By Stephen Lendman
Established in 1998, the Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights (BRC) "defend(s) and promote(s) the rights of Palestinian refugees and IDPs (to) advance (their) collective rights." In January 2010, BRC published a report titled, "Survey of Palestinian Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, 2008 – 2009."
Its web site explains the problem:
— Palestinian refugees and IDPs are "the largest and longest-standing case of forced displacement in the world today;"
— in 2007, of a global 9.8 million Palestinians, about seven million are refugees and another 450,000 internally displaced;
— they include 1948 Nakba victims, more from the 1967 Six Day War, new ones from continuous dispossessions for settlement expansions, and land seizures inside Israel;
— many thousands were displaced from the Jordan Valley, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and within Israel to cleanse Arab neighborhoods for Jewish only development;
— Palestinians in host countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Syria are also vulnerable to displacement; further, the 2003 Iraq war forced 34,000 Palestinian refugees to leave the country; and
— over six decades after their 1948 displacement, Palestinian refugees and IDPs are still denied solutions and reparations for their rights under international law and UN resolutions.
Relevant International Law
Article 13 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:
"(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country."
Article 11 of UN Resolution 194 (1948) states:
"….refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for the loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made by the Governments or authorities responsible."
The 1951 Refugee Convention defines who is a refugee, their status, rights, and legal obligations of states. Assistance is to include asylum, food, shelter, health, education, human rights, travel documents, and durable solutions, including repatriation, resettlement, and integration. The 1967 Protocol removed geographical and temporal restrictions.
After the 1948 Nakba, refugees were to get special aid, protection, and reparations, initially from the UN Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP), UN Relief and Works Agency in the Near East (UNWRA), and later the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
UNCCP ceased operating in the mid-1950s. UNWRA was to provide temporary, emergency help for 1948, 1967, and subsequent Palestinians displaced. Overall they’ve done little for those in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, or the Territories (OPT) under military occupation.
Security Council Resolution 237 (1967) called on Israel to ensure the rights, safety and welfare of inhabitants of areas affected by the Six Day War, and to help those who fled return.
UN Resolution 3236 (1974) affirmed the right of return as an "inalienable right."
Despite established laws, no international agency is mandated to aid and protect displaced Palestinians in Israel, and in the OPT, only limited aid is provided. In addition, UN agencies and world nations, in deference to Israel, have avoided durable solutions, including their obligation to enforce the right of return. As a result, displaced Palestinians have been denied effective remedies and reparations, and continue to be among the world’s most neglected, persecuted people.
Israel’s Proposed Nakba Law
Haaretz once called Israel’s ultranationalist Foreign Minister, Avigdor Liberman, "unrestrained and irresponsible" with good reason. On May 15, 2009, his party, the far right Yisrael Beitenu, proposed banning Nakba commemorations, then introduced legislation to do it, calling for jail terms of up to three years for violators.
Party spokesman, Tal Nahum, said "The draft law is intended to strengthen unity in the state of Israel and to ban marking (the day after) Independence Day (May 15) as a day of mourning." Representatives of Israel’s 20% Arab population accused Lieberman of racism.
In December, a softened bill was introduced, and on March 16 it passed its first reading with a majority of 15 to eight. If it passes second and third readings, it will deny financing to municipalities that support the Nakba, including allowing commemorative mourning days.
The revised proposal omits imprisonment, not its repressive racism by denying Israeli Arabs their free expression right to commemorate their most defining historic event. A Haaretz editorial scorned the legislation, saying:
"The Knesset should be ashamed of passing the law at first reading. The Kadima and Labor factions should be denounced for not opposing it. But it’s not too late to block the harmful law in (subsequent) readings, before it stains Israel’s body of law."
The Badil Research Center (BRC) refers to the:
"ongoing Nakba….caused by Israel’s system of institutionalized racial discrimination which is composed of laws, policies and practices that have resulted in second-class citizen status of Palestinians, more land confiscation, discriminatory development planning, segregation of Palestinian communities, home demolitions and forced evictions, in order to ensure Jewish privilege and domination."
In its current form, the proposed Nakba bill prohibits government-supported organizations from financing activities that commemorate the event, and will deduct up to ten times the amount spent from group budgets. The bill requires Israeli Arabs to renounce their history and heritage, identify with Zionist values, accept their dispossession and second class status, and face the possibility that a proposed amendment to Israel’s Citizenship Law for Jews may one day apply to them; namely a loyalty oath stating:
"I pledge to be loyal to the State of Israel as a Jewish… Zionist and democratic state, to its symbols and values, and serve the State, as required, be it by military service, or alternative service."
Last June, the Knesset rejected a Lieberman-proposed anti-Arab loyalty oath measure, requiring Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others to pledge loyalty to the Jewish state.
However, last November, the Mitzpeh Aviv community, under the jurisdiction of the Galilee Misgav Regional Council, passed an amendment to its bylaws, stipulating that land allocation be conditional on residents’ placing the "highest priorities (on) Zionist values and the values of the state as a Jewish and democratic state."
Earlier, Manof and Yuvalim (also under Misfav Regional Council jurisdiction) passed similar measures. Other communities may follow, then the Knesset for more than housing.
As Israel gets more hardline, it’s more likely that extremist laws like these will pass, marginalizing non-Jews, threatening their security, and decreasing chances for Palestinian refugees ever to return home as international law allows.
It’s a short leap from current racist laws to repressive ones like Nazi Germany’s Gleichschaltung (standardization under which total societal control was imposed) and the 1935 Nuremberg Laws that:
— protected "German Blood and German Honour";
— prevented marriage or sexual relations between Jews and Aryans;
— declared persons with any Jewish blood no longer citizens and denied all rights;
— banned Jews from holding professional jobs to exclude them from education, politics and industry;
— segregated Jews from Aryans;
— punished them financially, effectively bankrupting Jewish enterprises;
— prohibited Aryan doctors from treating them;
— prevented Jews from becoming doctors;
— excluded Jewish children from state-run schools; and
— effectively denied Jews all rights afforded solely to Aryans – a prelude to Nazi genocide, what Palestinians have incrementally endured for decades by racist laws, persecution, dispossession, exclusion, isolation, mass imprisonment, torture, targeted assassinations, violence, wartime slaughter – most recently, Operation Cast Lead.
Decades of Forced Displacement
Besides the internally displaced, Palestinians have lived in forced exile for decades throughout the world, the majority within 100 kilometers of their original home. Those in camps comprise about 21% of the total. Hundreds of thousands of others are in 17 unofficial camps in the OPT, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. About 79% live outside UNRWA’s 58 camps, including many in West Bank villages and cities, about 100 localities in all comprising over half the population.
Operation Cast Lead internally displaced around 80 – 90,000 people, while forced displacements on both sides of the Green Line continue, for many resulting in multiple uprootings over the years, and, of course, no permanent home because new ones can happen any time for any reason.
Communities most vulnerable lie in the path of the Separation Wall (affecting around half a million Palestinians in 92 communities), as well as Bedouin Arabs in the Negev, residents of the Jordan Valley, East Jerusalem, Hebron, the Galilee, Southern Gaza, the Gaza buffer zone (extending from 500 meters to a kilometer or more within the Strip’s border), and Israeli Arab communities in major cities being forced out to make way for Jews.
Under international law, world nations are obligated to stop this, but instead are silent in support of Israel, affording Palestinians no advocate on their behalf.
Durable solutions require repatriation (based on the well-established right of return) for refugees seeking it, but haven’t up to now gotten. The key principle is "voluntariness" for well-informed refugees and IDPs. Solutions also include housing, property restitution, and compensation for damages and losses. Currently, however, no international agency handles this problem equitably, so it festers unresolved.
Internally displaced Israeli Arabs also aren’t helped. In the OPT, the ICRC has aided IDPs while UNRWA has provided emergency help, but no durable solutions, for displaced refugees. Since 2008, OCHA’s Displacement Working Group (DWG) provided international protection for Palestinian IDPs, with little in the way of tangible results to show, especially to prevent new forced displacements as well as medium and long-term protection and durable solutions.
As a result, living conditions in 2008 and 2009 declined, especially in Gaza because of war and the ongoing siege, inflicting severe collective punishment on 1.5 million people at the mercy of a ruthless occupier denying them enough essential to life supplies.
Political power-brokering, issues, events, and special interests guide international efforts, not people needs ignored. Without help, Palestinian refugees and IDPs do what they can, and used the 2008 60th Nakba anniversary to commemorate their condition worldwide in Europe, North America, Australia, and the region.
Arab Israelis are also more vocal, demanding political and legal reforms, including democratization and recognition of Israel’s Nakba responsibility. Israel reacts negatively with measures like those explained above.
But counter efforts have gained traction, including for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (the Global BDS movement) and initiatives like the Goldstone Commission and Russell Tribunal on Palestine revealing systematic Israeli crimes, and calling on world nations to fulfill their international law obligations by holding Israel accountable.
College campuses are also responding, including in America. On December 14, 2009, Harvard Crimson writer Abdelnasser Rashid wrote:
Evidence shows "Israel deliberately targeted civilians during (Operation Cast Lead), deliberately targeting educational institutions, destroying or damaging at least 280 schools and kindergartens (besides killing) over 1,400 Palestinians," mostly civilians.
On "November 23, Harvard extended an invitation to Michael B. Oren – the Israeli ambassador to the United States – to speak at the Kennedy School. Fittingly, he was rejected by students who attended the event. Oren is a former officer and paratrooper who (was) an Israeli army spokesperson during the unwarranted and illegal attacks on Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2009. (Students) took a clear stance against impunity for war crimes." He was pilloried for the actions during a Q & A session.
They "showed (their) unwilling(ness) to stay silent when an (Israeli) spin doctor tries to rewrite recent history" to absolve his country of systematic war crimes. If the university won’t do it, they will and did. Moreover, "welcoming those whose actions deny students in Palestine their academic freedom….inevitably trivializes their struggle for human rights and collective freedom."
Growing efforts like these tell oppressor and victims that impunity won’t ultimately prevail. What can’t go on forever won’t when enough determined people say no more.
– Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.