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67th commemoration of the ongoing Palestinian Nakba

May 13, 2015 9:39 A.M. (Updated: May 13, 2015 1:06 P.M.)
Palestinians in the Baqa'a refugee camp in Jordan in 1970. (UNRWA Archives/AFP)
By Amjad Alqasis

The year 2015 marks the 67th commemoration of the Palestinian Nakba. The Nakba encapsulates events which took place from 1947 to the early 1950's in which approximately 750,000 Palestinians became refugees. At the beginning of the 20th century, most Palestinians lived inside the borders of Palestine -- also known as 'historic' or 'Mandate Palestine' -- now divided into the state of Israel, and the occupied Palestinian territories: the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Five major periods of forcible displacement transformed Palestinians into the largest and longest-standing unresolved refugee case in the world today. By the end of 2014, an estimated 7.7 million (66 percent) of the global Palestinian population of 11.5 million are forcibly displaced persons.

A combination of Israeli state practices, laws, and policies seeks to achieve the displacement and dispossession of the indigenous Palestinian population, exerting complete control through a system of apartheid and occupation. This overall regime aims to colonize the territory of Palestine. Therefore, it is not limited to the Palestinians living in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), but also targets Palestinians residing on the Israeli side of the "1949 Armistice Line."

Israel's treatment of non-Jewish Palestinians throughout Israel and the oPt constitutes an overall discriminatory regime with the primary purpose of controlling the maximum amount of land with the minimum amount of indigenous Palestinians residing upon it. The main components of this structure serve to violate Palestinian rights in areas such as nationality, citizenship, residency, and land ownership.

This system was originally applied during the Palestinian Nakba in 1948 with a view to dominate and dispossess all forcibly displaced Palestinians, including the 150,000 who were able to remain within the "1949 Armistice Line," later becoming Palestinian citizens of Israel.
The UN resolution from 1947 to partition Mandate Palestine triggered armed conflict between local Palestinians and Jewish colonists. This fostered an environment in which the Zionist movement could induce massive Palestinian displacement so as to create the Jewish state.

The task of establishing and maintaining a Jewish state on a predominantly non-Jewish territory has been carried out by forcibly displacing the non-Jewish majority population. Today, 66 percent of the Palestinian people worldwide (more than seven million) are themselves, or the descendants of, Palestinians who have been forcibly displaced by the Israeli regime.

Israeli laws such as the 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law and military orders 1649 and 1650 have prohibited Palestinians from legally returning to Israel or the occupied Palestinian territory. This deliberate and planned forcible displacement amounts to a policy and practice of forced transfer of the Palestinian population, or ethnic cleansing. This process started prior to 1948, and is still ongoing today in all parts of Mandate Palestine.

Silent Transfer

This process is carried out today by Israel in the form of the overall policy of 'silent' transfer, and not by the mass deportations witnessed in 1948 or 1967.

This displacement is silent in the sense that Israel carries it out while trying to avoid international attention, displacing small numbers of people on a weekly basis. It is to be distinguished from the more overt transfer achieved under the veneer of warfare in 1948. For example, Israeli-administered family unification procedures are the only available avenue for Palestinians who find themselves separated from their families, and the current legislative basis for these procedures is provided by the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Provision).

This law – passed by the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) in July 2003 and renewed annually up to the present day – prevents Palestinians with West Bank or Gaza Strip IDs from gaining Israeli citizenship or permanent residency by way of marriage to a Palestinian citizen of Israel or Palestinian resident of Jerusalem. The law only allows for the granting of permits to reside or stay in Israel for purposes of medical treatment or fixed-term employment for a period which cannot cumulatively exceed six months.

The motivation underpinning this policy is revealed through consideration of statements made by Israeli officials. In May 2002 – just months before the new law was unveiled – the then Minister of Interior, Eli Yishai, declared that between 1993 and 2002, roughly 140,000 Palestinians had moved to Israel or East Jerusalem by way of family unification permits. Yishai went on to stress the need for legislation which would "help to halt the phenomenon and maintain Israel's nature as a Jewish and democratic state in the long run."

Following the implementation of the law, human rights organizations petitioned the Israel High Court to have the legislation overturned. In rejecting this petition, Justice Asher Grunis commented that "human rights are not a prescription for national suicide." This reasoning is instructive, demonstrating that the driving force behind this ethnicity-focused policy is rooted not in security concerns, but in demographic sensitivities. Tragically, family unification has become yet another tool deployed by the State of Israel to protect the Jewish majority within its borders, with the result that thousands of Palestinians face a deeply troubled and uncertain future.

A holistic consideration of Israel's approach to family unification – both for Palestinians residing in Israel and those residing within the oPt reveals a clear and highly discriminatory pattern of behavior, underpinned by the motivation to reduce Palestinian presence within this territory. Indeed, review of the historical background and contemporary reality surrounding family unification paints a picture of ever-tightening restrictions on the ability of Palestinians to enjoy the most basic of human rights, that of a family life. This steady erosion of democratic principles has ultimately resulted in many thousands of Palestinians suffering great hardship and emotional distress which intrudes on all aspects of life.

As such, Israel is turning family unification into a tool for forced population transfer which is not restricted to physical force, "but may include threat of force or coercion, such as that caused by fear of violence, duress, detention, psychological oppression or abuse of power against such person or persons or another person, or by taking advantage of a coercive environment," according to the International Criminal Court

Rights-Based Approach

This Israeli system must be brought to an end and must be judged in accordance with international law and standards. A solution to the ongoing colonization and oppression of the Palestinian people should be found through a strict rights-based approach. Such rights are not guaranteed through political negotiations, but through full adherence to and implementation of international law and rights.

A rights-based approach could be best described as normatively based on international rights standards and operationally directed to promoting and protecting those rights. Therefore, a rights-based approach should integrate norms, standards and principles of the international rights system into the plans, policies and processes which seek solutions to the specific conflict at hand in order to ensure human dignity and justice. Simply speaking, peace cannot be recognized when fundamental human rights and freedoms are violated. In the case of Palestine, this approach would entail solutions based on international law rather than a reliance on political negotiations to bring about a long lasting and just solution.

In this light, it should be unacceptable to refer to illegal Israeli settlements in the oPt as "undermining efforts towards peace" - as is regularly the case in political circles - whilst in reality these settlements constitute a violation of numerous international standards and principles. As such, they are but one of a growing number of physical manifestations of Israel’s ongoing impunity. This represents an ugly and dangerous precedent, and if the future sanctity of international law and standard is to be protected, its implementation should not be subject to negotiations, but demanded from the outset.

Therefore, Israel's continuous and calculated strangulation of the Palestinian people must be properly challenged by the international community, and this challenge must come from an assessment of Israeli actions and policy through the lens of international law. The facts on the ground demonstrate that such an assessment will reveal elements of an international crime against humanity, and Israel's regime must be judged accordingly, with the state's impunity for these crimes brought to an end. Yet, the silence - if not complicity - of powerful members of the international community in relation to these crimes continues. The resulting reality represents a worst case scenario: the intense and prolonged suffering of a colonized and occupied population, witnessed in conjunction with an emphatic politicization and devaluing of international law.

Amjad Alqasis is a human rights lawyer, legal researcher and a member of the Legal Support Network of BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights. Since August 2014, he is an adviser at Al Haq Center for Applied International Law.

The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect Ma'an News Agency's editorial policy.
Thomas Wegenerr / Germany
Stop the colonization of Palestine!
13/05/2015 13:20
Outlier / USA
Palestinians shouldn't have listened to neighboring Arab countries that told them to leave. Time to take responsibility for that mistake.
13/05/2015 20:49
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