Al-Shabaka Policy Brief
18 June 2013


Most discussion of Palestinian dispossession – including by Palestinians themselves – focuses on the 1948 Nakba and the forced exile of more than 700,000 Palestinians by Zionist forces intent on creating an Israeli state in mandate Palestine. However, the various measures that Israel has used to forcibly displace Palestinians since 1948 have received far less attention even though it is estimated that it has forcibly displaced 66% of the whole Palestinian population as part of its deliberate, longstanding plan to create and maintain a Jewish majority.

Al-Shabaka Policy Advisor Munir Nuseibah has identified six of the methods Israel uses to displace Palestinians, and discusses two – displacement by personal status engineering as well as by urban planning. He argues that the traditional human rights approach to the conflict is not enough. Rather, he calls on human rights advocates and organizations to apply the more recently developed transitional justice approach to deal with the mass human rights violations carried out as a matter of policy, as this is the only way toward meaningful redress and just peace.

The Missing Context for Claiming Rights

As shown in archival research conducted by the Israeli new historians, senior leaders of the Zionist movement have long advocated the “transfer” of Palestinians in order to secure a Jewish majority in an area of land where Jews were the minority. The founders of the State of Israel and their heirs translated these calls into policy and practice using a variety of methods that continue to the present day.1 Yet Israel’s motives and the systematic nature of population transfer have not been addressed. For example, the 1993 Declaration of Principles between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, which makes reference to “refugees” as one of the issues for permanent status negotiations, makes no mention of thousands of other displaced victims eligible for redress. (Needless to say, the rights of the refugees have not been addressed nor have any remedies been offered.)

It is common, in the rights-based approach literature to focus on war refugees separately from other waves of displacement. In the Palestinian context, however, it is vital to situate war refugees within the macro-picture of the conflict. As Raef Zreik notes, “the Palestinians have lost not only their rights and their land, but also the context that enables them to demand these rights in a way that makes sense.”2 The Palestinian refugees of 1947-48 and 1967 cannot “just” be seen as war refugees. They are victims of a racist policy of population transfer implemented under the cover of war and other sets of victims have been created in line with the same macro-policy.

The application of a transitional justice framework to the Palestinian-Israeli context can address the missing context Zreik identifies. The transitional justice framework has now been used in other conflicts but it has been not sufficiently studied in the case of Palestine, even though it offers a way to comprehensively redress the victims of gross human rights violations, as will be discussed in the final section of this policy brief.

Israel’s Six Methods of Forcible Displacement

Israel has utilized its legal system and institutions from the day it was established to this day in order to inflict forced displacement within the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) as well as within Israel. Its methods can be divided into at least six general categories and have led to permanent displacement of Palestinians from both sides of the Green Line.

  1. The use of violence during times of war as happened during the wars of 1948, 1956 and 1967, which created one of the most complicated refugee problems in the world as well as a significant number of internally displaced persons.
  2. Engineering of personal statuses in Israel and the OPT in a way that excludes habitual residents, or persons who should be entitled to residency rights, from the right to live in their homes.
  3. Discriminatory urban and country planning that encourages Jewish expansion and suppresses Palestinian construction in certain areas such as Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and the Negev desert. As a result, homes and even whole villages are demolished as “illegal constructions.”
  4. Dispossessing Palestinians of their property under discriminatory laws and regulations that result in the forced eviction of families from their places of residence.
  5. Deportations under security justifications and emergency law. This method was extensively used in the OPT at the start of the occupation and is still being used from time to time.
  6. Creating unbearable circumstances in certain areas that eventually drive the civilian population to leave their homes and move to other areas. Examples of this pattern include Sheikh Sa’ad village in Jerusalem and Al-Nu’man village in the West Bank where both communities were suffocated by the construction of the Separation Wall.