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Legal Status of Palestine Unresolved

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  • ummyakoub
    Israel s Mass Robbery of Palestine Re-Examined but Still Unresolved By Genevieve Cora Fraser - Feb 18, 2004 Forty years after the events of 1948 that led to
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 3, 2004
      Israel's "Mass Robbery" of Palestine Re-Examined but Still Unresolved

      By Genevieve Cora Fraser - Feb 18, 2004

      Forty years after the events of 1948 that led to the creation of
      Israel, Henry Cattan, a Palestinian lawyer from western Jerusalem
      described the dispossession of the Palestinian people from their
      property one of the "greatest mass robberies in the history of
      Palestine." If final status agreements between Israel and Palestine
      ever emerge and the Palestinian refugee problem resolved, in part,
      through monetary compensation then Michael R. Fischbach's "Records of
      Dispossession - Palestinian Refugee Property and the Arab-Israeli
      Conflict," published in 2003 by the Columbia University Press is a
      must read for negotiators and other interested parties plus all who
      care about the history of Palestine and Israel.

      Fischbach, an associate professor of history at Randolph-Macon
      College in Virginia is a fluent Arabic speaker as well as a leading
      authority on socio-economic history of the Arab world. In Records of
      Dispossession, Fischbach details previously examined as well as never
      before published estimates of the scope and value of refugee
      property. His estimates are based on a meticulous examination of what
      Palestinian sociologist Salim Tamari describes as "the collective
      memory of the exile of the Palestinian people," namely the archival
      records. These records were initially flung across the globe. They
      were held under lock and key by the United Nations and preserved in
      fragmentary form in boxes and file cabinets and housed in dusty
      storage rooms in Britain, Palestine, Israel and across the Arab

      But Records of Dispossession is more than an auditor's account of
      property losses suffered by Palestinian Arabs and in some instances
      by Palestinian Jews. The book tells the story of how the tragic
      flight of the refugees was leveraged into carefully crafted
      strategies, Israeli policies toward abandoned property designed to
      permanently remove the Palestinian people from their property as
      they pacified critics while solidifying the sovereignty of the
      emerging state. And as the United Nations attempted to act on the
      refugee property question, the plight of the Palestinians soon
      morphed into the larger still unresolved quagmire between an
      increasingly paranoid, well-armed and aggressive Israel and its
      disdainful and wary Arab neighbors.

      "Exactly how much land the refugees left behind has been the subject
      of numerous and contradictory studies over the years since 1948,"
      Fischbach acknowledges. The genesis of the refugee property issue
      started in 1948, during the first Arab-Israeli war where one-half of
      the Arab population of Palestine fled or were driven out of their
      homes in Palestine by Zionist forces. Believing they would soon
      return, many Palestinians left everything behind except what they
      could carry. But the mass repatriation of the refugees was not
      permitted and Israel quickly confiscated their property. Professor
      Fischbach identifies three socio-economic groups and distinct waves
      of Palestinians who fled their homes as the mutual violence,
      atrocities against civilian populations and fear intensified.

      "Many of the Palestinian urban dwellers were quite wealthy. They left
      behind not only luxurious homes replete with expensive furniture and
      other consumer goods but also shops, warehouses, factories,
      machinery, and other commercial property. This was in addition to
      financial assets like bank accounts and valuables such as securities
      held in safe deposit boxes in banks. Others left behind large citrus
      groves. Not only were the land and trees temporarily abandoned but so
      too were irrigation pipes, water pumps, and other capital goods
      present on the land. None felt that their departure was anything but
      a temporary move away from a war zone."

      But not all wealthy Palestinians accepted their fate. "One distraught
      Haifa businessman who had left behind his home and business only to
      end up in a refugee camp in the Jordon Valley near Jericho took his
      two sons behind their tent quarters one day in November 1948, shot
      them, then turned the gun on himself."

      The Hagana, the official militia of the Zionist movement in Palestine,
      strategically attacked villages they felt were a threat to Jewish
      settlements and supply lines, and Arab forces in a tit for tat
      retaliated against Jewish settlements. But with the full-scale
      Zionist offensive in the spring of 1948, Palestinian villagers fled,
      leaving behind "their homes, farms, farm animals and equipment, and
      personal property. Generally not possessing bank accounts like their
      urbane counterparts, some buried money in the ground for safe
      keeping." It was beyond imagination they would not return.

      By the time the armistice agreement was signed in 1949, a total of
      726,000 Palestinian refugees had "fled into Lebanon, Syria, Jordon,
      the West Bank and Gaza, as well as Egypt, Iraq, and beyond,"
      Fischbach recounts. "Middle- and upper-class Palestinian urbanites
      moved in with relatives or rented new accommodations. The poor were
      relegated to refugee camps. The war also triggered the exodus of
      30,000 Syrian, Lebanese, Egyptian, Jordanian, and Iraqi Arabs living
      in Palestine as well. In total, these persons left behind a vast
      amount of moveable and immoveable property, the scope and value of
      much of which could not be proven either by deeds or by other

      A thorough accounting of Palestinian land had never been completed by
      the British mandatory authorities; and the records that had been
      created were scattered as a result of the fighting. Of these, "the
      definition of a `village' has varied from source to source. Not all
      locales from which the refugees came were recognized officially as
      settlements in the eyes of the mandatory authorities, who therefore
      kept no information on them nor included them on survey maps." Though
      the estimates of destroyed villages range from an Israeli low of 360,
      the work undertaken by Basheer Nijim and Bishara Muammar indicates
      the geographical spread of the destroyed villages extends from parts
      of Israel, to the West Bank and Gaza. Their estimate details 427
      villages destroyed, with two additional villages still undetermined.

      Records of Dispossession also looks at the public figures behind what
      is euphemistically referred to as "transferring" the Palestinians out
      of the country. Yosef Weitz of the Jewish National Fund was one of
      the most knowledgeable Zionist land officials in 1948. He adhered to
      the Zionist goal of building the Zionist state dunam by dunam (one
      dunam = 1,000 sq. miles) "It should be clear to us that there is no
      room in Palestine for these two peoples… Without the Arabs, the land
      will become wide and spacious for us, with the Arabs, the land will
      remain sparse and cramped," Weitz noted. The fighting in 1948
      provided both an opportunity for transfer and the challenge to
      prevent a return of refugees who might pose both a military and
      demographic threat. In defense of Zionist policy, Chaim Weizmann, the
      first president of Israel put it bluntly to the first American
      ambassador to Israel, "What did the world do to prevent this genocide
      [the Holocaust]? Why now should there be such an excitement in the UN
      and the Western capitals about the plight of the Arab refugees?"

      While the battles were still being waged some Jews began to move into
      Palestinian homes. According to Fischbach, new Jewish immigrants,
      Holocaust survivors that had been initially housed in rural kibbutzim
      found that these accommodations reminded them of Nazi concentration
      camps. Some broke into well-appointed homes in Haifa, some of which
      were abandoned but others were still occupied by Palestinians who had
      remained. "Some Jews simply evicted the owners by force. One
      Palestinian, Sa'id Atma, reported that Jews broke into his home,
      assaulted him, threw out his furniture, and began living in his

      Arab homes were also looted by Jewish soldiers and civilians, and
      early in the war the future prime minister, David Ben Gurion "issued
      orders to the Hagana to begin settling Jews in captured Palestinian
      homes." During the summer of 1948, the Israeli army began destroying
      abandoned Palestinian villages while socialist kibbutzim (communal
      farms) as well as less communal moshavim and religious settlements
      began to petition to lease abandoned refugee land. A Custodian of
      Absentee Property was appointed and reported to the Knesset the
      following year that "only £14 million in moveable refugee property
      ever reached the storeroom."

      The declaration of statehood in May 1948 was followed a month later
      by a law to provide a legal basis for extending Israeli jurisdiction
      not only to abandoned property, but to "abandoned areas" of
      Palestine. By definition this meant that almost all Arab land which
      came under Israeli control, whether through capture or surrender,
      could be labeled abandoned. "The law also stated clearly that not
      all the land's inhabitants need to have fled for it to be
      labeled `abandoned.' The law also allowed the state to take over
      buildings, crops and just about anything else located on the land…."

      Fischbach further notes that the Emergency Regulations (Absentee'
      Property) of 5709/1948 "shifted the legal definition of what
      constituted abandoned land from the land itself to the owner: instead
      of declaring land to be `abandoned,' people were now
      declared `absentee' whose property could be seized by the state."

      The law also declared persons who at any point after November 29,
      1947 were citizens of Arab states to be absentees, whether or not
      they were actually absent from any land they owned in Palestine. "It
      declared Palestinians absentees if they ever traveled to an Arab
      country for any length of time after November 29, 1947, including
      those who fled temporarily to an Arab state and then returned, or
      even those who briefly traveled to an Arab country for business. It
      declared Palestinians absentees if they were ever in any part of
      Palestine not under the control of Jewish forces after November 29,
      1947 for any length of time – which under those definitions included
      most of the country. Lastly, it declared an absentee anyone who was
      temporarily away from his/her normal place of residence, for any
      reason, even if both that place and the normal place of residence lay
      within areas under Jewish control."

      In other words, the Absentee Property law targeted virtually all
      Arabs including the Arabs who remained inside Israel in their homes.
      These too were declared absentees! What the law permitted was for the
      Custodian of Absentee Property to lease the property and to sell it
      to the soon-to-be created Development Authority which invited offers
      in foreign currency because the government needed hard currency as
      soon as possible. One of the takers was the Jewish National Fund. The
      JNF was concerned that the land be legally owned and not state
      controlled. Though the new state of Israel was a Jewish state, it was
      also a democracy. According to Fischbach, "The JNF feared that if
      captured refugee land remained in the hands of the state, the state
      might be forced to allocate land for development on an equitable
      basis between its Jewish and Palestinian citizens instead of
      reserving it exclusively for Jewish use." In 1950 the Absentee
      Property law was further expanded so that Israel could govern the fate
      of refugee property for decades to come.

      However, not all Jews were delighted with their new found fortunes.
      The Yiddish-language journalist David Pinsky recounts a story in 1949
      of a Holocaust survivor who began to brood, "what right had she and
      her family to occupy a house which does not belong to her? Use a
      garden and field which were taken by force from other people who ran
      away in a panic of war and are not permitted to return? Is she and
      her family not living on goods robbed from others? Is she not doing
      to the Arabs what the Nazis did to her and her family?"

      Though the international community was shocked by the havoc created
      by the first Arab-Israel war, the onus of the plight of the
      Palestinian refugees fell to the United Nations which had proposed
      the partitian plan, rejected by the Arab states, to designate 55% of
      Palestine for a proposed Israel state. According to Section 1.C.2.8
      of the plan: "No expropriation of land owned by an Arab in the Jewish
      state shall be allowed except for public purposes. In all cases of
      expropriation full compensation as fixed by the Supreme Court [of the
      Jewish state] shall be paid previous to dispossession." On the last
      day of the British Mandate, the UN created the office of a UN
      mediator for Palestine who would "promote a peaceful adjustment of
      the future situation of Palestine." The former president of the
      Swedish Red Cross, Count Folke Bernadotte was chosen for the
      position. Not only did Bernadotte insist that the fate of the refugee
      property be secured pending a solution to the refugee exodus, he
      stated that "the right of the Arab refugees to return to their homes
      in Jewish-controlled territories at the earliest possible date be
      affirmed by the United Nations." His report also called for
      the "payment of adequate compensation to those choosing not to
      return to their former homes." To that end, the United Nations
      Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP) was created which for
      two decades carried on the work of Arab-Israeli mediation and rights
      associated with the Palestine refugee property.

      The day after he signed his report, Bernadotte was shot and killed in
      Jerusalem by "Fatherland Front" militants, a group associated with
      the Fighters for the Freedom of Israel who one week later issued a
      statement warning others not to repeat the mistake: "The Fighters for
      the Freedom of Israel will fight by any means at their disposal
      against foreign regime [sic], be it Arab, Anglo-Arab, or a combined
      imperialist regime under the mask of the U.N. …. Any such [foreign]
      supervision or any such ruling will be considered by us as service to
      imperialism and foreign occupation and we will treat them as we
      treated the British regime and its representatives."

      According to Fischbach, "The archives of the United Nations
      Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP) long have been known to
      contain the most thorough reckoning of the scope and value of
      Palestinian refugee land ever undertaken. Although part of the
      UNCCP `Technical Project' on refugee property losses was made public
      in 1964, significant details were not. The UN Secretariat Archives in
      New York, which houses the UNCCP's archives, has kept very tight
      control over the records detailing the refugee property since then.
      It also has not allowed access to other documents that are contained
      in the commission's archives. This archival material has assumed an
      almost mythical status over the years for those studying the refugee
      property question, and it was long believed that much useful material
      was secreted away somewhere "at the UN."

      In the late 1990s, the author was granted access to the UNCCP
      archives, both the land records and other material, in the course of
      writing his book on the history of the Palestinian refugee property
      issue. Though the UNCCP refused to release its estimate of the value
      of this property, research into the UNCCP archives reveals this
      figure to be £235,660,250 ($942 million). "The UNCCP archives also
      hold other studies and data on the refugee property issue that were
      never published. In 1962, the UNCCP's land expert, Frank E. Jarvis,
      devised a plan to compensate refugees that never was made public.
      This study estimated that a total compensation package would cost
      some $1.125 billion in 1962 dollars. This figure included the value
      of abandoned land and moveable property; interest on this amount; an
      amount for changes in the value of currency; the value of public
      property that should have conveyed to the refugees; and
      a `disturbance allowance' covering lost income," the author relates.

      "The UNCCP ceased functioning in 1966 for all intents and purposes.
      Its archival material, including secret studies of land values and
      compensation schemes, went into the UN archives where it has remained
      to this day. Far from the refugee camps that still house the 1948
      refugees and their descendants, the data on their lost property
      continues to gather dust," Fischbach said.

      "Records of Dispossession - Palestinian Refugee Property and the Arab-
      Israeli Conflict," by Michael R. Fischbach was published as part of
      the Institute for Palestinian Studies Series. For further
      information, or to purchase a copy at $39.50, E-mail
      cup_book@... (ISBN: 0-231-12978-5).

      Genevieve Cora Fraser is a poet, playwright and journalist as well as
      a long-standing environmental and human rights activist. She can be
      reached via e-mail at: gcfraser@...

      The Status of Palestinian Citizens in Israel

      Written Statement, Pax Christi International, 16 February 2004


      Pax Christi International wishes to draw attention to the situation of
      Palestinian citizens inside Israel within the borders of 1948. The
      focus of the Arab- Israeli conflict is mostly on Palestinians of the
      Occupied Territories and to a lesser degree on those Palestinians who
      live inside Israel. In essence, their situation has many similarities
      with the situation of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.1

      Pax Christi has submitted numerous interventions regarding the
      deteriorating human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian
      Territories since the beginning of the Al-Aqsa Intifada. The Intifada
      and Israel's reaction to it have also had a great impact on the
      situation of Palestinians citizens in Israel, as the world witnessed
      during the suppression of demonstrations in Israel in October 2000,
      leaving 13 people dead; the Israeli public discourse on "transfer";
      the "demographic threat" and the public perception of Palestinians
      inside Israel as being a "fifth column"2.

      Equality under the law and freedom from discrimination are basic
      human rights that are enshrined in international law and the various
      human rights treatises of which Israel is signatory.3

      Pax Christi believes that any solution for the Arab -Israeli conflict
      can only succeed if the human rights, including civil and political
      rights, of all inhabitants are secured and guaranteed, whether in an
      Israeli state or a future Palestinian state.


      The Palestinians in Israel are descendants of the people that did not
      leave during the years of the establishment of the state of Israel
      and during the 1948 war between Israel and its Arab neighbours.4
      Palestinian citizens of Israel comprise approximately one million
      persons, about 20% of Israel's total population of about 6 million5.
      They numbered at that time approximately 150.000, of which about 25%
      became internal refugees (Internally Displaced Persons). This group
      now numbers about 250.000. Geographically the Palestinian Israelis
      live in Arab villages and cities in Galilee, in the so-called "Arab
      Triangle", in the Negev Desert and in mixed Arab-Jewish cities such
      as Haifa, Akka, Lydda, Ramla and Jaffa. The majority of Palestinian
      citizens are Sunni Muslims; about 10% are Christian and 10% are
      members of the Druze community. The Bedouin, Sunni Muslims for the
      most part, account for about 12% of Palestinians in Israel.6

      The cultural and political identity of Palestinian citizens put under
      major pressure by the Israeli state, and expressions of collective
      identity are regarded as subversive. At the same time Palestinian
      citizens, Arabs living in Israel have often met with distrust within
      the Arab world.

      Occasionally the Israeli state plays on the religious and ethnic
      differences of its Palestinian citizens. A well-known case is that of
      the Druze, who are the only non-Jewish group that can enlist in the
      army and thus enjoy far more privileges than other groups7, though
      still less than Jews on the average. Druze recruits most often
      perform combat duties in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

      Inequality under the Law

      The status of Palestinians in Israel as a Jewish state is
      problematic. From 1948 until 1966 the Palestinians in Israel lived
      under military rule and in fact under military occupation.
      Palestinians faced restrictions on the freedom of movement,
      restrictions on the freedom of press and opinion and legal
      confiscation of land and property. Under military law Palestinians
      faced the possibility of deportations, illegal detentions without
      trial, curfews, house arrests etc. The end of military rule in 1966
      did not end this legal and institutional discrimination.

      The inequality under the law is felt in almost all aspects of social,
      political and economic life, including a discriminatory educational
      system where curriculum is routinely biased in favour of Jewish
      customs and norms at the expense of Arab culture8. The notion of
      collective rights and protection of the Palestinian minority are
      absent from the Basic Law 9.

      An example of an explicit discriminatory law is the "Law of Return"
      which grants every Jew, wherever he or she resides, automatic Israeli
      citizenship if desired, at the expense of refugees and stateless
      persons who have lived on the land for generations.

      The fact that non-Jews (with the exception of the Druze) cannot
      perform military service bars them from a broad spectrum of services
      and benefits and effectively diminishes the opportunity for social
      mobility that any Jewish Israeli would have.

      This inequality is also evident in the fact that only a fraction of
      government budgets allocated funds for the maintenance and building
      of infrastructure in Palestinian towns in Israel. Palestinian
      citizens face similar building restrictions that are known in the
      Occupied Territories.

      This active policy of under-development also becomes clear in the
      case of the "unrecognised villages". About 100.000 people live in
      these villages, mostly in the Negev and in the North, which
      officially do not exist. This means that even the most basic services
      are not made available to their inhabitants, such as running water,
      health services, sanitation, electricity, safe roads, adequate
      education facilities or postal and other communication services.10

      Recently the Knesset adopted the "Nationality and Entry into Israel
      (Temporary Order)" law that bars Palestinians married to Israelis
      from living with their spouses in Israel. Since the outbreak of the
      Intifada the issuing of residence permits for Palestinian spouses has
      been frozen "in light of the security situation and because of the
      implication(s) of the immigration and the establishment in Israel of
      foreigners of Palestinian decent".11

      The Intifada and Palestinian Citizens in Israel

      As stated earlier the demonstrations in 2000 were suppressed with the
      same means that are used against Palestinians in the Occupied
      Territories. Palestinian citizens in Israel are faced with house
      demolitions, illegal detentions, deportations and police brutality.12

      Political parties are more closely being monitored and controlled, as
      was seen in the case of the lifting of the immunity of Israeli
      Palestinian MK Azmi Bishara in November 2001 after he visited

      In the September 2000 Herzliyya Conference, which hosted the
      political, academic, media and business elite, the concept of
      transfer came out as a serious option for the solution to
      the "demographic threat", that is, the faster growing non-Jewish
      minority in a Jewish state. Palestinian citizens in Israel would be
      given the option to either continue to live as second-class citizens
      or to give up their Israeli citizenship and move14. Similar remarks
      were made at the 2003 Herzliyya Conference.

      More than three years of Intifada, radicalisation and numerous deaths
      of Israeli and Palestinian civilians have all refuelled the discourse
      on the idea of transfer. This discussion was active during the Iraq

      Political parties as Moledet publicly advocate the concept of
      transfer. The radicalised mood is also reflected in the appearance in
      public places of signs, posters, graffiti and banners that promote
      the expulsion of Palestinian citizens. The insecurity of Palestinian
      citizens regarding their future is growing as Israel's position


      Given the continuing attacks against Israeli citizens and its
      consequent public insecurity and uncertainty, the radicalisation of
      public opinion is to a certain extent understandable.

      However, exploiting this mood and imposing more restrictive measures
      against Palestinians both within Israel and in the occupied
      Territories will only add to the cycle of death and the loss of human
      dignity. It will also in the long term preclude a peaceful and just
      solution in the region.

      The long history of relations between the Israeli state and its
      Palestinian citizens reveals the deep roots and complex causes of the
      conflict. Nonetheless it is clear that fundamental questions remain
      that must be addressed. A solution for the Arab -Israeli conflict can
      only succeed if the human rights, including civil and political
      rights, of all inhabitants in the region are secured.

      Acknowledging the chronic difficulty of the parties to come to a just
      and sustainable solution to the conflict, the international community
      has a particular responsibility to defend universally accepted moral
      and legal principles in respect to the ongoing struggle in the Middle


      Pax Christi International therefore calls upon the international
      community and on the UN Commission on Human Rights to intensify
      efforts to bring all parties to a just and sustainable solution to
      the present conflict that ensures the security and fundamental rights
      of all inhabitants in the region.

      Furthermore, Pax Christi International specifically, with regard to
      the Arab Palestinians living in Israel, urges the State of Israel to:

      1. Appoint an independent commission to investigate and make
      recommendations concerning the legal status of Palestinian citizens
      in Israel with the intent to end any inequalities that exist in
      respect to said group;

      2. Take clear and decisive action to ensure and protect the
      political, economic, social and cultural rights of Palestinian
      citizens and of all persons that reside within its borders;

      3. Take measures to provide the infrastructure and basic services
      that are necessary to the health, safety and overall well-being of
      Palestinian citizens in Israel.

      website: www.paxchristi.net | e-mail: middenoosten@...


      1 See also Amnesty International: Racism and the Administration of
      Justice AI Index: Act 40/020/2001 p.10
      2 See for example an interview with Benny Morris by Ari Shafit:
      Survival of the fittest In Ha'aretz January 9 2004
      3 "All Persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any
      discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect
      the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all
      persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any
      grounds such as race, colour, sex, language, political or other
      opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status."
      Article 26: International Covenant on Civil and Political
      Rights (ICCPR)
      4 Between 1947-49 about 750.000 Palestinians fled to the West Bank,
      Gaza and to neighbouring countries.
      5 CIA Worldfactbook
      6 As a traditionally nomadic and tribal group in a state organized
      society, Bedouin typically face repressive measures such as forced
      settlement in comparison to other groups.
      7 In order to enjoy public benefits such as housing loans, public
      employment and
      student financial aid one has to have fulfilled military service.
      8 See: Human Rights Watch: SECOND CLASS Discrimination Against
      Palestinian Arab Children in Israel's Schools (2001)
      9 Ittijah: Fact sheet Legal Discrimination
      10 Ittijah Fact sheet: Unrecognised villages
      11 Human Rights Watch: Don't Outlaw Family Life, Press Release July 28
      12 Amnesty International: Racism and the Administration of Justice AI
      Index: Act 40/020
      13 Gad Barzilai: The Case of Azmi Bishara Political Immunity and
      Freedom in Israel in Middle East Report Online, January 9, 2001
      14 Middle East Report Living on the Edge; the threat of transfer in
      Israel and Palestine (Middle East Report 225, winter 2002)



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