The commemoration of Palestinian Land Day (March 30) this year coincides with the ongoing Israeli reoccupation and military siege of Palestinian cities, villages, and refugee camps in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories and the US-UK led war against Iraq. The so-called ‘preemptive war’ provides yet another example of the double standard that governs US-UK foreign policy in the region. Both the United States and the UK have emphasized the importance of upholding Security Council resolutions and international law in the months since the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1441. UN resolutions affirming the right of Palestinian refugees and IDPs to return and repossess their properties meanwhile remain unimplemented. This double standard is even more evident when international policy vis-à-vis property rights of Palestinian refugees and IDPs is compared to policy in other refugee cases (See attached list of peace agreements). The latest draft of the so-called ‘Road Map’, moreover, merely calls for an “agreed, just, fair and realistic solution to the refugee issue” - i.e., a solution based upon the current balance of power rather than international law. A final status agreement between the PLO and Israel that does not resolve Palestinian refugee and IDP housing and property claims will neither be consistent with international law nor durable.
Land Day and Ongoing Palestinian Dispossession
Land Day commemorates the day nearly three decades ago when Israeli security forces shot and killed 6 Palestinians during demonstrations and a general strike called by the Palestinian leadership inside 1948 Palestine/Israel to protest ongoing expropriation Palestinian land to build new Jewish colonies and expand existing Jewish cities. Today Land Day symbolizes Palestinian resistance to ongoing expropriation and unresolved claims to housing and property restitution. Since the commemoration of Land Day one year ago, Israel has continued to dispossess and violate the basic human right to property of the indigenous Palestinian population. Inside Israel, the government demolished more than 150 Palestinian homes in numerous villages and towns, including the al-Araqib area/Naqab (south of Rahat), al-Maqiman/Naqab (near Laqiya), Beir Hadag/Naqab, al/Qaren/Naqab, Majd al-Krum, Sajour, Jaffa, Lydda, Ramle, and Kafr Qasem. Villages affected by ongoing land confiscation for the new ‘apartheid wall’ currently under construction to separate Palestinians from the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories from Israel include Jatt and Baqa al-Gharbiyya. During the year, the Israel Lands Administration (ILA), which controls most of the land inside Israel (including land expropriated from Palestinian refugees), continued to destroy Bedouin homes and crops to prevent so-called ‘encroachment’ on ‘state lands’, the vast majority of which was expropriated from Palestinians.
In the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories expropriation and damage to property continued unabated. Since Land Day 2002, over 200 homes were demolished for punitive reasons (Btselem). Since the beginning of the second Palestinian intifada in September 2000 it is estimated that Israeli military destruction of homes has affected some 5,500 Palestinian refugees. In addition, Israeli military forces destroyed 400 refugee shelters in Jenin refugee camp in April 2002. According to UNRWA, Israel demolished an average of 38 refugee shelters per month in the Gaza Strip in 2002. Demolition of Palestinian homes built without a permit (which are difficult and often impossible to obtain) in eastern Jerusalem and so-called ‘Area C’ of the West Bank continues; the number of ‘administrative demolitions’, however, now pales in comparison to homes demolished during Israeli military operations. Thousands of Palestinian homes in the 1967 occupied territories have been damaged during Israeli military operations. As of March 2003, more than 15,000 dunums (15 sq. km) of Palestinian-owned land was targeted for expropriation to construct the new ‘apartheid wall’ to separate Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip from Israel.
Dispossession and Displacement 1948-2003: The Root-Cause of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Israel continues to reject claims for housing and property restitution for Palestinians inside Israel (including the internally displaced), in the 1967 occupied territories and for Palestinian refugees in exile. Since 1948 Israel, has expropriated more than 17 million dunums (17,000 sq. km) of land owned by Palestinian refugees, nearly 1 million dunums owned by Palestinians inside Israel, and has further expropriated and/or controls some 4.7 million dunums in the 1967 occupied West Bank, eastern Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. In 1948 Palestinians owned more than 90 percent of the land in historic Mandate Palestine. Today, the indigenous Palestinian Arab population owns and controls just over 10 percent of the land within the borders of their historic homeland (i.e., inside Israel and the 1967 occupied territories). At the same time, more than half of the indigenous Palestinian population has been displaced/expelled to areas outside the borders of the their historic homeland. A total of three-quarters of the indigenous Palestinian population are displaced either outside or inside their homeland.
Israel’s mass dispossession of the Palestinian people violates principles set forth in at least four bodies of international law, including the law of nationality/state succession, human rights law, humanitarian law, and refugee law (a subset of human rights law). Numerous UN human rights bodies have examined Israel’s land policies and have issued reports all of which find Israel’s land and housing law and practice concerning Palestinians to be in violation of international human rights law. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Committee on Civil and Political Rights, and Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination have called upon Israel to remedy the “deeply imbedded discriminatory social attitudes, practices and laws” with regard to land and housing and further called upon Israel to “respect property rights irrespective of ethnic origin” and the “right of many Palestinians to return and possess their homes in Israel.”
A comprehensive, just and durable peace in the Middle East will continue to be illusive as long as Palestinian housing and property claims are unresolved; as long as Israel is not held accountable to its obligations and responsibilities under international law; and, as long as key international actors apply double standards to the role of international law and UN resolutions as a foundation for resolving the more the 50-year-old Palestinian/Arab-Israeli conflict.
Selected Land Day Activities 2003
Palestine/Israel - March 26: the Arab Center for Alternative Planning (ACAP) and the National Forum of Arab Mayors held an annual conference in Nazareth on Palestinian Refugees and In ternally Displaced Within Israel. Palestinian, Jewish, and international experts spoke on a range of issues related to Palestinian IDPs, the Bedouin, and house demolition. For information on papers presented at the conference and follow-up see the ACAP we bsite, www.ac-ap.org. - March 30: Inside 1948 Palestine/Israel the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee has called for a general strike to commemorate Land Day and protest ongoing demolition of Palestinian homes and military attacks on Palestinians in the 19 67 occupied Palestinian territories. - March 30: The Mossawa Center and the Regional Council for the Unrecognized Negev Arab Villages (RCUV) will join residents of several unrecognized villages for a day of olive tree planting on land day.
North America - March 30: Al-Awda - Palestine Right To Return Coalition (North America) has organized Land Day commemorations in North America are underway in Atlanta, Harrisburg, New Jersey, San Francisco, Boston, and New Haven.
BADIL Resource Center aims to provide a resource pool of alternative, critical adn progressive information on the queston of Palestinian refugees in our quest to achieve a just and lasting soluton for exiled Palestinians based on their right of return. PO Box 728, Bethlehem, Palestine; Email: email@example.com; Website: www.badil.org; Tel/fax: -2-2747346; -52-360769