Collective and Individual Rights (Issue No.12, Winter 2001)

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[...] The US vision of the broad parameters of a two-state solution to the conflict has been largely welcomed by Israel, particularly, in reference to the refugee issue. Israeli politicians, academics, as well as many activists in the so-called peace camp have long argued that a Palestinian state and the right of return are mutually exclusive - i.e., the (non-Jewish) Palestinian refugees should be absorbed by the Palestinian state rather than return to their places of origin inside Israel. The US vision, shared by Israel, would thus save the Jewish people from having to live together with Palestinians, or in their words, drowning in a sea of Palestinians.

[...] This vision for a solution to the refugee issue, however, is problematic on both the legal and political level. The vision clearly violates basic tenets of international human rights law. UN human rights treaty monitoring committees and major international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, for example, hold that all refugees have the individual human right to return to their places of origin, including Palestinian refugees. Moreover, there is no contradiction between collective and individual rights in international law. They are complimentary. In other words, the creation of a Palestinian state in the 1967 occupied territories does not negate the individual right of Palestinian refugees to return to their places of origin inside Israel.

[...] While this vision of a solution to the refugee issue has been given wide press coverage, it does little to advance a durable and comprehensive solution to the refugee issue and the conflict as a whole. The vision only engenders confusion regarding the legal parameters for durable solutions to refugee problems and harbors the potential to create false expectations among Jews in Israel regarding the demands of Palestinian refugees and the official position of the Palestinian leadership. At the same time, the US vision underscores or exposes the real obstacle to a durable solution to the Palestinian refugee issue - i.e., Israel's definition of itself as a Jewish state characterized by a Jewish demographic majority and Jewish control of refugee land, which negates the possibility of Jews and Palestinians living side-by-side on the basis of equality and non-discrimination. Given the unlikelihood that the present generation of Jewish Israeli politicians will change their position on the return of refugees, it will be necessary to find ways to engage the Jewish public in Israel in ways that move beyond the simple rhetoric that the return of refugees will mean the "destruction of the state of Israel" or "national suicide."

From the Editorial

Intensified diplomatic efforts by the United States and the European Union applied against the Palestinian leadership and Israel in the context of the so-called global war on terrorism over the past several months have failed to put the Oslo negotiation process “back on track.” The dispatch of Anthony Zinni, the third in a series of special American envoys (the “Mitchell-Tenet-Zinni process”), to the region in November failed to accomplish the minimum objective of restoring some sense of calm on the ground in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories.

The average weekly toll of Palestinians killed as a result of the intifada has more than doubled since 11 September 2001. The relative ease with which Israel has been able to temporarily reoccupy areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip under Palestinian control and destroy the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority (PA) underline not only the abject failure of US and European efforts, but point towards an Israeli policy bent on destroying Palestinian resistance to Israel’s 34-year long military occupation and the denial of the Palestinian right to self-determination in all of the 1967 occupied territories as well as the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their places of origin inside Israel.
Israel’s unprecedented military response to the intifada over the last three months is reminiscent of the attempt by Ariel Sharon, then defense minister, to destroy Palestinian resistance in Lebanon in the early 1980s culminating in the massacre of several thousand Palestinian refugees in Beirut. The significance of the widespread military attacks on the PA over the past several months, however, goes beyond a strike at symbols of Palestinian sovereignty. With more Palestinians employed in the government sector than in other sectors, and the linkage between government sector employment and a household income above the poverty line, the destruction of PA institutions appears to be aimed at undermining the political as well as the civil and economic autonomy of the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people.

Community and International Mobilization

Second Annual Workshop: Coalition for the Palestinian Right of Return: The international umbrella network Coalition for the Palestinian Right of Return successfully concluded its second annual coordinating meeting in Brussels on 30 November 2001. The meeting was organized by BADIL Resource Center (Bethlehem), in cooperation with OXFAM/Belgium and all other participants.
Over the course of four days, the participants evaluated the achievements of the right of return coalition in 2000-2001, discussed agenda and priorities for 2002, developed a joint plan of action, held stocktaking discussions with representatives of European solidarity and human rights organizations, and delved into the mechanics of return and real property restitution with invited guest expert Paul Prettitore, legal advisor to the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia. Four papers were presented outlining prospective future activities.

In response to the Israeli and US-led campaign to delegitimize the Palestinian refugees’ right of return in the context of a durable solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, BADIL approached the PLO Department of Refugee Affairs for a more detailed discussion of the right of return. The following interview with Mr. Saji Salameh, Director General, Department of Refugee Affairs,was conducted via email in mid-December.

Politicians in Europe, the United States, and in fact all of the western world, have been very reluctant to integrate the Palestinian refugee issue into their public statements and initiatives for a durable solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While many of them are quite outspoken about the need for Palestinian statehood, the refugee issue, especially reference to refugees’ right of return, is almost absent from their proposals. How do you explain this, especially in the light of the fact that all of their governments (with the exception of the US) continue to vote annually for UN Resolution 194?

Right of Return Advocacy (Switzerland): In December, BADIL participated in a series of public lectures, debates and workshops in Basel, Berne, Geneva, Zurich, and Lucerne under the title “The Palestinian Right of Return, A Human Right?” The speakers, which included Ingrid Jaradat Gassner (Director of BADIL), Susan Akram (Associate Professor, Boston University School of Law), and Ya’el Stein (Director of Research, B’tselem), addressed the history and scope of the refugee problem, the Palestinian position, Palestinian refugee rights under international refugee law and the Israeli debate on the right of return.

Update on Ariel Sharon: At the end of November, a Brussels Appeals Court held the first of several sessions to decide whether the Belgian judiciary has jurisdiction to continue legal proceedings against Ariel Sharon who is charged with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The legal investigation was delayed in early September when lawyers acting on behalf of Sharon asked the investigative judge to drop the case on several grounds. Sharon’s lawyer, Adrien Masset, has argued that the purpose of the case is not to provide justice but to attack Israel. Moreover, Masset has argued that: 1) Hearing the case in a Belgian court is an impingement on Israel’s legal system, since the case was already heard by the Kahan Commission; 2) Belgium has no legal status in the case, since the plaintiffs are not Belgian, the defendant is not Belgian, and the alleged offence did not take place on Belgian soil; 3) Belgium has signed the agreement setting up the International Criminal Court (ICC), which states that it will hear cases of crimes against humanity from this time onward, but not retroactively. Belgium, however, is considering trying a case that happened 20 years ago; and 4) Sharon enjoys diplomatic immunity.

The last three months of 2001 witnessed a significant rise in the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces as well as a steep rise in damage to private properties and public infrastructure in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories. According to figures from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), 223 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces between 28 September and 20 December 2001, and increased of 50% over the previous 12 month period. In Bethlehem alone, the Israeli reoccupation of the city in October resulted in more than US$ 17 million in damage, including heavy damage to ‘Aida and ‘Azza/Beit Jibrin refugee camps.

In Memoriam

List of 157 Palestinian victims of Israeli violence between 27 September and 30 December 2001. 31 of those killed were age 18 and under. Between 29 September 2000 and 28 December 2001, 932 Palestinians – including 16 Palestinians inside Israel) have been killed by Israeli security forces of whom 195 are less than age 18. (Sources: www.lawsociety.org; www.palestinercs.org; www.pcbs.org)
Between 29 September 2000 and 26 December 2001, 172 Israeli civilians were killed in the occupied territories and in Israel and 56 members of Israeli security forces. (Source: www.btselem.org)

An Introduction to Mechanisms for Return and Restitution
Since the first popular refugee conference was held in 1996 (Deheishe refugee camp) – delineating the broad outlines of an agenda for the defense of Palestinian refugee rights – grassroots mobilization and lobby efforts have focused predominantly on raising awareness about the right of return, restitution, and compensation, as affirmed in UN General Assembly Resolution 194 and international law. The success of these efforts can be measured in the clarification of terminology, deeper understanding of basic rights, unification of language at all levels of Palestinian society (i.e., grassroots, media, leadership, etc.), development of a global right of return network, as well as increasing awareness and support for Palestinian refugee rights at the international level among non-governmental organizations (e.g., Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International), United Nations and governmental officials.

In late September 2001, a new book – From Refugees to Citizens at Home - outlining a plan for the phased return of Palestinian refugees to their homes of origin inside Israel was presented to an audience of members of Parliament, diplomats, journalists and NGOs at Westminster Hall in London. The plan, prepared by Palestinian researcher Salman Abu Sitta, builds on previous research demonstrating the feasibility of return based on a detailed study of the demography and land use inside Israel. The book includes 27 maps/figures, illustrating the mass displacement of Palestinians between 1947 and 1949, the availability of space in the refugees’ areas of origin, and a phased plan for return, including maps of major urban areas.

During October, UNRWA released its Annual Report summarizing Agency operations in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria during 2000-2001. The report highlights the continued importance of UNRWA’s regular and emergency programs for Palestinian refugees, not only on a day-to-day basis, but also in reference to the maintenance of regional stability and a future durable solution for refugee based on UN Resolution 194 and international law.  UNRWA’s schools, for example,continue to lead in annual examinations set by host countries in its five fields of operations. The schools also enjoy gender parity. Graduates of the Agency’s vocational and training centers are also in demand with nearly 80% of graduates finding employment in 2000. Health standards of Palestinian refugees are also among the highest in the region.

BADIL Information Packet (3rd Edition) – Includes Right of Return, Campaign for the Defense of Palestinian Refugee Rights Brochure, Palestinian Refugees in Exile Country Profiles, and BADIL Information & Discussion Briefs.

 

PUBLIC STATEMENT ISSUED BY PALESTINIAN POPULAR INSTITUTIONS, ORGANIZATIONS AND UNIONS
 
On October 17, 2001, the New York Times newspaper published an article on a lecture given by Dr. Sari Nusseibeh at Jerusalem's Hebrew University on October 15. In that article, Dr. Nusseibeh is said to have "criticized the Palestinian uprising as hopelessly mired in bloodshed and argued that a peace agreement incorporating a Palestinian state could only be reached if the Palestinians abandoned a longstanding demand for the return of refugees dislocated in war more than 50 years ago to their former homes in Israel." "The Palestinians have to realize," the article quotes Dr. Nusseibeh as saying, "that if we are to reach an agreement on two states, then those two states will have to be one for the Israelis and one for the Palestinians, not one for the Palestinians and the other also for the Palestinians" (Source: Joel Greenberg, "Palestinian Offers Idea: Get Israelis On Our Side", The New York Times, October 17, 2001). Dr. Nusseibeh has also made those statements to a number of media outlets, including Al-Jazeera TV, and to Israel's Channel One Television, on November 7, 2001.