RCUV Press Release 22/1/03). The Israeli government is also planning to construct 14 new Jewish colonies on land belonging to the Bedouin in order to increase the size of the Jewish population living in the Naqab.
The indigenous Palestinian Bedouin inhabitants of the Naqab have been subjected to more than five decades of expulsion, internal transfer, land confiscation, and a policy of forced sedentarization. The Bedouin comprised approximately 13 percent of the total Palestinian refugee population in 1948. Today there are an estimated 650,000 Bedouin refugees (including their descendants) who were initially displaced in 1948. Many live in so-called unrecognized villages inside 1948 Palestine/Israel. Unrecognized villages do not receive any government services. A durable solution for Palestinian refugees must also permit Bedouin refugees and newly internally displaced Bedouins to return to their homes of origin and repossess their properties.
Also see the historical map on Beer Sheba 1948 prepared by the Palestine Land Society in Resources on Refugees in this issue.
There can be no prospect of a workable peace agreement until the return and property restitution question is properly addressed. Indeed, this is a major lesson of all post-conflict situations throughout the world: address restitution issues head on, and more likely than not peace will hold. Ignore it, and the war that was so hard to stop in the first place will be much more likely eventually to re-ignite.
The Palestinians are hardly trying to break new ground. The right to return and the right to restitution of property have a long legal history, and have been most recently actualized in such places as Bosnia, Kosovo, Mozambique, South Africa, Tajikistan and throughout eastern and central Europe. The US has often provided political and financial backing for restitution. Nobody has done more to enshrine the establishment of the right to restitution of property than Jewish groups of Holocaust victims. Through phenomenal organization and determination they have helped ensure that hundreds of thousands of people have been rightly allowed to return to, regain control over or to be compensated for property illegally confiscated during the Second World War.
Attacks on Refugee Camps and Refugee Populated Areas
Attacks on refugee camps and refugee-populated areas violate international humanitarian, human rights, and refugee law. In order to continue to bring attention to the ongoing Israeli attacks on Palestinian refugee camps in the 1967 occupied territories and the urgent need for international protection, BADIL has prepared this short summary of attacks on refugee camps and refugee populated areas. The table covers the period 1 October 2002 through 15 March 2003. The information is based on reported attacks.
Sources: PCHR, 2 March 2003, Ref: 28/2003; PCHR, 3 March 2003, Ref: 30/2033; PCHR, 25 January 2003; PCHR, 2 January 2003; PCHR, 16 December 2003; Press Statement by UNRWA, 6 December 2002; UNRWA reference; PAL/1937, UNRWA, 10 March 2003; LAW; AFP; UN News Service; Reuters
For more information see, ‘Physical Protection for Refugee Populated Areas’, BADIL Occasional Bulletin No. 6 (May 2001) available on the BADIL website, www.badil.org/Publications/Bulletins/Bulletins.htm