Palestinians represent the world’s largest refugee population and one of its longest standing. Military conflict and political turmoil stemming from the Arab-Israeli dispute have forced millions of Palestinians to leave their homes and seek refuge elsewhere. Israeli settler organisations initiated, with the support of the Israeli authorities, forcible evictions of Palestinians from their homes.
The seeds of the conflict were sown in 1917 when the British foreign secretary Auther James Balfour expressed official support of Britain for a Jewish “national home” in Palestine under the Balfour declaration. The lack of concern for the “rights of existing non-Jewish communities”, i.e., the Arabs, resulted in long periods of violence.
The 1947-49 (war of independence) Palestine war marked the start of the wider Arab-Israeli conflict. During 1947 and 1948, Israel systematically demolished 531 Palestinian villages inside the area that became Israel. More than 200 of these villages were destroyed, and between 250,000 and 350,000 people were displaced before May 1948 when the first Arab-Israeli war officially began.
The UN presented a partition plan to create independent Jewish and Arab states in Palestine. Most Jews in Palestine accepted the partition, but most Arabs did not. The “two state solution” is based on a UN resolution of 1947 which proposed two states—one would be a state where Zionist Jews constituted a majority, the other where the Palestine Arabs would be a majority of the population.
The 1967 ‘six day war’ had a significant effect on Palestine nationalism, as Israel gained control of West Bank from Jordan and of Gaza Strip and Golan Heights from Egypt. Israel more than doubled its size. About 726,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled their homes in 1948 in the war that followed the creation of Israel and more Palestinians fled in 1967. There are about 4 million Palestinian refugees. Many of them live in crowded refugee camps in poor conditions in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. For about 70 years human rights violations in the 4th generation of Palestinian children are being reported in the refugee camps. Over a million Palestinians suffer discrimination in access to public services, lands and employment.
There were nearly 3 million Palestinians registered with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) as refugees in 1993, a number that increased to 3.8 million in 2000, and which stands at 5.7 million today. Israel has maintained its apartheid regime by establishing coercive environments designed to drive the ongoing transfer of Palestinians from their homes, lands, and property and to weaken the capacity of the Palestinian people to effectively challenge its institutionalised domination and oppression. The UNWRA has undertaken projects of shelter reconstruction and repair on the behalf of displaced Palestinians. The UNWRA also provides emergency humanitarian assistance including food and housing kits.
In 2004, Amnesty International explained that more than 3,000 homes, hundreds of public buildings and private commercial properties, and vast areas of agricultural land have been destroyed by the Israeli army and security forces in Israel and the Occupied Territories in the past three and a half years. Tens of thousands of men, women and children have been forcibly evicted from their homes and made homeless or have lost their source of livelihood.
The standard of living of Palestinians has reduced drastically over the years, limiting the flow of Palestinians coming to work due to strict checks at border checkpoints. Palestinians who come to work are often subjected to humiliating searching and very long waits at checkpoints. Following some terror attacks at checkpoints, IDF (Israel defense force) soldiers sometimes were too quick to open fire on suspicious and sometimes fired on civilians. The checkpoints around Jerusalem have made it difficult for Palestinians to get work in Jerusalem and travel in the city. The IDF has destroyed property and uprooted olive orchids of Palestinians.
The world at large needs to come together for a peaceful solution of the Israel-Palestinian ‘conflict’, for peaceful coexistence is the only way forward.
The writer has a Master’s in Library and Information Science from Kashmir University. [email protected]