Escalation in the Israeli Assault on the Gaza Strip and the Upcoming Palestinian Bid at the UN:
The Role of Human Rights and the Palestinian Refugee in the Palestinian-Israeli Peace Process
By: Katie Huerter
The first step in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process must be restoring Palestinians’ basic, fundamental human rights under international law in order for any debate between a one-state or two-state can proceed. In particular, the following four human rights must be secured and honored including; the right to self-determination, the right of return and compensation, freedom from the illegal Israeli occupation, and the right to equality under the law.
Were Jews and the Palestinians on a collision course right from the start?
Although the relationship between Jews and Palestinians can be traced back hundreds of years, more recent events of the 19th and 20th centuries have shaped today’s reality of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Several events in the years prior to the 1948 War and the establishment of the state of Israel on May 15th, 1948, played key roles in setting the current conflict between Israel and Palestine in motion.
First, one must look at Palestine’s history, especially prior to the 1948 War. The state of Palestine during this time was severely fractured and politically disadvantaged, not only in comparison to the rest of the world, but in stark contrast to the rest of the Middle East. Palestine was denied any of the attributes of “stateness” and any access to the levers of state powers. In addition, Palestine did not have international sanction for their national identity. Prior to WWII, the Wilsonian Principles stated that sovereignty would ultimately reside with the national majority, this was true in every Arab nation- expect Palestine. The signing of the Balfour Declaration by the British in 1917, followed by the 1920 British Mandate over Palestine, led to the first major uprising and defeat of Palestinians against British and Zionist colonial projects from 1936-1939. Thus, Palestine entered the 1948 War, in the midst of recovering from the 1939 Revolt, with in cohesive and broken political, social, and militaristic systems.
Second, another major factor contributing to conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians right from the start is found within the ideologies and goals behind the Zionist political movement. Following the establishment of the first Zionist colony in Palestine funded by British Zionists in 1880, Theodore Herzl published Der Judenstaat in 1896- detailing the core beliefs of the Zionist movement's claim that all Jews constitute one nation, and that the only solution to anti-Semitism is the concentration of as many Jews as possible in Palestine/Israel- with the establishment of a Jewish state. The problem with this political movement’s aim to establish a Jewish state in Palestine through colonization was the movement’s disregard for the Palestinian Arabs already living there.
The third major factor that added fuel to the fire of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was the impact of international pressure and policy. The 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement dividing the Middle East between Britain and France, contradicted public promises to allow Arab people to have independence and self-determination after WWI. One year later, the British signed the Balfour Declaration supporting the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine- followed by the 1920 British Mandate over Palestine. In 1937, increased Jewish immigration over native Palestinian objections was recognized as a major cause of problems in the Peel Commission “White Paper”. The White Paper recommended partitioning Palestine into Jewish and Arab states- but ultimately failed. The multiple actions taken by international powers continuously denied Palestinians the right to self-determination.
The final factor that is located as one of the root causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the process of colonization itself. History has shown us any time that one group attempts to gain control and establish a nation where another group is already living- regardless of whatever reason- the group that is already living there is going to resist. Although the Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews have different religions- religious differences are not the cause of the conflict. The root of this conflict is essentially a struggle over land.
The Palestinian Refugee and the Right of Return
The Palestinian refugee crisis began when Israel was created as a state in 1948. During the ensuing Arab-Israeli war, 750,000 indigenous Palestinians, whose families had lived in Palestine for hundreds of years, were forcibly expelled by, or fled in terror of, the powerful militias that would soon become the army of the State of Israel. Palestinians call this the "Nakba," Arabic for "catastrophe" or "disaster."
In December 1948, following Israel's establishment and the attendant displacement of approximately 750,000 Palestinians from areas that fell within its control, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 194, which states, "refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.” parties (FACT SHEET: The Right of Return & Palestinian Refugees. IMEU, NOV 5, 2012. http://imeu.net/news/article0023194.shtml
Throughout the years of 1947- 1949, approximately 750,000 Palestinian refugees were displaced and more than 500 Palestinian villages were depopulated and later destroyed to prevent the return of the refugees. In the districts of Jaffa, Ramla and Bir Saba not one Palestinian village was left standing. 150,000 Palestinians remained in the areas of Palestine that became the state of Israel. Around 40,000 of these were internally displaced. Israel refuged to allow these internally displaced Palestinians to return to their homes and villages.
Ongoing displacement of Palestinians continued from 1948-1966. According to Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, Israeli officials transferred Palestinians from one village to another within the borders of the state in order to facilitate colonization of these areas and enacted multiple military laws aimed to displace Palestinians and confiscate their land. The consequences of the 1967 War resulted in the expulsion of over 400,000 Palestinians approximately 35% of the Palestinian population of the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Villages in Latroun and Jerusalem were destroyed, as well as several refugee camps. Almost half of those expelled were Palestinian refugees from 1948 (Palestinian Refugees and IDPs: The Right of Return. Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights. May 2011).
The right of the law of return is part of international law, and Palestinians are specifically guaranteed that right by UN Resolution 194 of December 1948, which states that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return.” In addition, other international laws and conventions including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Fourth Geneva Convention, the Hague Convention, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and several regional conventions all support the right for refugees to return and compensation.
Furthermore, under international law, all refugees have a right to return to areas from which they have fled or were forced, to receive compensation for damages, and to either regain their properties or receive compensation and support for voluntary resettlement. This right derives from a number of legal sources, including customary international law, international humanitarian law governing rights of civilians during war, and human rights law. The United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in Article 13(2) that "everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and return to his own country." This is an individual right and cannot be unilaterally abrogated by third parties. (FACT SHEET: The Right of Return & Palestinian Refugees. IMEU, NOV 5, 2012. http://imeu.net/news/article0023194.shtml
In the Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967, more Palestinians have been displaced as a result of war, house demolition, revocation of residency rights in Jerusalem and construction of illegal Jewish settlements, as well as the Wall and its associated regime. Over 105,000 internally displaced Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza strip before Operation Cast Lead. In 2008, approximately 265,000 Palestinians in West Bank communities facing imminent displacement. The majority of Palestinian refugees live within a 100-mile radius of their original homes and villages. Of the 3.8 million refugees registered by the UN, 33% live in 59 overcrowded and under-resourced camps administered by the UN throughout the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. The other 67% are scattered throughout the Middle East and other countries around the world (FACT SHEET: The Right of Return & Palestinian Refugees. IMEU, NOV 5, 2012. http://imeu.net/news/article0023194.shtml
Palestinian refugees are the largest and longest standing single group of refugees in the world. Almost two in five refugees worldwide are Palestinian. In total, the Palestinian refugee population comprises approximately three-quarters of the entire Palestinian population worldwide, numbered today at some 9.8 million. The Palestinian right of return has been confirmed repeatedly by the UN General Assembly, including through Resolution 3236, which "Reaffirms also the inalienable right of the Palestinians to return to their homes and property from which they have been displaced and uprooted, and calls for their return."
Despite international law and specific UN resolutions, Israel has not allowed Palestinian refugees to return. This is in spite of the fact that Israel’s admission to the UN in 1949 was conditioned on its willingness to abide by General Assembly resolution 194 calling for repatriation and compensation. Today, Israel maintains that allowing the Palestinian refugees to return would change its demographic balance, more than doubling Israel’s current 19% Palestinian population. Israel also claims that there is no space to accommodate Palestinian refugees seeking to return to their homes (FACT SHEET: The Right of Return & Palestinian Refugees. IMEU, NOV 5, 2012. http://imeu.net/news/article0023194.shtml
Israeli Leaders' Statements on the Palestinian Refugee
“The expulsion of the majority of the Arab population of Palestine during Israel's establishment was not an unintended consequence of war, but rather a preconceived strategy of "transfer." The blueprint for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine was Plan Dalet, which was developed and implemented under the leadership of Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, and the forerunner of the Israeli army, the Haganah. Two months prior to Israel's declaring independence, on March 10, 1948, the Zionist leadership under Ben-Gurion adopted Plan Dalet, which laid out in detail a plan for the forcible depopulation and destruction of Palestinian towns and villages. Amongst other things, it called for: 'Destruction of villages (setting fire to, blowing up, and planting mines in the debris), especially those population centers which are difficult to control continuously.” (FACT SHEET: The Right of Return & Palestinian Refugees. IMEU, NOV 5, 2012. http://imeu.net/news/article0023194.shtml
Multiple Israeli leaders have voiced opinions and concerns regarding the transfer of Palestinians and the problem of Palestinian refugees for Israel. In 1895, The father of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl, wrote, “We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our own country...expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly” (Benny Morris. The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited. 2004).
The late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin recalled a conversation he had in July 1948 with David Ben-Gurion in his memoirs, which were censored by the Israeli military, but later leaked to the New York Times, regarding the fate of 50,000 Palestinian residents of the cities of Lydda and Ramleh, “We walked outside, Ben-Gurion accompanying us. Allon repeated his question, "What is to be done with the Palestinian population?" Ben-Gurion waved his hand in a gesture, which said, "Drive them out!”(FACT SHEET: The Right of Return & Palestinian Refugees. IMEU, NOV 5, 2012. http://imeu.net/news/article0023194.shtml
More recently, Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister of Israel from 2001-2006, said, "It is the duty of Israeli leaders to explain to public opinion, clearly and courageously, a certain number of facts that are forgotten with time. The first of these is that there is no Zionism, colonialization, or Jewish State without the eviction of the Arabs and the expropriation of their lands." (Agence France Presse, November 15, 1998)
The Gaza Strip
In the Gaza strip, “Two out of three Palestinian residents of Gaza - more than a million people – identify themselves as refugees; the majority of these are 1948, and not 1967, refugees - that is, they fled to the Strip in the “ethnic cleansing” of 1948 and not the Six Day War and subsequent occupation of 1967” (Ten Things You Need to Know About Gaza.15/11/2012 20:09 http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/mehdi-hasan/gaza-10-things-you-need-to-know_b_2139356.html?view=print&comm_ref=falseThe Gaza strip is one of the most crowded and impoverished communities in the world. The Gaza strip is an area twenty-five miles long and is home to 1.6 million Palestinianshttp://www.endtheoccupation.org/downloads/gazasiegetps.pdf
According to a March 2011 UN report entitled, “Easing the Blockade: Assessing the Humanitarian Impact on the Population of the Gaza Strip,” international law does allow Israel to restrict the access of people and goods to and from Gaza for legitimate security concerns; however, when doing so, it must balance these concerns with the rights and needs of Gaza's population. In any case, Israel must absolutely refrain from imposing restrictions that are detrimental to these rights and needs and are not strictly required by legitimate security needs. Policies and practices in contravention to this norm may amount to collective punishment, which is prohibited under any circumstances. (Easing the Blockade: Assessing the Humanitarian Impact on the Population of the Gaza Strip. March 2011 UN Report).
Current Events: Upcoming Palestinian Bid at the UN and the Israeli Assault on the Gaza Strip
The world’s eyes are currently fixated on Israel and Palestine, especially the Gaza Strip, due to two very important issues: one, the upcoming Palestinian bid for the status as an observer state at the United Nations on November 29th, 2012, and two, the recent escalation in violence between Israel and the militant wing of Hamas in the Gaza Strip that began on November 14th, 2012. These two new developments in the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict both have the potential to change the political landscape of the current conflict and could have drastic effects on future peace-making efforts.
November 2012: Upcoming Palestinian Bid for Observer Status at the United Nations
On November 29th, 2012, the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas is planning to seek a vote for an upgraded status of an observer state for Palestine at the United Nations. In addition to other advantages such a status holds, the status would allow the State of Palestine to sign international treaties and take Israeli officials to the International Criminal Court at the Hague for future human rights abuses against Palestinians. Furthermore, an upgraded status at the United Nations would help advance the cause of Palestinian freedom from Israeli occupation for Palestinians living the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip within the framework of human rights and international law.
Although an upgraded status to an observer state for Palestine has multiple advantages for the Palestinian people, the upgraded status still fails to address the right of return under international law for Palestinians, which is vital for a just peace process. “The initiative will not, in and of itself, achieve justice for Palestinian refugees because it will not ensure they can exercise their right of return to their homes in what is today Israel. Nor will the initiative, in and of itself, achieve equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel. Both justice for Palestinian refugees and equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel are necessary for the establishment of a just and lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace and for reconciliation between Palestinians and Jewish Israelis” (http://www.endtheoccupation.org/article.php?id=3022).
The upcoming Palestinian bid at the U.N. is certain to win a majority if it is submitted, and has Israel vehemently opposed. “Jerusalem has reacted with a series of dire threats -- including cutting off the tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, declaring the Oslo Agreements "null and void," overthrowing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, greatly expanding settlement activity, or even unilaterally annexing parts of the occupied West Bank. Israel has also been marshaling U.S. and European opposition to the PLO's statehood bid, apparently with a great deal of success. Together, they have been able to paint the move as "unilateral" and provocative, setting the stage for retaliatory measures” (Operation Cast Lead 2.0. Hussein Ibish.Foreign Policy (Opinion). November 14, 2012 - 12:00am. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/11/14/operation_cast_lead_20?page=ful... ).
On November 14th, 2012, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) rejected Israeli threats to annul Oslo Accords. “Oslo agreement is no longer existed on the ground, since it was supposed expiring in 1999,” said Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator. “Israel considers partial or full cancellation of the 1993 agreement if the United Nations adopted Arab-led efforts to upgrade the status of Palestine from an observer to a nonmember state. Erekat accused Israel of taking measures that were considered as a practical cancellation of the agreement. These measures include, according to Erekat, restricting the deployment of Palestinian forces in the West Bank, imposing a closure on the Gaza strip and adding a more Jewish identity to Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want its eastern part as a future capital. The Israeli Foreign Ministry advised its diplomats over the weekend to inform politicians in the countries they serve in that Oslo peace deal will be annulled if the Palestinians' bid in the UN was successful. But Erekat said that the Palestinian bid aims at "maintaining the two-state solution in the face of Israeli inflexibility," noting that peace negotiations have been stalled since 2010 because Israel refused to stop Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that the Palestinian request to upgrade the status will be presented to the UN on Nov. 29” (PNA rejects Israeli threats to annul Oslo Accords. Xinhua.November 14, 2012. http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/world/2012-11/14/c_131974674.htm).
As the Palestine Liberation Organization prepares to formally request an upgrade at the U.N. General Assembly to non-observer status, Israel’s military tensions with Iran are continuously increasing, in addition, Israel is also preparing for its upcoming election in January, meanwhile Hamas is currently in the midst of internal power struggles and transformation. Thus, it is no coincidence that as all the actors involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are currently facing vital upcoming changes, violence has recently erupted and escalated between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.
The November 2012 Israeli Assault on the Gaza Strip
On November 8th, five days before any news coverage of the current violence began; a 12-year-old boy in Gaza was killed by Israeli soldiers, which drew a response from militants in Gaza. Although three more civilians, including two children, were killed by Israeli fire during the course of several exchanges between November 8th and 11th, Palestinian militant factions agreed to a truce with Israel on November 11th. Two days later, on November 14th, 2012, Israel violated and broke a short-lived, tentative truce and ceasefire with Palestinian fighters, and launched an airstrike on the Gaza Strip assonating Ahmed Jabari, the head of Hamas’s military wing. Independent Israeli negotiator, Gershom Baskin, claimed he had received a proposal for a long-term truce that had been painstakingly developed by Hamas and Israeli officials, just two hours before Ahmed Jabari was assonated.
The recent Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip is not the first time Israel has violated a ceasefire. In fact, according to the Institute for Middle East Understanding, “since Israel’s creation in 1948, Israeli political and military leaders have demonstrated a pattern of repeatedly violating ceasefires with their enemies in order to gain military advantage, for territorial aggrandizement, or to provoke their opponents into carrying out acts of violence that Israel can then exploit politically and/or use to justify military operations already planned” (Self-defense or provocation: Israel's history of breaking ceasefires. IMEU, MAR 15, 2012. http://imeu.net/news/article0022250.shtml )
Israel’s current, escalating offensive military campaign, referred to as operation “Pillar of Defense,” against Palestinian Hamas militants in Gaza has begun mobilizing warships and tanks and launching more than 1,000 F-16 airstrikes since the attack began. The use of such weapons on civilians is violation of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act (https://www.change.org/petitions/us-white-house-and-state-department-condemn-israeli-aggression-in-gaza). The current violence between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza strip cannot be called a war. Jewish Voice for Peace recently stated that Israel’s military launch on the Gaza strip is an assault by one of the most advanced militaries in the world with the full backing, and weaponry, of the U.S., the sole world super power. By every measure, including fatalities, fatalities of civilians, injuries, and destruction of infrastructure, the disproportionate impact on Gaza is clear. While there is no excuse for attacks on civilians, whether in Israel or in the U.S., the threat from Gaza to Israel and Israelis is no comparison to the harm being inflicted on Gaza.
What is needed for peace?
The current, evolving events in Israel and Palestine, the upcoming Palestinian U.N. vote and the escalating violence between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza strip, are very different in their approach, yet are both rooted in and calling for the same thing – basic, fundamental human rights. The original injustice, Israel’s dispossession of Palestinians in 1948, forcing many of them from their homes in what is now Israel into the tiny Gaza Strip, compounded by Israel’s occupation of Palestinians and its blockade of the Gaza strip, is the very root of the current escalation in violence today. There is no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The goals of future policy making in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process must start with restoring Palestinians’ basic, fundamental human rights under international law in order for any debate between a one-state or two-state can precede. In particular, the following four human rights must be secured and honored including; the right to self-determination, the right of return and compensation, freedom from the illegal Israeli occupation, and the right to equality under the law. In particular, the Palestinian right to self-determination and the right of return for Palestinian refugees under international law must be honored by both Israel and Palestine in order for a just peace that is durable and lasting to ever occur.
FACT SHEET: The Right of Return & Palestinian Refugees. IMEU, NOV 5, 2012. http://imeu.net/news/article0023194.shtml
2. Palestinian Refugees and IDPs: The Right of Return. Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residence
3. Benny Morris. The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited. (2004).
4. Agence France Presse, November 15, 1998.
Ten Things You Need to Know About Gaza.15/11/2012 20:09 http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/mehdi-hasan/gaza-10-things-you-need-to-know_b_2139356.html?view=print&comm_ref=false
7. Easing the Blockade: Assessing the Humanitarian Impact on the Population of the Gaza Strip. March 2011 UN Report.
8. Operation Cast Lead 2.0. Hussein Ibish.Foreign Policy (Opinion). November 14, 2012.http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/11/14/operation_cast_lead_20
9. PNA rejects Israeli threats to annul Oslo Accords. Xinhua.November 14, 2012. http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/world/2012-11/14/c_131974674.htm
10. Self-defense or provocation: Israel's history of breaking ceasefires. IMEU, MAR15, 2012. http://imeu.net/news/article0022250.shtml