Norwegian Refugee Council releases latest Country Update on Palestine

The Global IDP Database of the Norwegian Refugee Council has now updated its country profile on internal displacement in the Palestinian Territories. A summary is presented below. The Database and the short country profile can be accessed at and the longer version can be requested via NRC’s website.

Geneva, 29 August 2003 — Two profiles are included in the database, one on internal displacement in Israel and another one on internal displacement in the Palestinian Territories. To view our explanation for this decision, please check section in profile on Methodology.

Political status quo and the new security barrier worsening the humanitarian situation for Palestinian IDPs.

Since Israel occupied 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. According to many human rights organisations, however, demolitions have often been carried out in an illegal or discriminatory manner. Since the renewal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the second Intifada in September 2000, over 12,700 people had their homes completely destroyed or very badly damaged in the Palestinian Territories (UNRWA 7 May 2003). 2002 and 2003 has seen an escalation of this problem as the controversial security barrier is being built, separating the West Bank from Israel (B’Tselem April 2003, UNRWA July 2003).

In the current short profile, the following are included as internally displaced persons within the Palestinian Territories: Palestinians, who are displaced from their homes in Gaza and the West Bank due to illegal or discriminatory house demolitions and evictions, but who have not left these territories.

Estimates of the total IDP population in the 1967 occupied territories (the Palestinian Territories) vary according to source, available data, and applicable definition of internally displaced persons. There are approximately 260,000 1948 internally displaced Palestinians who comprise around one-quarter of the total Palestinian population inside Israel. According to BADIL, conservative estimates for the concerned category (see section on Methodology) is as follows: 75,000 Palestinians displaced internally in the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip after 1967. This figure includes persons deprived of residency status in eastern Jerusalem and Palestinians displaced as a result of land expropriation and house demolition (BADIL November 2002). The total number of Palestinian refugees is estimated at nearly 4 million (NPA August 2003).

The humanitarian situation

According to the UN Consolidated Appeal for 2003, and confirmed in the Mid-Year Review of June 2003, the scenario enfolding has been a gradual deterioration of the humanitarian situation due to the continuation of the political status quo. The continued disrespect for international humanitarian law (IHL) was noted as the single largest cause of the growing humanitarian emergency (UN 3 June 2003).

The humanitarian situation of the people in the Palestinian territories, whether displaced or not, worsened in 2002 and into 2003. Following a series of suicide bombings and other attacks by Palestinian groups against Israeli civilians and soldiers, many areas of the West Bank and Gaza have been subject to tight security. This has prevented the free movement of persons and goods, which has aggravated poverty levels. Restrictions on population movements hinder the delivery of health care services and food, and prevent many children from attending school.

Studies reveal that curfews and closures have had damaging effects to all levels of Palestinian society. More than 100 checkpoints, combined with another 300-400 ditches and earth mounds, blocked roads and feeder roads. These prevented people reaching medical centres and schools, and are the largest single impediment to the Palestinian economy. Palestinian manufacturers and farmers wanting to export their products have also been hard hit (UN 3 June 2003). Because of the difficulty of reaching health professionals, home births have increased dramatically, further risking the health of newborns. Availability of immunisations has decreased, increasing the risk of preventable diseases such as measles and tuberculosis. Infrequent and unreliable electricity at hospitals has spoiled vaccines, many of which must be refrigerated. While road blocks and curfews prevent sick people from getting treatment, ambulances transporting patients must frequently wait at road blocks and checkpoints for hours (UN 3 June 2003).

The most significant factor in the decline in the Palestinian economy that has led to a worsening of the humanitarian situation, is thus the closure of roads and movement restrictions throughout the occupied Palestinian territories. Barriers and roadblocks prevent or seriously restrict access between Palestinian towns, villages and refugee camps. Palestinians continue to make long and complicated detours to reach their homes, workplaces, educational facilities and hospital services (UN OCHA 15 August 2003). The UN reported in October 2002 that Israel was not living up to promises made to the Personal Humanitarian Envoy of the UN Secretary-General in August 2002 to ease living conditions for Palestinians, in particular to ease the movement of Palestinians through checkpoints (UN 19 August 2002, Reuters 22 October 2002). As part of the confidence building measures for the ‘Road Map’, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) removed a few roadblocks in the Jenin, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron areas, but some of these have been replaced or are still closed periodically.

2002, the second year of the Intifada, witnessed a further steep decline in all Palestinian economic indicators. According to World Bank estimates, unemployment is now reaching 53 per cent of the population and at least 60 per cent live below the poverty line (WB May 2003). Geographically, 75 per cent of the Gaza population live under the poverty line in comparison to 50 per cent of the population in the West Bank. The accelerated impoverishment is reflected in a significant drop in the real per capita food consumption of Palestinians, now estimated at 70 per cent of the pre-September 2000 levels (UN 3 June 2003). By the end of 2002, Real Gross National Income (GNI) had shrunk by 38 per cent from its 1999 level. With a 13 per cent growth in the population of the West Bank and Gaza from 2000-2003, real per capita incomes are now 46 per cent lower than in 1999 (WB May 2003, UNRWA 10 December 2002). Almost half of the Palestinian households live on 50 per cent of what their income was when the current Intifada began (Palestine Monitor September 2002).

Health conditions are likewise deteriorating. Severe diarrhoea has increased, indicating unsanitary living conditions and questionable water supply. Lack of potable water, overcrowding - resulting from the displacement of families from thousands of destroyed homes - and inadequate shelter are seen as the primary causes. Studies found that over 30 per cent of the 3.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza now rely on international aid organizations for food (ANERA 2003).

An increasing number of the West Bank and Gaza communities are experiencing massive water shortages. This is primarily seen in the decline of the average per person per litre supply. The average water supply in 31 communities in July 2003 was 39.5 litres per person per day. WHO considers 100 litres a day to be an optimal level. In several rural communities water supply was as low as 11 litres of water per person per day (Rantis/Ramallah) and 18 litres (Al-Midya/Ramallah). As a result, around 106,000 Palestinians in 18 communities now face critical water shortages. The village of Al-Bireh in Hebron, for example, faces a 95 per cent decline in water flow. A number of other areas also had pipes broken by military incursions. Nine communities in the Gaza Strip, with a population of 169,400 persons, had water networks and wells badly damaged in Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) operations in June 2003. This problem is compounded by a drop in Palestinian incomes and a lack of purchasing power to pay for the increased water prices (UN OCHA 15 August 2003). In addition, the water and hygiene situation continue to deteriorate, and the population in rural communities are forced to use alternative water sources that are having a high incidence of water-related diseases. In the villages around Ramallah, Tulkarem and Nablus infection rates have reached up to 60 per cent of the population (UN 3 June 2003).

Palestinian casualties in the period January - March 2003 averaged 80 per month as a result of Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) incursions and military campaigns. The Gaza Strip, with its refugee camps and towns, came under particularly harsh attack, and since September 2000, the total Palestinian deaths exceeded 2,400 killed and over 28,000 injured (PRCS 28 August 2003, UN May 2003).

Land expropriation and house demolitions

The majority of internally displaced Palestinians in the 1967 occupied territories were displaced after rather than during armed conflict. Internal displacement is primarily the result of policies that aim or result in the alteration of the demographic composition of the territories. Main tactics have been land expropriation and house demolitions. Palestinians residing in border areas, areas identified by Israel as security zones, and areas targeted for Jewish colonies have been displaced in order to prevent the establishment of contiguous Palestinian built-up areas, and to create territorial contiguity between Jewish colonies and link them to the territory of Israel (BADIL November 2002). UNRWA is providing shelters for the displaced, but security concerns are causing delays in the rebuilding. In the words of Peter Hansen, UNRWA’s Commissioner-General: “Even as we rebuild, it is impossible for UNRWA to keep pace with the current level of destruction in the occupied territory. Even if peace were to break out tomorrow there would be an ongoing need for funds for reconstruction to help all those families who have lost their homes in this conflict” (UNRWA 7 May 2003).

House demolitions for declared security reasons or due to fighting

Since the beginning of the second Intifada, in September 2000, several large housing demolitions have taken place in the Palestinian Territories. The houses which have been destroyed were the ones of the families of suicide bombers and others having committed attacks against Israel and Palestinians detained in Israeli jails, but also of their neighbors, as well as people living in zones seen as strategic in the context of the conflict. Many of the demolitions have occurred near Gaza’s border with Egypt where Israel is building a security fence. Houses close to settlements are often also destroyed. Increasingly, explosives rather than bulldozers are used to destroy property creating widespread collateral damage (UNRWA 7 May 2003).

2003 has seen a sharp increase in house demolitions in the Gaza Strip. At the end of 2002, total and partial demolitions had until then averaged under 30 per month. In the first three months of 2003 an average of 74 houses per month were demolished or damaged beyond repair. These alone housed 401 families (2,273 persons) (UNRWA 7 May 2003).

Human rights organisations have alleged the punitive character of these measures and reported that in many instances residents had to flee while bulldozers were already at their door steps (AI 8 December 1999, B’Tselem 2002 and February 2002, p8). According to Amnesty International, the Israeli army also failed to evacuate the surrounding houses which were also destroyed or damaged in the process (AI 30 September 2002). According to the Israeli government, the houses of the families of suicide bombers or houses from which shots were fired are legitimate targets for destruction. Such measures are meant to dissuade other Palestinians from launching attacks (AP 31 October 2002, Jerusalem Post 12 August 2002). In August 2002, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that it was up to the Israeli military to decide which families of alleged terrorists should be warned about the planned demolitions, and thus to weigh the rights of the families in respect to the desire to protect soldiers’ lives as well as military considerations (Ha’aretz 7 August 2002). In September 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that relatives of Palestinians suspected of an attack against an Israeli target could be expelled from the West Bank to Gaza providing that the relatives presented a threat to Israeli security (BBC News 3 September 2002, Jerusalem Post 10 September 2002). The Israeli government has also ordered the destruction of houses located in what it sees as strategic areas, near the Israeli settlements, on the sides of bypass roads along which the settlers travel, and near army positions, particularly along the Egyptian border (B’Tselem February 2002, p4).

Legal mechanisms established by Israel’s military government in the territories do not provide effective remedy to displacement. The “Civil Administration” is responsible for policies and practices that lead to internal displacement; in most cases, it is also the sole arbitrator and judge for IDPs seeking legal remedy. In August 2002, the Israeli High Court ruled that homes belonging to families of persons who are believed to have carried out attacks against Israelis could be demolished without the right to judicial review (BADIL November 2002, ICAHD September 2002).

One of the Israeli operations in the Palestinian Territories which attracted the most international concern occurred in April 2002. Following a series of suicide bombings against Israeli civilians, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) launched a major operation in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, from where the Israeli government contended the bombings had been planned. The Israeli government stated that the objectives of operations in the Palestinian Territories were to arrest or kill Palestinian militants and seize their weapons. According to the United Nations, at least 52 Palestinians - half of whom may have been civilians - and 23 Israeli soldiers died during the operation in Jenin. Houses were either destroyed by bulldozers for the Israeli army to widen alleys in the camps, or due to booby-traps set by Palestinian combatants (UN GA 30 July 2002, para.43-52). Human Rights Watch reported that approximately 4,000 people were rendered homeless during this military operation (HRW May 2002, p4). A UN report criticised both sides for “violence that placed civilians in harm’s way”, and concluded that there was no massacre of civilians. A report by Amnesty International concluded however that that the Israeli army had committed war crimes during its incursions into the West Bank towns of Jenin and Nablus (BBC July 2003).

Many Palestinians have petitioned to the Israeli Supreme Court to be compensated for the loss of their homes and property. As of mid-2002 however, according to Israel, efforts were being made to draft legislation that would prevent a Palestinian from suing Israelis and Israel for compensation for military action against them (Jerusalem Post 20 March 2002).

House demolitions for lack of a building permit

The Israeli Government restricts construction by Palestinians in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank. It grants few building permits to Palestinians and many people have built their homes without them (AI 8 December 1999). Two-thirds of all existing constructions in East Jerusalem were reportedly undertaken without permit (Shragai 5 June 2000). Houses built without authorization can be subject to demolition. As of October 2002, the Israeli Army continued to demolish houses built without an official permit in areas under its control (AFP 24 October 2002). There is nothing showing that the situation has improved. The Israeli Government’s argument is that house demolitions enforce Israeli building laws. It claims that neither Palestinian nor Israeli construction is allowed on agricultural land. It asserts that the Municipality of Jerusalem can issue a demolition order when the construction of illegally constructed buildings interferes with plans for public facilities, such as schools or roads, or with the city’s historical heritage (ECOSOC 14 May 2001). It also reports that many Palestinians refrain from requesting building permits in Jerusalem, because they regard this action as a recognition in effect of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem (Israeli MFA 2002).

According to Amnesty International and B’Tselem, these demolitions are based on a discriminatory policy which has consistently refused planning permission to Palestinians while giving Israelis permission to set up settlements (AI 13 November 2001, B’Tselem 2002). Many of these house demolitions have been linked to land confiscation. According to Amnesty International, for the last 20 years, the Israeli government has acquired land in the West Bank on the premise that this land was not officially registered or not under continuous cultivation. However, the confiscated land is usually privately owned by individuals or families, or is for the collective use of a particular village. The confiscation of Palestinian property has occurred with frequency in the eastern areas of Jerusalem. Since 1967, the Government of Israel has expropriated over 30 per cent of the area of East Jerusalem, mostly from Palestinian owners (AI 8 December 1999, p29). Israeli authorities have also confiscated the identity cards of several thousand residents of East Jerusalem, rendering the holders’ continued presence in their native city illegal (BADIL April 1999, B’Tselem 2002).

The Separation Wall

The most recent concern of dispossession and land confiscation comes with the security wall being built between the West Bank and Israel. In June 2002, the Israeli authorities began construction of the first phase of a “security barrier” to physically separate the West Bank from Israel. The wall is aimed at preventing any uncontrolled movement of Palestinians to Israel (UN 3 June 2003). Human rights groups fear it will be the largest land grab since 1967. The wall which will have an expected length of 400 miles, will at some places reach up to 4 - 10 miles into the West Bank. The building has involved razing agricultural land, damaging irrigation networks, isolating water resources and demolishing homes, stores and community infrastructure. The fertile land of 51 villages has been either confiscated or isolated and unreachable because of the wall (AIC 20 August 2003).

By severing thousands of dunums of some of the West Bank’s best land and water resources the barrier will have grave implications for agricultural productivity. The barrier has already resulted in the confiscation and razing of 10,000 dunums [2,500 acres] of privately-owned land, the uprooting of over 80,000 trees, the destruction of 35 kilometres of water pipes and the demolition of dozens of greenhouses (UNRWA July 2003, PENGON June 2003). B’Tselem estimates that the barrier in total will affect 161,700 dunums [40,000 acres], 2.9 per cent of the land of the West Bank, and directly harm 210,000 Palestinians, who live in sixty-seven villages, towns and cities (B’Tselem March 2003). In total nearly 70 towns, villages, hamlets and refugee camps will be impacted to some degree in the barriers’s first phase (B’Tselem March 2003, UNRWA July 2003).

In addition, the barrier will seal the end of the Palestinian migrant labour in Israel and isolate affected communities from each other, compounding acute unemployment and poverty levels (UNRWA July 2003).

International humanitarian and political response

Since the beginning of the second Intifada, the United Nations (UNRWA) has issued several emergency appeals for humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees, who account for 31 per cent of the population of the West Bank and 80.6 per cent of the Gaza Strip. UNRWA does not have a protection mandate concerning the Palestinian refugees, but only an assistance mandate. UNRWA assists those who have lost their homes due to destruction (UNRWA June 2001, 18 September 2002). During the Israeli military incursion to Jenin, UNRWA provided tents, blankets and kitchen kits to those who had fled the fighting (UNRWA April 2002, p4). The UN Consolidated Appeal for 2003 requested a total of US$290 million, emphasising that a humanitarian crisis will worsen if a political settlement is not found (UN November 2002). The World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) are carrying out emergency distributions mainly to the non-refugee poor. ICRC has been providing tents and basic household items to families whose homes have been partially or completely destroyed (ICRC 5 Oct 2002). NGOs such as Caritas, Save the Children and Oxfam, as well as local organizations, have provided food and non-food items to war-affected populations.

The UN agencies and NGOs active in the Palestinian Territories are re-orienting increasing resources from development to relief to meet the growing humanitarian needs of the population. According to the World Bank, donor commitments rose by 77 per cent and disbursement by 93 per cent in 2001, compared with 1999 (WB March 2002, pVI). In 2002, donors approved additional funds for humanitarian aid operations in the Palestinian territories in response to the deteriorating situation on the ground (EU 28 October 2002).

UN agencies and NGOs continue to face difficulties when it comes to freedom of movement. UNRWA and other UN agencies report on disrupted and delayed access for humanitarian operations. In July 2003 UNRWA recorded the highest number of access restrictions (mainly in the West Bank) on their staff and vehicles since September 2000 as their vehicles were searched at checkpoints (UN OCHA 15 August 2003). International agencies providing humanitarian assistance in the territories face administrative obstacles and physical barriers (including military closure, curfew and destruction of infrastructure) imposed by Israel. This includes denial of access for emergency and regular medical assistance, evacuation of the wounded or dead, and blocking of the delivery of medicines, food, water and temporary shelter (ICRC 2 April 2002, PRCS December 2002, BADIL November 2002)

The UN has repeatedly deplored the practice of demolishing Palestinian homes. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights, the UN Committee against Torture, the UN Human Rights Committee and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination have also denounced Israeli policies on Palestinian house demolitions (UN GA 4 October 2001, UN Committee Against Torture 23 November 2001, para 6 j, UN Human Rights Committee 18 August 1998, para.24, CERD 30 March 1998, para.11). According to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied territories, the demolition of houses in the Palestinian Territories, either for declared security purposes or administrative reasons, is difficult to reconcile with Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which allows demolition of houses and property during armed conflict or occupation only if ‘rendered absolutely necessary by military operations’. The Special Rapporteur has pointed out that “While there are doubtless instances in which houses have been demolished for genuine security reasons, the extent of the damage and the evidence of witnesses suggests that the destruction of houses in many instances is not rendered absolutely necessary by military operations” (UN CHR 6 March 2002, pp13-14).

Several Palestinian and Israeli NGOs are active in researching and publicizing the Israeli policy of house demolitions. These include Al-Haq, the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ), the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), B’Tselem, BADIL, the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions and many others.


Until the end of the Second World War, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were part of the British Mandate of Palestine. UN General Assembly (UN GA) Resolution 181 of November 1947 recommended the partition of the Mandate into a Jewish state and an Arab state. The subsequent proclamation of the State of Israel in May 1948 was rejected by the Arab states. A war followed between Arab and Israeli armies during which between 600,000 and 760,000 people fled or were driven from Israel and became refugees (MERIP 2001, Bligh January 1998, p.124).

At the end of the 1948 war, Israel controlled the area which became the State of Israel, Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip, Jordan annexed the West Bank, and Jerusalem was divided between Israel and Jordan. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was created in 1950 to provide assistance to the Palestinian refugees throughout the whole region.

Further hostilities in June 1967 between Israel on one side, and Egypt, Syria and Jordan on the other resulted in Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula (later returned to Egypt). East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights were later annexed by Israel, but this was never internationally recognized. As a result of the 1967 war, as well as evictions which took place soon afterwards, several thousand Palestinians left Jerusalem for other parts of the Palestinian territories and elsewhere in the world.

From 1987 to 1993, the Intifada, a popular uprising against the Israeli occupation, gained momentum in the Palestinian Territories. A political process of reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians began with the Madrid Conference in 1991 and continued with the September 1993 signing of the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles (see Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements 13 September 1993). Several agreements were later signed between the Israelis and the Palestinians, giving the Palestinian Authority a certain degree of control and jurisdiction over the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Some issues, such as border demarcation and the return of refugees, remained outstanding. Talks in the summer of 2000 in Camp David failed to solve them. Clashes between Israelis and Palestinians later in the same year brought a complete stop to the peace process. In the second part of 2002, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict intensified and several international initiatives failed to revive the peace process.

2003 has seen a careful optimism with regard to the ‘Road Map’, launched in April 2003. The plan was pieced together by diplomats from the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, and was amended after consultations with Israelis and Palestinians. It is intended to be a goal-driven, phase-by-phase route to ending the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians within two years. Recent increase in violence is however putting the whole peace process in question once again (BBC July 2003).


1. The Global IDP Project, based in Geneva, monitors internal displacement worldwide, as requested by the United Nations in 1998. It is part of the Norwegian Refugee Council, an organization that has assisted refugees worldwide since 1953. For more information about IDPs from conflict in 52 countries, visit our website

2. See the short Country Profile on displaced people in the Palestinian Territories. The profile includes complete reference to the sources and documents used.

Palestinian Territories researcher: Laila Bokhari
Tel: +41 (0)22 799 0705