Internally Displaced Palestinians and Unrecognized Communities in the Territory of the Israeli State

Report based on meetings conducted by BADIL with the National Committee for the Internally Displaced, the Association of the Forty, Raja' Ighbariyeh (former secretary of the Committee for the Defense of Arab Lands), and al Baqa' Center/Majdal Krum (August 5-7, 1999)


Facts & Figures
Internally Displaced Palestinians registered by UNRWA (May1950) 46,000*
Palestinians internally displaced 1999 200-250,000 (est.)
Percent of total number of refugees** 1999 5.0%

Palestinians living in unrecognized communities (1999)***
Galilee         10,000
Naqab         60,000
Total         70,000

* Registered by UNRWA as refugees receiving rations. By May 1951, one year later, this number of internally displaced receiving assistance from UNRWA was reduced to approximately 24,000. Report of the Director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. UN Document A/1905, 30 June 1951.
**Basis (100%, including UNRWA registered and unregistered refugees) is 804,069 refugees originating from the primary depopulated villages. If refugees from Palestinian 'extra' villages and towns previously excluded using UNRWA records as a guide are included, the total number rises to 935,573. The minimum total number of refugees, registered and unregistered, at the end of 1998 is 4,942,121. The maximum estimate for Palestinian refugees in 1998 is 5,477,745. (Salman Abu Sitta, The Palestinian Nakba, 1948, Register of Depopulated Localities in Palestine, The Palestinian Return Center, London: 1998)
***Includes an unknown number of internally displaced persons



Mandatory Palestine was the home of some 1,280,000 Palestinian Arabs at the end of 1947 who owned 93% of the land. The violent confrontations between Zionist forces and local Palestinian militia and the consequent Israeli-Arab war (1947 - 1948) led to the forceful eviction of at least 800,000 Palestinian Arabs. While the large majority of them were eventually pushed across the borders of the new Israeli state, tens of thousands of them remained as internally displaced refugees inside the territory that became Israel. They were part of the some 150,000 Palestinians who had remained in Israel after the Palestinian Nakba, and were first registered in the third population census of Israel in 1955. Internally displaced Palestinians, forced out of their original homes and villages, found shelter in neighboring Palestinian towns and villages or in makeshift refugee camps not far from their homes. In 1950 some 46,000 internally displaced Palestinians were initially registered as receiving aid from UNRWA. In July 1952 UNRWA discontinued its services to the internally displaced Palestinians, after Israel formally took control of the territory conquered in 1948.

Initially, the Israeli army for alleged security reasons prevented the return of the internally displaced Palestinians to their homes. Areas of high Palestinian population concentration were placed under Israeli military rule until 1966. During this period, movement outside village and town borders was severely restricted. In 1950, Palestinian refugees were defined as "absentees" under the Absentees' Property Law. Internally displaced Palestinians became known as "present absentees" - i.e. absent from their ordinary place of residence but within the borders of Israel. Their property, just like the property of exiled refugees, was transferred to the Israeli Custodian of Absentee Property. The Custodian was authorized to retain, lease, or sell the property to the development authority subsequently established by the government, thereby eventually bringing the property under the control of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and the Israel Land Authority (ILA) for exclusive use by the Jewish community in Israel.

As with the case of exiled Palestinian refugees, Israel refused to implement UN Resolution 194 (1948) in the case of the internally displaced Palestinian Arabs. A number of Israeli Supreme Court rulings in favor of the return of internally displaced communities (Iqrit, Bir'im, Al-Farada, a.o.) - all of them issued in the 1950s - have been disregarded by the Israeli government. Even though internally displaced Palestinians were eventually accorded Israeli citizenship, they have been prevented from returning to their homes and lands. The process of eviction, house demolition, and land confiscation, moreover, has continued mainly in the Hula valley/northern Israel, the Galilee and in the Naqab/Negev. By 1999, the number of internally displaced Palestinians living within the borders of the Israeli state is estimated at 200-250,000 (approximately 20% of the total Palestinian population), most of them living in the Galilee, the central triangle, the mixed cities in the center, and in the Naqab/Negev.

Other Palestinians who remained within the borders of the new state - either in their original villages or in involuntary alternatives - found themselves living in sites not recognized by Israel as residential communities according to the 1956 Israeli Planning and Construction Law. A countrywide master plan designed on the basis of this law, included only 123 Palestinian communities and excluded hundreds of existing Palestinian villages and localities. The lands of these "unrecognized villages" were consequently considered by the Israeli planners as uninhabited land, subject for division into agricultural land, green land, and land for construction. Moreover, unrecognized communities were excluded from public services (e.g. water, electricity, health, education, and infrastructure development) and became subject to frequent eviction and house demolitions. In 1987, a special Israeli government commission (Markovitch Commission) issued a recommendation for the demolition of 11,000 Arab homes, including entire villages, in communities not included in the Israeli master plan.




Demolition orders for Palestinian homes inside Israel
Region          Demolition Orders
North                      1445+
Haifa                      2428
Central                     578
Jerusalem                  81
South                     5944
TOTAL                 10,476

According to data compiled by the Association of the Forty, the current number of inhabitants of unrecognized Palestinian communities is about 70,000, with 10,000 in the North and the rest in the South (Naqab) living in more than one hundred localities. The total number of unlicensed homes in the unrecognized communities has reached some 12,000, with 3,000 in the North and 9,000 in the Naqab (75% of which are tents and shanties).

The Struggle of Internally Displaced Palestinians and Unrecognized Communities

1976 - early 1990s: Land Day and Committee for the Defense of Arab Lands Israeli repression, until 1966 under the military government, later via the British Emergency Regulations (1945), effectively stymied organized Palestinian resistance against the massive expropriation of Palestinian land. By the mid-1970s, a new Palestinian leadership, part and parcel of the PLO, had developed despite Israeli repression. Massive confiscation of Palestinian lands in Sakhnin/Galilee (some 100,000 dunums) in 1975 triggered an unprecedented wave of popular protest. At a subsequent meeting of the heads of Arab Local Councils, Tawfiq Zayyad (Communist Party) obtained a majority for a call by the Council heads for public mobilization against land confiscation on Land Day (March 30, 1976) and for the establishment of a Committee for the Defense of Arab Lands. These decisions opened a new era in the organized Palestinian struggle against land confiscation. The brutal repression of the Palestinian protest on the first Land Day led to its institutionalization as an annual protest event, and the Committee for the Defense of Arab Lands became one of the central coordinating bodies of Palestinian resistance in Israel.

The Committee for the Defense of Arab Lands had some 100 members and a permanent secretariat composed mainly of the Communist Party and Abna' al-Balad. For more than 10 years, the Committee organized Palestinian protest activities, especially around the annual Land Day. As an activist body, it was, however, unable to counter Israeli land confiscation schemes by means of proposals based on alternative maps and planning programs. The result of this deficiency was the establishment of the Committee of the Forty (later Association of the Forty, see below), which as a professional body was to answer the need for alternative planning, especially in the case of unrecognized Palestinian communities in the Galilee and the Naqab. In 1986, the Association of the Forty joined the secretariat of the Committee for the Defense of Arab Lands.

The decline of the role of the Committee for the Defense of Arab Lands was a result of the defeat of the Palestinian struggle in general (Gulf War, Madrid Conference, Oslo Accords), but also an outcome of the Communist Party's preference for the new Arab Monitoring Committee, established in the late 1980s, as the highest decision making body for the Palestinian community in Israel. The Arab Monitoring Committee, composed of all heads of Arab Local Councils - including mayors elected on Labor Party Lists - gradually took on the role of the Land Defense Committee in organizing annual Land Day events which had little of the militancy of the early years.

The Struggle in the Post-Oslo Era

The Land Defense Committee became inactive in the early 1990. It gave way to new forms of protest and political lobbying in the framework of the National Committee for the Internally Displaced and pressure against discriminatory Israeli land planning schemes upheld by small, professional organizations, such as the Association of the Forty. The task ahead of them is tremendous, because the issue at stake is not only the struggle for the restitution of Palestinian internally displaced and unrecognized communities in Israel. Palestinian organizations working for the rights of the displaced and unrecognized in Israel will have to form the spearhead of the united Palestinian struggle against new Israeli projects which threaten to undermine a just solution of the Palestinian refugee question in the future, i.e. the new Israeli policy aimed at the privatization of "absentee land" (so far implemented mainly via land transfers to Kibbutzim), and a project promoted by MK Abraham Burg (left Labor!) and MK Ariel Sharon (Likud), which aims at the transfer of Israeli state land - mainly refugee property - to the Jewish National Fund (JNF).