Peace in the Middle East, Getting Real on the Issue of Palestinian Refugee Property (excerpts)

There can be no prospect of a workable peace agreement until the return and property restitution question is properly addressed. Indeed, this is a major lesson of all post-conflict situations throughout the world: address restitution issues head on, and more likely than not peace will hold. Ignore it, and the war that was so hard to stop in the first place will be much more likely eventually to re-ignite.

The Palestinians are hardly trying to break new ground. The right to return and the right to restitution of property have a long legal history, and have been most recently actualized in such places as Bosnia, Kosovo, Mozambique, South Africa, Tajikistan and throughout eastern and central Europe. The US has often provided political and financial backing for restitution. Nobody has done more to enshrine the establishment of the right to restitution of property than Jewish groups of Holocaust victims. Through phenomenal organization and determination they have helped ensure that hundreds of thousands of people have been rightly allowed to return to, regain control over or to be compensated for property illegally confiscated during the Second World War.

The failure to address this issue in the case of Palestinian refugees means that there is no real movement forward and no reason to hope that the next agreement, whenever it is, can last. Unresolved housing, property and land disputes almost always have a nasty way of causing the next conflict, wherever this may be. So to ignore this question in the final status talks between Israel and Palestine – whenever these may occur – would be a recipe for future disaster.

From the outside, it appears almost impossible for the average Israeli to come to terms with the fact that Israel has had to commit decades of human rights violations and other crimes in its attempt to create a so-called Jewish State (recalling that one million Israeli citizens are Palestinians). However, citizens of other nations have had to acknowledge crimes committed by their own governments, whether these were committed long ago or in recent years. For Israel to survive as a nation at peace with its neighbours, Israelis and Jews everywhere need to recognize that stealing the homes, lands and properties of millions of innocent people is a price too high for the world to accept, and that this unprecedented theft is something that will never be forgotten by those who are still waiting for restitution.

Permanent peace will come when discrimination ceases and tolerance returns, systems of apartheid-style governance and military occupation are no longer accepted, and just and equitable solutions are found to meet the reasonable demands of Palestinians to return to their original homes. Bringing UNHCR into the process would be one more step likely to make Palestinian restitution rights a reality.

The entire article was originally published in Forced Migration Review 16 ( Reprinted with permission.

Scott Leckie is Executive Director of the Centre on Housing Rights and Evcitions, Geneva (COHRE).
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House Demolition, Land Confiscation, and Ongoing Displacement

Demolition of Palestinian homes and confiscation of land inside the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories and in 1948 Palestine/Israel continues to result in new cycles of internal displacement. According to B’tselem, Israel demolished 104 Palestinian homes in the 1967 OPTs for punitive reasons between 1 October 2002 and 5 March 2003. According to UNRWA and various press reports, [ ] refugee shelters were destroyed during the same period. Inside 1948 Palestine/Israel, more than 35 Palestinian homes were demolished for administrative reasons. Areas affected included Bedouin villages in the Naqab, Palestinians in the mixed cities of Jaffa, Lydda, and Ramle, as well as northern villages in the Galilee. In Kafr Qasem, the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) destroyed 17 homes in a single day (2 March 2003). The Interior Ministry also destroyed a mosque in Tel al-Mileh in the Naqab. Land confiscation also continues unabated. In October 2002, the Israeli military destroyed olive trees and expropriated hundreds of dunums belonging to Palestinians from the Triangle area inside 1948 Palestine/Israel. In February 2003, Israel issued expropriation orders for 14 dunums of land in Bethlehem. In both cases, the expropriated land is being used to facilitate the construction of Israel’s new ‘apartheid wall’ that roughly follows the 1949 armistice line (‘Green line’) separating Israel proper from the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories.

Sources: B’tselem (; UNRWA (; LAW (; and, Arab Human Rights Association (