Podcast: As Palestinian refugee population grows, so do rights violations

If you are experiencing problems playing this podcast from the above media player, right-click (PC) or control-click (Mac) the file link (in blue), download and play in your computer’s media player, such as iTunes.

Palestinians who established Bab Al Shams engaged in direct action against Israel’s settler-colonial enterprise in the West Bank.

Issam Rimawi APA images

This week on The Electronic Intifada podcast:

Rush transcript - Amjad Alqasis, Legal Advocacy Coordinator of BADIL

The Electronic Intifada: First off, can you talk about the overview of this report on Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons? It’s a culmination of ten years of research. And in it, you include information, statistics, data analysis about Palestinian refugees … the vast majority of Palestinian refugees, who were forced from their lands in 1948, we’re talking about 5.8 million, according to your research. Then there’s another million Palestinians who were made refugees as a result of the 1967 war, and more than 500,000 Palestinians who are internally displaced on both sides of the Green Line. Talk about these populations, and how, as Badil points out, the numbers are growing every year because of further, ongoing displacement by Israel and regional unrest as well.

Amjad Alqasis: First of all, this survey of BADIL is it’s seventh installment, the seventh edition of our survey about Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons. As you already said, we are looking at a growing number. So it’s very important that if we talk about Palestinian refugees or internally displaced persons that we not only look at something which happened in the past, like a historical fact, so we’re not only talking about refugees from 1948 or 1967, we’re also talking about refugees from 2013.

So last year, 2012, witnessed the creation of new Palestinian refugees. And unfortunately, for the past 64 years, and prior to that, there has been not one year passing without witnessing the creation of new Palestinian refugees. And in our survey, we try to update different numbers and statistics about the Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons.

EI: Amjad, if you could give us some examples of some of this research, and maybe what was most surprising to you and the staff at BADIL in gathering these numbers and statistics.

AA: Most surprisingly in a way, the sad story behind that, that in 2012 when the survey was finalized, that we are still looking at 66 percent of the Palestinian people belonging to a group of refugees or internally displaced persons. So we’re talking about a huge number of Palestinians who are still deprived of their basic rights — the basic right of any refugee to return to his or her home or place of origin.

And we have to recall that within the last 65 years, not a single Palestinian refugee or internally displaced person could ever return to his or her home or place of origin, wherever this is located within the overall territory of Mandate Palestine.

If you ask about specifics numbers which are surprising to us, for the first time, in our seventh installment of our survey, we included a chapter on opinion polls where we have asked Palestinian refugees living in refugee camps — which are UNRWA-mandated areas — about their satisfaction about UNRWA services, which they get in refugee camps. [The services] vary from health services, education, to other basic services people should have.

And positively surprisingly, 88 percent still consider UNRWA a vital part of their life, and vitally important for upholding the rights of Palestinian refugees. Even 55 percent — so the majority of Palestinian refugees — regards UNRWA as an international agency which defends the rights of Palestinian refugees. This is surprising because UNRWA’s mandate actually exclusively is focusing on humanitarian assistance. So it does not include protection, so it’s surprising that for Palestinian refugees it’s somehow it at least indirectly includes specific protection services.

EI: UNRWA is the UN agency for [Palestinian] refugees. Amjad, let’s talk a little more about this. As you said, Palestinians have not been afforded the protections of other refugee groups worldwide. And agencies like UNRWA have been systematically given less and less resources. Why is the Palestinian refugee issue so pushed under the rug, and humanitarian assistance to refugees routinely given less and less resources and funding?

AA: Yes, this of course is a very important question. We have to stop looking at the whole idea of actually limiting the question of Palestinian refugees to a humanitarian issue. The core problem of Palestinian refugee is actually this specific limitation.

Palestinian refugees are a political issue, and therefore only a political solution could be the correct solution to this political issue. But it has been limited to a humanitarian issue. UNRWA, in itself, created by the United Nations, has an exclusive mandate only to deal with Palestinian refugees as a humanitarian issue. So basically to keep Palestinian refugees alive. And UNRWA is doing this for more than six decades. But, actually, what is important to this discussion — prior to UNRWA, the United Nations created an agency dealing exclusively with Palestinian refugees: UNCCP. And UNCCP was created to bring about a political solution to the political problem of Palestinian refugees.

But unfortunately, after a few years of its existence, it more or less ceased to exist because UNCCP did not get any support on the political level to be able to implement its recommendations to bring about this political solution. And today, in 2013, on paper, UNCCP still exists, and it publishes every year a report in the United Nations. This report consists of one sentence, and the sentence is “there is nothing new to report.”

And this is the core issue. The problem of Palestinian refugees is a lack of political will within the international community. The international community, until now, simply lacks the political will to bring about this political solution, and wants to look at the question of Palestinian refugees through the lens of a humanitarian crisis. But this is only treating the symptoms, but not the actual sickness.

This is why UNRWA, as stated by even the general director of UNRWA, can never be the solution to the Palestinian refugees. Because it, again, only treats the symptoms, but not the actual sickness.

EI: And of course, the core issue here is the Palestinian right of return, which has been upheld and ratified by the United Nations every year since 1949. We’re talking about UN Resolution 194. Can you talk about 194, and the Palestinian right of return, in the context of peace agreements, so-called political negotiations — how can we assess the continuing moves by Israel and some elements of the Palestinian Authority, for that matter, to completely and permanently reject the right of return for Palestinian refugees as a bargaining chip for a so-called peace settlement?

AA: I firmly believe that there will be no long-lasting peace, and more importantly, no just peace, without taking in consideration the huge amount of Palestinian refugees. And as you said, the most important right of every refugee in the world, not only Palestinian refugees, is the right to return to one’s home or place of origin.

And in the case of Palestinian refugees, as you already said, has been confirmed and re-confirmed and re-confirmed — that the Palestinian refugees as a group, as a collective group, have the right to return. Next to this collective right, as is affirmed by numerous UN resolutions, individual Palestinians have the individual right to return like any other refugee worldwide. This means that in the end, every individual refugee has the right to return or not to return.

However this decision has to be made [by] every Palestinian refugee. No person, no state, no government even, not even a future Palestinian government, could decide on the individual right of return for every Palestinian refugee. So every Palestinian refugee has the right to decide on this specific issue. And in order to be a decision, to actually take a decision on this important issue, the right of return has to be implemented in reality.

And after it has been implemented, basically after it is actually possible for Palestinian refugees can return, then the refugee can decide whether he or she wants to return or not to return. But this is a key issue. And excluding it from the negotiations table, it actually means that there is no sincerity in actually bringing about a long-lasting and just peace in this overdue conflict.

EI: Amjad, finally, the other report that BADIL put out this week is about Palestinian youth identity — talk about that report, and how it fits in to the report on refugees and internally displaced persons.

AA: Yes. Next to our overall survey on Palestinian refugees, we also published another report, something like a complementary survey to our overall survey, which is titled “One People, United: A BADIL Survey of Palestinian Youth.” And it discusses two main issues: identity and importance of social ties.

In order to understand why we conducted this survey, it’s important to understand that when we deal with the issue of Palestinian refugees, we are dealing with a specific ideology. The ideology which is behind the forcible displacement of the Palestinian people. So when we talk about Palestinian refugees, to recall, we are talking about refugees which were created prior to 1948 and still ongoing to this very day.

We at BADIL are calling this the ongoing Nakba. The ongoing Nakba, which is targeting the Palestinian people, the indigenous population of this area in the world today, which is called the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel, and this ideology is basically aiming at forcibly displacing this indigenous population.

The important point is this ideology is a colonial ideology which is using the classical colonial elements of divide and conquer. So for Israel, in order to conquer the territory of Palestine, it was important for Israel to first divide the Palestinian people into various different sub-divisions.

And today, in 2013, we are looking at five categories of Palestinians. The Palestinian people have been divided by Israel throughout the last decades into five main categories. We are looking at the Palestinian citizens of Israel — the Palestinians who are today living in Israel, the Palestinians who are called “permanent residents” of East Jerusalem, the Palestinians living in the West Bank who are carrying the West Bank identity cards, the Palestinians in Gaza who are carrying the Gaza identity card, and the millions of Palestinians living in forced exile who are prevented from returning to their homes and places of origin.

All those five categories, and this is important, are determined by the state of Israel. Even a child born here in the West Bank, here in Bethlehem where I am now, born by Palestinian parents, in order for the child to get registered and to receive proper documents, these documents are issued by the Israeli military governor.

Now after Israel has basically divided the Palestinians in these five categories, it is trying to basically eliminate any kind of social ties between these five categories. Through simply geographically isolating these five areas, and prohibiting inhabitants from these five groups to meet, and establish social ties.

It was important for us that in 2012, for the first time, to carry out a survey … with Palestinian youth, in the different areas where today the majority of where Palestinians are living which are Israel, the West Bank including Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, where we asked the youth between 15 and 19 years [old] about their first identification and about the importance of social ties.

And surprisingly for us, and very positive surprisingly, that the majority of Palestinian youth — and we are looking at the third or fourth generation after the original Nakba in 1948 — still the vast majority of Palestinians consider themselves Palestinians. So, for example, the Palestinian refugees living for 64 years in the host country of Syria, still the majority of them consider themselves as Palestinians, and not as Syrians.

The most interesting number for us is actually the Palestinians living in Israel. Because they are living under the direct policies and doctrine of erasure — where the state of Israel is trying to erase Palestinian identity from the Palestinians living in that state, and still, with all the pressure they have to endure, 34 percent of Palestinian youth today consider themselves as Palestinian, and only a slight minority consider themselves as Israeli or Israeli Arab as they are declared or categorized by the state of Israel.

Also on the state of social ties, the majority of Palestinians from different areas consider it as important or very important to establish and foster ties with Palestinians living in the other areas. This is a very important survey, and important in a sense that it shows us, if we connect to your previous question on the right of return, that today, after 64 years of the ongoing Nakba conducted and committed by the state of Israel, that still the Palestinian people, by large, consider themselves being part of one people.

And therefore the solution has to be found in accordance with all those created sub-groups of Palestinians. There could be no solution, again, without taking into consideration the millions of Palestinians living in forced exile because even the Palestinians living here, today, in occupied Palestine, consider themselves being part of one Palestinian people — which includes all the millions of Palestinians living today in forced exile.

For more information and to download BADIL’s recent reports, go to www.badil.org.




In the paragraph about Palestinians resident in Israel, one reads:
"34 percent of Palestinian youth today consider themselves as Palestinian".

Such a small percentage is truly dismaying....

Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).