Following protests by refugee students in Lebanon in September and an international advocacy campaign, UNRWA has agreed to open secondary schools to provide spaces for students. (see Al Majdal Issue No. 7)
Dear Friends and Supporters,
Yes, we feel we can call you friends because you stood with us during our sit-in of UNRWA. You were with us when nobody was, and this is true friendship. We read you emails many times, which made us feel warm and secure and strong enough to continue our struggle. This is what friendship is all about.
The Ottawa stocktaking conference on Palestinian refugee research was attended by people invited from Palestine and the Arab world, Israel, from the United States, Canada and by Canadian officials. After an initial review of existing research the conference examined the following issues in a series of workshops:
Legal and moral dimension of the refugee issues,
Repatriation and absorption (not the right of return),
The future of UNRWA,
Linkages of the refugee issue to other final status issues, and, interim measures to deal with the refugee issue.
While the main idea of the conference was stocktaking, the relatively large number of Canadian officials compared to researchers suggested that it was a more political than academic conference. In addition, the tone of the host center, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), an "arms length agency" for Canadian foreign policy dedicated to assisting developing countries to building research capacity so that they can address and resolve problems which confront them, in the introductory speeches was geared more towards the political rather than the academic issues.
A Survey of Refugee Living Conditions and Expectations
Statistical surveys of refugee attitudes have become a fashion. They are conducted inside and outside Palestine, frequently under the sponsorship of international organizations apparently hoping to discover that Palestinian refugees, after 50 years of exile, have "finally come to their senses," and are now ready to bury their dream of return to Palestine in exchange for improvements of living conditions (compensation, better housing, etc.). This survey, undertaken upon the request of the Union of Youth Activity Centres, serves as a tool in the hands of refugees to compare and judge the findings of the numerous other surveys based on their own, scientifically founded results.
At the end of February, the Palestinian Statistics Bureau released preliminary figures from its first census of Palestinians. The census was confined to Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. According to Bureau head, Hassan Abu Libdeh, the Palestinian population in these areas has grown sharply to 2.89 million. Of that total, some 1.65 million Palestinians are living in the West Bank, 1.02 million in Gaza and 210,000 in East Jerusalem. According to Libdeh, approximately 325,000 Palestinians with residency rights in the West Bank and Gaza live abroad, bringing the total of the three areas to 3.2 million.
Report by the Lobby for Palestinian Women's Rights in Jerusalem
On 17 February 1998, approximately 35 families of the Salamat Jahalin Bedouin tribe were evicted by Israeli forces from their encampment in an area below the West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim. All the tents and shacks along with the personal belongings of the Jahalin families were bulldozed into the ground. A few items of clothing and furniture were salvaged and deposited at a site near the Jerusalem garbage dump which Israel set up one year ago as a Jahalin "reservation" with shipping containers for housing. The site was declared unfit for human habitation under Israeli environmental legislation.
The families, who are registered as refugees with UNRWA but do not receive UNRWA services, moved back to their original encampment and set up tents provided by the Palestinian Authority after Israeli forces left. The following day, Israeli forces returned, destroyed the tents, and arrested five members of the tribe including Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah. The men were taken to the Ma'aleh Adumim police station where they were questioned and asked to sign forms stating that they would not return to the site. The men refused, arguing that they had lived on the land for decades since they were evicted from their land in the Tel Arad area of the Negev inside Israel. Israeli authorities detained the men for three days.
In response to a request by BADIL-Project for Palestinian Residency & Refugee Rights for updated figures on ID-card confiscation and family reunification in East Jerusalem, the following information was provided by Rafa’el Cohen, Director of Population Registry of the Interior Ministry on 17 December 1997:
"In the course of 1997, the permanent resident status of some 606 Palestinian residents was found to have expired. 500 additional cases are still being studied.
By December 1997, some 7,470 applications for family reunification are being studied by the Ministry."
The SUMOUD Camp has become the permanent home of approximately 250 children. Many of these children have not been granted legal recognition as Jerusalem residents by the Israeli Ministry of Interior. They are facing not only the material and emotional hardships of camp life, but also lack access to Israeli public health and welfare services - a serious set-back given their families' limited financial means. Thinking about their future as teen-agers and grown-ups causes a strong feeling of uncertainty, because as unregistered children they will not be issued Jerusalem ID cards when they reach the age of 16. They will thus be forced to leave their hometown for another, yet unknown place.
An investigation of the phenomenon of unregistered children in the SUMOUD Camp conducted by BADIL Alternative Information Center on behalf of the Lobby for Palestinian Women's Rights in Jerusalem in February 1998 revealed the large scope of this problem. Detailed personal information gathered from 16 families in the camp showed that 55 of their 67 children do not hold official Israeli birth certificates, none of them receive public welfare services (Israeli National Insurance), and only 30 of them have access to private health insurance. This despite the fact that all children have at least one parent who is a legal resident of Jerusalem.
Following the demolition of the SUMOUD tent camp by Israeli municipal authorities on 31 March 1998, approximately 20 Palestinian families who have no other place to live in Jerusalem moved into a large unfinished school owned by the Islamic waqf in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The remaining number of families from the SUMOUD camp were able to find alternative housing and received compensation from the Orient House.
The 20 families living at the new SUMOUD site have suffered further deterioration in their living conditions. There is no electricity and no sanitation. The three month rental contract for the portable lavatories at the old tent site expired near the end of March and they were removed prior to the demolition of the site. According to camp residents, the Orient House has promised the families 6 portable lavatories, however, a week has passed since the families moved to the building and they remain without proper sanitation facilities. In the meantime, the mosque adjacent to the new SUMOUD site has allowed the families 24 hour access to its lavatory and has further provided the families with running water.
This article is based on a paper drafted by BADIL for the Council of Europe (CoE) Hearing on Palestinian Refugees and Stateless Persons in Europe, 16 December 2002 (Budapest)
It is estimated that there are more than 200,000 Palestinian refugees and stateless persons currently residing in Europe. The exact number of Palestinian refugees in Europe, however, is unknown. Most states do not include Palestinians as a separate ethnic or national group in population censi. Statistical information often categorizes Palestinians as ‘other Middle East.’ Estimates for the number of Palestinian refugees residing in individual European states are therefore incomplete and inconsistent. Partial estimates include: Germany (30,000-80,000); Denmark (20,000); UK (15,000); Sweden (9,000); and France (3,000). Palestinian refugees in Europe comprise approximately 3.5 percent of the global Palestinian refugee and displaced population.
Hassan Muhammad Hassan Shahin, from Jabalya refugee camp (Gaza), married his cousin, Amal Muhammad Hussein Abu Watfe, in Saudi Arabia in 1980. His wife was born in Gaza, but had left in 1966. The couple has five children: Muhammad (10), Reem (9), Ahmad (7), Fatmeh (5), and Miryam (3). None of the children are registered on their father’s identity card.
Immediately after the Gulf War they left Saudi Arabia, first to the Sudan, then to Libya. From Libya they flew to Egypt, since Hassan had left Gaza through Egypt and must re-enter that way. But Egypt refused to let Amal, holder of an Egyptian travel document and a visitor’s permit to Gaza, and her children in.