Israel�s Separation Barrier could displace tens of thousands of Palestinians

Palestinian woman trying to pass around Israel’s Apartheid Wall in Abu Dis (Arjan El Fassed)

GENEVA — As the International Court of Justice issued its ruling on Israel�s Separation Barrier, the Global IDP Project of the Norwegian Refugee Council warned in a report released today that the construction of the Barrier could lead to the additional displacement of tens of thousands of Palestinians.

�There are serious concerns that large numbers of Palestinians will be forced to leave their homes should the construction of the Barrier continue along the route originally envisaged by the Israeli government�, said Bjarte Vandvik, the acting Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

�Close to 200,000 people could find themselves trapped in enclaves or closed military zones, with devastating consequences for the local economy. Their freedom of movement would be severely restricted, making it impossible for many to get to their work places, schools or hospitals�, he added. Several thousand Palestinians have already been displaced by house demolitions, land confiscations and the effective cutting-off of towns and villages since the construction works began in 2002.

It is estimated that as many as 90,000 more could be forced out of their homes in case the construction continues as originally planned. The Israeli Supreme Court last week ordered the rerouting of a small segment of the Barrier, arguing that it violates the rights of Palestinians living nearby. The Israeli government also continues its policy of demolishing houses belonging to Palestinians perceived to constitute a risk for Israel�s security.

More than 20,000 Palestinians have seen their houses destroyed since the beginning of the second Intifada in 2000. In one of the most intense periods of destruction, the Israeli military in May 2004 demolished close to 300 houses, making 3,800 people homeless. In total, some 50,000 people are estimated to be internally displaced within the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The full report on internal displacement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is available at the Global IDP Project�s online database. The Geneva-based Global IDP Project, established by the Norwegian Refugee Council at the request of the United Nations, is the leading international body monitoring internal displacement worldwide. For more information, please contact Jens-Hagen Eschenb�cher, Communication Coordinator, NRC Global IDP Project, Geneva, +41 79 79 79 439.

Executive Summary

Internal displacement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (Occupied Territories) has largely been the result of house demolitions and land confiscation by the government of Israel. Since Israel’s occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in 1967, Israel has ordered the demolition of thousands of homes in the Palestinian Territories and has confiscated land, such as in East Jerusalem. According to the Israeli government, these measures have been taken for security and administrative reasons and to deter militants from suicide-bombings and other terrorist attacks on Israel. According to many international organisations and UN human rights bodies, however, Israel’s policy of house demolitions and land confiscation in the Palestinian territories violates international humanitarian and human rights law, including protection against arbitrary displacement.

House demolitions constituted the primary source of internal displacement between mid-2003 and mid-2004 in the Occupied Territories. Between 1 and 25 May 2004, in one of the most intense military operations since 2000, Israeli incursions in southern Gaza resulted in the demolition of almost 300 residential buildings and the displacement of 3,800 people. In response to the situation in Rafah, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1544 (19 May 2004), which calls on Israel to respect its obligations under international humanitarian law, in particular its obligation not to undertake house demolitions. The Security Council also expressed grave concern regarding the humanitarian situation of Palestinians displaced in the Rafah area and called for the provision of emergency assistance to them.

The debate on the legality of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) demolition of homes in Rafah was renewed in response to petitions by residents of Rafah against the demolitions of their homes in May 2004. The petitions led to an interim order by the Israeli Supreme Court temporarily banning the IDF from demolishing homes. On 17 May 2004, however, the Supreme Court ruled that Israel had the right to demolish Palestinian homes without granting residents a right to a court appeal when the lives of Israeli soldiers were at stake or where informing residents would jeopardise military operations.

UN organisations estimate that since the renewal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in September 2000, a total of about 21,142 people have been displaced by house demolitions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. There is no overall figure, however, of conflict-induced internal displacement in the Occupied Territories. The Palestinian NGO BADIL provisionally estimates that 10,000 Palestinians were displaced during the 1967 war and a total of 50,000 Palestinians were internally displaced due to land expropriation and house demolitions in the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem and Gaza Strip after 1967. It should be noted that these figures are rough estimates and it is unclear how many affected people have been able to return and how many remain in a situation of displacement. Generally, estimates of the total internally displaced population in the Occupied Territories are controversial and vary according to source, available data, and applicable definition of internally displaced people (IDPs). There are no comprehensive and systematic data on internal displacement in the territories and no IDP registration system.

The building of the West Bank Separation Barrier, an Israeli security measure designed to separate the West Bank from Israel, identified by the UN as “the most alarming development in 2003 in the West Bank”, has also raised concern amongst the international community about further internal displacement. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that close to 680,000 people (about 30 per cent of the Palestinian population in the West Bank) will be directly affected by the Barrier. However, no overall assessment of potential or actual displacement as a result of the Barrier’s construction has been undertaken. B’Tselem, an Israeli NGO, estimates that up to 90,000 Palestinians could be displaced due to the construction of the Barrier. UN and NGO reports document some isolated cases of population displacement in villages close to the Barrier. A survey by the Palestinian Bureau for Statistics undertaken in 76 localities directly affected by the Barrier’s construction suggests that 2,323 people had been displaced due to the barrier’s construction as of August 2003. According to the survey, most barrier-related displacement has occurred in the regions of Qalqiliya, Jerusalem and Tulkaram. Among the most affected are villages enclosed in what has been proclaimed by Israel as a closed “military area” located between the Barrier and the “Green Line”, which demarcated the separation of Israeli and Palestinian territories under the 1949 armistice agreement and is the closest to being an internationally-recognised border. In addition to being cut off from social and economic livelihoods, residents face the possibility of expulsion due to special permit requirements. As of October 2003, the Israeli administration issued new directives which require all Palestinians over the age of 12 living in these areas to obtain a permanent resident permit from the civil administration to continue living in their homes. The criteria for receiving such a permit are unclear and it appears that the Civil Administration will have full discretion to grant or deny such permits.

The issuing of the Road Map to peace on 30 April 2003, proclaimed by the UN as a positive step towards peace and security, was intended to bring an end to the conflict with the creation of a permanent two-state solution. In June 2004, the Israeli cabinet approved Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to remove all 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and four more in the West Bank in four stages to be completed by the end of 2005. There has been little tangible progress, however, towards the implementation of the Road Map and an escalation in violence by both sides in early 2004 indicates that the situation remains unstable.

Overall the humanitarian conditions in the territories continued to deteriorate in 2003-early 2004, affecting all Palestinians, displaced and not. In mid-2004, the UN once more identified Israel’s closure policy as the main cause of humanitarian crisis in the territories, which includes restrictions on movement, demolition of property, confiscation of land, and the construction of the West Bank Separation Barrier. In particular, between February and June 2004, the humanitarian situation worsened for communities living along the Barrier due to a new system of permits and road restrictions as well as in the Gaza Strip which was closed for extended periods in early 2004.

Related Links

  • Occupied Palestinian Territories: Thousands displaced by house demolitions and Separation Barrier (PDF) Global IDP Project (9 July 2004)
  • BY TOPIC: Israel’s Apartheid Wall