Democratizing the Refugee Issue
Project Report – The Voices of the Refugees
Note: This report reflects the summary of the voices of the refugees heard and documented by IPCRI. This report intends to present their opinions. The recommendations listed in the report are the recommendations of the refugees as summarized by the IPCRI Project Coordinators, Ms. Shireen al Araj, and Ms. Jihad Abu Zneid.
During 2000, IPCRI convened 48 Town-Hall Meetings in 9 different refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza. In all, hundreds of refugees took part in some of the most intensive and comprehensive discussions concerning their future that have ever taken place. In March of 2001 a survey was conducted with 1600 respondents. The results of the survey are presently being analyzed. This report relates to the town meetings held in the refugee camps.
The participant refugees confronted a wide range of different subjects that they selected to place on the agenda. A list of subjects had already been defined by the project coordinators and workshop moderators in a meeting that was held in the Youth Union Center in Kalandia Camp / Suburbs of Ramallah. This list was presented in each refugee camp town meeting for the participants to finalize.
The focal topics of discussion were:
Reality of Refugee Camps.
The United Nations Relief & Works Agency
(UNRWA) and the Palestinian refugees.
Host Countries & the Refugees.
Peoples' Perspectives towards Negotiations.
International Resolutions on the Refugees' Issue.
The 20th century can be labeled as the era of refugees in the world. Influxes of millions of refugees were repeated on fairly frequent bases. People sought a refuge to escape suppression and tyranny either because of regional, national wars, or because of settlements, invasion and deportation of people from their homelands. The number of refugees, in this century, exceeded 50 million, where 5 million of them were / are Palestinians (according to today’s numbers, in 1948 they numbered under 1 million).
The past two decades in the 20th century have witnessed the return of millions of refugees in Africa, Middle Asia, North - South Asia; and lately the return of Kosovo refugees to their cities & villages. They managed to go back to their homes as a result of international military intervention. Notwithstanding that the Palestinian refugee question is the oldest and the most delicate issue, it has not only remained without a solution, but also without any positive developments towards it. The Palestinian refugees stress that it is also worth noting that the Palestinian Refugees' Question has clear international UN resolutions that clearly call for the right of those refugees to return to their homes.
Its is, therefore, neither strange nor bizarre to realize that the refugees' issue has passed through a long thorny way of negotiations starting from the ratification Oslo agreement through Cairo agreement and ending with Wye River pact. Needless to state those negotiators have agreed once again to transfer this heavy file to the final status negotiations.
Palestinians consider the refugee's issue as the key of the entire Palestinian question since it represents more then 80% of this nation. It ought to be noted that the Arab Israeli conflict had started long time before 1967.
Several resolutions had been issued by the UN Security Council, pertaining the Arab /Israeli conflict as 242 and 181 together with a series of consecutive resolutions that either supported the Palestinian cause or stressed the previously adopted resolutions.
Since the declaration of Oslo agreement in 1993, the Palestinian refugees have convened different meetings, workshops and conferences; as Al-Fara'a conference in 1995; Bethlehem Conference in 1997 and Gaza conference in 1997. In these meetings they stressed that there must be a just and comprehensive return for the Palestinian refugees in accordance with UN Resolution 194 i.e. to offer the refugees of 1948 the right to return to their land and property.
As a result of different proposals of the refugees issue; in light of the controversy that is prevalent here and there; and owing to the fact that there are various propositions for the refugee issue.
Since there are different proposals to solve the refugee question, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research & Information (IPCRI) in collaboration with the Union of the Social Centers in Palestine (The Union of the Social Centers in West Bank and The Union of the Social Services Centers in Gaza Strip) carried out a series of workshops in order to tackle prevalent matters of direct relevance to the refugee issue. The idea and rationale behind these “town meetings” was to provide the refugees themselves a greater say in determining their own future. From previous projects on the refugee issue conducted by IPCRI, we noted that the majority of refugee felt a lack of efficacy in determining their future. Many refugees stated, in surveys conducted by IPCRI and by others, the feeling and fear that their “rights” would be “sold out” by the Palestinian negotiators. In the past three years, much grass-roots organization has taken place in the refugee camps of the West Bank and Gaza aimed at pre-empting attempts to resolve the refugee issue in ways that would not be viewed as satisfactory in their own eyes. For that reason, IPCRI decided to conduct this project with the hope that by providing the refugees in the camps with an opportunity to discuss the relevant issues in depth they would also have the opportunity to present their preferences and priorities to their leaders and to the outside world in an organized and direct fashion.
Nine camps were chosen, five of them are in West Bank (Arroub, Kalandia, Ama're, Fara'a & Tulkarem Camps, Bethlehem area camps); and from Gaza strip; selection are mainly from central middle Camps (Maghazi, Jabalia & Khan Younis Camps).
Heterogeneous groups were chosen so as to have a clear and valid social make-up of the camps.
Findings & Recommendations (In the words of the participants):
Reality of Refugee Camps:
The tragic circumstances and conditions of the Palestinian camps stress the fact that the United Nations Relief & Works Agency (UNRWA) has taken part in an international conspiracy of settling the refugees in these camps. A number of indicators reflect this fact:
UNRWA moved its headquarters from Vienna to Gaza at the moment the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) came into power;
Camps severely suffer from overcrowdedness. This situation can roughly be described in the statement of the following problems:
It is recommended to:
It is recommended that:
It is recommended that:
It is recommended to:
It is recommended to:
UNRWA and the Palestinian Refugees:
On December 1949, the United Nations Relief & Works Agency (UNRWA) was established. Refugees believe that UNRWA was established to manage the refugee issue for a long period thus prolonging the problem itself.
UNRWA has operated in Jordan, West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon and Syria. Refugees who reside outside the boundaries of these areas are not covered with UNRWA services.
UNRWA has a number of programs. Paramount amongst is:
It has clinics, health and cleaning units together with environmental services.
Introduced after the ratification of Oslo agreement in 1993 in order to upgrade the camps' infrastructure and to develop UNRWA institutions.
In 1997, UNRWA 's budget amounted 692 million dollars. The United States was considered the principal donor to UNRWA (142 million dollars); seconded by the European Union (113 million dollars); and followed by, Japan, the third major contributor (49 million dollars).
Since PNA has been in power and since the agreement with Israel was ratified, UNRWA followed a series of austerity measures whereby it began minimizing its services. Since 1993, UNRWA has been confronted with a significant financial crisis. This was clearly manifested in UNRWA's reports over the past five years. These reports clearly:
¨ Emphasized the remarkable role that UNRWA has played in maintaining the refugees issue and in keeping this issue at the top of the agenda in the Palestinian /Israeli conflict.
UNRWA 's Commissioner General reports, UNRWA:
1. Has not covered 15% of the basic camps' needs over the past 50 years.
2. Has severely reduced its services in all the fields: social, educational, health, environmental and so on. UNRWA justifies its austerity measures by either claiming overdraft in the its budget; or by the need to transfer its services to the camps in Lebanon as has been the case after 1982; or by stating that the existing budget does not meet with the refugees' population growth.
3. The 3% annual increment in UNRWA's Budget neither covers nor meets the minimal needs to cover the increase of costs and the rapid growth of population.
4. UNRWA's deficit in the budget was amounted 6 million dollars in 1995; as its Commissioner General had stated.
5. UNRWA has been engaged with the Peace Program. It thus, took part in the multilateral negotiations. Moreover, it moved its headquarters form Vienna in to Gaza.
6. The Donor countries have not fulfilled their commitments towards UNRWA and have in this way created a deficit in its budget. This has reflected negatively on the quality of its services that are offered.
7. The social health institutions inside the camps have to play their genuine role. Each responsible authority has also to cater for these organizations so as to keep it able to provide the refugees with its vital services.
8. UNRWA has minimized its services and commitments towards the refugees Question. UNRWA 's policy became a tool in the hands of powerful countries. UNRWA is, therefore, implementing a global political stance; which is totally dominated by a uni-polar power. It, therefore, began neither defending the Palestinian refugees rights nor looking for their living conditions. UNRWA’s Commissioner General clearly stated that the transfer of UNRWA's Headquarters from Vienna into Gaza was done as a preliminary step to terminate UNRWA's services during the transitional period. This Step implies that UNRWA is involved in the international conspiracy towards the refugees question and their right to return.
9. The Refugees Affairs Department should shoulder the responsibility towards the shortcomings and pitfalls that had been committed while looking after the a/m committees. Since PLO is in charge of the Refugees Affairs Department and responsible for all the Palestinian people's issues, it should seek all the possible pathways in order to support UNRWA to sustain the provision of its services until a just comprehensive solution for the refugees issue is attained.
Host Countries and the Refugees:
The Host Countries are the countries that have hosted the Palestinian refugees since the inception of 1948 catastrophe and after the use of force by the Israel to expel the Palestinians from their homelands.
The host countries of the Palestinian refugees can be split into two categories
Palestinian refugees have played significant role in the development of the host countries; particularly in the Arab Gulf States, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. By way of an illustration, Palestinians who worked in all walks of life; particularly in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, contributed a lot in building these States and their fingertips still represent a beacon in every field of work. They even influenced the political decision of some these countries as in Jordan where Palestinians has actively taken part in its parliament and even its ministerial cabinet.
The host countries tried to deal with the Palestinian refugees' issue as a social-welfare case. Some were really exploited, working hard with low wages. Most Palestinian workers (refugees) were exploited in the Gulf States for many years and after the prosperity of these states Palestinians labor force were expelled under different sorts of pretexts as :
Steadfastness, fear of having too much power on the hands of Palestinian communities, or vandalism, or even claiming that Palestinians have different options.
The Israeli occupation cannot be considered as a host authority for the Palestinian refugees. The occupation represented oppression, colonialism and settlements. The Occupation has tried its utmost to expel, deport, and immigrate by force more Palestinians outside their homeland. Palestinian camps have suffered a lot from the occupation military machine, its dominance and terrorist programs. Hundreds and thousands of martyrs, detainees & injuries were from the population of refugees. The memory of those people is still vivid until this day.
Is the Palestinian National Authority a host authority? Or is it responsible for the refugees file? Or does the international community deal with PNA as a host authority?
1- The PNA is a host authority for the Palestinian refugees. UN resolution 194 clearly stipulates the right of return to the Occupied Palestinian Territories (Hereinafter OPT) in 1948 and not to the existing borders of the PNA i.e. the borders of the 4th of June 1967.
2- No one shall exercise any authority on the refugee's decision. The central decision of this question has to be solely taken by the refugees and the refugees only.
3- The international community is not dealing with the PNA as a host authority. On the other hand, it addresses the refugees' issue in accordance with the UN resolution 194 where the Palestinian right of return is guaranteed.
4- Having any other nationality does not mean that the historical and political rights of the Palestinian refugees have been secured by the international legitimacy are to be overlooked.
5- Refugees’ sufferings were not confined to the occupied territories in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it exceeded these boundaries. They managed to impose a siege on the refugees in the host countries to minimize the refugees’ activities; and to lessen their ability to engage in the local community of the host States. The aim beyond imposing a siege on the camps in the host countries is to make the camps abide by the official policy of the host and subsequently not to mobilize the endeavor towards the right of return.
6- Upgrading the living conditions and the humanistic circumstances in the Palestinian camps is a Palestinian right; along with upgrading the infrastructure either in the PNA areas and its camps or in Lebanon, Syria or Jordan. Refugees should not be deprived, by any case, from their right of return form the host countries. It is worth noting that the refugees in the host countries still consider themselves in a temporary state of residence till they accomplish their return to the areas that they had been expelled from.
1- Arab states have to shoulder their responsibilities toward the Palestinian refugees national question not only at the Arab international level but also at the humanitarian level.
2- The Arab hosting countries of the Palestinian refugees have to rule out the possibility of solving this question by either settling or assimilating those refugees in their Arab communities or by compensating them financially. On the contrary, the host countries have to smoothly seek to exercise a pressure on the international community so as to implement the UN legitimate resolutions with respect to the Palestinian refugees.
3- The Arab hosting states have to treat their Palestinian refugees as first not as third class citizens who must have their rights and should carry out their duties and responsibilities as any other Arab citizen. This should be the case till the refugee issue achieves its just and comprehensive solution; in accordance with the UN legitimate resolutions.
4- The refugee’s issue should not be fragmented. It should be dealt with as one entity whether the refugees are in Jordan, Syria or Lebanon.
5- Asking the international Community to provide an international security to the Palestinian camps in the host countries until a just and comprehensive solution of this issue is achieved.
6- Asking the PNA, as a host authority of the Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to treat the refugees and their citizens on equal footing; and to cater for the camps' affairs. Moreover, the PNA ought to upgrade the current infrastructure of the camps as it does in the other parts (cities & villages) of Palestine. These procedures have to be undertaken until the refugees receive their right of return.
7- UNRWA is responsible for shouldering its duties towards the refugees in the host countries by providing them with all the needed services.
Negotiations and Peoples Perspective:
¨ Palestinian negotiators are stuck. No progress whatsoever has been noticed in the refugees' file. Moreover, this file has been transferred to the final stage of negotiations.
¨ Large sectors of the refugees, irrespective of the location of their camp, do not feel that the Palestinian negotiators are competent enough to handle their delicate issue. Refugees have also mentioned that declarations were made by some of the PNA security heads and by a number of key officials who have been directly involved in the negotiations process, have clearly suggested semi-solutions for the refugees' issue. Such partial solutions are tied with the American and Israeli proposals that mainly aim at hypnotizing the Palestinian street to accept the status quo formula.
The Palestinian negotiator's reference, base, qualification and readiness:
Refugees believe that the Palestinian negotiator, who handles their file, as:
All the entities and organizations that are entitled to assist refugees in their predicament such as the Higher Council of Refugees; the Higher Body of Refugees; the Refugee Affairs' Department, and the Refugees' Defense Committees are totally paralyzed. They only play a parliamentarian role; without representing the political, social, legal and cultural aspects' of the refugees. It is also worth realizing that the officials and the directors of these organizations were appointed and not elected. Their opinions, therefore, should represent themselves and not the refugee masses in the homeland or in the Diaspora.
International Resolutions on the Refugees' Issue:
1. UN Resolution 194 from 11 - December -1948, clearly stipulates in its paragraph Number.11 that the refugees who are interested to go back to their homes, provided that they live peacefully with their neighbors, should be allowed to do so. Those who decide not to return have to be compensated for their property that they decided not return to. This is clear and not subject to any other interpretations. By the provisions of this resolution Palestinian refugees have the right to return and are subject to two types of compensations which are ; namely:
· Compensation for the use and investment in the Palestinian property for more than fifty years since the establishment of the State of Israel.
· Compensation for the suffering of the Palestinian refugees that mainly stemmed from the ignorance of the international community to its humanitarian cause.
Since 1949 till this day, the different UN bodies have ratified Resolution (#194) more than 110 times. The United States was the only country that suspended its vote on this resolution in the last 6 times; though it had voted for it in all the previous times. It is, therefore, worth highlighting that the US has promoted the idea of compensation instead of the right of return. The Palestinian refugees reject this notion.
Security Council resolutions 237 from 14 June 1967, in its 1st paragraph urges Israel to provide safety and security for the inhabitants of the areas that had witnessed military operations; and to facilitate the return of those who had fled away from these areas as a result of the war.
Security Council Resolution 242 from 22 November 1967, called for the Security Council to achieve a just settlement for the Palestinian refugees' problem. The version of this resolution offers a wider framework for solving the Palestinian refugee question in 1967 and 1948 since it did not specify a comprehensive time frame for the solving the Palestinian refugees' question .
The Fourth Geneva Convention in 1949 says that in accordance with article 4 of this convention, that stipulates that any expulsion from the occupied territories to the territories of an occupier state or to the territories of any occupied or unoccupied state; irrespective of its causes, entitle the expellees to have the right to return to their homeland as soon as the invasion acts cease.
UN General Assembly Resolution No. 3236, 22 November 1974 stipulates in that the Palestinian refugees shall have the right of return to their homes and properties that had been expelled from.
The international legitimacy is represented by a set of decisions that have been issued by the Security Council or by the United Nations; with respect to the Palestinian refugees' question. The world is controlled by a uni-polar policy i.e. the American policy that is categorically biased and works in favor of Israel.
Convening an international conference of peace where all the countries and bodies that had been directly affected from the Israeli occupation outcomes in 1948, 1967, 1973 and 1982 shall take part can embody the international legitimacy. This conference is to be based on all UN Security Council resolutions.
The deviation from the UN legitimate resolutions has begun since the inception of Madrid conference where PLO was marginalized by accepting to take part under the auspices of the Jordanian delegation. The PLO has been the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. The Madrid conference was not based on the UN Resolution 194 that directly addressed the refugees’ question.
The Oslo agreement is considered an incomplete agreement since it lacks the international legitimacy as a reference; and since it had not received a full international concern.
Any peace treaty that overlooks the refugees' right of return to their territories that had been occupied in 1948 shall be doomed by complete failure. There shall not be peace unless refugees receive their right to go back to their homes.
UN Resolutions 242 and 338 shall not be considered the bases for securing a just solution since they do not clearly address the refugee issue.
UN Resolution 194 represents the minimal demand that the Palestinian refugees have accepted in order to solve their issue.
1. The Palestinian refugees' question should not be based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 since they are too general and vague in terms of the particularities of solving this issue fairly & squarely.
2. The Palestinian negotiators have to turn down any proposal that calls for the cancellation of the UN Resolutions because of the time element.
3. The UN Resolutions that deal with the Palestinian refugee questions must not be fragmented. There should be an adherence to all the international resolutions.
4. Dealing with a uni-polar policy should be avoided. Circumventing international legitimacy must not be accepted.
5. UN Resolution 242 should not be the only reference for any possible settlement of the refugees' issue.
6. The minimal demand for any settlement of the refugee question should be the UN Resolution 194.
7. Obliging the Palestinian negotiators to adhere to UN Resolution 194 by mobilizing the refugee masses in Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Moreover, refugees have to exercise their pressure on the international community, the Security Council, and the United Nations in order to urge them to shoulder their historic, moral, and humanitarian responsibilities towards the Palestinian refugees' question.
8. Calling for the direct implementation of UN Resolution 237 that was issued in 1967, which stipulates that all the Palestinian expellees, as a result of the Israeli invasion in 1967, have the right of return. This issue should have been resolved in the transitional stage of the negotiation process.
9. Stressing the fact that the refugees of 1948 and the expellees of 1967 are one entity. Israel has always tried to differentiate between those two categories. It is recommended that Palestinians have to accept the return of the expellees during the transitional period of negotiation as the provisions of Oslo agreement stipulate.
10. The 1967 expellees right of return to the PNA territories does not diminish their right to go back to their homes in the OPT in 1948 since the catastrophe sufferings can not be abolished retroactively i.e. by the course of time.
11. Emphasizing the unity of the Palestinian people whether they are inside or outside the PNA ought to be highlighted. Building a supporting public opinion for the Palestinians of 1948 since they had also been moved force from their original villages, cities and homes; and should have the right of return to their properties.
12. Israeli allegations about the demographic hazards have to be countered. There should be an emphasis that the right of return is not only legal but also historic.
13. Some of the Arab host countries issued a number of procedures that mainly aimed at facilitating the Palestinian refugees means of living. These procedures should not be considered a substitute of the refugees' right of return and compensation. Such procedures could be a preliminary step towards implementing the conspiracy of settling the refugees in these countries.
14. The Palestinian refugees, who reside in the PNA territories, ought to be considered as visitors until they gain their right to return that had been uprooted from in 1948.