Majdal Editorial Team

In this issue, Al-Majdal aims to present an account on the situation of Palestinian Refugees in and from Syria. We provide the most up-to-date data on Palestinian Refugees in/from Syria.

Of the 750,000 and 900,000 Palestinians who were displaced from Palestine during the Nakba, 90,000 found refuge in Syria in 1948.[1] By the start of the Syrian uprising in 2011, the Palestinian refugee population in the country had grown up to 500,000; they constituted almost 3% of the population of Syria and 10.5% of the Palestinian refugees falling under the mandate of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).[2] Over the last two years, an additional 40,000 Palestinian refugees have registered with UNRWA.[3]

The 51st installment of BADIL’s quarterly, al-Majdal, highlights the 1.5 million Palestinians living in Israel who constitute 20% of the population. This community faces a multi-tiered institutional and social discrimination comprising a policy of forcible displacement.

Since Israel defines itself as a state of the Jewish people, its Palestinian citizens are not only marginalized and excluded from the state identity, but they are barred from taking an active role in influencing the ‘public good’, this posing essential doubts over the self-proclaimed democratic character of Israel. This issue of al-Majdal highlights the pressing conditions, concerns and symbolism of the Palestinian population in Israel – an integral component of the Palestinian experience and resistance the ongoing colonization, occupation and apartheid. In this issue, we address issues ranging from Palestinian  identity in Israel, to repressive land rights, to the forcible displacement of 15% of Palestinian citizens who Israeli law cynically labels as “present absentees.”

we are happy to present to you this Special 50th Issue of Al-Majdal.

This is an opportunity for us to stop, look back and assess our progress since the launch of this magazine in 1999. It’s amazing how time passes. It’s even more amazing how things have not changed. The first editorial of Al-Majdal set the course for BADIL’s rights-based approach, in light of the ‘peace process’ at the time. BADIL Staff, the authors of most of our editorials, felt it was important to clarify that:

The Russell Tribunal on Palestine, in Capetown in November 2011, found that "Israel subjects the Palestinian people to an institutionalized regime of domination amounting to apartheid as defined in international law. This discriminatory regime manifests in varying intensity and forms against different categories of Palestinians depending on their location. The tribunal concludes that Israel's rule over the Palestinian people, wherever they reside, collectively amounts to a single integrated regime of apartheid."1 The tribunal also made a finding that, in relation to certain acts on the part of Israel, there is evidence of the crime against humanity of persecution.

The Russell Tribunal on Palestine was established as a result of calls from civil society, following the failure to implement the findings of the International Court of Justice's 2004 Advisory Opinion on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel's 2008-9 military assault on the people of the Gaza Strip.

On the morning of the 21st March 1960, thousands of black South African demonstrators converged on the police station in the township of Sharpeville as part of the anti-pass campaigns organized by the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC). As the demonstrations ended, SA police opened fire on the gathering,  killing sixty-nine demonstrators and injuring several dozen others. The incident marked what would later be considered a turning point in the anti-Apartheid struggle marked by demonstrations globally, and the adoption, for the first time by the Security Council, of a resolution condemning the apartheid system and its attendant violence.[1]

Following the Soweto massacre in 1976, the United Nations departed from its practice, and by then growing legacy, of resolutions condemning Apartheid and brought into force the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.

The sea change disrupting the repressive status quo of authoritarian regimes throughout the Arab world seemingly slows into a calm wave on the shores of Palestine. While significant events, including the intersubjective acceptance of the peace process’s failure, and the unprecedented popular marches onto Israel proper’s borders, have marked development, these events have done little to halt the ongoing displacement and dispossession experienced by the Palestinian people. Nevertheless, mounting victories in the name of self-determination, democracy, freedom, and dignity throughout the Arab world provide hope to Palestinians and their allies as they enter a new phase after two decades of a failed peace process.

Despite 20 years of peace diplomacy, the majority of the Palestinian people remain in forced exile, mainly as refugees and/or stateless persons vulnerable to persecution and renewed displacement in their host countries. The root causes of Palestinian displacement and dispossession remain unaddressed and there is no respect of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination, national independence, sovereignty and return to the homes and properties from which they have been forcibly displaced, despite the United Nations's assertion that “full respect and the realization of these inalienable rights of the Palestinian people are indispensable for the solution of the question of Palestine.[1] Instead, 20 years of peace diplomacy have resulted in a truncated Palestinian people, more than half of whom continue to be afforded the treatment of an “indistinct mass of refugees”[2] or a “surplus population” expected to find individual solutions and to disappear from the political agenda of the peace makers.[3]

The central aspect of Palestine’s Ongoing Nakba since 1948 is the forcible displacement of the indigenous Palestinian people from their homeland and the denial of their return by Israel.

According to Badil’s 2008 Survey of Palestinian Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, only one third of the Palestinian people are persons who have never been forced to leave their homes, while almost seventy percent are refugees or internally displaced persons, victims of the forced displacement induced by Israel's ongoing policy of population transfer (ethnic cleansing). Approximately two thirds of these displaced Palestinians continue to live as refugees in forced exile outside the borders of their homeland, the British Mandate territory of Palestine – the state of Israel and the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip of today. This issue of al-Majdal, and the one that will follow, are dedicated to these Palestinian refugees whose stories are as diverse as their experiences of dispersal and loss as they have struggled to return.

 For anyone taking a road trip along the highways of the part of Palestine that became Israel in 1948, one is bound to spot a blue and green structure in the shape of a bird marked with the Hebrew letters KKL, which stands for Keren Kayemeth L’Yisrael, the Hebrew name of the Israeli branch of the Jewish National Fund (JNF). All around the bird one will see expanses of forests planted sometime in the past few decades. A walk through one of these forests will take the visitor past fruit trees, cactus plants, terraced hillsides, and the ruins of buildings. In some cases, these ruins are explained in a JNF brochure pointing to their ancient history, in other cases, one is left to the devices of one's imagination. In all cases, these sites are what remains of some of the more than five hundred villages depopulated and destroyed through the course of Israel’s establishment, the homes of millions of Palestinian refugees struggling to return to them for over sixty years. By walking through a JNF park or forest, one inhales the fresh smell of the green-washing of Palestine’s Nakba. 

In the last issue of al-Majdal, we explored legal avenues for holding accountable Israeli perpetrators and those complicit in violations of international law. All the pending cases discussed in that issue have since been dismissed, whether through legislative intervention (as with the Daraj case in Spain), or findings that the cases were not justiciable or the plaintiff did not have standing (as with the al-Haq case in the U.K. and the Bil'in case in Canada). Once again, Palestinian victims were denied effective remedies because challenging Israeli impunity was judged to be too politically sensitive for the courtrooms of the richest and most powerful countries in the world.

In the same period, however, Israeli impunity was challenged by another judge who delivered his team's assessment of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Israel and Hamas during Israel's military offensive against the occupied Gaza Strip between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009. At the end of September, the U.N. “Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict” headed by Judge Richard Goldstone submitted the Mission's meticulously researched report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, including a set of practical recommendations aimed to ensure that Israeli perpetrators will be held to account for the first time. The “Goldstone Report” is assessed in Reem Mazzawi's commentary for this issue of al-Majdal