‘Restitution: A Basic Human Right’ (excerpt)
One of the interesting by-products of the U.S.-U.K. led war in Iraq and related developments in the region has been the broader attention given to housing and property restitution in the Middle East. Increased awareness stems from renewed claims for Jewish losses in the Arab world.
Article 58 of the Iraqi interim constitution, developed under the U.S.-led “Coalition Provisional Authority”, asks the transitional government and the Iraqi Property Claims Commission to quickly remedy previous injustices. These include altering the demographic character of certain regions, deporting and expelling individuals from their places of residence, forcing migration in and out of the region and settling individuals alien to the region.
Remedies include restitution or compensation for losses suffered between 1968 and 2003. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell meanwhile told a delegation from the World Jewish Congress on March 13 that he would work toward ensuring that Iraqi Jews regain their citizenship and receive compensation for lost property.
In late March, Saif al-Islam, the son of Libyan leader Muammar Ghaddafi stated during an interview with the Arabic satellite network al-Jazeera, that Libya would be prepared to compensate Jews who had lost their property in the country and welcomed Libyan Jews to return to the country and reacquire Libyan citizenship.
These developments run parallel to increased activism by organizations representing Arab Jews for recognition of the rights of Jews from Arab countries. This includes Justice for Jews in Arab Countries (JJAC) (www.jewishrefugees.org) and Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA) (www.jimena-justice.org).
Recent resolutions in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate call upon the Bush administration to instruct all American diplomats, including the ambassador to the United Nations, to include mention of ‘multiple refugee populations’ in any text or resolution alluding to Middle East refugees, and to ensure that “any explicit reference to the required resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue is matched by a similar explicit reference to the resolution of the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.” (S.Res.325, 29 March 2004)
These efforts highlight the need for strengthening regional instruments and mechanisms to ensure that all refugees and displaced persons in the Middle East, without any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin, are able to repossess homes and properties and receive compensation for damages and losses in accordance with international law and best practice.
For more on the right of refugees and displaced persons to housing and property restitution see, Housing and property restitution in the context of the return of refugees and internally displaced persons, Preliminary report of the Special Rapporteur. Commission on Human Rights, Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, E/CN.4/Sub.2/2003/11, 16 June 2003.
Refugee Village Site Threatened
Plans for the expansion of Ya’ad, a Jewish colony in the Galilee established on the lands of the Palestinian village of Mi’ar in 1975, threaten areas of the village where one can still find the cemetery, and remains of the destroyed homes and village mosque. More than 700 Palestinians lived in Mi’ar before their expulsion in July 1948. Total village lands amount to some 10,788 dunums. Today, many of the village residents are internally displaced inside Israel. The Mi’ar Residents Committee has filed a complaint with the District Planning Committee.
Emptying the Naqab
House demolition, destruction of agricultural land, and colonization. This is not the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. It’s also happening inside Israel. The indigenous Bedouin of the Naqab are the ‘hidden’ victims of Israel’s campaign for demographic superiority and control of land. Addressing a conference entitled, “The Settlement of the Jews in the Negev”, organized by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in March 2004, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the 350 participants from 34 countries, “The state will empty the Bedouin villages so that we can settle down thousands of Jews.”
This may include settlers from the Gaza Strip if Ariel Sharon follows through with his plan for unilateral disengagement. Israel’s US$ 265 million five-year plan for the Naqab (‘The Governmental Decision Regarding the Bedouin Sector in the Negev’), revealed in early 2003, calls for the removal of the remaining indigenous Bedouin living in unrecognized villages, concentration of them into 7 new townships, and transfer of Bedouin traditional grazing and agricultural land to the state. The plan will be accompanied by the construction of new Jewish colonies in the same area.
House demolition and colonization
The number of Bedouin homes demolished in the Naqab increased eight-fold in 2003. In total more than 100 homes were destroyed. According to Israel’s Minister of the Interior, there are around 76,000 persons living in 30,000 unlicensed buildings in the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Naqab. If Israel’s five-year plan is carried out, all of these will be issued demolition orders.Palestinian villages in the Naqab are the poorest in Israel.
At the end of January 2004, 300 members of the Israel police, Border Police, and special forces participated in the demolition of two homes in the unrecognized village of Um Batin, one home located near the industrial area in Shkeib al-Salam, and a fourth home belonging to a local journalist. Israeli forces also closed two gas stations and confiscated more than 20,000 litres of fuel from the owners. In early March, Israeli police and special forces destroyed a further five homes in the Wadi al-Naim, Wadi Ghaween, and al-Araqeeb.
At the same time that the Israeli government demolishes homes of the poorest sector of Israeli society, government plans to increase the number of Jews living in the Naqab continue at pace. This includes construction of a new colony called Givot Bar located southeast of Rahat. Givot Bar is being established with 15 Jewish families and will be expanded to accommodate 150 Jewish families. The colony is built on land expropriated from the al-Aqabi tribe in 1951.
The proposed ‘Wine Path Plan’ for the Naqab calls for the construction of some 30 new ‘individual colonies’ “to fulfill the government’s policy for development the Negev and the Galilee and for safeguarding state land in the Negev and the Galilee.” The colonies will affect tens of thousands of dunums of land. According to Adalah, the plan will retroactively legalize existing illegal individual colonies located on large parcels of land given to Jewish citizens of Israel without a bid.
The plan stands in stark contrast to state policies towards the Bedouin under which illegal construction is destroyed. The Jewish National Fund (JNF), which operates as a semi-autonomous body of the Israeli government, is currently collecting millions of dollars to help seize and colonize land in the Naqab.
Destruction of crops
The Israel Lands Administration (ILA), which administers 93 percent of the land in Israel – most of which was expropriated from Palestinian refugees and citizens of the state – has continued its policy of aerial spraying of crops planted by Bedouin in the Naqab. The ILA claims the land used by Bedouin for grazing and traditional rain-fed agriculture for generations is state land. On 15 January 2004, the ILA, protected by the Israel police and Border Police, destroyed a total of 4,000 dunums of crop land in Araqiib, Mkeimin, Sa’wa, and Khirbet al-Watan.
In mid-February ILA planes returned once again to spray crops in the Araqiib area, ‘Arara, Za’arora, and Qatamat. Twenty people as well as sheep were exposed to the toxic spray. One man, Salim Abu Mdeghem, was taken to the hospital for treatment of respiratory problems. On 9 March, Israeli authorities sprayed 3,000 dunums of land of Qatamat and ‘Abda, two unrecognized villages. At least 17 individuals, including children, received medical treatment following exposure to the spray.
On 23 March 2004, the Supreme Court of Israel issued a temporary injunction, as requested by Adalah, four Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel, and eight human rights organizations, preventing the ILA, the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Ministry of Agriculture or any other entity appointed by them, from spraying agricultural crops of the Bedouin inhabitants of the unrecognized villages in the Naqab.
The ILA has admitted to the aerial spraying of crops with a chemical called ROUNDUP. The label affixed to the bottle of ROUNDUP contains many warnings to users, notably that that all physical contact with the chemical must be avoided. It also states - "Do Not Apply This Product Using Aerial Spray Equipment" - and that even if the chemical is sprayed from ground level, no one should be allowed to enter the area for seven days. The ROUNDUP label also notes that the "level of toxicity is 4 - dangerous."
Expert opinions obtained by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and Adalah regarding the health risks of using ROUNDUP in aerial spraying concluded "The evidence from research show reproductive risks from paternal and maternal exposure in animals and paternal exposure in humans. There is a suggestion of carcinogenic risk.” On tests conducted on animals, different active ingredients contained in ROUNDUP have "shown acute toxic effects such as eye and skin irritation as well as affects on the circulatory system."
“My sons and I were surprised when we saw a plane above our home. As we looked up at the plane, the chemical material fell on us. At that point I knew that it was poisonous, and I sent my sons inside. Even so, the material still fell on my house as well as the houses of my cousins, with women and children inside. 100 sheep also came in contact with the poison. This is our land, and we have never received a demolition order. At the last meeting with the ILA (Israel Lands Administration), they told me that this is not my land, but I inherited it from my grandfathers. How could they come and destroy my crops without any notice?”