More than 18 months after the beginning of Israel’s military campaign to crush all forms of popular Palestinian resistance to Israel’s illegal military occupation, denial of the right to self-determination and rejection of the basic human rights of Palestinian refugees, US-led international efforts to facilitate a return to political negotiations continue to exclude international law as a framework for negotiations and a just, comprehensive, and durable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian/Arab conflict.
More than 50 years after the Nakba when three-quarters of a million Palestinian refugees were displaced/expelled from their homes and villages and prevented by Israel from exercising their basic human right to return and receive real property restitution, US-led international efforts to facilitate a solution to the refugee issue continue to try to bypass international law and UN General Assembly Resolution 194, 11 December 194, due, primarily, to Israel’s demand to maintain the Jewish character of the state of Israel – i.e., characterized by a Jewish demographic majority and Jewish control of land confiscated from refugees.
From al-Nakba (the catastrophe) to al-Awda (the return)
The starting point in crafting durable solutions for refugees is international law (including relevant UN resolutions) and the wishes of the refugees themselves. UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (return, restitution, and compensation) provides a clear framework for a durable solution to the Palestinian refugee issue (See, BADIL Occasional Bulletin No. 11, (www.badil.org/Publications/Bulletins/B_11.htm). The broad outlines of mechanisms required to facilitate the implementation of UN Resolution 194 were mapped out by the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department during the last round of final status negotiations in Taba, Egypt (January 2001) (See, BADIL Occasional Bulletin No. 10, (www.badil.org/Publications/Bulletins/B_10.htm)
The United Nations refugee agency has also prepared several ‘checklists’ that provide a list of protection issues linked to the return of refugees and real property restitution. These checklists are used to help craft durable solutions to other refugee cases; the same protection issues apply to Palestinian refugees. A summary of these protection issues – i.e., practical activities – is reproduced below. The full checklists are available on the BADIL website (See, www.badil.org/Protection/Refugee_Protection/Documents/Protect_Docs.htm)
Protection Activities for Refugee Return
*Consult with parties to ensure recognition of the right of refugees to return to their places of origin, the voluntary character of return, and that conditions are established to facilitate safe and dignified return.
*Collect return related information and data: demographic and socio-economic refugee profiles, including rural vs. urban refugees, and vulnerable groups; obstacles to return; profiles of identified areas of origin and preferred destinations upon return, including land use, housing, economy, education, health facilities; legal barriers to return; political sensitivities and administrative concerns; seasonal factors; and, post-repatriation needs.
* Consult refugee women and men about ways to promote voluntary return, including assistance and protection issues. Provide refugees with information to facilitate informed decision-making, including enabling refugee representatives to undertake study visits to places of origin. Interview, counsel, and register refugees who wish to return and provide all necessary documentation.
* Create a plan of operation, in consultation with refugees, host countries and the country of origin, covering all protection and assistance issues during pre-departure, return and post-return. These include reception facilities, security en route, access to documentation, entry and dispersal procedures, monitoring, access to education, health, income-generating activities, repair/rehabilitation of housing, and national legal and judicial capacity building. Determine format for a ‘Voluntary Repatriation Form’, registration guidelines, and creation of a computerized database. Develop plan for transfer of refugee camp facilities to authorities concerned and make plan for the future use/redevelopment of all non-expendable property. The plan should take into account potential differences in approaches for different sectors of the refugee population, including vulnerable groups. Identify and communicate plan to international donors.
* Identify implementing partners, including UN agencies, international, and local NGOs. Establish clear-cut operations arrangements and develop a mechanism for regular consultations at all stages of the repatriation operation. Undertake training activities geared to strengthen the capacity of local institutions to maximize support for creation of conditions conducive to safe return and reintegration of refugees and management of reception and post-repatriation programs.
Protection Activities for Refugee Restitution
* Consult with parties to ensure recognition of the right of real property restitution and that conditions are established to facilitate restitution for returnees.
* Collect restitution related information and data: land documentation; land use; housing stock; secondary occupation; housing and property law, including analysis of cultural and traditional systems and procedures for ownership or assignment of land and legal barriers.
* Consult and provide refugee women and men with information and assistance regarding the restitution process. Interview, counsel, and register refugees who wish to receive restitution and provide all necessary documentation.
* Create a plan of operation, in consultation with refugees, host countries and the country of origin, covering all aspects of the restitution process. These include creation of a restitution claims form, collection of documentation, creation of a computerized database, repair/reconstruction of damaged or destroyed housing, eviction and alternative housing plans in cases of secondary occupation, verification of claims, mediation of claims, adjudication of disputes, reform of property laws to ensure compliance with international law, determination of compensation, protection of all persons from homelessness or other housing rights violations, etc. The plan should take into account potential differences in approaches for different sectors of the refugee population, including vulnerable groups. Communicate plan to international donors to ensure adequate funding.
* Identify implementing partners, including UN agencies, international, and local NGOs. Establish clear-cut operations and enforcement arrangements and develop a mechanism for regular consultations at all stages of the restitution process. Undertake training activities geared to strengthen the capacity of local institutions to maximize support for creation of conditions conducive to restitution.
On the occasion of the 54th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, BADIL Resource Center calls upon the international solidarity movement to:
*Educate and inform about the history and the scope of Palestinian displacement and dispossession;
*Educate and inform about Palestinian refugees' right of return, real property restitution and compensation in accordance with international law and UN Resolution 194.
Resources are available on the websites of BADIL and the Palestine Right to Return Coalition (http://al-awda.org)