The Facts on the Ground

By Tommy Sheppard MP. Tommy is MP for Edinburgh East, Vice-Chair of the Westminster All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Palestine and co-Spokesperson for SNP Friends of Palestine at Westminster.

 

The hills around Jerusalem were drenched in sun the last time I was here. It brought out their significance and history. This week, though, the Holy Land has been visited by a Scottish winter. As I peer through the steamed up windows of our VW Transporter, it’s decidedly dreich out there.

I’m here on a parliamentary delegation to see if the political mood matches the weather. The trip is organised by the Committee for the Advancement of Arab British Understanding (www.caabu.org) and Medical Aid for Palestinians (www.map.org.uk). Over four days we have a packed schedule of meetings with Palestinian and Israeli officials, human rights groups and the UK Foreign Office. We also get the chance to see first-hand what it’s like to live under a military occupation.

While we are here Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is being entertained in Washington by President Trump. In one of his typical glib moments Trump tells the press “I’m looking at two states and one state, and I like the one that both parties like.” As he says it the world’s press and diplomatic industry are desperately trying to decipher what he means: is this a change in US policy or not?

Tempting as it is to see this as another spontaneous and reactionary outburst, I think it’s Trump’s way of buying time. The new US administration hasn’t yet decided which way to go and maybe, just maybe, they are beginning to understand the consequences of giving the Israeli right what they want. Things do look, however, like they might begin to move.

2017 is a year of anniversaries. It is now 50 years since Israel won the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and was left in military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, collectively known as the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt). It is the longest military occupation of modern times. This most intractable of disputes is fraught with the problems of competing descriptions of the same thing, competing realities.

Emmanuel Nahshon from the Israeli foreign office rejects the notion of occupation for starters. “How can this be occupied Palestine” he asks “when the West Bank was run by Jordan and the Gaza Strip by Egypt before the 1967 war?” It’s a disingenuous point. Sure, there’s never actually yet been a state of Palestine, but the territory in question was exactly where it was intended to be.

The Two State Solution

This was one of the key components of the Oslo agreement reached by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation the last time they tried to make peace back in 1994. As with so many other aspects of this debate you could say opinion is divided on the matter: Israel takes one view, the rest of the world has another.

The Oslo Accords saw the creation of a Palestinian Authority and the division of the West Bank into three zones. Areas A and B contained the cities and towns, with most of the population. Area C was the rest, comprising 62% of the land. This was placed under the administrative control of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) as agents of the occupying power. It’s hard to overstate the degree of compromise that the PLO made in 1994, they not only recognised the State of Israel but effectively conceded that it would occupy around 80% of historic Palestine.

The intention back in 1993 was that a process of transition would take place with the new PA gradually assuming responsibility for all of the West Bank and evolving into a new state of Palestine.  And there were to be further negotiations on a range of matters left undecided in Oslo: refugees, settlements and the status of Jerusalem being the main ones.

The creation of an independent state of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza living peacefully alongside a state of Israel based on the pre 1967 boundaries became known as the two state solution. This became the policy of pretty much everyone.

Two states is not a new idea. A hundred years ago then UK Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour’s declaration of support for a Jewish homeland also contained the qualification “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done that would be prejudice the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. As the British mandate came to a close in 1948, the UN proposed the creation of two states in the area: one Jewish, one Arab.

The objective of the two state solution is to do justice to competing territorial claims. But advocates of the policy ought to be clear that little would be achieved by creating two religious states, each armed to the teeth and living in seething tension with each other. It only works if the states respect each other and cooperate across the border. So if we talk about a Jewish state, or an Arab one, we should be clear we mean this in terms of the culture, history and demography of that country, but that civil and religious rights of everyone must be respected in a secular democratic society.

Permanent Occupation

The truth today is that only one of the two states exists. And that state is occupying the land intended for the other one. Until and unless the occupation ends, the two state solution cannot advance. Not only has the vision of Oslo not been realised, but Israel’s actions since have pushed it further and further away.

Over the last two decades Israel has used the zoning as a means to control the Palestinian population and ingrain and make permanent the occupation.  Most of the population has been hemmed into the urban areas A and B. On a map they look like an archipelago of Palestinian islands in a sea of Israeli occupied land.

In Area C two worlds exist.   Israel had commandeered much of the land as “state” land and then made it available to build residential settlements into which it moved Israeli citizens. This has been going on since the mid-70s and the existence of these enclaves throughout the West Bank was recognised in Oslo as an obstacle to be dealt with. Then there were about 200,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Today they are more than 600,000.

To the Palestinians – and to me –  this looks like a land grab. The UN has declared these settlements illegal and ruled them in breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits an occupying power moving its civilian population into areas it occupies.

We drove through a couple of these settlements. There is nothing low key or temporary about them. Most are modern towns and cities replete with the entire service and tech infrastructure you’d expect in a first world country. Nearby industrial development provides work and means that the settlements now have their own economy and are not just commuter zones into Israel proper. Leisure centres and shopping malls offer a good quality of life and it’s all protected by the fourth most powerful military in the world.

There are about a hundred settlements which have been established by religious extremists without authorisation from the Israeli government. These are known as “outposts” and effectively they are groups of people taking the law into their own hands and trespassing on land which is mostly owned by Palestinian farmers.

In a hardening of the Israeli government’s position the Knesset passed a law two weeks ago which will retrospectively legalise these outposts. If it goes through they will be given the same status and protection as the “official” settlements. This represents a major victory for the hard right Jewish Home party which is a minor partner in Netanyahu’s coalition government. The policy will be challenged in the Israeli Supreme Court and the Attorney General has said he will  not defend it. It remains to be seen, however, whether Netanyahu will simply find himself another Attorney General.

Credit: Tommy Sheppard

Demolitions

At the same time at the Israeli authorities have allowed, indeed encouraged, settlements, they pretty much prohibit any development by Palestinians.  We met with the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) who monitor the situation in the oPt and are the go to people for statistics. They told us that in 2015 a total of 15 building permits were issued in the oPt to Palestinians. If people go ahead and put up a structure anyway, including in one farm we visited, installing solar panels, they will be served with a demolition order. Demolitions have been increasing in recent years and OCHA recorded over a thousand last year. This makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to run a business. It also makes it impossible for towns and cities to develop as the adjoining land is controlled by the Israelis.

We have also witnessed how settlements are used to make the occupation work. Each settlement will have a buffer zone around it in which Palestinians are forbidden. So because settlements are built on hilltops in the midst of Palestinian farms it forces the local population into less and less space. The IDF not only patrol the perimeters, they regularly raid Palestinian villages breaking down doors in the middle of the night and arresting young men.

On top of this there are increasing reports of violence perpetrated by settlers, many of who are religious extremists. We travelled to a farmers’ cooperative just outside Ramallah who have recently built a new olive oil pressing factory supported by Oxfam. (you can buy their oil here in Edinburgh at Earthy and Real Foods – or check out www.zaytoun.org). They told us of gangs of settlers setting dogs on families whilst they were bringing in the olive harvest and cutting or uprooting trees in the olive groves.

The often fractious interaction between settlers and Palestinians is not regulated fairly. Palestinians are subject to martial law and dealt with in the military courts; settlers are dealt with much more leniently under Israeli civil law. So if there’s a fight between a Palestinian and a settler, the soldier will always arrest the Palestinian. He may phone his commander and suggest the police are notified about the settler, but more often than not no action will be taken. Nothing makes the comparison with Apartheid more real than this.

Gerald Horton is a softly spoken Australian barrister who, for the last 11 years, has been running Military Court Watch, an organisation which defends Palestinians caught up in the military courts. He says he appreciates the massive challenge facing the IDF. “Their duty is to protect 400,000 Israeli settlers in the midst of a population of 2.8 million Palestinians who do not want them there. To do that you have to subdue the host population and break their will to resist. That is what the raids, arrests and detentions are all about. It’s not about upholding the rule of law.”

Red Tape and Humiliation

Underpinning the occupation is a vast array of red tape. Permits are needed for everything and are used to control movement and activity. Much of this just becomes a way of life: everyday minor injustices and petty humiliations.  It becomes normal for the five mile journey to work to take two hours because of checkpoints. You just accept that you cannot leave the West Bank. But sometimes the human effects are inhumane.

We visited Makassid general hospital, one of six in East Jerusalem, which specialises in paediatrics. We saw several premature babies on incubators. One was born at 29 weeks and will stay on oxygen until she reaches two kilos. Her mother came from Gaza to deliver her but had to return when her permit ran out. Now she cannot visit as the authorities say the baby is the patient and you have to be getting treatment to get a permit.

The doctors at Makassid also told us that a major problem they experience is “back to back transfers” of patients. This is where an ambulance from Gaza or the West Bank is stopped at a checkpoint and the patient is stretchered through the controls to a separate ambulance waiting on  the Israeli side. On average this takes 24 minutes and the delay has been fatal on occasion.

Daoud Nassar is a Palestinian farmer and head of the only Christian family left in the Palestinian village of Nahalin 9 kilometres south-west of Bethlehem. His grandfather bought the land in 1916 when the area was part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1991 the IDF declared the farm “state land” and sent him an eviction notice. But Daoud, unlike most farmers, had all the original deeds and decided to fight the notice in the courts. He’s been doing that for the last 25 years. He has also had 22 separate demolitions served on him for every structure on the farm, each of which he is resisting in the courts.

The day before we visited the IDF used bulldozers to block the road from the farm to Bethlehem. Daoud has been told it is for security reasons. He hopes to persuade the local commander to remove it – he is effectively cut off by road and visitors have to park at the roadblock and walk the final kilometre to the farm. Daoud explains how the roadblocks and checkpoints severely affect his work at harvest time. “During the grape season we pick early in the morning and try to get to market quickly. But sometimes we are held up for hours. We do not have refrigerated trucks  so in the hot sun the grapes spoil and by the time we get through they are sub-standard. “

Credit: Tommy Sheppard

He calls the farm the Tent of Nations and is campaigning throughout the country under the slogan “We refuse to be enemies”.  Listening to this gentle man tell his story with quiet determination I think the phrase “patience of a saint” could never have been more apt.

Jerusalem

The Israeli Government’s actions in Jerusalem do most to undermine a two state solution. Since East Jerusalem was annexed in 1967 the authorities have been pursuing the twin objectives of increasing the Jewish population of the city whilst simultaneously reducing the Arab population. This process is known as the Judaisation of Jerusalem.

For four decades Israel has been building settlements to the east of the city in the occupied West Bank. These are effectively suburbs of Jerusalem and right wing members of the Knesset are urging the government to now annex the occupied areas including the major settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. If that happens it will effectively cut the West Bank in two.

Inside the city the Palestinian area in East Jerusalem is under intense pressure. Sarit Michaeli from the Israeli Human Rights Organisation B’tselem (www.btselem.org) took us to the neighbourhood of Silwan lying in the shadow of the Al Aqsa mosque. We met community activist  Zuheir Rajabi who organises 81 families in this area of the old city. He’s lived there all his life but has now been served with an eviction notice on behalf of a Jewish trust which claims ownership from the nineteenth century. Like most of his neighbours he has no paperwork to prove his ownership of the property. Like most, he never thought he’d need it.

One by one Palestinian homes are being taken over by Jewish families who see themselves as the vanguard of the new Jerusalem. You can tell their homes from the massive blue and white Israeli flags in which thy are draped. These settlers seem to revel in the opposition they face from the long established Palestinian population, Zuheir claims they are determined to provoke a reaction. He points to the private security police which guard each settler family, paid for by the city council out of his taxes.

If there is to be a Palestinian state, then East Jerusalem would be its capital as the historic claims on this city are shared by both Muslims and Jews for whom it is equally significant. Judaisation is designed to prevent this from happening.

One state solution?

Israel has paid lip service to the idea of a Palestinian state even as its every policy seems to make this harder and harder to achieve. But now the coalition government may be ready to ditch the idea completely and pursue the objective of a greater Israel by annexing the Palestinian territories. I assume that this was on the agenda in Washington this week.

For the first time there is a majority in the Israeli cabinet which opposes a two state solution. This week several ministers took advantage of the Netanyahu visit to restate their vision. “Israel needs to say loudly and clearly: no to a Palestinians state, yes to an expanded, complete and united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty” says Transport Minister Yisrael Katz.  Education Minister Naftali Bennett who leads the extreme right party Jewish Home and is part of Netanyahu’s coalition, went further: “We need to say that everywhere, to every Christian and Muslim in Europe and to every Jew in Israel and in the world. The Land of Israel is ours. Period.”

Parties like Jewish Home are clear in their intention. The want to see a state of Israel which stretches across all of historic Palestine from the Mediterranean to the Jordan river. They want it to be a religious state where civil rights are related to Judaism. They are in a minority for now but there seems no doubt that opinion in Israel has shifted markedly to the right.

Most of the Israelis we met would describe themselves as liberal or left wing. I was intrigued to know how they saw things. Sarit from B’tselem says the word “left” is a dirty word in Israel at the moment so they don’t use it. “We are pessimistic but more resilient than ever” she tells me. Even with the shift to the right polls still suggest a majority of ordinary Israelis favour a two state solution and would end the occupation if it brought peace.

One of the many wonderful Israeli campaigners we met was Yehuda Shaul who founded Breaking the Silence (www.breakingthesilence.org.il) eleven years ago. It’s an organisation which records and publishes the testimony of formers members of the IDF and campaigns against the occupation. A cuddly bear of a man he talks incessantly, anxious to explain every detail of his argument. An IDF veteran himself Yehuda says he is treated like a traitor by many and there’s a campaign to outlaw his organisation which has so far told the stories of more than a thousand former soldiers. He says things will get worse before they get better but he is confident that his vies will prevail. “Don’t’ get me wrong” he says “I’m a Zionist. I believe in a Jewish homeland. But the occupation is destroying Israel. It will have to end.”

So with the mood in Israel hardening and the US considering policy change, what should the UK Government be doing? Well, first and foremost, we need to realise that Israel gets away with policies that the world consistently condemns because the world sits back and lets them. If we believe not just in a secure Israel but in justice for the Palestinians, it’s now time to apply some leverage.

At dinner I’m seated beside the UK’s deputy ambassador. He tells us that relations between the UK and Israel have never been better, describing a range of new trade agreements signed in recent weeks. In the next breath he tells us our government is putting pressure on the Israelis over the occupation and settlement expansion. I point out that these two things may contradict each other.

These are good questions he says, but really I should ask them of Number Ten.

So I will. Here’s four things I’ll be asking the UK Government in the year ahead.

  1. In marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, make it clear that there is unfinished business and it is now time to make things right for Palestine. And to make that clear the UK Government should officially recognise the State of Palestine as 136 other nations have now done.
  2. Having supported the UN resolution on 23rd December, now implement it. In particular, issue guidance to businesses making clear the difference between Israel itself and the occupied territories.
  3. Instead of sending observers to international peace talks, step up and take a leadership role. Britain, more than most, has a responsibility for the situation that we have in that part to the world today.
  4. Use aid money to support peace and human rights organisation in both Israel itself and in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Joyous News From Palestine

by Craig Murray: Author, broadcaster and human rights activist, Craig was British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004 and Rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010, and member of SNP Friends of Palestine.

 

Please do read the full text of Security Council Resolution 2334, passed on Saturday 24th December:

The Security Council,
Reaffirming its relevant resolutions, including resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973), 446 (1979), 452 (1979), 465 (1980), 476 (1980), 478 (1980), 1397 (2002), 1515 (2003), and 1850 (2008),

Guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and reaffirming, inter alia, the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force,

Reaffirming the obligation of Israel, the occupying Power, to abide scrupulously by its legal obligations and responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of 12 August 1949, and recalling the advisory opinion rendered on 9 July 2004 by the International Court of Justice,

Condemning all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, including, inter alia, the construction and expansion of settlements, transfer of Israeli settlers, confiscation of land, demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians, in violation of international humanitarian law and relevant resolutions,

Expressing grave concern that continuing Israeli settlement activities are dangerously imperilling the viability of the two-State solution based on the 1967 lines,

Recalling the obligation under the Quartet Roadmap, endorsed by its resolution 1515 (2003), for a freeze by Israel of all settlement activity, including “natural growth”, and the dismantlement of all settlement outposts erected since March 2001,

Recalling also the obligation under the Quartet roadmap for the Palestinian Authority Security Forces to maintain effective operations aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror and dismantling terrorist capabilities, including the confiscation of illegal weapons,

Condemning all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation, incitement and destruction,
Reiterating its vision of a region where two democratic States, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders,

Stressing that the status quo is not sustainable and that significant steps, consistent with the transition contemplated by prior agreements, are urgently needed in order to (i) stabilize the situation and to reverse negative trends on the ground, which are steadily eroding the two-State solution and entrenching a one-State reality, and (ii) to create the conditions for successful final status negotiations and for advancing the two-State solution through those negotiations and on the ground,

1. Reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace;

2. Reiterates its demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and that it fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard;

3. Underlines that it will not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations;
4. Stresses that the cessation of all Israeli settlement activities is essential for salvaging the two-State solution, and calls for affirmative steps to be taken immediately to reverse the negative trends on the ground that are imperilling the two-State solution;

5. Calls upon all States, bearing in mind paragraph 1 of this resolution, to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967;

6. Calls for immediate steps to prevent all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation and destruction, calls for accountability in this regard, and calls for compliance with obligations under international law for the strengthening of ongoing efforts to combat terrorism, including through existing security coordination, and to clearly condemn all acts of terrorism;

7. Calls upon both parties to act on the basis of international law, including international humanitarian law, and their previous agreements and obligations, to observe calm and restraint, and to refrain from provocative actions, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric, with the aim, inter alia, of de-escalating the situation on the ground, rebuilding trust and confidence, demonstrating through policies and actions a genuine commitment to the two-State solution, and creating the conditions necessary for promoting peace;

8. Calls upon all parties to continue, in the interest of the promotion of peace and security, to exert collective efforts to launch credible negotiations on all final status issues in the Middle East peace process and within the time frame specified by the Quartet in its statement of 21 September 2010;

9. Urges in this regard the intensification and acceleration of international and regional diplomatic efforts and support aimed at achieving, without delay a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East on the basis of the relevant United Nations resolutions, the Madrid terms of reference, including the principle of land for peace, the Arab Peace Initiative and the Quartet Roadmap and an end to the Israeli occupation that began in 1967; and underscores in this regard the importance of the ongoing efforts to advance the Arab Peace Initiative, the initiative of France for the convening of an international peace conference, the recent efforts of the Quartet, as well as the efforts of Egypt and the Russian Federation;

10. Confirms its determination to support the parties throughout the negotiations and in the implementation of an agreement;

11. Reaffirms its determination to examine practical ways and means to secure the full implementation of its relevant resolutions;

12. Requests the Secretary-General to report to the Council every three months on the implementation of the provisions of the present resolution;

13. Decides to remain seized of the matter.

Given the difficulties of negotiating such resolutions between 15 states, the language is remarkably forthright. The relief of the UN Secretariat itself at the UN acting after eight years of US veto impasse, shines through the accurate but stark headline of the official UN press release on the resolution:

Israel’s Settlements Have No Legal Validity, Constitute Flagrant Violation of International Law, Security Council Reaffirms

In one sense the Resolution is a statement of the blindingly obvious. But it has had such a political impact because Israel, with its politics switched radically to the right by Eastern European immigration, had really come under Netanyahu to believe it could simply strangle the Palestinians acre by acre, and the neo-con political hegemony in the West was so unshakeable there could never be any comeback.

Trump’s apparent hardline Zionism since his election has been a disappointment and was not really prefigured by the balance of his past pronouncements, although as usual with him they are all over the place. But of course he now has no ability to revoke or undermine this resolution; there is no retrospective veto. I retain a hope that Trump will come to regard the US$34 billion a year the USA gives in military assistance to Israel a very strange way to spend the taxpayers’ money.

It might be argued that Obama’s decision not to veto the Resolution shows his true decent instincts once political machination is no longer a factor. I have been undecided whether he is a decent but timid man prepared to go along with the machinations of hard power without any fights that would make his own life less comfortable, or a total charlatan who was always just a puppet of the powerful. It took eight years for me to tend towards the slightly less appalling option. Certainly Hillary, an uncompromising Zionist who refused to condemn illegal settlements when Bernie Sanders did so, would have vetoed the resolution. In a strange way, Trump’s victory allowed it to pass; if Clinton had won, Obama would have very probably felt bound to defer to her wish to veto it.

My own view is that it is too late for a two state solution. I wrote recently of my work on apartheid South Africa, and I find the two state model proposed for Israel/Palestine irresistibly reminiscent of the Bantustan proposals of the apartheid South African government. There is no economically and politically viable state to be constructed out of the overcrowded and cut off territories of the West Bank and Palestine, even without the massive seizures of land and water resources that have occurred within them. To reverse enough of 1967 settlements for a viable Palestinian state in a two state solution wpuld involve an unacceptable further uprooting of people.

This next bit of my opinion angers some – but only some – of my Palestinian friends. I see a single, secular state as the only viable long term solution, but to negotiate this would entail accepting that a large number of post 1967 settlers should stay where they are. Not all, but it is very difficult to see how any agreement could ever be negotiated that does not accept most of the facts on the ground. I see a read across here from the Cyprus negotiations, where Greek Cypriots have a great difficulty in accepting that Turkish settlers must remain. And I believe that like Cyprus, a federal political solution which does not attempt to move populations around further, seems to me the best basis to move forward.

For me, the Security Council’s observation that Israeli settlements “are steadily eroding the two-State solution and entrenching a one-State reality” and the “cessation of all Israeli settlement activities is essential for salvaging the two-State solution, and calls for affirmative steps to be taken immediately to reverse the negative trends on the ground that are imperilling the two-State solution”, are accurate descriptions of a process which in fact has already gone beyond the point of no return. The irony is, of course, that it is the Israeli government who are horrified by the idea of a single state solution; yet they have made a two state solution impossible. That leaves them the choice of sharing the land with the Palestinians, and a settlement involving massive financial compensation, or continuing complicity in the slow genocide of the Palestinians herded into their ever shrinking territories.

The Security Council has shown Israel that the whole world is horrified by what they are doing to the Palestinians. It will take further time for the Security Council to acknowledge that their own proposed solution really is no longer viable.

UN Security Council passes resolution condemning illegal Israeli settlements.

The UN Security Council has this evening, 23/12/16,  passed a resolution, with 14 votes, condemning Israel’s illegal settlements in occupied Palestine, calling them a “flagrant violation of international law”.

It’s important to note that, in the final days of the Obama administration, the US abstained and did not veto the resolution.

The Egyptian-drafted resolution had been withdrawn after Israel asked US President Elect Donald Trump to intervene but it was tabled again by Malaysia, New Zealand and Venezuela.

The resolution as passed -

* “Reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution.”

 
* “Reiterates its demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.”

 
* Stresses that the cessation of all Israeli settlement activities is essential for salvaging the two-state solution, and calls for affirmative steps to be taken immediately to reverse the negative trends on the ground that are imperiling the two-state solution.”

 
* “Underlines that it will not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations.”

 
* “Calls upon all States, to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.”

 
* “Calls for immediate steps to prevent all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation and destruction, calls for accountability in this regard, and calls for compliance with obligations under international law for the strengthening of ongoing efforts to combat terrorism, including through existing security coordination, and to clearly condemn all acts of terrorism; and to refrain from provocative actions, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric.”


 

Israeli forces raid Gaza Strip refugee camp.

This morning, 31st August, Israeli occupation forces accompanying 4 armoured bulldozers raided the al-Bureij refugee

Israeli armoured bulldozers raid Gaza refugee camp.
Israeli armoured bulldozers raid Gaza refugee camp.

camp, located in the central Gaza strip, and leveled lands in the Deir Al-Balah district.

It was reported that four Israeli bulldozers crossed into the Gaza Strip from Israel and raided the east side of the camp as Israeli drones flew overhead. Witnesses also added that Israeli soldiers randomly opened fire, though at this time no injuries have been reported.

It is important to remember that Israel claim to longer occupy Gaza since their ‘disengagement’ in 2005. However since this ‘disengagement’ the Israeli military have continually made significant incursions into Gaza and after the last military assault on the Gaza strip in 2014, the occupation forces have maintained a presence on a sizeable tranche of land within the strip which they deem a security buffer zone, and from which they can launch further incursions.

 

As of August 22, the United Nations had documented 45 Israeli military incursions into the Gaza Strip.

MAP & Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights launch refugee initiative.

Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights (LPHR) and Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) have launched an initiative to ensure that the most vulnerable Palestinian refugees from ‪#Syria‬ are given equal access to international protection by the UK government’s relevant resettlement schemes.index

They have identified and received confirmation that Palestinian refugees from Syria are excluded from the UK government’s flagship Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme. Furthermore, they have obtained information from the UK government which reveals that no Palestinian refugees from Syria have to date been resettled in the UK through the ‘Gateway’ resettlement programme that it operates with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

 

You can read and download the full briefing here.

The Unique Vulnerability of Palestinian Refugees from Syria.

By Anne Irfan
PHD CANDIDATE, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS
This paper was presented in a Parliamentary seminar in the House of Commons on 21 March 2016.

As we are all too aware, Syria today is in the midst of a major humanitarian
disaster. More than 5 million Syrians have fled the country since the start of the
Civil War 5 years ago, leading the UN to describe the situation as the worst
refugee crisis since the Second World War.1 What we have heard much less about
is the plight of the many Palestinian refugees also fleeing Syria, and in the process
becoming twice or even three-times displaced as a long-term stateless population.

This evening, we want to highlight not only the numbers of Palestinian refugees
from Syria but also their particular vulnerabilities. To put it simply, Palestinian
refugees are suffering from further persecution and torment simply because they are
Palestinian.
At the core of their plight is of course their statelessness, which makes them
inherently vulnerable for the obvious reason that they lack the protection of a
state. In the case of Palestinian refugees from Syria, they are additionally
vulnerable because they also lack the protection of many other states and
international organisations which are responding to the crisis by focussing
exclusively on Syrian refugees, rather than all refugees from Syria. While this might
sound like merely an issue of semantics, it is in fact an important distinction.

Before the beginning of the Syrian war in 2011, there were around 560,000
registered Palestinian refugees living in Syria.2 This population can be traced to the
original refugees from Palestine in 1948 and their descendants. Their conditions in
pre-war Syria were relatively good; although they lacked citizenship, the
Palestinians were well-integrated into Syrian society and enjoyed many of the same
rights as Syrian citizens, including access to healthcare, education and
employment. Their situation was much better, by comparison, than that of
Palestinians in neighbouring Lebanon, who are denied the right to work in
professions, to own property or access state services.

Today the situation of Palestinians in Syria has changed drastically. More than
100,000 Palestinians have fled Syria, and it is estimated that around half of these
(45,000) have sought refuge in Lebanon. 3 The numbers fleeing to Lebanon
increased after January 2013, when the Jordanian government imposed a ban on
Palestinian refugees from Syria entering the country (although it has continued to
accept Syrians). The Jordanian ban drove many Palestinians escaping Syria to
travel to Lebanon instead, putting a huge amount of pressure on already overstretched
Lebanese resources. The Lebanese government subsequently closed
its doors to Palestinian refugees from Syria in May 2014.4

This has left those Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria with very few options. As
already mentioned, these people are uniquely vulnerable because of their
statelessness; they are also uniquely vulnerable because the international
organisations that were theoretically created to help them, actually leave them at a
major institutional disadvantage. Under international convention, Palestinian
refugees are administered and categorised differently not only to Syrians but to
every other group of refugees in the world. If this seems absurd, it is worth noting
that it is nothing new; it is certainly not limited to the last 5 years. In fact, this kind
of ‘Palestinian exceptionalism’ has always been the case, dating back to the very
beginning of their existence as a large-scale refugee population.

To recap briefly, the Palestinian refugee crisis began in 1948, in what is known as
the Nakba (meaning ‘the catastrophe’) when around three-quarters of the
Palestinian population lost their homes and became refugees. The newly-created
United Nations, which had been operational for 3 years at the time, intervened
directly. In 1949, it created the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine
Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), to respond specifically and exclusively to
the plight of Palestinian refugees. UNRWA became responsible for their welfare
in the 5 geographical fields with the largest Palestinian refugee population: the
West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and of course Syria. Since then, the Agency
has provided a huge range of major services that would conventionally be the
domain of the state, including healthcare, education and poverty relief.

The year after the UN created UNRWA, it moved to establish a broader
organisation for refugees across the world. In 1950 it created the office of the UN
High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). When the UN created UNHCR, the
crucial decision was made that UNRWA would not be merged with it. Instead,
both organisations continued to exist alongside one another, with UNRWA
responsible for Palestinian refugees, and UNHCR responsible for all other
refugees globally. As a result, the Palestinians are the only group of people
excluded from UNHCR’s mandate.5

This set-up remains in place to this day, such that UNHCR is responsible for all
refugees in the world, except the Palestinians. Today, Palestinian refugees are
cared for by one organisation, and everyone else is served by another organisation.
One might ask why this matters, if the result is that everyone is ultimately being
served. It matters because there are fundamental differences in what these two
organisations – UNRWA and UNHCR – are mandated to do. UNRWA has a
much more limited mandate than UNHCR, which has put the Palestinian refugees
at a serious disadvantage.

Most crucially, there is a disparity in the two organisations’ mandates for
providing protection to the refugees they serve. UNRWA is not mandated to
provide protection to the Palestinian refugees or to pursue political solutions to
their plight. Instead, this is the role of yet another UN body, UNCCP.6 UNCCP
was established in 1948, just before UNRWA, with a mandate to pursue political
solutions to the Palestinian refugee crisis. In reality UNCCP has been inactive for
many decades now. UNRWA claims that it has a de facto mandate for protection,
and its work in this area has increased over the last two decades, but it remains
informal and adhoc.7 Ultimately no UN organisation is formally mandated to
provide protection or pursue political solutions for the Palestinian refugees.

By contrast, UNHCR is mandated to provide protection and to pursue political
solutions for the refugees it serves – for example, it explicitly promotes return as a
solution.8 Of course, the Palestinians are excluded from UNHCR’s mandate,
generating what is known as a ‘protection gap’ whereby the Palestinian refugees
are left uniquely vulnerable.

Moreover, in practical terms UNRWA is also limited by its geographical
constraints. UNRWA is only mandated to work in the 5 fields of the West Bank,
Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and of course Syria. By contrast UNHCR has a much
larger mandate to operate across the world in every continent.

What does all this mean for Palestinian refugees from Syria? Unfortunately, this
disparity between UNRWA and UNHCR, and the resulting protection gap, had a
host of negative repercussions for Palestinians fleeing Syria today.

Firstly and fundamentally, it means that Palestinian refugees are lacking formal
protection at a time when they need it most. As Palestinian refugees are ineligible
for UNHCR services and are not Syrian citizens, too often they are falling through
the gaps and not being able to access the services they need. As they cannot
register with UNHCR, their numbers, needs and conditions are excluded from the
data.

There is a particular problem when Palestinians from Syria seek refuge outside the
5 geographical fields where UNRWA works. In theory, in these situations they
should fall under the mandate of UNHCR; Palestinian refugees become eligible for
UNHCR services when they are outside UNRWA’s fields of operation. 9 In
practice, this is often quite complicated, and the Syrian refugee crisis has only
served to highlight the difficulties.

For example, Turkey shares a long border with Syria and has received many
refugees fleeing the civil war, both Syrian and Palestinian. Turkey is outside
UNRWA’s fields of operation, and UNHCR operates there through the Turkish
government. Unfortunately, there are reports that Palestinian refugees from Syria
have not been allowed to register with UNHCR in Turkey.10 As the Turkish
government does not allow UNHCR to perform refugee status determination, the
Palestinians’ legal status in Turkey remains unclear.11

The situation is even worse in Egypt, where the government does not allow
Palestinians to register with UNHCR on the explicit grounds that they come
under the mandate of UNRWA. As UNRWA is not mandated to work in Egypt,
the result is that Palestinians there lack any assistance whatsoever, let alone
protection. In contrast to Syrian citizens, Palestinians in Egypt cannot register
with UNHCR as refugees and therefore they cannot receive residence permits, or
access food vouchers, medical support or any emergency relief.12 Even worse,
there are reports that some have been forcibly deported back to Syria, in
contravention of the 1951 Refugee Convention.13

Even those Palestinian refugees from Syria who have been able to register with
UNRWA in Jordan or Lebanon, remain at a disadvantage. They must rely on the
very limited resources of UNRWA, which is already hugely overstretched.
UNRWA’s financial problems have only worsened due to the Syrian crisis, and it
is of course the Palestinian refugees who are suffering as a result.14

Finally, Palestinians are ineligible for many of the special programmes that have
been set up to aid Syrian refugees, including the one that David Cameron has
launched on behalf of the UK government. Mr Cameron announced in
September 2015 that the UK will take 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next 5
years. He also announced that these 20,000 refugees will be identified through
UNHCR, which will mean that Palestinians are automatically excluded.

In view of this, the question remains as to what action can be taken.
Fundamentally, there is a need to insert the plight of the Palestinians into the
many discussions taking place about Syria. Many people are simply not aware that
there are Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria at all, let alone that they suffer from
particular discrimination. The task of ‘raising awareness’ may sound clichéd, but it
is a vital first step to take.

In this spirit, the UK charity Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) is launching a
new factsheet on Palestinian refugees from Syria, with the objective of spreading
the word about their plight. Highlighting the Palestinians’ exclusion from relief
programmes is also vital. MAP is petitioning the UK government to ensure that
its response to the Syrian refugee crisis does not exclude Palestinians. The petition
can be viewed and signed online at www.map-uk.org/Syria

Unfortunately, the conditions of many Palestinian refugees from Syria are dire and
getting worse every day. Action needs to be taken as soon as possible to prevent
total catastrophe. While raising awareness may seem basic, it really is a necessary
step to ensure that Palestinian refugees from Syria can get the protection and the
assistance they so desperately need.


1 http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=52055#.VvKGdse3Pww
2 http://www.map-uk.org/news/archive/post/364—palestinian-refugees-from-syriabetween-
dispossession-and-displacement
3 Ibid.
4 https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2014/07/families-ripped-apart-palestinianrefugees-
syria-denied-entry-lebanon/; https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/08/07/jordanpalestinians-
escaping-syria-turned-away ;
http://www.mapuk.org/news/archive/post/364—palestinian-refugees-from-syriabetween-
dispossession-and-displacement
5 Article ID of the 1951 Refugee Convention excludes ‘persons who are at present
receiving from organs or agencies of the UN other than the UNHCR protection or
assistance’. The Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA are the only group to
whom this applies.
6 United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine
7 Lance Bartholomeusz, ‘The Mandate of UNRWA at Sixty’, Refugee Survey Quarterly, 28:2-
3, 452-474; Susan Akram, ‘Reinterpreting Palestinian Refugee Rights under International
Law’, in Nasser Aruri (ed.), Palestinian Refugees: The Right of Return (London: Pluto Press,
2001), 165-194.
8 The preface to the UNHCR Handbook on Voluntary Repatriation states: ‘voluntary
repatriation is usually viewed as the most desirable long-term solution by the refugees
themselves as well as by the international community. UNHCR’s humanitarian action in
pursuit of lasting solutions to the refugee problems is therefore oriented, first and
foremost, in favor of enabling a refugee to exercise the right to return home in safety and
with dignity.’ UNHCR, Voluntary Repatriation: International Protection (Geneva, 1996).
9 See also Endnote 5. The second paragraph of Article 1D states that ‘when such
protection or assistance has ceased for any reason, without the position of such persons
being definitively settled…. these persons shall ipso facto be entitled to the benefits of this
Convention.’ This is usually interpreted to mean that when registered Palestinian
refugees have ceased to receive UNRWA services as a result of being outside its 5 fields
of operation, they consequently become entitled to UNHCR services. See also: UNHCR,
Revised Note on the Applicability of Article 1D of the 1951 Convention relating to the
Status of Refugees to Palestinian Refugees, October 2009.
10 http://www.badil.org/phocadownload/badil-new/publications/periodicals/almajdal/
al-majdal-57.pdf
11 https://al-shabaka.org/briefs/palestinian-refugees-from-syria-stranded-on-themargins-
of-law/
12 http://www.badil.org/phocadownload/badil-new/publications/periodicals/almajdal/
al-majdal-57.pdf
13 Article 33 of the 1951 Convention prohibits signatory states from expelling refugees to
territories where their lives may be endangered (the principle of non-refoulement). Turkey
and Egypt are both parties to this Convention.
14 In 2014 UNRWA reported a deficit of over $60 million. Its funding crisis was so
severe last year that it had to delay the start of the school year while it sought emergency
funding.