Shaml - Palestinian Dispora &Refugee Centre
P.O. Box 38152
East Jerusalem 9700
Telephone: (02) 998-7537 Fax: (02) 998-6598
It is a matter of concern that the current peace process has not had a positive impact on Palestinian refugees in neighboring countries. On the contrary, all indications point to a further deterioration in their living conditions. Travel and employment restrictions on this group have increased ever since the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991.
It is also noteworthy how the international community has speedily rid itself of its responsibilities towards these refugees. As a result, since the beginning of 1992 UNRWA has accumulated a deficit which now exceeds $45 million. The direct effect of this deficit has been cuts in UNRWA services to refugees.
The last conference of major donors in Amman, called for by the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, did not resolve this chronic financial problem.
Despite an understanding that neither peace nor stability can exist in the region without an answer being found for the refugee problem, resolution of this question is not foreseeable in the near future. The establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state remains the key to resolving this issue.
The position taken by the new Israeli government, as well as the violent clashes of last September, clearly show that there is a long way to go before this goal is achieved. Donor states are making a major mistake by their precipitate burial of UNRWA. Arab countries who impose restrictions on refugees and try to use them as a card to pursue their narrow interests are also miscalculating. The problem, succinctly put, is that the Palestinian refugees, particularly those bearing Egyptian and Lebanese travel documents, are paying a high price for such errors, while no one seems concerned about their suffering.
Although there are no precise statistics on Palestinians in Libya, it is estimated that around 20,000 Palestinians remained in Libya after the mass deportation of Palestinians in the summer of 1994. Work contracts for most of these Palestinians were terminated in the past three years but they have stayed in Libya simply because there is no other place for them to go. About 90% of these Palestinians are Gazans who hold Egyptian travel documents and who are refused entry to the Gaza Strip by the Israeli authorities. They are not allowed into Egypt without proof of residency elsewhere. These Palestinians are consequently denied the right to live in their own homes and are denied the right to reside anywhere else.
The majority of these Palestinians came to Libya in the 1970s seeking work opportunities after they lost their rights to return to the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel in 1967. They were denied opportunities to live and work in other Arab countries for a number of reasons. These factors included the 1970-1971 military confrontations between Palestinian resistance groups and the Jordanian army, the civil war in Lebanon, and the restrictions imposed by Egypt and Gulf states on residency and work opportunities for Palestinians in their respective jurisdictions. This move was facilitated by Libya's liberal policy at the time of allowing foreign subjects to work in Libya including Palestinians holding travel documents.
About 80% of Palestinians in Libya were highly qualified and worked in education, engineering and medicine. The rest of the Palestinian workers had various other skills, to the extent that it can be said that there were very few unskilled Palestinian workers in Libya. During the past two decades Palestinians in Libya have played an effective role in many areas of development in Libya, and the extent of their contribution in these developmental activities was disproportionate to their number in Libya.
The situation deteriorated due to the poor economic situation which developed in the aftermath of the air embargo imposed on Libya in 1992. As a result Libya took measures to decrease the number of foreign workers in the country. Additionally, Colonel Qaddafi opted to impose measures of collective punishment on Palestinians in an attempt to make clear his displeasure with the signing of the Declaration of Principles (DOP) between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel in 1993. Measures taken by the Libyan leadership resulted in the termination of contracts of Palestinian workers. It became illegal to employ them in both the governmental and private sectors. The Libyan immigration and passport authorities ceased to handle Palestinians' travel documents. They refused to renew Palestinians' residency permits and canceled valid permits.
As a result of Libya's denial of Palestinians' rights to reside legally in Libya, Palestinians are not able to rent houses owned by the government. Additionally, they became unable to own or use vehicles which had previously belonged to them. Laws currently in force in Libya prohibit a person from renewing vehicle documents for licenses, insurance and road tax unless s/he can present a valid residency permit. Thus, Palestinians suddenly became jobless illegal residents. Even living in their homes and driving their cars became unlawful.
This situation made Palestinians vulnerable to exploitation on the illegal labor market and to attacks by the various governmental and security agencies. This is what stands behind the increase in attacks on them by officials and members of the so-called "Revolutionary Committees" affiliated to the security agencies. Members of these committees attack Palestinians, houses at night on a daily basis, evicting the families and leaving them homeless. Last August there were many cases of beatings, deportation and arrest. Other families were forced to choose between leaving the houses in which they had been living or sending some family members to join the other 200 Palestinians at "the return camp", also known as al-Salloum, on the border with Egypt.
For the past three years it has not been possible for Palestinians to continue their higher education at Libyan universities, and those who already enrolled in universities have been forced to pay heavy fees, up to 1,500 Libyan dinars, including fees for previous years of study. Faculties have been ordered not to issue certificates to Palestinians who have completed their studies unless all fees due have been paid. Currently, at least 256 Palestinian students, most of them in the final stages of their studies, are still denied entry to Libya despite the fact that the academic year in
Libyan universities commenced two months ago. These students traveled from Libya to Egypt last summer in order to renew their travel documents there. Young people also face serious problems: about 1,500 students, who completed their secondary education during 1996 and who have been amongst the best in terms of their achievements, are denied the rights to work, to enter higher education and to travel. Unfortunately, no organisation seems to be willing or able to help them.
Palestinians have been denied access to government health care institutions and they now have to pay unaffordable fees for their medical treatment. The travel documents of those who cannot pay their medical treatment fees are confiscated. Additionally, it is well known that since 1993 Libya has not paid to the PLO the 7 % contribution deducted from the salaries of Palestinians working there, as required by a decision adopted by the Arab League. The contributions retained by Libya now amount to about $80 million.
Palestinians in Libya live under constant threat of deportation, physical attack, humiliation and arrest, and are denied the rights to work and travel as well as other basic human rights. During the past three years, these Palestinians lived on savings. Many families have now exhausted their savings and are on the brink of starvation. These Palestinians are in fact hostages in Libya because their Egyptian travel documents do not entitle them to reside anywhere or to enter Egypt. No country is willing to issue them with visas and all neighboring states, namely Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Malta, do not allow them to cross their territory.
Up to now 220 Palestinians remain stranded in the desert near the Egyptian-Libyan border, amongst them pregnant women, elderly people and about 60 children who have been unable to attend school for more than a year. The group includes Palestinians married to Egyptian women and their children who are not entitled to Egyptian citizenship or to reside with their mothers in Egypt, even when the husband and children are stateless. All attempts made with the relevant states, Israel, Egypt and Libya, to resolve the problems faced by these Palestinians have failed. Three Palestinians at the camp have gone insane, others are suffering form trauma due to the inhumane conditions which they have faced. According to a Medécins sans Frontières mission which visited the camp where these Palestinians are forced to "live", 21 persons are in serious ill health and require immediate transfer to hospital.
These stranded Palestinians do not wish to return to Libya where they will encounter humiliation and discrimination and where they do not have a right to live, work or obtain housing or education. They look forward to engaging in fruitful creative work in an atmosphere of security and freedom in a host country until their return to their homeland is practically possible. Palestinians in Libya were mainly displaced as a result of the 1967 war and their return to the PNA controlled areas, according to the DOP, is subject to Israeli approval. The situation of these displaced Palestinians is different from that of the 1948 refugees, whose rights, including their right to return, will be discussed in the framework of the final status negotiations. However, Israel continues to prevent the return of these displaced persons. These Palestinians are thus victims of Israel,s denial of their right to return. They are also the victims of the Libyan leadership which denies their basic human rights in violation of Arab and international conventions.
Representatives of major donor and host governments attending an extraordinary meeting convened by UNRWA in Amman on 23 September 1996 to discuss UNRWA,s structural deficit, reaffirmed their support for ensuring that the agency continues uninterrupted delivery of services to Palestinian refugees. Delegates at the meeting represented 27 of UNRWA,s major donors, including the European Union, as well as host governments and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Donors pledged about $14 million in support of the agency,s work in 1996 in response to the Commissioner-General,s appeal.
In his opening remarks, the Commissioner-General said that increased austerity measures were not the answer to the agency,s financial crisis, adding that the deficit is too big, and the measures already imposed have cut to the bone of the agency. Mr. Hansen also said that while options regarding possible cuts were being considered, he could not accept that the cuts should or would occur. Mr. Hansen thanked delegates for their role in enabling the agency to provide services to Palestinian refugees and for their understanding of UNRWA,s budgetary problems. He said that there was increasing awareness that assistance for Palestinian refugees was no longer just a humanitarian issue but also played a vital role in the context of the Middle East peace process.
Dr. As'ad 'Abd-al-Rahman, representing the PLO, pledged to continued close cooperation with the agency in order to help those who are in dire need. He also said that UNRWA,s chronic budget deficit could not be allowed to continue since it would have a negative impact on refugees and on the political stability of the area.
UNRWA is facing a core deficit of $9.3 million this year, even after implementing austerity measures in 1993 and again in 1996. With its cash reserves standing at only $8.2 million at the beginning of 1996, the agency was facing the prospect of having no cash available to continue its operations towards the end of this year. Additionally, the agency has run a budget deficit every year since 1992 in order to maintain its services at an acceptable level.
In support of the food assistance scheme for families in need registered with UNRWA, Japan donated $7.2 million to UNRWA. This was formally declared after the Commissioner-General of UNRWA had signed an agreement with Mr. Takayoki Kimora, the Japanese Ambassador in Amman.
This donation by Japan is in addition to its annual support of UNRWA,s activities. Japan represents the second largest source of income for UNRWA after the United States. In addition Japan is expected to increase its support to the Palestinian people either by increasing its donation to Palestinian refugees via UNRWA during the Amman donors' conference which will take place in December, or by increasing its ad hoc assistance via the PNA.
Representatives of donor states are due to meet in Amman in early December for an extraordinary meeting. UNRWA reported that the meeting will include representatives of donor and host countries.
According to Robert Hopkins, UNRWA,s operations officer, the meeting will discuss UNRWA,s budget for next year in order to guarantee that the same level of services to Palestine refugees in the fields of health, education and social services can be maintained.
Mr. Hopkins also said that the annual meeting of donor states which is held every year, after the discussion in the UN General Assembly of the Commissioner-General's report, will be held earlier in December. He also stated that top UNRWA officials will hold a parallel meeting to discuss the introduction of changes in the work of UNRWA. He did not supply further details.
UNRWA has announced that it is due to receive $320,000 from the Irish government to enable the agency to employ new teachers in schools serving West Bank refugees. This amount, which is expected to be received by UNRWA by the end of November, will enable the agency to employ 31 new teachers.
UNRWA needs about $700,000 to fill the shortage in teachers in its schools serving Palestinian refugees. The Irish government,s assistance will help UNRWA to reduce the number of students in each class, so that classroom numbers do not exceed 54 students in UNRWA schools.
UNRWA continues its efforts to raise additional funds to enable it to employ 40 additional teachers.
Experts on family reunification in Palestine state that Israeli policies on this issue are designed to reduce the number of Palestinians living in Palestine. Every possible measure is taken by Israel to achieve this end. Such policies serve Israel's objective of controlling as much territory as possible with as few Palestinian inhabitants in it as possible. The new Israeli policy discussed here represents a more extreme approach.
Jerusalem and its Palestinian residents fall victim to the aforementioned Israeli measures first and foremost because Jerusalem is part of the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel in 1967. Israeli violations and attacks, however, are intensified regarding matters related to Jerusalem and its inhabitants for various reasons, including the fact that the issue of Jerusalem is a matter which will be dealt with in the final status negotiations. Talks on the final status were opened, at least formally, between the previous Israeli Labor government and the PLO.
It should be emphasized that the issue of residency rights for Palestinian spouses of Jerusalemites is more important than other cases related to Jerusalem because it involves families and children: Israeli policies and practices are having a very damaging impact on the unity of Palestinian families and even their very existence. Although the Israeli Ministry of the Interior's policies and practices are not based on new legislation, they do represent a new approach in terms of the criteria used and the scale of their application.
The latest in a series of Israeli measures designed to judaize Jerusalem and make its Palestinian residents a minority, without rights, in their own capital, is a serious change to Israel's illegal policies regarding the issuance, or in fact the non-issuance, of entry permits to spouses of Jerusalem residents. Since the last tightening of the closure in February 1996, no Palestinians from the PNA controlled areas married to Palestinians from Jerusalem or areas inside the Green Line have been issued with permits enabling them to join their spouses. Until this change of practice, Israel's policy was to issue PNA controlled areas spouses, subject to very strict conditions and various restrictions, with permits allowing them to enter Jerusalem or cross the Green Line in order to achieve family reunification.
This summer Israel began to "ease" the closure imposed in February 1996 and to allow some categories of persons to enter Jerusalem and the areas beyond the Green Line. Spouses therefore hoped that the policy towards them would revert to what it had been after previous closures and that permits would be issued. The Israeli response was a total denial of such permits.
Interventions were sent to the Israeli authorities seeking verification of the official Israeli policy in this regard. The aim of the interventions was to secure a change in policy, if the policy had in fact been altered. An assistant to the Legal Advisor of the Israeli military commander of the West Bank stated, in response to a letter from Advocate Leah Tsemel, that:
Following the decision to ease the closure imposed on the ... [occupied territories], it was decided that marriage with an Israeli [or a Jerusalem resident] per se does not constitute a basis for allowing him/her to exit the area during the closure. As for the argument that family life is sacred, nobody can prevent your client from preserving this sacredness in the ... [occupied territories].
The same officer added that:
It was decided that, as a rule, permits for leaving the ... [occupied territories] will not be issued until after the application for family reunification ... has been approved.
The notions expressed in the letter are repellent as they give no consideration to the needs of family members and the suffering caused to them by such a policy. This policy is a new tool for attacking the rights of Palestinians, especially in the area of residency, and will result in the separation of thousands of Palestinian family members.
If this policy is read together with other policies and practices that Israel has applied in Jerusalem for so long, it becomes clear that Israel actually denies all rights to Palestinians in Jerusalem related to their residency in the occupied city. Israel also exploits the suffering caused to these families by such measures to change the demographic character of the occupied city and divide it from its Palestinian population. The problem caused by defining Palestinians in Jerusalem as mere "residents" following Israel's occupation of the city is becoming more serious as a result of the frequent introduction and application of policies which aim to tighten Israel's grip on Jerusalem. The significance of Israeli policies in respect of residency is that spouses are prevented from living together inside the occupied city. Additionally, if the Jerusalemite family member is forced by Israel's measures to move elsewhere, albeit temporarily, in order to keep the family together, he risks losing his residency rights in Jerusalem.
The Israeli Ministry of the Interior has recently intensified measures to withdraw the identity cards of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. The ministry is asking Palestinians who hold foreign travel documents to choose between Jerusalem residency and the foreign travel document.
Edward Abingdon, the US Consul-General in Jerusalem, is reported to have stated that persons whose US passports are confiscated by Israel can easily obtain a substitute passport. The Consul-General, however, did not clarify the US position on persons whose US travel documents are confiscated.
Israel's campaign to confiscate Jerusalemites' cards from the Palestinian residents continues. In an unusual development, Mr. Saleh Tarif, a Labor Knesset member and chairperson of the Knesset's Interior Committee, visited Orient House, which serves as the Jerusalem headquarters of the Palestinian negotiating team and the office of Mr. Faisal al-Husseini, who holds the Jerusalem portfolio in the PLO.
Mr. al-Husseini raised several matters with Mr. Tarif, the most important of which were the cancellation of Arab Jerusalemites' identity cards and the demolition of Palestinian houses in occupied Jerusalem. At the conclusion of the meeting it was agreed that Mr. Faisal al-Husseini and Mr. Hatem'Abd al-Qader, the secretary of the Jerusalem Committee in the Palestinian Legislative Council would be invited to attend a session of the Interior Committee in the Israeli Knesset in order to give the Palestinian side an opportunity to express its point of view about Israeli measures which aim to reduce the number of Palestinians in the holy city.
It should be noted that these Israeli measures are not new. They were applied by the Israeli Ministry of the Interior under the previous Labor government. What is new is the scale on which the measures are being implemented under the new right-wing Likud government. According to some media reports, the stringent Israeli measures have led to an increase in acts of extortion directed against Palestinians whose identity cards are threatened with cancellation. In one case a Palestinian paid around US $30,000 to keep his identity card.
The Canadian Deputy Foreign Minister, Mr. Andrew Robinson, visited Shaml Centre on 20 September. This visit was one of a series of field meetings held by Mr. Robinson in the West Bank in order to acquaint himself with the living conditions of Palestinians in the refugee camps in the PNA controlled areas. These visits and meetings were within the framework of his participation in the meeting of major UNRWA donors held in Amman on 23 September.
Activists from the refugee camps in the north and south of the West Bank participated in the meeting. Thy discussed with Mr. Robinson the latest developments relating to refugee issues, the socio-economic conditions in the refugee camps, and UNRWA services to refugees. The camp activists outlined the hardships faced by Palestinians in the camps, which have been exacerbated by continued reduction in UNRWA services.
Mr. Anderson promised that his government would continue to provide material support to UNRWA to enable the agency to maintain its provision of services to the refugees. He also promised to encourage the major donors to fulfill their financial obligations to the agency until the fundamental legal and political problems of the refugees were solved. He stated that once these obligations were fulfilled, UNRWA would be able to provide basic services to Palestinian refugees in the PNA controlled areas and other host countries.
An international conference on affordable housing in Palestine was held between 1 and 3 November 1996 at Bir Zeit University. Shaml participated in the proceedings of the conference: Mr. Haider Eidah presented a paper on "Housing Conditions in Refugee Camps in PNA Controlled Areas". The conference endorsed most of the recommendations put forward by Mr. Eidah.
A conference on investment opportunities was held in Ramallah on 23 September 1996. Many Palestinians from the diaspora and others who returned recently to Palestine attended the conference. Palestinian officials, business people and academics also participated. Speakers at the conference reiterated that there is a need to offer all possible assistance in creating stable conditions to encourage the investment in Palestine of capital from the Palestinian diaspora. They also stressed the necessity of creating a secure and stable atmosphere for encouraging investment in general.
Many speakers emphasized the desirability of liaison between local business people, who suffered from the Israeli occupier,s policies and measures, and diaspora investors who have had somewhat better opportunities to invest without the obstacles of occupation. It was argued that both parties should cooperate since they have similar responsibilities for promoting development so that the goals of the Palestinian people can be achieved. Many speakers specifically addressed the issue of investment in the industrial sector under the liberal economic regime adopted by the PNA.
Amongst the points raised by the speakers was the issue of residency status of business people and their families. Officials of the Palestinian Ministry of Civil Affairs reported that business people from the diaspora are issued with visitors' permits valid for one year. These officials reported that there is still a problem with family reunification, particularly in relation to Palestinian investors. However, the ministry, in cooperation with human rights organizations, is trying to put pressure on Israel in order to secure changes in the latter's policies and, inter alia, to increase the PNA's quota for family reunification.
A conference entitled "Refugees in Lebanon" was held in Minster Lovell near Oxford (UK) between 27 and 30 September 1996. The conference was organized by Oxford University's Refugees Studies Program and the Center for Lebanese Studies.
Many papers were presented addressing different aspects of the situation of Palestinians in Lebanon and their relations with the Lebanese authorities and the host society, in addition to issues related to the refugees' political future.
Among the participants were academics, human rights activists, journalists and politicians from Lebanon, Palestine and other countries including Mr. Andrew Robinson, the Canadian Deputy Foreign Minister and coordinator of the Working Group on Refugees of the multilateral peace talks; Mr. Jean-Pierre Raymond of the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Mr. Shafiq al-Hout, former member of the Executive Committee of the PLO; and Mr. Abbas Shiblak, Director of the Shaml Centre.
Palestinian President Yasser Arafat opened the conference on Palestinian refugees in Gaza on 17 September 1996. The conference was unprecedented as it was the first on Palestinian refugees to be held in PNA controlled areas with official Palestinian participation.
The aim of the conference was to create a forum for the discussion of the problems of Palestinian refugees living in the diaspora as well as in Palestinian territory. Participants reiterated that the issue of Palestinian refugees is central to the Palestine question.
A conference on refugees was held at Deheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem district on 13 September. The conference followed a number of seminars and workshops which had dealt with issues relating to Palestinian refugees. Participants at these meetings had realized the necessity of taking a firm stand on the question, especially as Palestinians now stand at the threshold of a new stage in which negotiations in the region on final status issues will commence.
In the conference's final statement, the participants called for the transfer of the negotiations on refugees from the multilateral framework to the United Nations in order to protect the refugees and their legitimate cause. In addition, the participants appealed for resistance to any negotiations seeking to undermine the refugees' right of return to the Palestinian homeland. The participants condemned repeated attempts to terminate UNRWA services and the failure of several donor countries to honor their financial pledges to the agency since these actions were damaging to refugees and threatened to reduce or eliminate UNRWA's role.
The Executive Committee of the Jewish Agency has recently expressed its opposition to a draft law sponsored by the Israeli right-wing coalition because of its adverse effects on the Israeli Law of Return. The draft law, which relates to the process of conversion to Judaism, requires that conversion be recognized by the Chief Rabbi.
Legal experts within the Reform Movement's Israel Religious Action Center expressed the view that such a law, if passed by the Knesset, would create obstacles for immigration under the Law of Return for those who convert to Judaism abroad.
The Palestinian Ministry of the Interior issued a statement recently clarifying its policy on the receipt and follow-up of applications for family reunification permits by spouses who are "non-citizens", i.e. persons who do not hold identity cards.
According to the ministry's statement, a person who is married to a Palestinian and who entered the West Bank between 1 January 1990 and 31 August 1992 is entitled to a permit for family reunification, in accordance with a ruling of the Israeli High Court of Justice. Any spouse who fulfills these conditions can remain in the country indefinitely and can renew his/her visitor's permit every six months until final approval of the permit for family reunification, at which time s/he will be issued with an identity card. These reunification cases are not counted under the PNA's quota for this year.
In addition, a "non-citizen" spouse who entered the country between 1 September 1992 and 31 August 1993 can renew his/her visitor's permit indefinitely every six months and remain in the country. However, the permits for family reunification under this category are calculated in the PNA quotas.
In fact, current regulations are identical to those followed prior to the transfer of civilian matters to the PNA.
The number of Palestinians in the diaspora who visited the PNA controlled areas last summer has dropped drastically. The decrease was caused by Israel's introduction of new measures which led in many cases to the refusal of visitor's permits to Palestinians on the grounds that they failed to me et the legal requirements.
In one case an applicant for a permit was required to pay a financial deposit to guarantee his departure before the permit expired, and his period of visit was shortened. According to the new practices, visitor permits are only issued if there is a first-degree relationship with the visitor. Furthermore, the Israeli occupation authorities now take longer to scrutinize applications, which in many cases leads to the expiry of the potential visitor's vacation before his visit permit is issued. In many cases visitor's permits are rejected without any justification, while some visitors are required to travel through specified terminals.
The new procedures signal increased stringency in Israeli policies on visitor permits for Palestinians, as compared to policies followed before the signing of the Gaza-Jericho First Agreement and the Oslo II Agreement whereby the PNA was given some powers in the area of internal affairs.
A Palestinian security source has disclosed that the Palestinian security services have thwarted a number of potential land deals which would have resulted in the selling of Palestinian land to companies set up by Israeli settlers to buy land through brokers. These developments come not long after Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Minister of Infrastructure, announced his intention to activate a number of companies owned by him for the purpose of buying Palestinian land in the West Bank.
According to the Palestinian security source, such deals are made with the assistance of Palestinian brokers who buy lands adjoining Israeli settlements and later transfer ownership to the settlements. What is particularly dangerous about these new attempts by settlements to acquire land is that, for the first time, efforts are being directed at Palestinians living in the diaspora. The brokers are expanding their activities to reach diaspora Palestinians in their countries of residence, particularly in certain Arab and South American states.
The French government is introducing a number of changes in French laws on immigration and residency to avoid the acute difficulties caused by current legislation. The decision was taken following a wave of deportations of aliens illegally residing in France and the separation of families caused by these deportations, which have been criticized for creating unjustified hardship.
A Swedish newspaper reported recently that asylum seekers are forced by the municipality of Malmo, a town in the southern part of Sweden, to work in sorting toxic waste so that they can remain in the country. Persons who do not comply with this requirement are denied social benefits. The newspaper reported that the waste includes hazardous and toxic elements, such as zinc.
Following violent confrontations with the Israeli army on 25 September, Israel adopted a series of measures restricting the right of Palestinians to freedom of movement within the PNA controlled areas, as well as travel between these areas and abroad.
On 25 September 1996, Israeli occupation troops imposed a strict military closure, by virtue of which no Palestinians from the West Bank, excluding Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip were able to enter the areas beyond the Green Line.
This closure, which was in fact a strengthening of the closure imposed in 1993, caused various kinds of hardship, primarily denial of travel between the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and (Jerusalem).
In addition, the Israeli occupation authorities imposed a complete closure on all cities, towns, refugee camps and hamlets within the West Bank, including those towns under PNA control. The closure was brought into effect by closing those parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip identified as Area C under the Oslo II Agreement. These areas constitute about 50% of the Gaza Strip and about 70% of the West Bank and remain under total Israeli control according to the agreement. The Israeli authorities also ordered the closure of the areas under Palestinian control, thereby banning entry and exit to and from them.
It was also reported that many Palestinians had been prevented from leaving the West Bank at the crossings with Jordan and that others had been denied entry into the West Bank through these crossings.
These measures caused severe suffering to Palestinians. Palestinian workers were prevented from reaching their places of work inside the Green Line, as well as inside the West Bank, (Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip. Medical staff, patients, and staff working in vital services could not move during the closure. Consequently the lives of many Palestinians were endangered. Many Palestinian women were forced by these measures to give birth at Israeli roadblocks and checkpoints. Additionally, a child aged 18 months from Beit Ula in Hebron district died because Israeli soldiers delayed the vehicle transporting him to hospital in Jerusalem at a military checkpoint.
Mr. 'Abd al-Hafez Shakhanbeh, the Jordanian Minister of Labour, announced on 25 September a decision to ban foreigners from working in 15 different professions in an attempt to curtail unemployment among Jordanians.
Although the minister announced that the ban would be effective from the beginning of 1997, it is not known whether the ban will be applied to Palestinians residing in Jordan who hold the Green Bridge Cards, which indicate that they are entitled to reside in the PNA controlled areas. Significanttly, a decision to raise the price of bread whilst providing compensation to Jordanian citizens, categorizes Palestinians who hold Green Bridge Cards as aliens.
Ahmad al-Tamimi, the Palestinian Deputy Minister of the Interior, stated recently that the Israeli authorities are dragging their feet on applications for family reunification by Palestinians and that no permits have been issued for the last several months.
Al-Tamimi said: "According to the agreement with the Israeli government, they should issue 1,000 permits for family reunification during 1996, but only several hundred had been issued by the end of November". He called upon Israel to respect its obligations and issue permits for family reunification immediately to alleviate the agony of dispersed families.
Al-Tamimi added that Israel has been refusing, for some time now, to resume talks on civil affairs.
The Egyptian Minister for the Labor Force and Immigration Affairs recently issued regulations allowing the renewal of work permits of Palestinians holding PNA passports.
According to the new regulations issued by the Egyptian minister, these Palestinians may renew their work permits if they can show, on the basis of documentation from the Travel Documents and Immigration Authority, that they have continuously resided in Egypt for five years. This documentation should be supported by a recommendation from the Union of Palestinian Workers. However, the following categories are exempted from some of these requirements: a Palestinian man who has been married to an Egyptian woman for not less than five years; a Palestinian man who has children from an Egyptian wife, provided that the couple remain married; a Palestinian woman married to an Egyptian man; a Palestinian who owns a business, alone or in partnership, and his/her children; a Palestinian woman who has children from an Egyptian husband, who either died or is separated from her; and the child of an Egyptian woman who was married to a Palestinian who has died, is separated from her or has left the country.
The Arabic daily newspaper al-Ahram published on 15 October 1996 a letter sent by an Egyptian woman who is married to a Palestinian. Shaml reprints the letter here because it is typical of the hundreds of cases of separation of families where the husband holds an Egyptian travel document. The letter reads as follows:
I am an Egyptian woman who, by God's will, married a Palestinian in 1969, when he was residing in Egypt. He holds an Egyptian travel document which he regularly renews. God gave us six sons and daughters, two of whom are currently under my guardianship in Egypt. For the past few years, my husband lived in Libya and visited Egypt on many occasions because we considered it our place of permanent residence. This state of affairs continued until our problem, or let us say crisis, developed.
Currently my adult children and my husband are denied entry into Egypt, despite the fact that my husband bears a valid travel document. As a result the family is separated. My young children stay with me in Egypt, and my husband and the rest of the children are in Libya. I cannot visit my husband because I am not allowed to enter Libya, and my husband cannot visit us in Egypt because of restrictions that prohibit him from entering Egypt. So, day after day, we continue to live in Egypt without a husband and a father.
I do not ask for the impossible. All I want is to have my husband guaranteed the right to enter Egypt, the country where he grew up, so that his children may have the opportunity to meet him, even for a short period of time, in the way that other children in the world do. The issue is in the hands of God, and, after him, in the hand of the Minister of Foreign Affairs who has the power to issue regulations in this regard.
Awatef Abdallah al-Sayyed.
Wife of Kamal Muhammad Masoud
On this question, some members of the Egyptian parliament have reportedly proposed the adoption of a law which would enable the children of Egyptian women married to Palestinians to take Egyptian citizenship. The law, if introduced, would bring an end to the suffering of many families where the father is a Palestinian and holds an Egyptian travel document and the mother is Egyptian. Egyptian law, as well as the laws of other Arab states, only allows the father, and not the mother, to transfer citizenship to children. Thus, children in situations similar to the above are treated like their fathers and subjected to various forms of restrictions on travel, work, and access to benefits, including education and governmental health services.
The laws referred to above have produced very complicated societal problems and have caused suffering to hundreds of families who have been denied their right to unite. Only recently, a few Arab states began to amend their legislation to provide a solution for such cases. For example, Jordan and Lebanon recently introduced changes in their nationality laws to enable children born to Jordanian and Lebanese women to take the mother's nationality if the father is stateless.
Two newborn babies were reported to have died recently in Shatilla refugee camp in Lebanon, near Beirut, due to a reduction in health care services by UNRWA and the fact that refugees are denied the right to receive governmental health care and cannot afford private health care.
It was reported also that a Palestinian mother from al-Da,ouq refugee camp, who suffers from heart problems, faces death togather with her newborn baby. Her condition is reportedly caused by lack of means to pay for private hospital care.
In another development, a Palestinian refugee Nabil Rifa,i, from Ein al-Hilweh refugee camp near Sidon, offered his son, aged eight, for sale in October in order to pay for medical care for Nabil's father, aged 57, who suffers from a serious disease. Nabil was reported to have said that he was offering one of his five sons for sale to the highest bidder in order to cover the expenses of his father's treatment at a hospital in Sidon. Nabil, who works in the construction sector, added that his father suffers from chronic kidney disease and has to receive dialysis regularly. However, the hospital refused to continue providing the requisite treatment because the costs had already reached $25,000 and UNRWA was not willing to foot the bill. Eventually Nabil,s father died after attempts were made at a late stage to save his life.
According to the media, Christian officials in Lebanon reported that a new annex to the Citizenship Law would be issued before the current government resigned and the new parliament assumed its responsibilities. According to these reports, the aim of the new annex was to offset the consequences of the existing annex which was criticized by Lebanon's Christian political and religious leaders on the ground that the beneficiaries of this annex were mainly Moslems.
Media reports estimated that about 200,000 individuals have benefited from the existing annex since its adoption in 1994. This included about 30,000 Palestinians, mainly those living in villages in border areas.
A Palestinian delegation, headed by President Yasser Arafat, recently visited Syria. According to the delegation, a major part of the discussions with the Syrians dealt with the issue of facilitating the entry of Palestinians to Syria and securing Syria's recognition of the Palestinian passport.
The PNA has announced that from the beginning of next year Palestinian citizens will only be able to travel out of Palestine on a Palestinian passport. Since certain Arab countries do not recognize the passport, Palestinian citizens will also have to travel with additional Jordanian or Egyptian documents in order to be able to enter these countries.
Meanwhile, Mr. Farouq al-Shara, the Syrian Foreign Minister, has denied that the Syrian authorities intend to deport any Palestinians from Syria. The minister stated, "It is not possible to deport a Palestinian from Syria."
The Saudi Arabian authorities decided recently to allow Palestinians holdingthe Palestinian passport to cross Saudi territory when traveling between Palestine and other Gulf countries
Accordingly, any Palestinian who holds a Palestinian passport which remains valid for at least six months and which shows a valid residency permit for any country in the Gulf may cross Saudi Arabian territory, provided that s/he has obtained the requisite visas allowing him /her to enter the Arab states separating Saudi territory from Palestine, i.e. Jordan or Egypt.
The Permanent Representative of Palestine to the Arab League sent a letter to the Secretary-General of the Arab League informing him of the Saudi Arabian decision and its details. The Saudi Arabian government, however, has still not reached a decision about whether to recognize the Palestinian passport. Recognition would be very beneficial for the many Palestinians who have business and other connections with Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia decided recently to cease issuing work permits to foreign workers in 13 professions. As a result the contracts of aliens working in these professions were immediately terminated. These persons cannot renew their residency permits. In addition, employment offices in Saudi Arabia have brought out new directives which allow the issuance of one-year non-renewable work permits in 14 additional professions and require the applicants to meet additional conditions.
The sixth Saudi development plan which commenced in 1995 aims to reduce dependence on foreign workers. The latest Saudi move will affect a large number of Palestinians, unless they are specifically excluded from the ambit of such measures.
Officials in Abu Dhabi have estimated that at least 170,000 aliens who hadbeen illegally present in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had left thecountry by the end of September. This number is expected to exceed 200,000 by the end of October, representing about 10% of the population of the UAE.
The mass departure of these aliens represents the biggest operation to remove foreigners ever to have taken place in the UAE since its establishment 25 years ago. Embassies of seven Asian countries in the UAE reported that, by the end of September, they had issued about 147,000 departure permits to their nationals, whose presence was made illegal by virtue of a new law, because they did not have valid passports or travel documents. The Asian countries in question are Afghanistan, the Philippines, Pakistan, India, Iran, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
The new law, which was issued last June, gave aliens illegally residing in the UAE three months to leave the country voluntarily. This law makes it possible to impose heavy fines and imprisonment on aliens who are illegally present in UAE territory, unless they leave within the three month grace period. Diplomatic sources reported that included amongst those forced to depart were about 30,000 aliens who had entered the UAE legally but had failed to comply with employment and residence conditions once they were in the country.
Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan al-Nahyan, President of the UAE, had previously promised to exclude Palestinians from the scope of application of the new law.
1. Eugene Cotran (UK):
Eugene's family originates from Jerusalem, Palestine, and settled in the U.K. in 1954. He is a judge and a legal consultant to a number of governments and international organizations. Judge Cotran participated in the drafting of the Palestinian Constitution.
2. Abbas Shiblak (Palestine):
Academician, researcher. He has worked in the Palestinian Research Centre, the Department of Palestine Affairs (Arab league) and as a senior research officer at the Refugee Studies Programme (RSP), University of Oxford. He is a member of the Palestinian delegation to the Working Group on Refugees in the multilateral Middle East peace talks.
3. Sulafa Hajjawi (Palestine):
Poet, author, and researcher interested in Jewish emigration to Palestine. Presently she is director of the Planning Center of the PLO, which is attached to the Palestinian President's Office - Gaza.
4. Mueen Rabbani (Holland):
A Palestinian living in Holland. He is a writer and researcher on issues related to the Palestine question and is active in human rights issues. Previously he worked with al-Haq, a human rights organization. He is presently the director of the program for cooperation between local councils in Holland and Palestine.
5. Sharif Kanána (Palestine):
Professor of Anthropology and has worked in teaching and administration atseveral US and Palestinian universities. He has published widely on Palestinian culture and on the effects of the 1948 War on Palestinians.
6. Fathiyyeh Nasru (Palestine):
Associate Processor at Birzeit University, assigned recently as chairperson of al-Quds University program for evaluation and development. Her main area of research and consultancy is social development, educational research evaluation, instructional communication and curriculum design.
7. Heider Eideh (Palestine):
Director of Deir Ammar refugee camp active in the area of refugee rights. Spokesperson for directors of refugee camps in the West Bank.
8. Tayseer Maswadeh (Palestine):
Has a Ph.D. in Demography from the UK and is an expert on the demography of the Palestinian refugees. Presently he is the Director of Education for the Hebron district.
9. Ibrahim Muhawi (USA):
Professor of Folklore and Comparative Literature. He has taught at Birzeit University, the University of Jordan and the University of Tunisia. He is presently teaching at the University of California - Berkeley.
Estimated by Palestinian Diaspora & Refugee Centre - Shaml (1996)
|Areas Occupied since 1948||950,000|
Total in Palestine
|Saudi Arabia & the Gulf Region||450,000|
|North & South America||480,000|
Total in Diaspora
The Palestinian Diaspora and Refugee Centre, Shaml, is an independent non-governmental association, dedicated to Palestinian refugees and the Palestinians in the diaspora. It was established in 1994, by a group of concerned academics and human rights activists who felt the need to examine issues pertaining to Palestinian refugees in a broad perspective which takes into consideration relevant experiences in other parts of the world.
Issues addressed by Shaml
It is estimated that there are four million Palestinians - mainly refugees - currently living in exile throughout the world in varying conditions. The peace process in the Middle East and the emerging Palestinian entity, will have a deep impact on Palestinian refugees and the diaspora. This raises several issues, some of which relate to ensuring the civil and political rights of the refugees, and to monitor and analyse the changes in their conditions in the PNA controlled areas and in the host countries. In addition, the need to sustain strong ties between the Palestinian diaspora and homeland, is becoming more vital for the economic, social and cultural development of the Palestinian people and for preserving its national identity.
The Aims of Shaml
The Activities of Shaml
"The Palestinians Displaced in 1967 and the Peace Negotiations" by a group of researchers (Arabic).
No.1 "Civil and Citizenship Rights of Palestinian Refugees" two papers by Abbas Shiblak & Uri Davis (English).
No.2 "Israeli Plans to Resettle the Palestinian Refugees 1948 -1972" by Nur Masalha (English).
No.3 "The Palestinians in Syria, the Demographic, Economic and Social Conditions" by Nabil al-Sahli (Arabic).
No.4 "Israeli Resettlement Schemes for Palestinian Refugees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since 1967" by Norma Masriyeh Hazboun (English).
No.5 "The Palestinians in Egypt and North Sinai" two papers by Abdul-Qader Yasin, Sari Hanafi & Olivier Saint Martin (Arabic).
No.6 "Reintegration of the Palestinian Returnees" by NichVan-Hear and
Rex Brynen * firstname.lastname@example.org * 17 December 1996