6.8 million Palestinian refugees and counting – Towards a popular strategy for resisting forcible displacement

1 August 2013 — Mondoweiss

Following World Refugee Day, June 20th, 2013 the central issue to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict continues to be the mass displacement of Palestinians. The creation of refugees, currently 6.8 million, and refusing their Right of Return is a main component of the ongoing Nakba. The violent uprooting of Palestinians from their homeland was waged in an evolving way from 1947 to the present.

Forced population transfer is one of the gravest breaches of human rights, punishable as both a war crime and a crime against humanity. It is a term of international law that describes the ongoing Nakba. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court states: “[d]eportation or forcible transfer of population means forced displacement of the persons concerned by expulsion or other coercive acts” (see Joseph Schechla’s “Prohibition, Prosecution and Impunity for the Crime of Population Transfer” for a full history).

United Nations Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and the Protection of Minorities conducted a study in 1992 finding that a “[t]ransfer can be carried out en masse, or as ‘low-intensity transfers’ affecting a population gradually or incrementally.” Today, 66 percent of 11.2 million Palestinians worldwide are, or are descendants of, people who have been forcibly displaced. Sorrowfully, the proportion is increasing.

Forced population transfer is an ideological and a structural problem targeting Palestinian communities on both ‘sides’ of the Green Line. Many Israeli laws and policies combining the worst features of colonization, institutionalized discrimination and belligerent occupation were developed and applied over the years in order to facilitate control of maximum land with minimum Palestinians. A new Handbook and five accompanying brochures produced by BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights seek to stymie forced population transfer and preliminarily focus on residents of West Bank Area C, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. The resources advocate for using both the law and extralegal strategies of defense.

The Handbook and brochures overview Israeli state practices used to implement displacement drawing from court decisions, legislation, military orders and original interviews with affected individuals. Although the resources are not a substitute for qualified legal advice, they seek to support at-risk Palestinians in their struggle by compiling and distributing information. The information may help Palestinians delay or counteract Israeli strategies of displacement.

The ability of targeted Palestinians to prevent their displacement is rare and limited. Thus, engaging with the unjust Israeli legal system is purposed with the narrow aim of buying time or reducing the extent of damages. Palestinians’ legal challenges to forcible displacement are strengthened when coordinated with a popular struggle, a consistent physical presence, residency, cultivation and investment in property, and utilization of the media.

One of the legal tools for displacement, Military Order 1651 provides the logic, twisted as it is, for restricting Palestinian use of 18 percent of West Bank land through the declaration of ‘closed military zones’ or ‘firing zones’. Israel appropriates the land for its military, using multiple methods of coercion to evict residents. The case of Firing Zone 918 is an example of this strategy applied to 12 Palestinian communities in the South Hebron Hills.

Included in BADIL’s Handbook, the following is an interview with Nasser Nawaj’a in February 2013 of Susya, South Hebron:

For obtaining a building permit you need to bring ownership documents, and since all our lands are located in Area C, we had to ask the Israeli Civil Administration for the documents, which means that you have to pay around 150 NIS ($40) for each document. It is really expensive and in addition we had to submit an aerial land map and a master plan.

We fulfilled and presented all requests, but our applications were refused for inauthentic reasons. For instance, they stated that the sheep’s building is too close to residencies and this is not healthy. On this basis they refused many of our applications. They are concerned about our health, but the fact that we live without any water, which they deny us, is not an important matter for them.

Currently we have a court case in the Supreme Court and we are struggling in various ways with the assistance of expert organizations and the popular struggle. We organize demonstrations on the ground using social media campaigns, etc., to halt our displacement. We hope that the Court won’t enable our displacement although we know that for us Palestinians the Israeli Supreme Court is a court of injustice.

Nawaj’a describes fees and legal deception as examples of problematic barriers raised by engaging Israeli law. His description of collective struggle is an example for the direction that a comprehensive Palestinian resistance can orient itself. A decision from the Israeli Supreme Court on Firing Zone 918 will be delivered in July. The community is organizing in parallel to the judicial process as are several other Palestinian communities in the spotlight of forcible displacement today.

The Palestinian Bedouin of the Naqab have mobilized mass actions against the Israeli government approved Prawer Plan threatening up to 70,000 with displacement. See here for updates on ways to support their organizing. The communities of al-WalajaBattir and Cremisan Valley all have developments relating to Israel’s construction of the Annexation Wall through their lands. Media attention and authentic solidarity are ways individuals and organizations can support the communities’ struggles.

At BADIL’s conference about forced population transfer earlier this month, attorney Suhad Bishara of Haifa-based Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel echoed many of the presenters when she said, “International Law might be a good or legitimate tool as long as it is part of a strategy.” Bishara went on to emphasize the need for a strategy coordinating resistance within Israeli military and civil law while leveraging international law. In conclusion, she said “we need a process of de-fragmentation.”

Palestinians within the homeland are facing a concerted effort coercing their migration. A defense of Palestinian rights must take into account the context of advancing Israeli colonization and meek responses from the PLO/PA. In the meantime, more than half of the 530,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria have been displaced again by fighting. Over 1,000 Palestinians were killed. Ongoing displacement and refusing the Right of Return compound previous wrongs. A Palestinian strategy that attempts to stem the flow, reducing the potential damage done, can be implemented while we pursue avenues for implementing the Right of Return.

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