63 years later and on this year's World Refugee Day, Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons still constitute the world's largest and longest-standing case of forced displacement, and the ongoing perils of ignoring the rights and obligations codified in international law in resolving the long-standing conflict in the Middle East are plain for all to see. Indeed, the unresolved conflict in Palestine/Israel has become, in the words of the South African international law expert and former UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the 1967 OPT, a test for the rule of law, generally, and the international system developed over decades to ensure respect, protection and promotion of the basic rights and fundamental freedoms codified in international law:
“For years the occupation of Palestine and apartheid in South Africa vied for attention from the international community. In 1994, apartheid came to an end and Palestine became the only developing country in the world under the subjugation of a Western-affiliated regime. Herein lies its significance to the future of human rights. There are other regimes, particularly in the developing world, that suppress human rights, but there is no other case of a Western-affiliated regime that denies self-determination and human rights to a developing people and that has done so for so long. ... If the West, which has hitherto led the promotion of human rights throughout the world, cannot demonstrate a real commitment to the human rights of the Palestinian people, the international human rights movement, which can claim to be the greatest achievement of the international community of the past 60 years, will be endangered and placed in jeopardy.”2
BADIL's “Rights in Principle – Rights in Practice” is a reader structured around the BADIL Expert Forum in 2003 – 2004. The Expert Forum brought together academics, practitioners, policy makers and civil society actors for a series of four expert seminars in the cities of Ghent, Geneva, Cairo and Haifa to explore a rights-based approach to crafting durable solutions for Palestinian refugees. The effort was supported by the Al-Ahram Center for Strategic and Political Studies (Cairo), the NGO Network APRODEV (Europe), the Association for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced, the Emil Touma Institute for Palestinian and Israeli Studies (Haifa), the Flemish Palestine Solidarity Committee, the University of Ghent Department of Third World Studies, ICCO (Netherlands), the Institute of Graduate Development Studies (Geneva), Oxfam Solidarity (Belgium), Stichting Vluchteling (Netherlands), the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (PD IV) and the Swiss Human Rights Forum Israel/Palestine. Publication of this book, which summarizes years of research and debate, was made possible through the support of the Spanish Development Cooperation (AECID).
The book contains a collection of papers presented to the four expert seminars, in oder to explore:
1. The role of international law in peacemaking and crafting durable solutions for Palestinian refugees, including the role of prosecution, popular sovereignty and participation (Lynn Welchman, Alejandra Vicente, Karma Nabulsi);
2. The right to housing and property restitution in Israel, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and South Africa (Usama Halabi and Hussein Abu Hussein, Paul Prettitore, Monty Roodt);
3. Strategies for (re)linking protection and durable solutions for Palestinian refugees by utilizing existing Arab and international (UNRWA, UNHCR) protection mechanisms (Muhammad Khalid al-Az'ar, Harish Parvathaneni, Susan Akram and Terry Rempel);
4. Ways forward towards rights-based durable solutions, including examination of Zionist Israel's approach to the Nakba, the role of transitional justice models and public participation, and the question whether and how the rights of Israelis conflict with the right of return of Palestinian refugees (Eitan Bronstein, Jessica Nevo, Celia McKeon, Michael Kagan).
The book also contains a series of photo stories from study (“go and see”) visits to Palestinian refugee villages of origin now located in Israel, and to Bosnia and Herzegovina, South Africa and Cyprus. These visits, organized for Palestinian refugees by BADIL parallel to the Expert Forum, provided opportunities for Palestinian refugee activists from camps and communities of exile to explore rights-based approaches in a variety of contexts.
The reader concludes with a summary of findings from the working papers and the debates of the Expert Forum. It reviews relevant principles, examines how they are put into practice, identifies major gaps in putting principles into practice in the Palestinian case, and offers some recommendations on ways forward. A complete list of working papers and Expert Forum participants are included as annexes.
On this year's World Refugee Day, BADIL calls for a change of paradigm in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. We reiterate the words of renowned legal scholar Prof. John Quigley, who noted in his preface to the book:
“This collection demonstrates the importance of a law-based approach to resolving the situation of the Arabs displaced from Palestine in 1948. The collection is the more important in light of the paucity of serious analysis of this issue from the standpoint of relevant international law principles. In any peace process, the legitimate expectations of the parties and other stakeholders should be at the forefront of consideration. If such expectations are ignored, a resulting peace may turn out to be ephemeral, because it may not be accepted by those whose rights have not been respected.”
1. See, for example, Iraq (UN Doc. A/AC.14/21), Syria (UN Doc. A/AC.14/25), Egypt (UN Doc. A/AC. 14/14).
2. UN Doc. A/HRC/4/17 (2007), para. 63.