The 1967 Palestinian Refugees - Also Waiting to Go Home

Thirty-five years ago this week the Palestinian people experienced the second major wave of mass displacement. During the 1967 Israeli-Arab war more than 400,000 Palestinians were displaced, half of whom were 1948 refugees displaced for a second time in less than two decades. As in 1948, it is estimated that the majority of the refugees were displaced due to Israeli military assault and expulsion. And, as in 1948, Israel immediately began to take control of Palestinian refugee land under a variety of military orders that effectively applied many of the tactics used to acquire Palestinian land inside Israel (i.e., ‘absentee property’, ‘military and public purpose’, and ‘state land.’)

The total 1967 refugee population comprised approximately one-third of the Palestinian population in the West Bank, including eastern Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip and slightly more than one-quarter of the indigenous Palestinian population still living within the borders of their historic homeland. Refugee property expropriated as ‘absentee property’ under Military Order No. 58, alone, amounted to hundreds of sq. km of land. In the aftermath of the 1967 war Israel had displaced more than half of the Palestinian people outside the borders of their homeland and expropriated around 80 percent of Palestinian-owned property.

As in 1948, the United Nations adopted resolutions reaffirming the right of the refugees to return to their places of origin. On 14 June 1967 the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 237 calling upon Israel to facilitate the return of refugees displaced during the war. On the 4 July 1967 the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 2252 (ES-V) calling upon the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) to provide emergency humanitarian assistance to refugees displaced for the first time during the 1967 war. Unlike 1948, however, the United Nations failed to identify the appropriate international mechanism mandated to facilitate a durable solution for the refugees.

Under an agreement concluded between Jordan and Israel in August 1967, a process was established to facilitate the orderly return of the 1967 refugees. Arbitrary conditions and restrictive time constraints imposed by Israel, however, limited the number of refugees able to participate in the repatriation scheme and infringed on the voluntary character of return. According Red Cross (ICRC) figures, Israel approved only 13 percent of the repatriation applications allowing only 20,000 of 140,000 refugee applicants to return. Refugees displaced in 1948 and again in 1967 were not permitted to go back to the occupied territories. Israel rejected appeals by the ICRC to extend the time limit to enable the return of all those refugees wishing to do so.

The issue of Palestinian refugees displaced in 1967 was addressed again a decade later in the context of political negotiations between Israel and Egypt. The 1978 Camp David Accords (A. Article 1.e) included provisions for a ‘continuing committee’ to discuss the “modalities of admission of persons displaced from the West Bank and Gaza in 1967.” This framework was subsequently included in the 1994 Jordan-Israel peace agreement (Article 8) and the 1993 Declaration of Principles (Oslo Accords) between Israel and the PLO (Article XII). A committee composed of Israel, the Palestinians, Jordan and Egypt (‘Quadripartite Committee’) was subsequently established under the 1994 Gaza-Jericho Autonomy Agreement (‘Cairo Agreement’) (Article XVI). The Committee, however, failed to facilitate the implementation of the right of return for 1967 refugees from the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. As with 1948 refugees, the Oslo agreements exclude all references to UN resolutions and international law relevant to 1967 refugees.

More than three decades after they were displaced and forced into exile, some 700,000 1967 Palestinian refugees are still waiting to exercise their basic human right to go home. The problem of 1967 displaced Palestinians was to be resolved during the interim period of the Oslo process but remains unresolved. While Israel accepts in principle the right of refugees displaced for the first time in 1967 to return to their places of origin in the occupied Palestinian territories, it continues to impose arbitrary restrictions that aim to limit the number of refugees able to return and preserve a Jewish demographic majority not only inside Israel but in all of historic mandatory Palestine.

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