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Illegal Measures of the Israeli Custodian of Absentee Property must be Outlawed as the first step to Protecting Palestinian Refugees’ Properties and their Revenues
Illegal Measures of the Israeli Custodian of Absentee Property must be Outlawed as the first step to Protecting Palestinian Refugees’ Properties and their Revenues

On 11 November 2022, 160 United Nations’ Member States approved the Special Political and Decolonization Committee’s resolution on Palestine Refugees’ properties and their revenues. BADIL welcomes the resolution’s reaffirmation that Palestinian refugees are entitled to their property and the income derived from them, and appreciates the resolution’s request that the Secretary-General consult with the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP) to protect Palestinian property, assets, and property rights in 1948 Palestine.

While the renewal of this resolution since the early 1950s is important, the resolution, as was the case in previous years, still fails to consider and provide practical and durable solutions to the primary issues that are preventing the protection of Palestinian refugees and Internally Displaced Persons’ (IDPs) right to their properties and revenues.[1] Namely, these issues are Israel’s policies that directly and deliberately strip Palestinians of this right, Israel’s refusal to cooperate with the UN and the UNCCP, and the international community’s lack of ability or will to hold Israel accountable for its violations.

Protecting refugees’ and IDPs’ properties and their revenues requires taking practical measures in the face of Israeli policies under the Israel Land Authority, the Israeli Absentee Property Law, and illegal custodian of absentee property measures, including the privatization of refugees’ properties. Since 1948, Israel, through its absentee property regulations and land laws, the JNF and approved institutions, has confiscated and sold, and continues to confiscate and sell, those properties. The privatization of these properties is not only prohibited under international law, but also deliberately negates the reason behind the establishment of the Israeli institution of the custodian of absentee property and Israel's official commitments.[2] In practical terms, privatization of Palestinian refugees and IDPs’ properties has legal consequences as it undermines the practice/implementation of the right of Palestinian refugees to restitution of their lands and properties.

While the resolution does call for consultation with the UNCCP, it does not acknowledge that the UNCCP itself reached the conclusion that it was unable to fulfill its mandate, and effectively ceased its function in the mid-1950s. This was primarily due to Israel’s refusal to cooperate with the agency and opposition to the return of the refugees, as well as the international community’s unwillingness to support it in the fulfillment of its excessively wide and contradictory mandate. Despite the UNCCP’s various efforts to protect Palestinian refugees’ right to reparations, Israel and the Israeli Custodian of Absentees’ Property have retained a significant portion of the monetary value of accounts and assets through the imposition of taxes and administration fees on Palestinian refugees’ properties.[3]

Additionally, the resolution’s focus on the deceased Oslo ‘peace’ process and negotiations as a means to secure the protection of Palestinian refugees’ rights unfairly places an equal burden on the “Palestinian and Israeli sides”. It ignores the context within which Israel has not only caused the creation of the Palestinian refugee crisis through its ongoing policies of forcible transfer, but has also actively taken measures since 1948 to undermine the Palestinian refugees’ right to reparations (return, property restitution and compensation). It is the responsibility of the international community to take practical measures to outlaw Israel’s official policies that thwart Palestinian refugees’ right to their properties and assets, and to finally hold Israel accountable for these measures. Furthermore, managing the revenues derived from refugees’ properties requires, at the very least, establishing a special international fund which will be managed to the benefit of refugees, including covering the chronic shortage in UNRWA’s budget.

As such, BADIL calls on the United Nations and its Member States to:

  • Take practical measures in the face of the Israel Land Authority, Israeli Absentee Property Law (both of which must be outlawed), and illegal custodian measures, namely the privatization actions;
  • Take practical measures to reaffirm and implement the fundamental right of refugees and IDPs to reparations, which includes return, property and land restitution, compensation for all losses and damages sustained, and guarantees of non-repetition;
  • Establish a special international fund which will be managed in favor of refugees and could be employed to address the chronic shortage in UNRWA's budget;
  • Request that the Secretary General make reports regarding the follow up task public and regularly available for real review by the General Assembly.
 

[1] By the end of 2021, it is estimated that there are 8.36 million Palestinian refugees and 812,000 IDPs, all of whom are denied their right to return and to their properties and assets. Israel’s illegal land laws enabled it to appropriate 1.2 million dunums of land in the years following the Nakba of 1948, and to this day laws are still enacted by the Israeli colonial-apartheid regime to forcibly transfer Palestinians and assert its grip on their lands, such as the 2009 Land Law Reform, which prevents Palestinian refugees and IDPs from asserting any claims to land within the Israeli judicial system. Even Palestinian IDPs who have Israeli citizenships are denied the right to access their land, properties, and property revenues; Palestinians with Israeli citizenships, who constitute about 20 percent of the population, are confined to less than 4 percent of the land and are effectively blocked from leasing on 80 percent of their land. For more information, see BADIL, ‘Denial of Palestinian Use and Access to Land: Summary of Israeli Law and Policies’ (2022) <https://www.badil.org/cached_uploads/view/2022/03/16/summary-denialof-use-access2land-eng-1647430431.pdf>; Middle East Eye, ‘Explained: How Israel's Absentees' Property Law keeps Palestinians from their homes’ (MEE, 21 January 2022) <https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/israel-palestinian-absentees-property-law-eviction-homes-explained>.

[2] See Suhad Bishara, ‘From Plunder to Plunder: Israel and the Property of the Palestinian Refugees’ (2009) 64 Adalah’s Newsletter <https://www.adalah.org/uploads/oldfiles/features/land/Suhad_Plunder_English_edited_30.9.09[1][1].pdf>.

[3] BADIL, ‘Survey of Palestinian Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons 2013-2015’ (2022) X Survey of

Palestinian Refugees & IDPs, 76 <https://www.badil.org/cached_uploads/view/2022/10/31/survey2021-eng-1667209836.pdf#page=98>.