Reversing Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine (Issue No.2, Summer 1999)

 

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Towards a Palestinian-International Campaign for the Defense of Palestinian Refugee Rights

Since 1995, Palestinian activists and refugee organizations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been involved in an effort to organize an independent grass-roots movement which will take on the difficult task of protecting Palestinian refugee rights in the sensitive period between the signing of the Oslo Accords and a future final status agreement with Israel.

Two workshops were organized by the activist forum of BADIL Friends in Bethlehem and Nablus in April and May 1999. A third workshop is scheduled to be held in Gaza this summer. In June 1999, the working papers, as well as the recommendations from the workshops, were presented to members of the Coordinating Committee of the Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO) in order to facilitate broad NGO participation in this grassroots campaign. The recommendations issued by the approximately 60 participants in the two workshops, Palestinian grass-roots activists, and representatives of PLO and PA institutions, can be summarized as follows:

held at the Federation of Palestinian Workers' Unions in Nablus on 27 May 1999

Saji Salameh,
PLO Department for Refugee Affairs:

I thank you for this invitation and would like to encourage all refugee institutions to participate in this initiative. Since I know that there is a request for a presentation of the official PLO position on the refugee question, I will summarize it briefly:

 

NGO Profiles


In order to facilitate international support for Palestinian refugee organizations and NGOs in their struggle against deteriorating living conditions, social and political marginalization, and isolation from each other in the respective countries of exile, as part of the Campaign for the Defense of Palestinian Refugee Rights, al majdal will begin carrying profiles of several organizations and NGOs in the region.

Abandoning UNRWA now, or weakening the commitment for its effective continued work, will send a wrong signal to the refugees at this point in time."
Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister Ayman al-Majali in opening address on behalf of the Jordanian Prime Minister at an informal meeting of UNRWA donors and host governments in April 1999.

Speeding up the Slow Return to Gaza

Israel has approved the return of another 35 Palestinian refugees from Canada Camp in Egypt to the Tel as-Sultan quarter of the Gaza Strip. Some 6,000 Palestinian refugees were stranded in Egypt with the signing of Camp David Accords and the establishment of an international border between Egypt and Israel. About 4,500 Palestinians (496 households) from Rafah Camp were transferred to the Sinai when Israel began widening roads in the camp in the 1970s under the pretext of security. The remaining 2,000 are members of the Malalha Bedouins, originally from the Beer Sheba area. Israel has refused to allow this group to return.

Israel Hosts Albanian Refugees on Palestinian Refugee Lands

(based on BADIL Press Release 16/4/99)

Since NATO bombs began raining down upon Yugoslavia, Palestinian refugees have stared incredulously at CNN correspondents drumming up sympathy on the half-hour for the ethnic Albanians from Kosova who have been driven from their homes. While clearly empathetic for the Albanian refugees' plight, where has the West's compassion been for the last 50 years, they exclaim, since the founders of the State of Israel oversaw the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians and the destruction of over 500 of their towns and villages?

 

by Abdel Qadir Yasin

It was only the heavy sound of gunfire that broke the silence, which blanketed the quarantined refugee camp. The Egyptian police guarding the camp took cover by diving into the water of the Suez Canal, which bordered the camp on both its northern and western sides. The eastern and southern ends of the camp were hemmed in by the sand of Sinai desert. As soon as the policemen hit the water, a loud shout came from the camp calling for the downfall of king Farouq. It wasn't long before news of the incident reached Cairo and the social figures of the Palestinian community, mostly from Jaffa1, trotted to 'Abdeen Palace in order to record their names in a book of honor and apologize for the actions of the Palestinians held under quarantine.

 

How Do You Imagine Palestine?


1. Palestine, the land:
Very, very very beautiful.
Very green
Covered by flowers and trees.
It is full with fresh water.
There are so many yards and playgrounds.
No alleys
No garbage
Streets are clean
No Syrians
No Lebanese
There is a sea of chocolate in Palestine.

In the spring of this year, the Campaign for the Defense of Palestinian Refugee Rights, helped facilitate email correspondence between refugee children from Deheishe camp in the West Bank and Shatila camp in Lebanon as part of the Campaign's efforts to empower the refugee community by rebuilding ties between refugees in various places of exile. The letters below express some of the common sentiments among refugees, adults and children alike, to return to their homes and lands in Palestine.

Organizing for Palestinian rights in Jerusalem is a complicated affair, not only because of the political situation, but also because of the socio-economic changes that have taken place under occupation. Palestinian institutions that have been involved directly or indirectly in political, economic, and even social affairs of Palestinian Jerusalemites have been closed.1 The Israeli government refuses to allow any Palestinian activities in the city. Organizations that choose to become involved in activities face harassment and the threat of arrest of closure of their institution. Such was the experience of members of the Palestinian African community in the Old City, for example, when they attempted to stage a week of films and lectures about Jerusalem in cooperation with BADIL.

Not only have Palestinians suffered severe deterioration of the physical and economic infrastructure2 in their community, they have also suffered a deterioration in their social infrastructure. Discrimination in the delivery of social services to Palestinian Jerusalemites in the absence of an alternative social service structure has resulted in a situation where Palestinians are forced to continue running after inadequate services provided by Israeli institutions which only enforce the occupation of the city. In this kind of climate, the entire issue of Jerusalem has been boiled down to the issue of how families will meet their basic social needs. This has led, in particular, to confusion regarding national identity among Palestinian youth in the city. Furthermore, this kind of climate can lead to a situation where existing Palestinian institutions view each other as sources of competition rather than a source of solidarity.

Israeli efforts to maintain a Jewish majority in Jerusalem by discriminatory administrative and development policies, which force Palestinians out of the city, continued unabated in the second quarter of 1999. These policies include land confiscation, settlement construction, ID card confiscation, house demolition, unequal neighborhood investment, closure etc. Between April and June at least five Palestinian homes valued at over US$250,000 were demolished. Settlement construction in key areas in and around Jerusalem, such as Ras al-Amud, Jabal Abu Ghnaim, and Ma'aleh Adumim continues to reduce the area available for the natural development of Palestinian neighborhoods while threatening to completely separate Jerusalem from the West Bank.

The upper areas of Jabal Abu Ghnaim in the south of the expanded Israeli borders of Jerusalem have been nearly denuded of trees over the past two months while infrastructure work and preparation of building sites continues. Land has been marketed for the construction of 1,642 out of 6,500 apartments planned for the new settlement. Most of apartments have been sold to groups, including some organized by the right wing Arutz Sheva pirate radio station and a group of National Religious Party activists.

In the north of the city, meanwhile outgoing Likud Defense Minister Moshe Arens authorized the overall urban construction plan to expand Ma'aleh Adumim and link the settlement to Jerusalem. If implemented the planning area of Ma'aleh Adumim will be expanded to four times the size of Tel Aviv. The plan would prevent the natural growth of Palestinian villages like az-Zaim and Isawiyeh and physically separate the north from the south of the West Bank. Based on its original survey of the area after 1967, the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) acknowledged that the vast majority of the land in the greater Jerusalem area was privately owned by Palestinians, only finding 400 dunums of what it considered to be "state lands."

Meanwhile, Israel continues to threaten to close Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem, maintain roadblocks and checkpoints at all major entrances to the city from the West Bank, and confiscate ID cards from Palestinian Jerusalemites.

(Sources: Ha'aretz (22/6/99) and (28/5/9, Meron Benvenisti, Jerusalem, The Torn City, Minneapolis: Israel Typeset Ltd. and the University of Minneapolis, p. 289.)

Sumoud Camp:
Social Profile and Need for National Institutions

When Sumoud Camp residents were asked in a recent survey how they could contribute towards strengthening Palestinian national rights in occupied Jerusalem their answer was hesitant - "We will stay in the camp." Although Sumoud consists of only 16 Jerusalemite families, their answers reflect the current distress within Palestinian resistance movements in Jerusalem: that of recognizing very tangible rights but not having the means necessary to realize them.

The families of Sumoud have endured nearly two years of extreme social and political duress but any reward for their steadfastness remains distant. Rather, over two thirds of the 70 plus children in the camp still have no ID card and, without a permanent address, the chances of receiving one are few. Moreover, the majority of the children, including several newborns, has no health insurance and are routinely neglected basic health care. On average, each family at Sumoud has lived in 6 houses within the past ten years.

Many of the families have been displaced so many times, either by war, ID card confiscation, home demolition, or the exigencies of financial hardship, that their overall expectations of ever achieving full Palestinian rights in Jerusalem have lowered. Without any real prospects for change or the creation of an alternative social welfare base by the Palestinian civil society and leadership, the process of social atrophy and political disempowerment within the Palestinian Jerusalemite public will become more acute.

While Palestinian institutions do offer many needed services to the Palestinian Jerusalemite public, the aid is sporadic and, many times, responsive only to crisis. Credible and effective social welfare institutions need to be created to meet the daily needs of the Palestinian public if an effective struggle to secure Palestinian rights is to be launched. Only after their daily needs are met will the answer from the Sumoud families change from "staying" to "living" in Jerusalem.

 

According to information provided by the spokesperson of the Israeli Interior Ministry in Jerusalem to Ha'aretz journalist Amira Hass, Israel confiscated 117 ID cards from Palestinian Jerusalemites between 1 January - 31 May 1999. No additional details were given.
A comparison with previous years shows the following development since the onset of the Israeli policy of massive ID card confiscation in Jerusalem:
 

Year ID cards confiscated
1996 689
1997 606
1998 788 ( 618 ID cards of Palestinians living abroad; 170 ID cards of Palestinians living in the West Bank 
1999 177
Total 2,200 ID cards (Families) or roughly 8,800 individuals


Although the new data suggest that the number of ID cards confiscated in 1999 is smaller than in pervious years, it is still too early to draw a definite conclusion. This because analysis of the pattern of previous years shows that the bulk of ID card confiscations occurs during the summer, when Palestinians working and living abroad come to visit their families in Jerusalem (For example, 346 ID card confiscations were recorded by the Ministry in the first eight months of 1998, while four months later, in December, the number of confiscations stood at 788).

The data released for 1999 also shows that Israel continues to violate the residency rights of the native Palestinian population in Jerusalem, despite local and international protest and the fact that the Israeli high court is expected to present its ruling on the policy of ID card confiscation in September or October this year.

* According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, an average Palestinian family in the West Bank includes 5.7 members. However, available details about Palestinian families affected by the Israeli policy of ID card confiscation suggest that families living abroad represent a major portion of the cases; reliable data about their average size are not available. Therefore a conservative estimate of 4 persons per family is used.

 

A new forum of resistance or a distraction?

On April 22 the Israeli Supreme Court, under an expanded panel of 5 judges and the scrutiny of 5 international observers including the Chief Justice of India and members of the International Commission of Jurists and the International Committee of the Red Cross, heard the arguments of public petitioners concerning the revocation of residency rights from Palestinian Jerusalemites. The petition, assembled by five human rights NGOs, was probably the last available legal challenge to the Interior Ministry's radical 'center of life' policy which caused an 8 fold increase in ID card confiscation since it was implemented in 1996.

Social Profile and Need for National Institutions

When Sumoud Camp residents were asked in a recent survey how they could contribute towards strengthening Palestinian national rights in occupied Jerusalem their answer was hesitant - "We will stay in the camp." Although Sumoud consists of only 16 Jerusalemite families, their answers reflect the current distress within Palestinian resistance movements in Jerusalem: that of recognizing very tangible rights but not having the means necessary to realize them.

While President Clinton issued a last minute waiver to postpone the transfer of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the Clinton Administration has edged closer to recognizing Israeli sovereignty in the city with the opening of a second Ambassadorial residence in Jerusalem. Officially, the US has denied that the new residence is related to a change in its policy on Jerusalem, but the US Ambassador, Edward Walker, has already hosted several US Jewish groups at the residence. There are signals from the Clinton Administration and Congress, including comments from US officials requesting anonymity, that more official visits may follow.

A Measure of Inequality

In April a Palestinian family in Jerusalem was evicted from their residence when members of the Settlers of Zion movement took control of several pre-1948 Jewish properties in the eastern Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. According to an agreement reached between UNRWA and the Jordanian government after 1948, homes of Jews in the area could be rented to refugees, many of whom came from the western village of Lifta, on condition that the land not be registered in the names of the refugees.

al majdal is named after one of the Palestinian cities in the south of Palestine, home to some 11,000 Palestinian women, men, youth, and children, which was brought to a sudden end by the forceful superimpose of the Israeli city of Ashkelon. Unlike many other towns and villages in Palestine, not all of the people of Majdal Jad, as it was known, had vacated their town during the war of 1948. More than 1,500 residents remained steadfast until 1950, when they were finally evicted by a combination of Israeli military force and bureaucratic measures reminiscent of the current Israeli policy of ethnic cleansing applied against the Palestinian inhabitants in the eastern areas of occupied Jerusalem, in particular, and against Palestinians remaining in the area of historic Palestine. Thus, Palestinians of Majdal Jad were turned into refugees, most of them finding shelter in the nearby Gaza Strip. Like other Palestinian refugees, they have not disappeared. They have remained close to their homes and lands. Of old age now, they, their children and grandchildren have built new hopes and dreams based on the international recognition of their right of return, and struggled for the day when they would live a free citizens in al-Majdal/Ashkelon.

 
While the phrase ethnic cleansing has become common to our lexicon in the past decade - conjuring up images of innocent women, children and men fleeing their homes and lands - the cleansing of populations along ethnic, religious or racial lines existed long before the western media "discovered" it in the Balkans and Central Africa in the 1990s. The saturated media coverage of these two arenas of conflict, moreover, has left a seemingly indelible impression that ethnic cleansing is primarily the result of some intrinsic or historic ethnic hatred, usually characterized by violent or genocidal actions of one ethnic group against another.

A strategy workshop organized by Oxfam Solidarity in March 1999 set the foundations for two European Solidarity campaigns, a Campaign for Palestinian Economic Development, and a Campaign for Palestinian Refugee Rights. Participants at this workshop included Palestinian and European NGOs (Forum of Palestinian NGOs in Lebanon, PARC, BADIL, Belgo-Palestinian Association, Flamish Palestine Committee, UCL Cermac, and others), Belgian trade unionists, representatives of the ECCP (European Coordinating Committee on Palestine), representatives of the Palestinian delegation and the Arab League in Brussels, Belgian and EU parliamentarians, as well as delegates from the European Commission.

Petition Update:

Signatures for the Petition for the Palestinian Right to Restitution continue to be collected. English, Arabic, Hebrew, Dutch and German versions are posted on the BADIL website where the petition can be signed. More information about the petition campaign is available in the packet for Campaign for the Defense of Palestinian Refugee Rights.

Restitution: A Basic Human Right

More than fifty years after the holocaust, Jews around the world continue to fight for and receive restitution for material and non-material losses inflicted by the Nazi regime throughout Europe. More than fifty years after the Palestinian people were displaced and dispossessed by an exclusive Jewish state established in Palestine in the aftermath of Nazi atrocities in Europe, Palestinians are still being dispossessed, dispersed, and denied any kind of restitution. Restitution is a universal human right. Persons now fighting for restitution are therefore to be supported.