Stocktaking and Perspectives (Issue No.5, Spring 2000)

 

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Stocktaking & Perspectives of a BROAD, COMMUNITY-BASED CAMPAIGN for Palestinian Refugees' Right to Return & Restitution

 Ever since the launching of official political negotiations at the 1991 Madrid Conference, some five million Palestinian refugees in exile and in the homeland have been deeply concerned over a Middle East "Peace Process" defined almost solely in Israeli terms. They are stunned and frightened by international support for models of a "finalsettlement" of the Israeli-Palestinian-Arab conflict, which completely violate international standards for durable solutions to refugee flows. Viewed against the backdrop of extremely unfavorable social and political circumstances, refugee efforts to place their rights - foremost the right of return and restitution - on the agenda of public debate havenot remained fruitless:Refugee grass roo ts initiatives, supported by non-refugee Palestinians, a small number of international activists and NGOs, have succeeded to draw increasing public attention to the plight of Palestinian refugees. Protest and public awareness raising have led to the formation of new advocacy initiatives worldwide and created new interest in research urgently needed for more efficient advocacy work.

A Tool for the Promotion of Palestinian Refugee Rights?
Frustrated by the lack of international political support for the rights and demands of the Palestinian people in general, and refugees in particular, Palestinians and their supporters have begun to re-examine international law as a potential source for protection and enforcement of Palestinian refugee rights. The weak position of the PLO in the final status negotiations with Israel, and the lack of an enforcement mechanism for UN General Assembly Resolution 194, has accorded a strong sense of urgency to these efforts.

Reference to international law to legitimize international interventions in recent refugee problems in Africa and Europe, as well as petitions and restitution claims raised in international human rights fora by other dispossessed and displaced groups and individuals worldwide, have served as encouraging examples for Palestinians and their supporters. While awareness raising and lobbying for the Palestinian right of return and restitution has become a common advocacy strategy of Palestinian and international actors, several issues remain yet to be resolved, before international law can be transformed into an efficient tool for actual protection and enforcement of Palestinian refugee rights.

European Court of Human Rights
An initial campaign with a high likelihood of success, that could be launched with relatively few resources and with a focus on "testing the waters" in Europe, should aim at the EU conditioning trade agreements with Israel on the latter's submission tothe ECHR (and/or on passage of legislation in Israel  to permit restitution and compensation claims for Palestinians). Another campaign suggested by the recent cases, which appear to be strong precedent for Palestinian restitution and compensation  claims, could examine the possibility of bringing claims directly to the ECHR.

Palestinian residents or citizens of an EU state are prospective petitioners in such actions. Such a petition would have to be extremely well-researched, and would require a coalition of European lawyers with experience in cases before the ECHR, as well as a broad-based coalition for campaigning, to focus attention and publicity on the case/s.

Report: RETURN RALLY National Committee of the Internally Displaced,

Nazareth, 11 March 2000. On Saturday, 11 March, internally displaced Palestinians in Israel joined Palestinian refugee communities in exile to reaffirm the right of return. "No peace with Israel without the implementation of our right to return to homes and properties" is the demand which mobilizesnot only millions of Palestinian refugees in the  Arab and western exile, but also the approximately 250,000 Palestinians who have remained - displaced and disowned - inside Israel.

The public Rally for the Right of Return, organized by the National Committee for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced in the sports hall of the Nazareth municipality, was attended by some 850 participants - activists from displaced communities, Palestinian political parties and movements, representatives of Palestinian local councils and public institutions in Israel, as well as solidarity delegations from the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, from refugee camps in the occupied West Bank, and the PLO.

Reinterpreting the Status of Palestinian Refugees International Law"
Kalandia Camp, 24 March 2000

Some twenty activists in Palestinian refugee organizations and national institutions, many of them members of the BADIL Friends Forum, met at the office of the Union of Youth Activity Centers (UYAC) in Kalandia Camp to discuss a BADIL proposal for a renewed joint effort aimed at obtaining international protection for Palestinian refugees.

Susan Akram, Refugee Law expert at Boston University, presented the legal framework underlying this proposal. Her reinterpretation of international refugee law (1951 Refugee Convention and UNHCR Statutes) was met with much interest, and participants confirmed the urgent need for the inclusion of Palestinian refugees in the international refugee protection regime.

Official final status negotiations on the core issues of the Palestinian/Arab - Israeli conflict opened according to schedule in September 1999 and were temporarily discontinued four months later, without having proceeded beyond the presentation of the initial starting positions by the Israeli and Palestinian delegations (see al Majdal/ 4). Negotiations went into crisis in January 2000 over Israel's aggressive settlement policy in the 1967 occupied territories. More than 3,000 new settlement units have been started since Barak was elected, bringing the total number of units under construction in Israeli settlements to 7,120, nearly 2,000 more than under Netanyahu (Peace Now figures cited by AP, 21/2/00).

 Negotiations were officially discontinued inFebruary, as a result of the unilateral Israeli decision to exclude Palestinian lands in the vicinity of Jerusalem (Abu Dis, Anata, al- Sawwahra) from the areas scheduled for the second Israeli redeployment from 6.1 percent of the West Bank based on the Sharem Al-Sheikh Memorandum (September 1999).

On 30 March, Palestinians commemorated the 24th anniversary of the violent Israeli repression of Palestinian protests against land expropriation in the Galilee in 1976, which resulted in six killed and more than 70 injured Palestinian demonstrators.
The leadership of the Palestinian community inside Israel called for a general strike to commemorate land day to protest ongoing expropriation of land and discrimination in planning, development, and allocation of financial resources for Palestinian localities in Israel. Large demonstrations were held throughout the 1967 occupied territories and inside 1948 Palestine/Israel. In Jerusalem, Palestinians protested at the site of a new Israeli settlement in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras al- Amud. A demonstration was also held at al-Ram, the northern checkpoint to Jerusalem, which was been in place since Israel imposed a military closure in 1993, denying most Palestinians access to Jerusalem. Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police and soldiers erupted throughout the West Bank, Gaza, and inside Israel.

"We Learn the Lessons from our Past and Design our Tools for the Struggle for a Better Future"

Statement issued by Ittijah, the Union of Palestinian NGOs in 1948 Palestine/Israel, March 2000 The 24th anniversary of the Land Day is the best occasion to contemplate the impact of this historical day in our people's history, our points of weakness and strength, our identity, our institutions, and our responsibility towards ourselves and towards our people.

This anniversary symbolizes and embodies a major station in our people's struggle. The 1976 Land Day is considered as a qualitative step toward the crystallization of the role of the Palestinian minority in Israel in the struggle, although it was neither the first nor the last day in our fight against the ruling Israeli establishment and its discriminatory, repressive policies in place since the 1948 Nakba. Our struggle is a struggle for the Palestinian national issues, and a struggle for the collective rights of a minority who wants to live with honor in its land. Land Day proves the power of our people, if they decide - as institutions and leadership - to opt for struggle in order to achieve our collective rights and the rights of the whole Palestinian people.

The British Mandate
Land ownership under the British Mandate was based on the Ottoman Land Code, with additional legislation adopted during the Mandate. Under the Ottoman Code, land was classified in five categories with provisions for documentation of registration. The two basic types of land were mulk (private lands), and miri (land
leased from the state). While the latter was subject to certain limitations, miri land was inherited, sold, and generally regarded as the land of the user. Under the code, individuals able to prove cultivation of a plot of land for 10 years or more were issued a title of ownership.

Internally Displaced Palestinians Still Waiting to Return to their Villages
Members of the current Labor government committee on the future of Palestinian residents from the villages of Iqrit and Bir'am,
including Yossi Beilin, Avraham Shochat, Haim Oron, Haim Ramon, as well as Yossi Kucik, director general of the prime minister's ffice, visited the area in advance of the High Court's expected May ruling on the residents petition to finally return to their villages some five decades after an initial High Court ruling in their favor. Recommendations supported by the current committee (Ha’aretz, 21 March 2000) include those set down by a 1996 committee under the previous Labor government. These include:  Allocation of 900 dunums of land together for both villages even though the villages owned a total of 28,000 dunums in 1948 before they were expelled and the villages were razed to the ground.

Following up on a workshop on compensation for Palestinian refugees in July 1999 (see al Majdal/ 3), international experts, government officials, UNRWA staff, UNHCR, representatives of the World Bank, and NGOs met outside of London in mid-February 2000 to discuss the future of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). Participants contributed to the two days of discussions in a personal rather than official capacity. The workshop, jointly sponsored by the Palestinian Refugee ResearchNet and the Royal Institute of International Affairs and funded by the Canadian and UK governments, focused on several themes related to the future of UNRWA: transition  issues related to the permanent status; availability of resources for the transition; delivery of service issues; and the role of UN agencies in implementing the permanent status agreement.

Most West Bank bedouin live in Area C, the largest of the three zones (70.2% of the whole) into which, at Oslo, Israeli maps divided the West Bank. It is also the zone where Israeli military control remains until the completion of final status negotiations. The PLO negotiators are said to have believed that Israeli phased withdrawal would ultimately include the whole West Bank except for a few military installations and settlements. If so, they were blind to the strategic nature of Area C, which forms a continuous belt surrounding the whole West Bank, interrupted only at Jerusalem, widest along the Jordan Valley, and penetrating between towns and villages. Its strategic purposes are clear: i) to separate the West Bank from Jordan and Palestinian-populated parts of Israel (Galilee and Negev); ii) to fragment the territory of an eventual Palestinian state; iii- to form a continuous space for movement of Israeli military and settlers. It is no coincidence that all but a few of around 145 Israeli settlements also lie in Area C, their location as strategic as that of Army installations and as likely to remain.

ID cards    :Reason given
January 68 Moved to WBG: 25
Live abroad/hold foreign citizenship: 43
February 86 Moved to WBG: 29
Live abroad/hold foreign citizenship: 57
March 28 Moved to WBG: 2
Live abroad/hold foreign citizenship: 26
April 27 Moved to WBG: 13
Live abroad/hold foreign citizenship: 14
May 73 Moved to WBG: 25
Live abroad/hold foreign citizenship: 48
June 55 Moved to WBG: 11
Live abroad/hold foreign citizenship: 44
July 27 Moved to WBG: 15
Live abroad/hold foreign citizenship: 12
August 12 Moved to WBG: 1
Live abroad/hold foreign citizenship: 11
September 17 Moved to WBG: -
Live abroad/hold foreign citizenship: 17
October 6 Moved to WBG: -
Live abroad/hold foreign citizenship: 6
November 9 Moved to WBG: -
Live abroad/hold foreign citizenship: 9
December 3 Moved to WBG: -
Live abroad/hold foreign citizenship: 3
Total 1999 411 Moved to WBG: 121
Live abroad/hold foreign citizenship: 290
Total
1995 - 1999 3,096
Corresponding to an estimated number of 12,384
Palestinian individuals directly affected

The American Committee on Jerusalem, along with Legal Counsel George Salem, held a congressional briefing in Washington, DC on 17 February to appraise lawmakers and the media of the fact that 19 Palestinian Jerusalem families have been traced as owners of the property, which the Israeli government has set aside for relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem. At least 88 of the original owners or their heirs are US citizens, 43 are Canadians and Europeans and hundreds have other nationalities.
A lease agreement was signed for the property, totaling 31.288 dunums between Israel and the US on 18 January 1989. A small amount of the land was "freehold", land requisitioned by Britain and of which it assumed ownership. The majority of the land,composed of five parcels, was "hired land." One parcel was waqf and the remaining four were rented from private owners. As of the 15 May 1948, these parcels were owned by 76 Palestinians of 19 prominent Jerusalem families. In a letter from the State Department on 6th September 1989, the Department noted that it was aware of claims from the Islamic Waqf but "has not been able to locate any record or support for this claim."

A Case of Stolen Heritage in a Colonized Jerusalem

In Jerusalem, as in other former Palestinian urban areas, the appropriation of Arab homes has been integral to Israeli desires to consolidate its rule in and over the entire city. A powerful component of efforts to reconstitute the city as the "eternal capital" of the Jewish People has been keeping Palestinians made refugees in 1948 eternally dislocated and exiled. Yet, though documentation of the forced removals of 1948 have become better known, little research has focused on the dynamics of loss and flight in Palestinian urban centers during the birth of the Israeli state.
Over the course of 1948, roughly 750,000 Palestinians were removed by force or fled in fear from their lands in. Nearly 70,000 of these exiles resided in Jerusalem and its environs. 30,000 were driven from urban neighborhoods within the former Jerusalem municipal boundaries while another 40,000 fled from the 39 villages of the Jerusalem area.1 Designs of the zionist leadership to "cleanse" the land of its non-Jewish population became demographic realities. Refugees who fled the Jerusalem region and elsewhere have been prevented from returning and remain exiles fiftytwo years on.

In the Eyes of a British Mandate Soldier

BADIL interview with former British Mandate Soldier  Peter Davies. Davies is on a two-year contract with the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) of the United Methodist Church as a member of the GBGM's five-person Palestine and Israel mission team. The team has been established to assist United Methodist visitors to Palestine and Israel acquire some understanding of the struggle of the Palestinian people for sovereignty and the return of their land
from Israel, and have opportunities to meet with the Christian community of Palestine and Israel.

Jerusalem is the capital of our country and the center of the world. It’s the city of three religions (Islam, Christian and Judaism). So it has many holy places in it like the Holy Sepulcher, where there’s a tomb for Jesus; the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque where prophet Mohammed had visited and went to the heavens. And beside the Holy Sepulcher there’s a holy mosque where Omar Ben Al- Khattab had prayed. The most important part of Jerusalem is the Old City which is surrounded by the wall. This city was founded in around 4000 BC,
and it’s divided into four quarters; the Muslim, the Christian, the Jewish and the Armenian. The present walls surrounding the Old City were built by the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman Al-Qanouni in 1542. The walls surrounding the city have eleven gates, the following seven are presently open; Damascus gate, Herod’s gate, Jaffa gate, Zion gate, A’-Magharbeh gate, Lion’s gate and the New gate.

From the heart on behalf of Shatila, mainly children and youth from the Children and Youth Centre (CYC) send you and all our brothers and sisters in Palestine warmest greetings. We wish you more and more success. I read your kind message today in the weekly large meeting in front of 47 boys and girls, and we made it a subject for discussion - what and how we understand the right to return. I explained to them what you are doing and encouraged them to write their opinions.

From the heart on behalf of Shatila, mainly children and youth from the Children and Youth Centre (CYC) send you and all our brothers and sisters in Palestine warmest greetings. We wish you more and more success. I read your kind message today in the weekly large meeting in front of 47 boys and girls, and we made it a subject for discussion - what and how we understand the right to return.I explained to them what you are doing and encouraged them to write their opinions. I showed them a copy of al Majdal, which I got from my friend and some pictures I received from Jerusalem. I will try to translate certain issues from it and ask other friends to translate to make it easier for those who don't know enough English. I think it's important for the young Palestinian generation especially in Lebanon to be aware and to follow the great activities and great role you are filling.

Eviction from Jerusalem: Restitution and Protection of Palestinian Rights (BADIL, 1999) English and Arabic, 30 pages. US$5

Jerusalem 1948:
The Arab Neighbourhoods of the City and Their Fate in the War (BADIL/IJC, 1999) The book is available in English with Arabic translation of the introduction, 304 pages. US$20. ISBN 0-88728-274-1 Refugee Campaign Package: Reclaiming the Right of Return 2nd Edition (BADIL, 2000) The packet includes a program of action for the campaign, background information about Palestinian refugees, refu ee lands and properties, the right of return, protection, and Palestinian refugee organizations and NGOs. Includes Campaign Guidebook, Country Profiles - Palestinian Refugees in Exile, and BADIL Information & Discussion Briefs.
The packet is available in print format in English (Arabic 2nd edition forthcoming) (US$10)

BADIL General Assembly Convened
Intensive efforts over the past year, aimed at formalizing the relationship between BADIL's professional team and our activist BADIL Friends Forum, have finally resulted in the convening of the first BADIL General Assembly on 10 March 2000. We consider the General Assembly to be step which we consider a great step forward towards the democratization of our Palestinian institutions. BADIL's General Assembly, convened according to the new Palestinian NGO law issued in January 2000, was held at the Youth Activity Center in the 'Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem, Forty-two (from among 57) members active in West Bank refugee camp organizations and Palestinian institutions attended the General Assembly.