Forced Population Transfer in Palestine; Thinking Practically about Return (Issue No.49, Spring-Summer 2012)

Forced Population Transfer in Palestine; Thinking Practically about Return (Issue No.49, Spring-Summer 2012)

majdal-49On the 64th Anniversary of the Nakba Badil Releases Issue #49 of al-Majdal (Spring-Summer 2012)

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17 May 2012 - The Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights has released the Spring-Summer double issue of al-Majdal (issue #49), titled “Forced Population Transfer Persists… The Struggle for Return Continues.” This Nakba-64 special issue of al-Majdal, includes a double feature. The first section examines the ongoing nature of the Nakba through Israel’s continued transfer of Palestinians on both sides of the “Green Line.” The second section includes preliminary visions for the implementation of Palestinian refugees’ right to return emerging from discussions held by Badil and Zochrot during a study visit to the South African city of Cape Town. In their commentaries, Rich Wiles and Nidal Azza discuss the creative ways in which Palestinians have resisted the ongoing Nakba. Noura Erakat and Rania Madi relate the achievement of an unprecedentedly coordinated effort by Palestinian human rights organizations in provoking the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s recognition, and condemnation, of Israeli apartheid on both sides of the green line. In the first feature of this issue the focus is on the crime of population transfer; a central aspect of the ongoing nature of the Nakba. Joseph Schechla offers an overview of population transfer, focusing on the development of international law criminalizing this practice since the 1930s, and Israel’s place as one of the leading state perpetrators of this crime. The following articles offer case studies of Israel’s policies and practices of population transfer. Salman Abu Sitta examines Israeli authorities’ use of Ottoman law, specifically of the mewat classification of land, as cover for stripping Palestinian Bedouin of their property in the Naqab; while Mercedes Melon describes the ways in which Israeli policies and practices in the occupied Jordan Valley have continued the forced transfer of Palestinians from, or within, that area. Amjad Alqasis ends the section with an analysis of the ways in which Zionism and, specifically, the legal use of the concept of Jewish nationality have constituted root causes of the population transfer of Palestinians. In the second section we publish the discussion documents from the February 2012 joint Badil-Zochrot study visit to Cape Town. One of the goals of the visit was for participants to see, hear and learn about population transfer under the South African Apartheid regime, how the struggle for return was waged, and how displaced South Africans experienced return as part of liberation after the fall of political Apartheid in 1994. In the last days of the visit, the participants from Badil and Zochrot discussed the ways in which their experiences could be incorporated into a vision of Palestinian refugee and IDP return. Out of these discussions emerged three documents: one on working towards return, another on reparations and a third on visions for a new state. The purpose of these documents is to stimulate broader discussion on visions and practicalities of return in the Palestinian case. This issue also include a BDS Update (January-May 2012)

Symbols of Nakba, Visions of Return

For peoples engaged in struggle, the potency of symbolism is undeniable. In the Palestinian case, the symbols of struggle cover the world throughout which we have been dispersed, and exhibit the depth of a century-old quest for freedom. Among the most potent of these symbols is the kufiyyeh, a headdress associated with 1936-1939 worker and peasant uprising against British occupation and Zionist colonization. Many images are also symbols, like the iconic photographs of the expulsions of 1948 and the first tents of the refugee camps, and those of martyrs and freedom fighters. There are also the keys. Refugees carried these keys to the homes lodged in their memories to which they were sure they would return; logos of the leading militant factions; a caricature character with the spiky hair of a hedgehog witnessing the bitter ironies of loss and victory; the map of a homeland resembling a sharp shard of glass carved out by European powers and gifted to the world’s most famous Diaspora, only to create today’s largest and longest standing refugee population; and a flag designed as part of a British colonial campaign against its rival Ottoman empire, later to become a banned symbol of resistance raised in acts of defiance by protesting youth throughout the 1980s.

Today a certain disconnect, a rupture, has emerged constituting a discomforting space between the symbol and what it symbolizes. The locks into which refugees’ keys fit are now buried—together with the doors and the houses they guarded—under bustling cities and Jewish National Fund parks and picnic areas. The weapons adorning some of the leading factions’ logos are today used to police the mothers and cousins of their bearers. The Palestinian flag now adorns the mahogany desks and buildings of an Authority seeking to talk its way to whatever scraps of land and sovereignty the colonial power will allow to fall from the negotiating table. The map of Palestine bears the name of the colonizer’s regime on most maps produced today, and a more accurate map of the “State of Palestine,” if such a scrap is to somehow fall from the table, looks more like ghettoes in the form of a splatter of blood than a bandage to a century of wounds. How long will it be before settlers produce Handhala T-shirts in the Jews-only settler-colonies to sell to Palestinian refugees in neighboring countries and Westerners seeking to replace their tattered Che Guevara paraphernalia with something fresh?

The Fluidity of Resistance

by Rich Wiles* and Nidal Azza*

“The fish,
Even in the fisherman's net,
Still carries,
The smell of the sea.”
               --Mourid Barghouti

"We did not go into the battle because we love to be hungry or in pain, but for our dignity and the dignity of our nation." 

With these words, Thaer Halahla from Hebron encapsulated the spirit of resistance. Halahla, and the hundreds of dignified hunger strikers who carried on their struggle even in the face of imminent death each made personal decisions to resist. An act of resistance is not a selfish one; it is an act for the dignity and liberation of humanity. The Palestinian street similarly rose up in support of the political prisoners, and within it, Palestinians of all factions, religions and social backgrounds showed how national unity comes from the hearts of the masses and not from decisions or agreements dictated by 'leaders' in Ramallah or Gaza City. The historic and ongoing struggle was built by the masses, and will always be lead by them.

UN Committee Concludes Israeli System Tantamount to Apartheid in 2012 Session

by Noura Erakat* and Rania Madi*

Between mid-February and early March 2012, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (Committee) held its 80th session where it evaluated the compliance of several states with the 1966 International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). Among those states was Israel who became a party to the treaty in 1979. The Committee’s concluding observations and recommendations are notable because they establish that Israel’s policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) are tantamount to Apartheid and that many of its policies within Israel itself violate the prohibition on Apartheid as enshrined in Article 3 of the Convention. 

Prohibition, Prosecution and Impunity for the Crime of Population Transfer

The cruelty of population transfer is as old as the earliest civilizations. Such felonious practices are supposed to be vestiges of an uncivilized and ignoble past. With the development of international law in the twentieth century, population transfer is now punishable as both a war crime and crime against humanity. However, firm and enforceable prohibitions have been long in coming and inconsistently upheld.

Living Land: Population Transfer and the Mewat Pretext in the Naqab1

Father: This land was Arab land before you were born. The fields and villages were theirs. But you do not see many of them now. There are only flourishing Jewish colonies where they used to be…because a great miracle happened to us…
Daughter: How can one take land which belongs to someone else, cultivating that land and living off it?
Father: There is nothing difficult about that. All you need is force. Once you have power you can.
Daughter: But is there no law? Are there no courts in Israel?
Father: Of course there are. But they only held up matters very briefly. The Arabs did go to our courts and asked for their land back from those who stole it. And the judges decided that yes, the Arabs are the legal owners of the fields they have tilled for generations.
Daughter: Well then, if that is the decision of the judges… we are a law-abiding nation.
Father: No, my dear, it is not quite like that. If the law decides against the thief, and the thief is very powerful, then he makes another law supporting his view.
                          --The father was Maariv founder and first editor, Dr. Israel Carlebach. This exchange was published in Ma’ariv, 25th December 1953.

The Forcible Transfer of the Palestinian People from the Jordan Valley

Forcible transfer and deportation are terms that commonly evoke images of people being loaded onto trucks or trains or violently driven away.1 Forcible transfer, however, may also take the form of involuntary or induced movement of people resulting from the creation of insecurity, disorder, or other adverse conditions, for the purpose of, or resulting in such migration. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits all forcible transfers. Only the security of the population of the occupied territory or imperative military reasons can exceptionally justify total or partial evacuation of an area under occupation. Those evacuated shall be transferred back to their homes as soon as hostilities in the area in question have ceased.

Zionism: A Root Cause for Ongoing Population Transfer of Palestinians

In 1973, The United Nations rightfully condemned ‘the unholy alliance between Portuguese colonialism, South African racism, Zionism and Israeli imperialism.’1 And only two years later the same international organization determined ‘that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.’2 Although this resolution was revoked in 1991, at the behest of the U.S. administration, in order to pave the way for the Madrid Peace Conference that same year, the equation of Zionism with racism is still valid. Apartheid is based on the principle of the establishment and maintenance of a regime of institutionalized discrimination in which one group dominates others. In the case of Israel, the driving-force behind the Palestinian reality of apartheid is Zionist ideology; its manifestation is population transfer and ethnic cleansing.

The BADIL-Zochrot Study Visit to Cape Town: An Introduction

The return of displaced Palestinians to the lands from which they have been displaced and denied return for over six decades is the central issue around which the Palestinian struggle for freedom and self-determination revolves. Among those who value justice and respect for international law, there is no disagreement that refugee and IDP reparation ( return, Restitution, rehabilitation, compensation and non-repetition) is central to a just and lasting solution to the woes of the region. For both Badil and Zochrot, it is this aspect of the liberation of Palestine to which we have dedicated our efforts for over a decade since our organizations’ establishment. Through the course of our work, however, we have found that conceptions of “return” have remained somewhat superficial. This is true among the settler community that sees it as a calamity to be avoided at any cost as well as among the indigenous community that equates return to a reversal of six decades of settler-colonialism; the return to a paradise lost.

Working Towards Return

In what follows we offer an overview of the various dimensions and aspects of the work needed in preparation for the return of Palestinian refugees. In general, we believe that the struggle for return needs to be cumulative, flexible, and sustainable:


Some of the Lessons from the South African Restitution Experience

In the discussions, meetings and visits conducted as part of the BADIL-Zochrot study visit in Cape Town, several issues were raised that we saw as being of direct relevance to restitution and reparations in the case of Palestine. These included the following:
(note: some of these may not have been directly experienced in South Africa, but were raised as questions and concerns by study visit participants in their examination of the South African restitution experience)

Visions for a New State

1. Reconciliation and Justice

Truth and Reconciliation Process

Redressing continued injustices suffered by Palestinian victims of Zionist colonization and state violence should be a multi-tiered process that entails several different and parallel mechanisms. A legal system set up by the transitional authority would determine, through extensive and transparent deliberations, specific criteria for indicting perpetrators as well as levels of culpability for acts of violence. In general, violent acts committed as part of justified Palestinian armed resistance to occupation will not be considered on par with violence perpetrated by the occupiers.

Palestine’s Ongoing Nakba is the Responsibility of Israel and the International Community

Joint statement on the 64th Anniversary of the 1948 Nakba, May 14, 2012

For nearly a century the great powers of the international community have continued to unjustifiably marginalize and ignore the will of the Palestinian people, effectively stripping them of their fundamental rights. In 1922, the League of Nations rubber stamped the British Mandate in Palestine, paving the way for the implementation of the colonial Balfour Declaration and the establishment of a Zionist homeland in Palestine at the expense of the Palestinian people. In 1947, the General Assembly of the United Nations issued resolution 181, the partition plan for Palestine, under which the state of Israel was created, and which effectively led to the attempted destruction of Palestinian society, including the displacement of nearly two-thirds of the indigenous population. Since 1967, the UN Security Council has debated the meaning and validity of resolutions calling for Israel’s withdrawal from territories occupied by force in the 1967 War. Since the “peace process” was launched in the early 1990s, not only has the international community been unable to compel Israel to respect the agreements it has signed, but has also been unable to stop grave violations of Palestinian rights. The impotence of the international community, which initially enabled the trampling of Palestinian human rights , continues to allow for the continuation of the ongoing Nakba; for the constant deprivation of the Palestinian people from the enjoyment of their fundamental rights.

Concentration and Containment of the Palestinian People in Israel Proper and the oPt

BADIL’s written statement to the HRC 19th session, (March 2012) 

Nineteenth Session, Item no. 7
27 February - 23 March 2012

Written statement submitted by Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, a non-governmental organization with special consultative status.

Concentration and Containment
1. In 2011, approximately 1,100 Palestinians were displaced in the OPT solely due to home demolitions conducted by Israeli forces. 70% of Area C of the West Bank is reserved for the exclusive use of the Israeli military and the construction of colonies. Of the remaining land, 29% is severely restricted for Palestinians.1

2. Additionally, only 13% of East Jerusalem is zoned for Palestinian construction – much of which is already built up – compared with 35%, which has been expropriated and zoned for the use of Israeli settlements. Based on Israeli policy which effectively bans Palestinian residents of Jerusalem from obtaining construction permits – even on the allocated 13% – 93,100 Palestinians were forced to build their homes without proper building permits and are at risk of displacement due to Israel’s discriminatory policy of demolishing houses.2

3. Moreover, on 11 September 2011, the Israeli Government approved the Prawer Plan, which recommends the destruction of fourteen villages in the Beer Sheba district located in the Negev, effectively displacing 30,000 Palestinians citizens of Israel from their homes.3

4. The state of Israel is treating the territory of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) as one legal entity, which has two effects: (1) it places Israeli Jewish nationals, wherever they may reside, in a privileged position regarding land, housing and planning laws and (2) this is at the expense of Palestinians, wherever they may reside, who are collectively discriminated against by land, housing and planning laws. Thus, Palestinians living in the OPT as well as Palestinian citizens of Israel are discriminated against by Israel’s land, planning and zoning regime. This institutionalized discrimination is evident in land ownership; planning policies; freedom of movement between areas; and access to infrastructure.

5. Israel’s discriminatory land laws constitute a pillar of its colonial apartheid system. All Israeli land laws legislated since the Absentees’ Property Law of 1950 have served to expropriate individually and communally owned Palestinian land, transfer title to Israel or agencies affiliated with the World Zionist Organization/Jewish Agency, and to establish a land regime which reserves the right to the land for Jewish nationals as defined by the Law of Return.4

6. In order to achieve this aim, Israel has implemented various land and planning laws. These laws were formulated with two general policies in mind: (a) the 'confiscation and colonization' of the vast majority of Palestinian owned land; and (b) the 'concentration and containment' of the Palestinian population within small pockets of land, which are dispersed and fragmented across the OPT and within Israel.

7. This has resulted in many Palestinians being expelled from their homes and having their houses demolished without any offer of resettlement or proper compensation. Israel has intentionally caused this situation to arise and is therefore in breach of its international obligations to provide, among others, adequate housing to the occupied population or its own Palestinian Arab minority, for which it is responsible.

8. The Oslo Process 1995 resulted in the West Bank being divided into Areas A, B and C. This "administrative division" has served to reinforce Israel's aim of concentrating and containing the Palestinian population.

9. The division of the West Bank into three 'areas' has left Palestinians with disproportionately less land to live on (Area A and B) and has preventing them from expanding naturally according to their needs, which has resulted in poor housing, overcrowding and restricted access to essential infrastructure. Area C which covers 60% of the West Bank remains under full Israeli civil and military control.5

10. Since the occupation began in 1967 “Israel has not permitted the establishment of any new Palestinian municipalities. Instead, Israel has used its authority under military law to confine the boundaries of existing municipalities.”6 This is “[d]espite the enormous growth of the Palestinian population since 1967.”7  Military Order 418 created a planning regime that affords “maximum control [to] the Israeli government...over all aspects of planning and development in the Palestinian communities.”8  Thus “[i]n the 1990s, Israel drew up detailed perimeter plans for some 400 Palestinian villages in the West Bank, essentially limiting [them] to their existing boundaries and prohibiting any development beyond them.”9  As a result of these combined policies, Areas A and B are “drastically fragmented and interspersed with, and encircled on all side by, vast areas of Israeli control[led]” Area C.10  Furthermore, the house demolitions and expulsion of Palestinians (particularly from Area C and East Jerusalem) has forced them to find housing in Areas A or B, thus exacerbating and increasing the already poor and deprived situation. This is particularly evident in the refugee camps throughout the OPT.

11. This containment of an ever-growing Palestinian population has resulted in many families living in overcrowded and damaging conditions because they are prevented from building on nearby land. The natural increase in population and the lack of modern facilities and infrastructure has left many families in substandard, underdeveloped houses.

12. Moreover, all Israeli/Jewish only colonies in the OPT – “the vast majority of [which] are established on land seized by Israel”11  – must initially be authorized by the Joint Settlement Committee. This committee is composed in equal proportion of representatives of both the government and of the World Zionist Organization, preventing Palestinian inhabitants of the OPT from participating in any decision making that directly affects their housing situation. Houses in these settlements “are ostensibly sold on the free market to any buyer, though in fact they are sold exclusively to Jews.”12   This demonstrates the discriminatory nature of Israel's initial policies in confiscating land almost exclusively from Palestinians, while resettling only Jewish/Israeli settlers in those colonies throughout the OPT.

13. Within Israel itself population density levels in Arab villages are nearly four times higher than those in Jewish villages.13  As a result, Palestinians in Israel have been forced to build without the required planning permission, out of necessity.14  While authorities fight this “with the full force of their legal power,” similar practices among the Jewish community are treated “very tolerantly.”15

14. Furthermore, the average area of jurisdiction of Palestinian cities and local councils has decreased by 45 percent since the British Mandate. This is despite a sixteen-fold increase in the built-up areas of Palestinian communities.16 Therefore, most Arab localities “are dependent on decisions made by planning commissions on which, in the main [Palestinians] have no representation.”17

15. Much like in the West Bank, Palestinian communities often find themselves 'cut-off' from the surrounding lands.18  By contrast, even “the smallest Jewish localities...have detailed building plans and regulations regarding land use.”19  As summarized: “Israeli space has been highly dynamic, but the changes have been mainly in one direction: Jews expand their territorial control by a variety of means including on-going settlement, while Arabs have been contained within an unchanged geography.”20  It is hardly surprising, therefore, that while today the Palestinian population makes up 18 percent of the total Israeli population, it owns only 3.5% of the land.21

16. Badil urges the member States of the Human Rights Council to:
• Register Israel's system of institutionalized discrimination that distinguishes between Jewish nationals and citizens and Palestinian Arabs and extends from Israel Proper to the OPT.
• Register Israel’s continuing practices of house demolitions, land confiscations, and its adoption of policies resulting in inadequate housing and living conditions.
• Condemn Israel’s policy of land and resources grab in area c and in east Jerusalem in order to build and/or expand colonies while the Palestinian communities in these areas are prohibited from acquiring permits to build houses on their own land. To call upon Israel to immediately revoke all orders concerning the demolition of houses and eviction of Palestinians in the OPT.
• Condemn Israel’s practice of prohibiting Palestinians living in Area C and in East Jerusalem of receiving building permits and therewith hindering the natural growth of those communities. 


1. OCHA-OPT, Demolitions and Forced Displacement in the Occupied West Bank January 2012 at:
2. See Ibid.
3. Government Decision, Confirming the Recommendations for Regulation of the Bedouin Settlement in the Negev, 11 September 2011 (Government Decision no. 3707, 11 September 2011).
4. The Absentees’ Property Law, 5710-1950.
5. OCHA oPt, “Area C Humanitarian Response Plan Fact Sheet” (2010) at, page 1-2.
6. Dajani, S., Ruling Palestine – A History of the Legally Sanctioned Jewish-Israeli Seizure of Land
and Housing in Palestine (2005), p. 33.
7. Ibid
8. Cohen-Liftshitz, A. and Shalev, N., The Prohibited Zone: Israeli Planning Policy in the Palestinian Villages in Area C (Bimkom, Jerusalem: 2008) p39.
9. Dajani, note 6 supra, p. 99.
10. Ibid p121.
11. B'Tselem (Yael Stein, ed.), Land Grab Israel's Settlement Policy in the West Bank (Jerusalem: B'Tselem, May 2002), p. 21.
12. Ibid p23.
13. Groag, S. and Hartman, S., “Planning Rights in Arab Communities in Israel: An Overview” (available at, p3.
14. Hussein and McKay, note 43 supra, p. 233.
15. Groag and Hartman, note 7 supra, p4.
16. Hussein and McKay, note 43 supra, p. 217.
17. Groag, S. and Hartman, S., note 7 supra p. 5.
18. Ibid., p. 214.
19. Ibid., p. 228.
20. See Kedar, Khamaisi and Yiftachel, note 79 supra, p.17.
21. Ibid. 

BDS Campaign Update (January – May 2012)

UK’s student body endorses divestment
January 6, 2012—In a historic move, the National Union of Students (NUS) in the UK has committed its “resources and support” to any students wishing to organize their own campaign targeting companies complicit in Israel’s occupation and breaches of international law, and particularly Eden Springs and Veolia. This comes soon after the NUS’ National Executive Committee voted to condemn the collaboration between King’s College London (KCL) and Ahava.