60 Years of Dignity and Justice Denied

How the unresolved Palestinian refugee question stands for the failure of the international human rights and humanitarian regime

At the beginning of the 20th century, most Palestinians lived inside the borders of Palestine, which is now divided into Israel and the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Today, almost 75% of the Palestinian people are displaced, and Palestinian refugees present the world’s largest and longest-standing unresolved refugee case. Approximately half of the Palestinian people live in forced exile outside their homeland, while another 23% are displaced within the borders of former Palestine.1 Six decades after the first and most massive wave of forced displacement in 1948, Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons (IDP) still lack access to durable solutions and reparations, including return, restitution and compensation, in accordance with international law and UN resolutions. While more Palestinians are being displaced today, effective protection is still not available for them.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Palestinian refugee question is not primarily a result of armed conflicts, but rather the outcome of a protracted and ongoing process of colonization and forced population transfer (ethnic cleansing). The latter is defined by the United Nations as the “systematic, coercive and deliberate…movement of population into or out of an area … with the effect or purpose of altering the demographic composition of a territory, particularly when that ideology or policy asserts the dominance of a certain group over another” [emphasis added]. Forced population transfer constitutes a war crime and a crime against humanity under modern international law.2

 The origins of Palestinian displacement date back to the early 20th century, when the Zionist movement began implementation of its Basle Program (1897) with the aim to “create for the Jewish people a home in Palestine secured by public international law”3 - i.e. a Jewish state in Palestine, where Jews at the time constituted only 8% of the population and owned some 2.5% of the land. In the period prior to 1948, Zionist colonization of Palestine was conducted through the implantation of Jewish immigrants – by 1948, the portion of the Jewish population in Palestine had grown to one third, primarily due to immigration – and land purchases by Zionist agencies, such as the Palestine Colonization Agency (PCA) and the Jewish National Fund (JNF).

The idea of transferring the indigenous population out of the country played a key role in political Zionism from early on, simply because most Palestinian Arabs were unwilling to part with their land – Zionist landownership increased from 2.5% to approximately 6% only between 1922 and 19454 - and because Palestinians resisted Zionist colonization. Already Theodor Herzl, the founding father of political Zionism, had stated: “We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our own country. The property owners will come over to our side. Both process of expropriation and removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.”5

During the British Mandate over Palestine (1923 – 1948), leading Zionist thinkers developed numerous plans to carry out the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, including the Weizman Transfer Scheme (1930), the Soskin Plan of Compulsory Transfer (1937), the Weitz Transfer Plan (1937), the Bonne Scheme (1938), the al-Jazirah Scheme (1938), the Norman Transfer Plan to Iraq (1934–38), and the Ben-Horin Plan (1943–48).6 The Zionist movement and its colony in Palestine, however, did not have the power to requiste territory by force and implement a massive forced population transfer until late 1947, when both became possible for the first time.

Zionist colonization of Palestine and the massive forced displacement of the indigenous Arab population in 1947 – 1949 would most likely not have occurred without the active support of the international community at the time, which violated its own standards and international law for this purpose. Since then, the international community has failed to hold Israel to account for its violations of international law. This explains why, 60 years later, the Palestinian refugee question has remained unresolved, while Israel continues to occupy and colonize Palestinian land and displace Palestinians.

 World War I – 1947: Setting the stage for armed conflict and population transfer

Until the First World War, Palestine was one of several Arab territories that were part of the Ottoman Empire, while the indigenous population aspired for independence and sovereignty in an Arab state. Encouraged by a promise of the British High Commissioner in Egypt to support Arab independence (Mac Mahon – Hussein correspondence)7, Arab forces joined the Allied effort to bring down the Ottoman regime, and Palestine was occupied by Allied forces under British command in September 1918.

Towards the end of the war, Arabs in Palestine and beyond were inspired by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s doctrine of self-determination for the post-World War I order8 and the Anglo-French Declaration signed in November 1918. The latter stated that the goal “[... was] the complete and final liberation of the peoples who have for so long been oppressed by the Turks, and the setting up of national governments and administrations deriving their authority from the free exercise of the initiative and choice of the indigenous populations” [emphasis added]. This and the doctrine of self-determination were subsequently enshrined in the Covenant of the League of Nations (1919).9

In 1919, the Allied powers members of the League of Nations decided to establish a temporary “Mandate System” in accordance with the Covenant of the League of Nations to facilitate the independence of these territories. Article 22 of the Covenant stipulates that “certain communities formerly belonging to the Turkish Empire have reached a stage of development where their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognized subject to the rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a Mandatory until such time as they are able to stand alone. The wishes of these communities must be a principal consideration in the selection of the Mandatory.”10 The August 1920 1Treaty of Sèvres between the Allied Powers and Turkey affirmed that Palestine“ be provisionally recognised as an independent State subject to the rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a Mandatory until such time as they are able to stand alone.”11

Parellel to the above, however, Britain and France had signed already in 1916 a secret understanding (Sykes-Picot agreement) in which they defined their respective spheres of influence and control in West Asia after the expected down fall of the Ottoman Empire. Palestine was reserved for British control under this agreement. In November 1917, the British cabinet issued the Balfour Declaration. The one-page letter from Arthur Balfour, British Secretary of Foreign Affairs, to Lord Rothschild, head of the British Zionist Federation, granted explicit recognition of and support to the idea of establishing a Jewish “national home” in Palestine through immigration and colonization. Despite widespread Arab opposition to the Balfour Declaration, Great Britain viewed Zionist colonization as a way to advance British interests in the region.12

Due to the above, Arabs, including the indigenous population of Palestine, were strongly opposed to a British Mandate over Palestine. Britain, however, insisted that, “in the case of the ‘independent nation’ of Palestine, we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country. Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.”13 In 1920, the League of Nations entrusted the temporary administration (“Mandate”) of Palestine to Great Britain.

The British Mandate, which eventually came into force in September 1923, thus included an inherent contradiction which set the stage for armed conflictin Palestine: although Palestine was classified as a “Class A” Mandate (i.e. the type closest to independence), the British Mandate incorporated the political commitment to the Zionist movement set out in the Balfour Declaration. In order to facilitate establishment of the Jewish “national home”, moreover, the British Mandate accorded full political rights to the Zionist colony in Palestine, while only civil and religious rights were granted to the Palestinian Arab majority.14

Subsequently, the British administration in Palestine promulgated new laws, including the 1925 Citizenship Order and the 1928 Land (Settlement of Title) Order, which facilitated Zionist colonization. Under these laws, tens of thousands of Jews from around the world would immigrate and acquire citizenship in Palestine, while thousands of Palestinian Arabs who were abroad were unable to acquire citizenship15; annual land acquisitions by Zionist agencies increased twenty-fold. Although the overall amount of land purchased remained small, the real impact of Zionist purchases lay in the quality and strategic location of the land, and in the unprecedented policy of forced eviction of indigenous tenant farmers. Already in the 1930s, the British administration grappled with a new phenomenon of landless peasants, and by the early 1940s, the average rural Palestinian Arab family had less than half of the agricultural land required for their subsistence.16

British support of Zionist colonization led to a series of Palestinian uprisings, including the “Great Revolt”, which lasted from 1936 to 1939. The British responded with a combination of military force and administrative measures, including emergency laws, that severely curtailed basic civil and political rights and weakened Palestinian resistance. Palestinian Arab leaders were arrested, jailed and deported. Thousands of Palestinian Arab homes were demolished. Some 40,000 Palestinian Arabs fledthecountryduringthemid-1930salone.17 Palestinian uprisings were suppressed in cooperation with Zionist militias which were trained and armed for this purpose.

Following each uprising, the British government dispatched an official commission of inquiry to Palestine. These commissions invariably identified fear of the political and economic consequences of Zionism among the indigenous population as the leading cause of the conflict. British efforts to appease Arab resistance by slowing down the rate of Jewish immigration and a promise of sovereignty after ten years – which was conditioned upon a power-sharing agreement between the indigenous Arab majority and the Zionist colony (1939 White Paper) - triggered strong opposition of and armed conflict with the Zionist movement.

British efforts at the time to restrict Jewish immigration failed, among others, because western states, in particular the United States, supported and facilitated the resettlement in Palestine of displaced European Jews in violation of international commitments not to resettle displaced persons in non-self-governing territories without the consent of the indigenous population. Jewish immigration to Palestine was facilitated, while the borders of many Western countries, including the United States, remained largely closed to Jewish refugees, despite the knowledge of Nazi persecution and atrocities.

In early 1947, the British government informed the newly-established United Nations (the successor to the League of Nations) of its intention to withdraw from Palestine.

 1947 – 1949: from the UN Partition Plan to the Palestinian Nakba

The United Nations took up the “Question of Palestine” in 1947, when the atrocities of the Nazi regime and World War II had given rise to new international legal norms that were binding for states. The UN Charter, for example, prohibits the use of force in inter-state relations18, including the acquisition of territory by force, and provides for the right of nations to self-determination. The United Nations, however, sidelined the right to self-determination of the Arab majority and prevented de-colonization of Palestine, in clear knowledge of the likely disastrous consequences for the Arab people of Palestine, the people of the region, and international peace and security.

The UN Charter stipulated that upon termination of a mandate, non-self-governing territories should become independent or be placed under a “Temporary Trusteeship” of the United Nations. In the case of Palestine, however, the UN General Assembly decided to appoint a special committee to formulate recommendations concerning the future status of the country. The Assembly rejected a request of Arab states to discuss independence of Palestine as a possible option. It also rejected requests, again submitted by Arab states, to obtain an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) concerning the appropriate legal outcome of the British decision to terminate the Mandate in Palestine, as well as the legal authority of the UN to issue and enforce recommendations on the future status of the country.19

In September 1947, the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) presented its final report which included a majority proposal and a minority proposal, because Committee members had been unable to reach a consensus on the future status of the country.20 The majority of the Committee members supported the partition of Palestine into two states, one Arab and the other Jewish, although they conceded that “[w]ith regard to the principle of self-determination, although international recognition was extended to this principle at the end of the First World War and it was adhered to with regard to the other Arab territories, at the time of the creation of the “A” Mandates, it was not applied to Palestine, obviously because of the intention to make possible the creation of a Jewish National Home there. Actually, it may well be said that the Jewish National Home and the sui generis Mandate for Palestine run counter to that principle.”20

The minority proposal was for one federal state for Arabs and Jews. Committee members of the minority were adamant in their warnings of the consequences of partition: “Future peace and order in Palestine and the Near East generally will be vitally affected by the nature of the solution decided upon for the Palestine question. In this regard, it is important to avoid an acceleration of the separatism which now characterizes the relations of Arabs and Jews in the Near East, and to avoid laying the foundations of a dangerous irredentism there, which would be the inevitable consequences of partition in whatever form. […] Partition both in principle and in substance can only be regarded as an anti-Arab solution. The Federal State, however, cannot be described as an anti-Jewish solution. To the contrary, it will best serve the interests of both Arabs and Jews.”21

Also in the United States, the State Department, the Department of Defence, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, staff of the National Security Council and the newly established Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) were united in warning of the dangers partition might inflict to strategic US interests. In public and private statements they also explained that the UN partition proposals were not workable and in contravention to international law and the UN Charter:

they] ignore such principles as self-determination and majority rule. They recognize the principle of a theocratic racial state and go even so far in several instances as to discriminate on grounds of religion and race against persons outside of Palestine. We have hitherto always held that in our foreign relations American citizens, regardless of race or religion, are entitled to uniform treatment. The stress on whether persons are Jews or non-Jews is certain to strengthen feelings among both Jews and Gentiles in the United States and elsewhere that Jewish citizens are not the same as other citizens.22

On 29 November 1947, however, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 181 recommending the partition of Palestine into two states, one Arab and one Jewish, in which all persons were to be guaranteed equal rights, and an international regime for the city of Jerusalem. 33 states, including the United States, Canada and many European states, voted for partition, while 13 states, including all Arab states, voted against and 10 states, including Britain, abstained. The proposed Jewish state was allotted 56% of the land, even though Jews constituted less than one-third of the population and owned no more than 7% of the land. The dispersal of the Arab and Jewish populations in the country meant that nearly half the population of the proposed Jewish state consisted of Palestinian Arabs, who owned nearly 90% of the land.23

In Palestine, immediate massive protests against the UN partition plan by the Arab population gave way rapidly to armed conflict between local Arab and militarily superior Zionist militias. The latter were “trying to consolidate the advantages gained at the General Assembly by a succession of drastic operations […]”24 A first major wave of Palestinian refugees was induced by the Zionist military operation known as “Plan Dalet”, which was designed to achieve the military fait accompli upon which the state of Israel was to be based, including conquest of western Jerusalem and its surrounding Arab villages.25 The massacre of more than 100 men, women and children in the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin in April 1948 is widely acknowledged to have contributed to the fear and panic that led to the mass displacement.

While some 300,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced by Zionist forces when Palestine was still under the British Mandate regime (November 1947 - 14 May 1948), neither Britain nor the United Nations intervened to protect Palestinians. The United Nations, moreover, also failed to protect Palestinians from forced displacement during the subsequent first Arab-Israeli war (15 May 1948 – 1949).

States voting for the UN partition plan were aware of the fact that partition would have to be imposed on the parties.26 However, UN efforts for implementation of the plan through the Security Council and a Palestine Commission set up for this purpose were soon abandoned. As Palestine descended into the predicted violence, the United States launched in March 1948 an initiative for UN Trusteeship in the UN Security Council but failed to pursue it with determination. On 14 May 1948, Britain concluded the withdrawal of its troops and terminated its Mandate regime over Palestine without any formal arrangement for the transfer of power. On the same day, the Zionist movement declared the establishment of the state of Israel, and Arab states responded with a declaration of war on 15 May 1947.

As the first Arab-Israeli war was fought in Palestine, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians more were forcibly displaced from their homes as a result of Israeli war crimes, including shelling of Palestinian communities with the aim to induce flight, massacres, rape, looting, destruction of civilian property and homes, and overt expulsion of the civilian population of Palestinian towns and villages. Israeli military forces systematically destroyed numerous Palestinian villages, as one of six measures included in a “Retroactive Transfer” plan approved in June 1948 in order to prevent Palestinian Arab refugees from returning to their homes. The destruction of homes and entire villages was accompanied by large-scale looting. 27

During the war, the United Nations declared an embargo on arms sales, appointed a mediator, brokered cease-fire agreements and provided emergency assistance to Palestinian refugees through its Refugee Organization (later to be replaced by UNRWA). It also issued several resolutions, including UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (11 December 1948), which affirmed Palestinian refugees’ right of return to their homes and properties and established the UN Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP). The latter was mandated to ensure protection, including durable solutions, for Palestinian refugees in accordance with UNGAR 194 and facilitate a peace agreement between Arab states and Israel. None of these measures, however, were able to prevent or reverse Palestinian displacement.

By the time the first Arab-Israeli war ended in 1949 with cease-fire agreements between Israel and Arab states, Israel had effective control over 78% of British Mandate Palestine, including areas which had been allocated to the Arab state under the UN partition plan. In several of the sub-districts of former Palestine that were wholly incorporated into Israel – Jaffa, Ramla and Beersheba – not one Palestinian village was left standing. In total, more than 500 Palestinian villages, with a land base of more than 17,000 km2, were depopulated.28 An estimated two-thirds of Palestinian refugee homes inside the new state of Israel were destroyed; the remaining third were expropriated and occupied by Jews.29 In total, 750 – 900,000 Palestinians, representing half of the pre-war Arab population of Palestine or 85% of those in the territory that became the state of Israel, were displaced.30 Most of them became refugees; of the roughly 150,000 Palestinians who remained in those parts of Palestine that became the state of Israel on 14 May 1948, approximately 30,000 were internally displaced persons (IDP).

On 11 May 1949, the UN General Assembly decided that “Israel is a peace-loving State which accepts the obligations contained in the Charter and is able and willing to carry out those obligations”31 and approved Israel’s membership in the United Nations.

For the purpose of the United Nations and its dominant members states, Palestine and the Palestinian people had disappeared. “They had become an indistinct mass of refugees – not a nation, not a political entity, only a problem, and not a major one at that.”32 Palestinians refer to the events of 1947 – 1949 as the Nakba, meaning the Catastrophe.

 1949 – 2008: the “ongoing Nakba”

In May 1949, the UN General Assembly had approved Israel’s UN membership without conditions. The international community thereby prejudiced the outcome of parallel UN-facilitated efforts for Arab-Israeli peace and a solution of the Palestinian refugee question, and encouraged continuation of the Zionist pre-war policy by the state of Israel.

Most western states and the Soviet Union had recognized the state of Israel immediately following its declaration on 14 May 1948. One year later, the UN General Assembly approved Isarel’s UN membership without conditions; it only “recalled” UN resolutions 181 and 194 and “took note of” the explanations provided by Israel’s representative, including the argument that the state of Israel had acted in self-defense. The United Nations thereby provided implicit recognition of Israel on the territory conquered in the first Arab-Israeli war, in contravention of the UN partition plan and in violation of the UN Charter-enshrined prohibition on the acquisition of territory by force.

Moreover, in an era when states had endorsed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), prosecuted Nazi perpetrators for the crimes against humanity, including genocide, committed against Jews and other people (Nuremberg Tribunals, 1945 - 1949) and established war crimes under the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949), the General Assembly failed to hold Israel to account for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against Palestinians before and during the first Arab-Israeli war, including the massive population transfer.

Lack of accountability to international law created an environment in which UNCCP-facilitated efforts for conflictresolutionbasedonUNGeneralAssemblyResolution194 were prone to fail. The Palestinian refugee question featured central during the peace conferences of Lausanne (1949) and Paris (1951), where Arab states insisted that a solution must be based on the choice of the refugees and include return to their homes and properties now located in Israel, while Israel insisted that the solution of the refugee problem was to be sought primarily in resettlement in Arab territory. By 1952, the UNCCP concluded that it had failed in its task and held that the parties would have “to depart from their original positions in order to make possible practical and realistic arrangements towards the solution of the refugee problem,” even at the cost of straying from the letter of Resolution 194.33

Since the 1970s, the United Nations has reaffirmed that Palestinians are a nation entitled to self-determination, independence and refugee return,34 but the lack of accountability has remained. Failure to uphold the rule of law gave rise to a situation where Israel violates the fundamental rights of the Palestinian and other Arab people and continues its colonial enterprise with impunity:

From 1948 onwards, the state of Israel provided a powerful vehicle for consolidating the war gains of political Zionism: effective control of territory and borders provided for the first time the conditions for unrestricted Jewish immigration. A military government (1948 - 1966) set-up exclusively to control the remaining Palestinian population served to prevent refugee return and facilitated seizure of land of the Palestinian refugees and IDPs, as well as of those who had remained.36 By the mid-1950s, Israeli forces had killed some 5,000 refugees (“infiltrators”) who had tried to return to their homes37, and the land area held by the state and the Jewish National Fund (JNF) had increased tenfold (from 11% before 1948 to 90%). The names of more than 500 depopulated Palestinian villages were erased from the map, while the Arabic names of geographical landmarks were replaced with Hebrew ones.38 Physical destruction of the depopulated Palestinian villages continued until the mid-1960s; it was referred to as ‘cleaning up the national views.’39

A discriminatory, apartheid-like regime was promulgated by the state, in order to “legalize” and sustain the massive population transfer and requisition of Palestinian property accomplished before and during the firstArab-Israeliwar.The1952 Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law facilitated the mass denationalization of Palestinian refugees; because most Palestinian refugees were outside the state of Israel on, or after, 14 July 1952, the date on which the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law came into effect. They have been unable to resume domicile in their homeland, while all Jews in the world and their relatives are entitled to Israeli citizenship under the 1950 Law of Return. A web of new land laws, including emergency regulations and laws relating to so-called abandoned property, was adopted to facilitate the expropriation of Palestinian-owned land and transfer of title to the state, the Development Authority and the JNF. Under the 1960 Basic Law: Israel Lands, land held by these three bodies is not transferable through sale or any other way. This land regime has ensured exclusive use by Jews of most of “Israel Lands”, which are estimated to be around 93% of the land in Israel.40

At the same time, the state of Israel continued to change the demographic composition of the country through further population transfer:

Between 1949 - 1966, Palestinians were forcibly transferred primarily from the northern border villages, the Naqab (Negev), the “Little Triangle” (an area ceded to Israel under the armistice agreement with Jordan), and from villages partially emptied during the 1948 war. The 1965 Planning and Building Law established 123 Arab communities with little or no space for expansion. No new Palestinian community has been approved since then. All other Palestinian communities, even if established prior to the creation of the state of Israel, were classified as unauthorized and illegal (“unrecognized villages”). Unrecognized villages cannot apply for building licenses, are not entitled to public services, and homes can be demolished. “Nearly 100,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel – one in 10 – live in unrecognized villages.”41

Since 1967, the official policy of Judaization - i.e., the establishment of Jewish majorities in every area of Israel - has led to more dispossession and internal displacement of Palestinian citizens of Israel.42 This policy is reflected in a 2004 emergency plan of then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to “save the outlying areas” in the Naqab (Negev) and Galilee43, as well as in Israel’s national development plan, “Tama 35” (2005). Since the collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations in 2000, moreover, plans for the transfer of Palestinian citizens outside of the country have again become a legitimate matter of public debate and law proposals. In July 2001, for instance, a bill was proposed to encourage the emigration of Palestinian citizens of Israel on the grounds that “they do not identify with the Jewish character of the state” and in order to strengthen “Israel as a Jewish state and a democracy.”44

While various Israeli official and unofficial transfer plans for “resolving” the Palestinian refugee problem through encouraging permanent resettlement (e.g. in Iraq, Libya, Latin America and elsewhere) have had little practical impact, Israel’s transfer policy has been highly effective in the 1967 Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT):

Israeli plans to take control of and colonize the remainder of British Mandatory Palestine, i.e. the Jordanian controlled West Bank, including eastern Jerusalem, and the Egyptian controlled Gaza Strip, had existed since 1948, and preparations for a military government there were ongoing since 1963.45 In 1967, armed conflict (the 1967 Arab-Israeli war) provided once more the context in which Israel was able to induce massive forced displacement of Palestinians and establish effective control over more Palestinian land.

During the 1967 war, Israeli military forces again attacked numerous Palestinian civilian areas that had no military significance. Refugee camps in Jericho, for example, were bombed by the Israeli air force, leading to an exodus of tens of thousands of refugees. Palestinians were driven from their homes, others were transferred out of the West Bank on busses and trucks provided by the military.46 Israel completely destroyed several Palestinian villages and thousands of homes; the entire Moroccan quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem, adjacent to the Western Wall, was razed to make way for a large plaza for Jewish religious and national events.

After the war, Israel’s regime of military occupation in the 1967 OPT served to consolidate and sustain the war gains. This regime of occupation combines overt military force with an administrative regime based on a myriad of military orders, which were modeled on the discriminatory, apartheid-like legal regime over Palestinians in Israel for the same Zionist policy objectives:47 in the course of 41 years, Israel’s regime of occupation has prevented refugee return, facilitated confiscation of Palestinian land and Jewish colonization, and displaced more of the occupied Palestinian population. These policies have been implemented irrespective of the US-led peace efforts between Israel and the PLO (since 1991) and the presence in the OPT of the international community (since 1967) and the Palestinian Authority (since 1994). They have changed the demographic composition of the country and prevented self-determination of the Palestinian people: by 2007, the approximately 450,000 Jewish settlers in colonies in the occupied West Bank, including eastern Jerusalem, constituted 15% of the population in this area, Israel held at least 45% of the land, and the construction of the Wall annexed, de facto, over 10% of the land of the West Bank.48

Rather than holding Israel to account, the international community led by the Quartet (United States, EU, Russia and the United Nations) has imposed sanctions against the occupied Palestinians since 2006. A policy of economic and diplomatic sanctions was combined with divisive financial, diplomatic and military support, in order to bring down the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority government elected democratically in 2006. The results are unprecedented humanitarian crisis, the collapse of the Palestinian political system, internecine armed conflict between the leading Palestinian factions, geographical fragmentation of the OPT and lack of humanitarian access due to Israel’s closure policy, in particular to the occupied Gaza Strip – where 70% of the population are Palestinian refugees of the Nakba of 1948.

In this relentless process of Israeli land-grab and Palestinian displacement, the Nakba continues for Palestinians, and so does their struggle for dignity and justice. Both have shaped Palestinian identity from generation to generation, in the homeland and in exile.

How do Palestinian refugees reflect on their lives 60 years into the Nakba? This is the question addressed in this magazine through the life-stories told by 15 Palestinians living in places as diverse as Britain, Chile, Egypt, Greece, Jordan, Lebanon, Scotland, Syria, The Netherlands, Canada, the United States and historic Palestine (Israel, West Bank and Gaza Strip). Their stories are different in many ways. They reflect loss, humiliation, hopes, efforts and successes at re-building lives, homes and communities in foreign, often inhospitable, lands and societies that have become “hosts” not by choice. At the same time, these stories are strikingly similar, because the current attempts to destroy the Palestinian collective identity bind new generations of Palestinians directly to the older ones, and the exile to the home. And as the young grapple with the consequences of a shared but distant past and reclaim a collective present, every one of them has somehow, through all of the different journeys, arrived together at the same place.49


1) See: Survey of Palestinian Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons 2006-2007, BADIL Resource Center, 2007. Available at: www.badil.org

2) Fourth Geneva Convention (1949), Article 147; Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), entered into force on 1 July 2002, Article 7.2(d) and Article 8.2(b)(viii).

3) The Basle Program, 31 August 1897, excerpts reprinted in Documents on Palestine, From the Pre-Ottoman/Ottoman Period to the Prelude to the Madrid Middle East Peace Conference, Abdul Hadi, Madhi F. (ed.). Jerusalem: PASSIA, 1997, p. 14.

4) See Lehn, Walter, The Jewish National Fund, 1988.

5) The Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl, Vol. I. Patai, Rephael (ed.). New York: Herzl Press and T. Yoseloff, 1960, pp. 8–9.

6) See, for example: Masalha, Nur, Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of “Transfer” in Zionist Political Thought, 1882–1948, Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1992. Also see Simons, Chaim, International Proposals to Transfer Arabs from Palestine 1895–1947, A Historical Survey, Hoboken, New Jersey: Ktav Publishing, 1988. See also Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Oxford: One world Publications, 2006.

7) Correspondence between the Sharif of Mecca and the British High Commissioner in Egypt, Henry Mac Mahon (Mac Mahon – Hussein correspondence), see: Walid al Khalidi, Before Their Diaspora, Institute for Palestine Studies, Beirut, year, page?

8) Kathleen Kristisson, Perceptions of Palestine. Their Influence on U.S. Middle East Policy: University of Californian Press, 1999; p. 17.

9) Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, 28 June 1919, reprinted in Survey of Palestine, Vol. I. Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1991, pp. 2–3.

10) Covenant of the League of Nations, 28 June 1919, Article 22.

11) The Treaty of Peace between the Allied and Associated Powers and Turkey, signed at Sèvres, 10 August 1920, Part II, Section VII, Art. 94.

12) Quigley, John, Palestine and Israel: A Challenge to Justice. Durham: Duke University Press, 1990, p. 8.

13) Statement by Arthur Balfour, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Foreign Office No.371/4183(1919), quoted in The Origins and Evolution of the Palestine Problem 1917–1988, Part I. New York: United Nations, 1990.

14) The Mandate for Palestine, 24 July 1922, is reprinted in Survey of Palestine, Vol. I. Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1991, pp. 4–11.

15) Out of 9,000 citizenship applications from Palestinians outside the country, British officials approved only 100. Based on an average family size of six persons, more than 50,000 Palestinians may have been affected. Palestine Royal Commission Report, Cmd. 5479. London: HMSO, 1937, p. 331.

16) Toward the De-Arabization of Palestine/Israel 1945–1977. Nijim, Basheer K. (ed.). Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1984, p. 10.

17) See, for example, Sayigh, Yezid, Armed Struggle and the Search for State, The Palestinian National Movement 1949-1993, Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies and Oxford University Press, 1999; Gabbay, Rony, A Political Study of the Arab-Jewish Conflict: The Arab Refugee Problem (A Case Study). Geneva: Librairie E. Droz, and Paris, Librairie Minard, 1959, p. 66.

18) See Article 2(4) of the UN Charter with its exceptions in the form of self-defense (Article 51 of the Charter) and forcible measures undertaken by the Security Council under Chapter 7 (Articles 39, 41-42).

19) For the proposed texts of the questions to be submitted to the ICJ, see Iraq (UN Doc. A/AC.14.21); Syria (UN Doc. A/AC.14/25); and Egypt (UN Doc. A/AC.14/14).

20) Report of the UN Special Committee on Palestine, The Question of Palestine. UN Doc. A/364, 3 September 1947.

21) ibid, paragraph 176.

22) ibid, Chapter VII Recommendations (III), paragraphs 10 and 11.

23) Loy Henderson, State Department Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs,22.Sept.1947,quotedby Donald Neff, “Truman Overrode Strong State Department Warning Against Partitioning of Palestine in 1947. Washington Report, September/October 1994.

24) Report of the UN Special Committee on Palestine, TUN Doc. A/364, 3 September 1947.

25) Sir Alexander Cadogan, Representative of the Mandatory Power, to the UN Palestine Commission: “In the present circumstances the Jewish story that the Arabs are the attackers and the Jews the attacked is not tenable. The Arabs are determined to show that they will not submit tamely to the United Nations Plan of Partition; while the Jews are trying to consolidate the advantages gained at the General Assembly by a succession of drastic operations […]”; in United Nations Palestine Commission, First Monthly Progress Report to the Security Council, A/AC.21/7 of 29 January 1948.

26) Khalidi, Walid, “Plan Dalet: Master Plan for the Conquest of Palestine,” 28 Journal of Palestine Studies 1 (Autumn 1988), p. 8.

27) See: Recommendation IV b), UN Doc. A/364, 3 September 1947.

28) See, for example: Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine; Morris, Benny, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947–1949, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 198; Morris, Benny, Correcting a Mistake – Jews and Arabs in Palestine/Israel, 1936–1956. Am Oved Publishers, 2000; Kibbutz Meuhad Archives – Aharon Zisling Papers 9/9/1, “Decisions of the Provisional Government,” 7 November 1948; Hashomer Haztair Archives (Mapam, Kibbutz Artzi Papers), 66.90 (I), protocol of the meeting of the Political Committee of Mapam, 11 November 1948; Segev, Tom, 1949: The First Israelis, New York: The Free Press, 1986.

29) Abu Sitta, Salman, The Palestinian Nakba 1948, Register, The Register of Depopulated Localities in Palestine. London: Palestinian Return Centre, 2001.

30) Rempel, Terry, “Housing and Property Restitution: The Palestinian Refugee Case,” Returning Home: Housing and Property Restitution Rights of Refugees and Displaced Persons. Leckie, Scott (ed.). New York: Transnational Publishers, 2003, p. 296.

31) Final Report of the United Nations Survey Mission for the Middle East (Part I). UN Doc. A/AC.25/6, which cites a figure of 750,000 refugees. The total number of refugees rises to around 900,000 if the number of persons who lost their livelihood but not their homes is added.

32) A/RES/273 (III) of 11 May 1949.

33) Kristisson, p. 94.

34) United Natons Progress Report, from 23 January to 19 November 1951, A/1985, 20 November 1951.

35) See, for example, UNGAR 2787 (1971) and UNGAR 3236 (1974).

36) For a detailed description, see Jiryis, Sabri, The Arabs in Israel, London: Monthly Review Press, 1976.

37) Morris, Benny, Israel’s Border Wars, p. 147.

38) See Benvenisti, Meron, Sacred Landscape: The Buried History of the Holy Land, Berkeley: The University of California Press, 2000.

39) Jiryis, Sabri, “The Legal Structure for the Expropriation and Absorption of Arab Lands in Israel,” Journal of Palestine Studies 4 (Summer 1973), p. 85; Also see Segev, Tom, “Where Are All the Villages? Where are They?” Ha’aretz, 6 September 2002. Translated and reprinted in Between the Lines, October 2002.

40) See, e.g., Boling, Gail J., “Absentees’ Property Laws to Israel’s Confiscation of Palestinian Property:A Violation of UN General Assembly Resolution 194 and International Law,” 11 Palestine Yearbook of International Law 73 (2000–2001); Ruling Palestine, COHRE and BADIL, 2005; Halabi, Usama, “Israel’s Land Laws as a Legal-Political Tool”, Working Paper No. 7, BADIL, December 2004.

41) See Jonathan Cook, On the Margins: Annual Review of Human Rights Violations of the Arab Palestinian Minority in Israel in 2005, Nazareth: Arab Association for Human Rights, June 2006; p. 18.

42) ibid, p. 7.

43) See Mada al-Carmel, The Arab Center for Applied Social Research, Israel and the Palestinian Minority 2004, Sultany, Nimer, (ed.), Mada’s Third Annual Political Monitoring Report, pp. 41–42.

44) Sultany, Nimer, Citizens Without Citizenship. Mada’s First Annual Political Monitoring Report: Israel and the Palestinian Minority 2000–2002, Haifa: Mada, 2003, pp. 42–43.

45) See Tom Segev, 1967 Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East, Metropolitan Books, 2007, p.458.

46) For a description of specific incidents, see, e.g., Masalha, Nur, A Land without a People: Israel, Transfer and the Palestinians. London: Faber & Faber, 1997, pp. 81, 85, 87 and 91–94; Masalha, Nur, “The 1967 Palestinian Exodus,” in The Palestinian Exodus 1948–67, Karmi, Ghada and Cotran, Eugene (eds.), London: Ithaca Press, 2000, p. 94; Neff, Donald, Warriors for Jerusalem: Six Days that Changed the Middle East, New York: Linden Press/Simon and Schuster, 1984, pp. 228–29; and Dodd, Peter and Barakat, Halim, River without Bridges: A Study of the Exodus of the 1967 Palestinian Arab Refugees, Beirut: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1969, pp. 40–42, 92.

47) See, for example, Ruling Palestine, COHRE and BADIL, 2005.

48) Report of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the 1967 OPT, John Dugard; Commission on Human Rights, 62nd session, E/CN.4/2006/29, 17 January 2006, p. 5, para. 2.

49) See: Karma Nabulsi, “From Generation to Generation”, in: al-Majdal (No. 24, Spring 2006); BADIL.