Back to Basics (Issue No.19, Autumn 2003)

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The history of the past 50 years is littered with failed Middle East peace plans. The last 10 years alone has seen Oslo, the “road map” and now Geneva. Why do they fail? The latest issue of BADIL’s quarterly magazine Al-Majdal says the plans make no reference to four essential components: best practice in successful peace plans elsewhere, past experience of why plans collapsed or succeeded, the rule of law and community participation.

Al-Majdal’s editorial “Back to Basics” calls for building durable solutions to the Palestinian refugee issue from the ground up. A following article reports on the relaunch of inter-generational grassroots initiatives in the West Bank to strengthen the voice of refugees against pressures to surrender their rights.

These days, Palestinian refugees are continually polled and studied. Al-Majdal reports on a poll asking them what they want in terms of the right of return. The magazine concludes that the polling organization didn’t ask the right questions. But a University of Geneva report on Palestinian perceptions of their living conditions provides a useful look at the socioeconomic dimension of the refugee question, says Al-Majdal.

The issue also looks at a positive Jewish-Israeli initiative on Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation. Conversely it analyzes the new Israeli law on family reunification that bans reunification for Palestinians from the Occupied Territories married to Israeli citizens and the Israeli court decision denying Palestinians living in Israel the right to return to their village Iqrit near the Lebanese border which they were ordered to evacuate in 1948 with the assurance of return within 15 days.

Al Majdal reports on the unprotected Palestinians of Egypt; evicted refugees in Iraq; relocation to Gaza of 4,500 Palestinians who were stranded in Egypt after the Egypt-Israel peace agreement and UNRWA which the magazine says is under attack and under-funded. Regular features include Refugee Voices, dedicated this issue to Edward Said; In Memoriam, Palestinians killed by the Israeli military 1 June to 27 September; and Documents, recommendations of conferences in Ramallah and Tulkarem.

Building Durable Solutions from the Ground Up

Less than six months after its release in April 2003, the latest international initiative to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is hopelessly mired in the quagmire of Israeli occupation, denial of the right of refugees to return and repossess their properties, the virtual collapse of the Palestinian Authority, and international inaction and indecision.
The irony of the Performance-Based Road Map to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is that the two-state solution appears to be a more distant reality today than it was six months ago when the Road Map was released. Ongoing expansion of Israeli colonies, expropriation of Palestinian land, and the construction of the so-called separation/apartheid wall deep into the occupied West Bank render the very premise of the Road Map – ‘two states for two peoples’ – effectively inoperable.

Over the last three years of the second intifada Israeli forces have killed more than 2,200 Palestinians of whom 400 were children. Nearly 550 Israelis have been killed including 99 children. Nearly 21,000 dunums of Palestinian land has been leveled, more than 1,200 homes completely destroyed, 312 industrial facilities demolished, and 43 educational facilities demolished. The combined effect of these policies has created a new generation of Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons more than five decades after the first mass displacement of Palestinians in 1948.

There is no doubt that the conditions for a Palestinian state – a permanent population, a defined territory, a government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other states – are far from met.

 Popular Organizing Re-launched in the West Bank:

Towards Right-of-Return Coordination and Refugee Community Participation

The all-out war declared by the Israeli occupation against Palestinian civil society, the loss of freedom of movement, the occupation of Iraq and the take-over of Baghdad – a symbol of Arab heritage and culture – by the US-UK coalition forces have had a devastating affect on the Palestinian public mood and spirit.

The drop of popular morale was heavily felt in the month of April during the annual commemoration of the 1948 Deir Yassin massacre. For the past 55 years, this has been the time of the year when preparations are launched for the annual commemoration of the Palestinian Nakba. Not so in 2003. Talking with activists and refugee community organizations about plans for Nakba memorials was like speaking from a different planet.

A recent opinion poll won’t tell you

The choices that Palestinian refugees will someday confront will inevitably be far more complex than the process set out in a recent poll conducted by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR). Survey results were released in July 2003. The PSR poll may provide some insight into refugee attitudes towards particular scenarios for resolving the refugee issue. However, opinion polls are, in general, bad indicators of future social behavior and action. Particular biases and flaws in the PRS poll give special reason to doubt the value of its results in predicting what refugees will ultimately do.

Belgium Supreme Court Orders Cessation of all Cases Concerning the Sabra and Shatila Massacre

On 24 September 2003 Belgium’s Supreme Court ordered the cessation of all cases filed concerning the 1982 massacre in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut. The decision came as a result of a recent legislative modification to Belgium’s Universal Jurisdiction law. The new law effectively suppressed Belgium’s universal jurisdiction law under considerable press from the US government.

 BADIL Interview with Eitan Bronstein, Zochrot - an Initiative for Jewish-Israeli Nakba Awareness and Israeli-Palestinian Reconciliation

BADIL: We have been following a series of brave and very creative Zochrot activities over the past year-and-a-half or so and also reported about them in al-Majdal: Israelis commemorating the Deir Yassin massacre, linking protest against current demolitions of Palestinian homes in Lod (Lydda) with the Nakba of 1948, visiting 1948 depopulated Palestinian villages like Ain al-Ghazzal and Isdud and participating in Palestinian events organized to commemorate the Nakba and to call for Palestinian refugees' right of return.

 Right of Return - The Ever-present Fear, The Iqrit Model

Israeli Supreme Court Denies IDPs Latest Attempt to Return Home

Between 1948 and 2003 the Palestinian inhabitants of the depopulated village of Iqrit have issued four petitions to the Supreme Court, sitting as a High Court of Justice. The central tenet of all the decisions was far removed from the legal arguments – it was the fear of a precedent for the right of return.

A day-long workshop took place on Saturday, September 13 to discuss the research findings of Oroub al-Abed on the livelihood of Palestinians living in Egypt. Approximately sixty people attended the workshop at the American University in Cairo, including representatives of the Red Cross, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Arab League, various human rights' organizations, and a representative of a Palestinian PLO union. This summary report of the history and status of Palestinian refugees in Egypt was submitted to al-Majdal prior to the September workshop.

 In June 2003 the Council of Europe (CoE), an intergovernmental body comprised of members of individual European parliaments, issued a number of recommendations concerning international protection and durable solutions for Palestinian refugees. The recommendations were issued in the aftermath of a hearing on the status of Palestinian refugees in Europe held earlier in the year in Budapest and a special report prepared by the Council's Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography (Doc. 9808, 15 May 2003) on the conditions in which the Palestinian refugees stay irrespective of the place.

 UN Treaty Bodies Call Upon Israel to Revoke New Laws

In July 2003 the Israeli government adopted a temporary law prohibiting family reunification for Palestinians married to Palestinian spouses from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The decision followed a previous decision taken earlier in May 2003 (Decision 1813).
International human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch sent a joint letter to the Knesset, Israel's parliament, urging members to reject the bill. "The draft law barring family reunification for Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens is profoundly discriminatory," stated Amnesty. "A law permitting such blatant racial discrimination, on grounds of ethnicity or nationality, would clearly violate international human rights law and treaties which clearly violate international human rights law and treaties which Israel has ratified and pledged to uphold." B'tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, was equally critical of the law. "This is a racist law that decides who can live here according to racist criteria."

The following analysis of Israel’s new law is excerpted from Adalah's submission to the UN Human Rights Committee in July 2003.

According to Adalah, “the introduction of this racist and discriminatory ban on family unification shows the increasing deterioration in the political situation in Israel. It is one of the most extreme measures in a series of governmental acti ons aimed at undermining the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel as well as Palestinians from the Occupied Territories.”

It took 18 years to move about 4,500 Palestinian refugees from Rafah, Egypt to Rafah, Gaza. Many lessons can be learned from the process but it didn't mean that these refugees were exercising their right of return.

When the international border was reestablished between Egypt and Israel in 1982, almost 500 Palestinian families were stranded on the Egyptian side of the border. They had been moved to an Israeli housing project there in 1972 after their homes in Rafah, Gaza were demolished under security measures taken by the Israeli authorities to combat unrest in the Gaza Strip. At that time, Israel still controlled the Sinai Peninsula, occupied along with the Gaza Strip in 1967.

UNRWA - Under Attack and Under Funded

At a time when the services of UNRWA are most in need, the Agency has found itself both under attack and its emergency operations in 1967 occupied Palestine under funded. 

 List of 78 Palestinian victims of Israeli violence between 1 June and 27 September 2003. In total 12 of those killed were 18 and under. Between 29 September 2000 and 27 September 2003, 2,258 Palestinians, including 23 inside Israel, have been killed by Israeli security forces. 129 Palestinians were killed since the release of the Road Map by the Quartet on 30 April until 27 September 2003. Sources: Jerusalem Media and Communication Center and Palestinian Center for Human Rights. Between 29 September 2000 and 25 September 2003, 548 Israeli civilians were killed and 246 members of the Israeli security forces. 74 Israelis were killed since the release of the Road Map on 30 April until 27 September 2003. Source: B’tselem.

On 25 September 2003, Palestinian intellectual Dr. Edward Said passed away after a long struggle with pancreatic cancer. In the days after his passing many thoughts were circulated on the internet. Many referred to Said’s outspoken opinions on the issue of Palestinian refugees in the context of a comprehensive peace in the region.

Housing and Property Restitution for Palestinian Refugees – Report from the Second BADIL Expert Forum, 2-4 October 2003, Geneva
Hosted by the Graduate Institute of Development Studies, University of Geneva

The right of refugees and displaced persons to return to their homes of origin is well established in international law. Today, most peace agreements that provide solutions for refugees and displaced persons recognize the right of such individuals to return to their homes. This includes agreements in Macedonia, Kosovo, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Tajikistan, Georgia, Burundi, Rwanda, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Cambodia, and Guatemala.

 This section includes recent statements from refugee community organizations, human rights organizations, and other relevant documents related to Palestinian refugee rights.

 Final Statement Issued by the “No Substitute for Return” Conference, Ramallah, 16 August 2003
  1. Resolutions and Recommendations issued by the Popular Conference, Tulkarem, 30 July 2003

 New BADIL Publications

Survey of Palestinian Refugees and Internally Displaced Palestinians 2002
This new publication by BADIL provides basic historical and current information on Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons. The Survey includes 6 chapters covering the historical circumstances of Palestinian displacement, population, legal status, socio-economic profile, international protection and assistance, and durable solutions. The Survey will be published annually by BADIL Resource Center. Available in English and Arabic. 200 pages. ISSN 1728-1679.
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