Sixty-five years after their forced dispossession, Palestinian refugees are still forbidden from returning home.  (© Issam Rimawi / APA images) Sixty-five years after their forced dispossession, Palestinian refugees are still forbidden from returning home. (© Issam Rimawi / APA images)

Israeli practices and policies combine apartheid, military occupation and colonization. Together, the strategy aims at forcibly displacing the indigenous Palestinian people from the territory of Palestine (also referred to as Mandate or historic Palestine). Not limited to the occupied Palestinian territory, the Israeli regime also targets Palestinians residing on the Israeli side of the 1949 Armistice Line (known as the Green Line) and millions of Palestinian refugees through forced exile.

Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons are the largest and longest-standing case of displaced persons in the world today and are scattered throughout the Middle East. 66 percent of the 11.2 million Palestinians worldwide, 7.4 million, are displaced. Registered Palestinian refugees are mainly hosted in the occupied Palestinian territory (41 percent), Jordan (40 percent), Syria (10 percent) and Lebanon (9 percent), often a short distance from their homes and places of origin. In addition, less than 50 percent of the Palestinian people live inside the boundaries of Palestine. Approximately 1.4 million Palestinians live in Israel - of whom one quarter or 360,000 are internally displaced - and slightly more than 4 million Palestinians live in the occupied Palestinian territory.[1]

Israel’s aim to colonize all of Palestine is best described by Yosef Weitz, former director of the Land Department of the Jewish National Fund:

Between ourselves it must be clear that there is no room for both peoples together in this country… There is no other way than to transfer the [Palestinian] Arabs from here to neighboring countries - all of them. Not one village, not one tribe should be left.[2]

Colonization went hand in hand with erasure of Palestinian existence and history as proclaimed by Moshe Dayan, former Israeli Minister of Defense:

We came here to a country that was populated by [Palestinian] Arabs and we are building here a Hebrew, a Jewish state; instead of the [Palestinian] Arab villages, Jewish villages were established. You even do not know the names of those villages, and I do not blame you because these villages no longer exist. There is not a single Jewish settlement that was not established in the place of a former [Palestinian] Arab Village.[3]

In Israel’s process of colonizing Palestine, the indigenous population has been divided into three main categories: Palestinians living in the occupied Palestinian territory; Palestinians residing on the Israeli side of the 1949 Armistice Line; and the millions living in forced exile. The map of Palestine depicts the classic colonial principle of ‘divide and rule’ - political and social divisions based on fragmented geography.

The 1948 Nakba was the central fissure that tore apart the social fabric of Palestinian societyby cutting off relationshipsbetween Palestinians on either side of the Green Line. Israel has maintained this strategy since. Most importantly, Israel erased the term ‘Palestinian’ and for instance labels the Palestinian citizens of Israel as ‘Israeli-Arabs’ in order to disconnect them from their own history and ownership of the land, and to reinforce their position as sub citizens within Israeli society. Israel went a step further by compartmentalizing that community into Arab Christians, Arab Muslims, Druze and Bedouins. Fragmentation was applied to the territory occupied in 1967 by categorizing the population according to identity cards that restrict life and movement within the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

In enforcement of the ongoing displacement since the Nakba, Israel marked Palestinian refugees who attempted to return as infiltrators and deported them at sight.[4] In whole, Palestinian society was partitioned into categories and sub-categories with corresponding political and legal limitations to each different than to the other.[5] According to David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, the ultimate aim was to weaken and eventually erase Palestinian affiliation or belonging to their heritage and land in order to “Do everything to ensure they [the Palestinian refugees] never do return.”[6] His reasoning was that in time – based on Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians, “[t]he old will die and the young will forget.”[7]

But Ben-Gurion’s vision did not materialize. On the contrary, despite all Israeli efforts to divide and erase Palestinian society, the Palestinian people have not abandoned their rights and continue to steadfastly confront Israel's expulsion policies. BADIL’s 2012 Survey of Palestinian Youth focusing on identity and social ties clearly indicates that the third and fourth generation of Palestinian refugees did not “forget” their attachment to Palestine. The Survey was conducted in the seven areas where the majority of Palestinians reside: Israel, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. It was conducted among Palestinian youth aged between 15 and 19 years and examines two main issues: that of self-identification (identity) and the importance of social ties compared among Palestinian communities living in the seven geographical areas.

The Survey’s findings demonstrate that the vast majority of the respondents consider themselves as Palestinians. Between 55 to 70 percent of the respondents in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon regard themselves as Palestinians. The significance of this majority can only be understood bearing in mind that these communities were born in forced exile and have never set foot in Palestine - denied by Israel. Even though living under the most direct Israeli colonial and ideological rule for the past 65 years, 45 percent of Palestinian citizens of Israel regard themselves as Palestinians and only 12 percent as ‘Israeli-Arabs’ as categorized and propagandized by the Israeli state for the past 65 years.[8]

On the question of social ties, the majority of Palestinian respondents from all seven geographical areas expressed the opinion that it is either “important” or “very important” to establish and foster social ties with other Palestinian communities. The research results depict patterns of unified Palestinian identity and fate in spite of Israel’s attempts to irreparably damage the social fabric through geopolitical fragmentation. Furthermore, the Survey demonstrates that Palestinian youth in separated geographies hold similar viewpoints to identity and national community. Importantly, the Survey “affirms that the question of Palestinian national identity is not merely a question of citizenship, travel documents or privileges, but a much wider concept concerning the key principles of liberation, freedom and [self-determination].”[9]

These principles are common to the various Palestinian communities and, thus, should be reflected by the Palestinian leadership and international community when confronting the Palestinian reality of apartheid, military occupation and colonization. A long-lasting and just solution to the conflict can only be found when taking into consideration the Palestinian people as a whole and, most importantly, by emphasizing the millions of Palestinian refugees’ inalienable right of return.


*Amjad Alqasis is a human rights lawyer, legal researcher and the legal advocacy program coordinator of BADIL.

[1]See BADIL, Survey of Palestinian Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, 2010-2012, Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency & Refugee Rights (2012).

[2]Joseph Weitz, Davar, September 29, 1967, cited in Uri Davis and Norton Mevinsky, eds., Documents from Israel, 1967-1973, p.21.

[3]Moshe Dyan, March 19, 1969, speech at the Technion in Haifa, "Israel" cited in Haaretz, April 4, 1969.

[4]See 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law and Israeli military orders 1649 and 1650.

[5]See for more information: Ambica Bathia, Israel’s Discriminatory Laws, Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency & Refugee RightsOccasional Bulletin No. 26 (2012).

[6]David Ben-Gurion, 1948, from his diary 18 July 1948, cited in Michael Bar Zohar, The Armed Prophet, 1967, p. 157.

[7]David Ben-Gurion, 1948, from his diary 18 July 1948, cited in  Karma Nabulsi,The great catastrophe,The Guardian, Friday 12 May 2006.

[8]Jon Andrews, et. al., One People United: A Deterritorialized Palestinian Identity - BADIL Survey of Palestinian Youth on Identity and Social Ties – 2012, BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency & Refugee Rights (2012).