Overview: Palestinian Internally Displaced Persons inside Israel

On 29 October 2002, the Association for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced in Israel (ADRID) was selected as one of four winners of The Body Shop 2002 Human Rights Award. ADRID was selected from among 44 grass-roots initiatives worldwide for its outstanding efforts for the advancement of housing rights (return and real property restitution) of the some 250,000 Palestinians who have lived as internally displaced in Israel since their forced displacement in 1948.

In order to raise further awareness about internally displaced Palestinians inside Israel, BADIL has prepared a short profile of the internally displaced (attached below). An Information and Discussion Brief on international law – as set forth in the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement – and internally displaced Palestinians will be forthcoming.

Historical Background

Internally displaced Palestinians inside Israel are part of the larger Palestinian refugee population that was displaced/expelled from their villages and homes during the 1948 conflict and war in Palestine. At the end of the war, some 150,000 Palestinians remained in the areas of Palestine that became the state of Israel. This included approximately 30-40,000 Palestinians who were also displaced during the war. Like the approximately 800,000 Palestinian refugees who were displaced/expelled beyond the borders of the new state, Israel refused to allow internally displaced Palestinians to return to their homes and villages.

Displacement did not end with the 1948 war. In the years following the establishment of Israel, internally displaced Palestinians, as well as a small number of refugees who had returned spontaneously to their villages and Palestinians who had not been displaced during the war, and were expelled for security and other reasons. Israeli officials also carried out forced transfer of Palestinians from one village to another within the borders of the state in order to facilitate colonization of these areas. This included, for example, Palestinians from the villages of Iqrit, Bir’am, al-Ghabsiyya, Krad al-Baqqarah and Krad al-Ghannamah. Residents of these villages were expelled to Lebanon and Syria and transferred and resettled in nearby Palestinian villages.

Between 1948 and 1966, internally displaced Palestinians, like other Palestinian citizens of Israel, were placed under military rule. Military rule enabled Israel to complete the expropriation of land owned by both the refugees and the internally displaced. It also facilitated Israel’s ongoing colonization in these areas. Israeli military forces declared depopulated Palestinian villages as ‘closed military areas’ in order to prevent the return of internally displaced Palestinians. The practice also blocked implementation of several Israeli High Court decisions permitting internally displaced Palestinians from the villages of Iqrit, Bir’am and al-Ghabsiyya from returning to their villages.

Population and Distribution

There are no official estimates for the total number of internally displaced Palestinians inside Israel. UNRWA, which operated inside Israel between 1948 and 1952, and the Red Cross estimated that there were approximately 30-40,000 internally displaced Palestinians in 1948. Using this data, and the average natural growth rate of Palestinians inside Israel, the number of internally displaced Palestinians in Israel today is estimated to be around 263,000 persons. This estimate, however, does not include Bedouin displaced after 1948 in the Naqab, the urban internally displaced (e.g., from Haifa and Akko/Acre) who were permitted to return to their cities of origin but denied the right to repossess their homes and properties, Palestinians who were transferred after 1949 from outlying village settlements (khirba) to the village proper in the A’ra valley, and Palestinians who remained in their village but lost their lands. If all these categories of displaced persons are included, the total number of internally displaced Palestinians inside Israel today exceeds 300,000 person.

Internally displaced Palestinians originate primarily from approximately 44 villages located in northern Palestine, including 11 from which the majority became internally displaced. In total some 162 Palestinian villages in the north of Palestine were depopulated during the war. It is estimated that 47 out of 69 Palestinian villages that remained after the war, in addition to Lydda, Jaffa and Abu Ghosh, provided shelter to internally displaced Palestinians. Today, internally displaced Palestinians reside in most of the Palestinian villages and towns that remained in the territory that became the state of Israel in 1948. In several villages internally displaced Palestinians comprise the majority of the population today. Most, however, reside in separate neighborhoods organized around the structure of their village of origin. These neighborhoods are often named after the village of origin. A similar phenomenon can be found in refugee camps throughout the region.

The internally displaced also reside in Palestinian cities in Israel, including Nazareth and Shafa’amr, and in cities with a mixed Jewish-Arab population, such as Haifa and Akko. A small number of communities were able to rebuild their neighborhoods on land beside their village of origin. Part of the population that remained from the village of ‘Ayn Hawd, located in the Karmel area of the Galilee, for example, rebuilt homes adjacent to their original village which was settled by Israeli artists. Further examples include al-Mansora in the A’ra valley, as well as the case of displaced Bedouin communities in the north and south of Israel. Many of these villages are not recognized by the government (i.e., ‘unrecognized villages’) and do not receive government services. Today, most of the internally displaced reside in the northern part of Israel, close to their villages of origin.

Israel’s policy toward Internally Displaced

Since 1948 Israeli governments have refused to deal with the issue of internally displaced Palestinians as a refugee problem. The demand of internally displaced Palestinians to return to their villages of origin has been and continues to be rejected. Land owned by internally displaced Palestinians was confiscated by means of the same Israeli laws applied to confiscate the land of Palestinian refugees (e.g., British Emergency Regulations, 1950 Absentees’ Property Law). In 1952, following a request by Israeli officials, UNRWA transferred responsibilities for assistance to the internally displaced to the Israeli government. Israel viewed international involvement as one of the factors motivating internally displaced to raise the demand for the right of return, and one of the primary obstacles towards extinguishing the status of internally displaced Palestinians as internally displaced. In any case, Israeli assistance granted to the internally displaced was marginal and mostly focused on humanitarian relief.

Israel does not recognize internally displaced Palestinians, neither their rights, nor their representative associations. It does, however, recognize individuals when they are prepared to cede claims to their lands and accept compensation. Israel also refuses to allow internally displaced Palestinians from Iqrit, Bir’am and al-Ghabsiyya to return to their villages despite Israeli High Court decisions ruling in the favor of Palestinians from these villages. The experience of displacement and dispossession more than fifty years ago continues to have a visible impact on the economic status of the internally displaced. The loss of land has transformed village peasants into unskilled workers in the Israeli economy. In addition, many have had problems in rebuilding their lives in the villages that provided shelter in 1948. As Palestinian citizens of Israel, the internally displaced also face overt discrimination in the provision of governmental services when compared to Jewish citizens of Israel. Palestinian villages, moreover, suffer from higher rates of unemployment. As of 2000, for example, 21 out of 25 localities with the highest levels of unemployment (over 10 percent) were Palestinian. As Palestinian citizens, the internally displaced also suffer from massive discrepancies in the fields of health, social services, and infrastructure when compared with the Jewish population in Israel.

Campaign of return

Since 1948, internally displaced Palestinians have not ceased to raise the demand to return to their villages of origin. This demand has been raised in countless letters to Israeli officials, through the activities of Palestinian political parties and a few left Zionist parties that support the right of the internally displaced to return to their homes, and through petitions to the Israeli courts.

During the 1970s, internally displaced, especially those from the second generation, established local committees based on the village of origin. In the 1980s, researchers, academics and others began to devote much more attention to the issue of the internally displaced, covering social, political and historical aspects of the problem. At the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s the internally displaced made a significant step forward with the establishment not only of committees based on the village of origin, but also an umbrella committee for the internally displaced in 1992. In 1995 the umbrella committee was transformed into a national committee for the defense of the internally displaced inside Israel (i.e., Association for the Defense of the Rights of Internally Displaced in Israel – ADRID) which is composed of representatives of the depopulated villages. The national committee is considered by Palestinians to be the legitimate representative of the internally displaced and is recognized as such by the Higher Follow-up Committee for Arab Affairs in Israel.

In addition to the local committees and the national committee, a number of Palestinian NGOs in Israel also deal with the issue of the internally displaced persons. These include the al-Aqsa Association for the Defense of the Islamic Religious Sites, the Association of the Forty, which addresses the issue of the ‘unrecognized villages’, and Ittijah, among others. Palestinian political parties also play a major role in raising the issue of the internally displaced and their right to return to their villages of origin.


For further information please contact:
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Soliman Fahmawi, spokesperson, ADRID; tel. 050267 679


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