As the world’s largest and most protracted displaced population, Palestinian Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) today number 8.7 Million, constituting 66.7 percent of the Palestinian people. Yet, neither the internationally mandated bodies nor the international community, have taken any measures to adequately address this ongoing Nakba (catastrophe) by the provision of just and durable solutions as stipulated by international law, and as embodied in UNGA Resolution 194 of 1948 and UNSC Resolution 337 of 1967.
Since 1948, Palestinian refugees and IDPs have been denied their fundamental rights by Israel and suffer from the lack of international protection that they are entitled to. Instead, Palestinian refugees and IDPs face unfounded challenges and new obstacles, led conspicuously by the United States of America (USA) Trump administration. With the aim to exempt Israel from its legal obligations and responsibilities and to eliminate Palestinian refugees’ right to repatriation, the US administration has launched a campaign targeting both the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the well-established status of Palestinian refugees under international law.
After decades of providing substantial financial support to the UNRWA, the USA abruptly terminated its funding and works, thereby transferring international responsibility to host states, while shirking its responsibility and ultimately leading to the deactivation of this vital agency. Additionally, the Trump administration seeks to revoke the status of Palestinian refugees in direct contradiction to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and States’ historic and best practices. The American administration’s actions are part of a wider campaign that aim at imposing a one-sided solution on Palestinian refugees – contrary to international law, relevant UN resolutions, and the principle of justice.
The ongoing Nakba is further exacerbated by Israeli policies of forcible displacement and forcible transfer in Mandatory Palestine , and significant secondary displacement of Palestinian refugees from historic host countries, such as Syria. Another feature of the lack of international protection is the unequal treatment of Palestinian refugees when compared to other refugee populations as a result of discriminatory policies they are subjected to in many third countries. In this context, it is necessary to emphasize that individual states and the UNHCR are under an international obligation to ensure Palestinian refugees’ entitlement to rights equal to other refugee populations.
Regardless, Palestinian refugees and IDPs continue to call for their right of return. In the Gaza Strip, the “Great Return” marches have been ongoing since 30 March 2018. The demand for the inalienable right of return by the Palestinian population in Gaza has been met with the illegal and excessive use of force by the Israeli military. As of 10 May 2019, 206 Palestinians, including 44 children, have been killed; and nearly 17,000 Palestinians have been injured, including 8,394 wounded by live ammunition by the Israeli forces. In May 2018, the UN created an independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate Israeli military practices in the Gaza Strip. In summation, the Commission Chair, Santiago Canton of Argentina stated:“The Commission has reasonable grounds to believe that during the Great March of Return, Israeli soldiers committed violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Some of those violations may constitute war crimes and/or crimes against humanity, and must be immediately investigated . . .”
In its report, the Commission strongly recommended that the UN and member states activate international justice mechanisms, such as sanctions, the ICC and criminal jurisdiction, to investigate and seek accountability for the perpetrators of the crimes committed.
International complacency vis-à-vis the rights of the Palestinian people – particularly the right to reparations – facilitates the continuation and intensification of the ongoing Nakba. The passivity of the international community impacts those who have already been displaced while simultaneously, encourages further displacement, as Israel continues to enjoy impunity for international crimes. As such, third party states must necessarily and promptly recognize that any just and durable solution to the Palestinian Question must begin with the adoption and implementation of a rights-based approach. Failure to do so will maintain the status quo in which international protection is absent, and in which Palestinians are condemned to additional and more protracted displacement.
Therefore, the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (PHROC) fervently calls on:
• The UNGA to establish a mandatory financing mechanism, rather than voluntary state contributions, in order to secure consistent and sustainable funding of UNRWA and to expand the mandate of UNRWA in order to fulfill the legal protection standards that refugees are entitled to.
• States and UN Agencies, particularly the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to uphold and fulfill their obligations and responsibilities to provide humanitarian aid and assistance as well as physical and legal protection to Palestinian refugees, and to end their discriminatory exclusion from the international and/or national protection system/s;
• UN member states and UNHRC to adopt and implement the recommendations in the report submitted by the UN Commission of Inquiry on the oPt Protests, including the immediate activation of international accountability measures to bring Israel into compliance with its obligations under international law and prosecute perpetrators of international crimes.