Human Rights Can Help Solve Conflict over Land
Land Day 2005
For Immediate Release
No. (E/09/05) 30 March 2005
Israel is under an obligation to return the land, orchards, olive groves and other immovable property seized from any natural or legal person for purposes of construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The International Court of Justice also says that states are responsible to ensure Israel's compliance with international law.
The UN draft principles on restitution for refugees and displaced persons likewise affirms that all refugees and displaced persons have the right to have restored to them housing and property of which they were deprived during the course of displacement, or to be compensated for any property that cannot be restored to them.
The draft principles also say that states should take special measures to protect secondary occupants from homelessness and other violations of the right to adequate housing. This includes identification of alternative housing and/or land for such occupants as means to facilitate the recovery/restitution of homes and properties of refugees and displaced persons.
"The Palestinians are hardly trying to break new ground,” says Scott Leckie, Executive Director of the Geneva-base Centre on Housing Rights Rights and Evictions. “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.”
In 1998 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination concluded that Israel should give “high priority” to remedying the “right of many Palestinians to return and possess their homes in Israel.” The Committee on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights has called upon Israel to review its relationship with the World Zionist Organization/Jewish Agency (and the Jewish National Fund), especially in relation to control of land “to benefit Jews exclusively.”
"There can be no prospect of a workable peace agreement until the return and property restitution question is property addressed,” says Leckie. “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.”
Land Day commemorates events of 29 years ago when Israeli security forces shot and killed six Palestinians inside 1948 Palestine/Israel who were protesting expropriation of Palestinian land to build new Jewish colonies and expand existing Jewish cities. Now Land Day symbolizes resistance to ongoing land expropriation, unresolved claims to housing and property restitution and the 38-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In 1948, Palestinians owned more than 90 per cent of the land in historic Mandate Palestine. Today, the indigenous Palestinian Arab population owns and controls about 10 per cent of its homeland (within Israel and the 1967 occupied territories). At the same time, more than half of the original Palestinian population has been displaced/expelled from Palestine.