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Restitution and Compensation

Compensation as Part of a Comprehensive Solution to the Palestinian Refugee Problem,
Workwhop Papers

by Salman Abu-Sitta

March 2000 - Ottawa

There has never been more universal and sustained consensus of the international community than that accorded to the rights of the Palestinian Refugees. These rights are enshrined in the fundamental UN Resolutions 194 of 1948 and 3236 of 1974 confirming the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian people to return home. Recently in April 1999, this principle has been reaffirmed once more by the UN Human Rights Commission. The lonely exception to this universal agreement is Israel. It is therefore impossible to assume that monetary compensation will be the only or primary solution of the refugees’ dispossession and dispersion. Homeland is not for sale.

The Meaning of Compensation
The basic principle of compensation is to “make good”, as stated in Resolution 194, or in general terms, “as far as possible, to wipe out all the consequences of the illegal act and re-establish the situation which would, in all probability, have existed if that act has not been committed”. This is the same principle, Wiedergutmachung (making good), under which the German Federal Government paid the victims over DM 102 billion for Nazi crimes.

We have a more recent example of the wide-ranging compensation in which most European countries paid the Jews considerable sums without the benefit of a single UN resolution and without proper documentation. The World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) has recovered Jewish assets in Switzerland, Germany, France, Poland and other European countries.

The Palestinian Case
During the Zionist invasion of Palestine in 1948, 531 towns and villages were depopulated and their property plundered. It was by far the most wide-spread plunder in modern history. In the words of Moshe Smilansky, “individuals, groups and communities, men women and children, all fell on the spoils. Doors, windows, bricks, tiles, and machine parts…”. A battalion commander and his troops abandoned the war to join the plunder. The IDF loaded 1800 trucks from Lydda alone. The MAPAI chiefs took the lion’s share of houses and valuables. At an early date, the inventory of looted property provisionally listed 50,000 homes, 7,000 shops, 1,000 warehouses, 500 workshops and 800,000 acres of orchards. The Jewish land in Palestine in 1948 is 1,681 sq. km, or 6% of Palestine (see map). This means that 94% of Palestine (or 92% of Israel) belongs to Palestinians. Today, there are 4,900,000 refugees whose homes are in 13 cities and towns, 419 villages and 99 clans in Israel.

Components of Compensation
Apart from restitution of their land and property through return to their homes, the refugees are entitled to compensation for the suffering they have endured, the damages and losses, in addition to the exploitation of their property for 51 years. The components of compensation are the following (see Table):

1. Individual material losses
This includes plunder, looting, wanton destruction of property, damages and loss of revenue from their property since signing of the Armistice Agreements in 1949 till today. A recent UN resolution (A/52/644) of 5 November 1998 emphasized “the important issue of Palestine refugees’ properties and their revenues”.

2. Public material assets
This includes railways, airports, ports, quarries, mines, fisheries, coasts, water, oil and other public services and natural resources.

3. Individual non-material losses
This includes psychological suffering, dispersion, torture, ill-treatment, imprisonment and forced labour.

4. Public non-material assets
This includes loss of records, loss of nationality, ethnic cleansing, oppression, massacres and ‘Transfer’ of population.

5. Loss of Human Capital

6. War crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes against peace
These have been excluded from UN Resolution 194, because they are already covered elsewhere. These crimes are well-defined and legally covered by the Rome Statute of 1998, and they fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Tribunal.

Illegal Disposition of Land
A disturbing development has taken place in Israel, particularly since 1997. Due to the ideological and economic bankruptcy of the Kibbutz, a one-time pillar of Zionism, the vast refugees land which had been leased to only 150,000 Kibbutz ‘farmers’ is now being sold to private Jewish individuals and groups, nor necessarily Israeli. This is a very dangerous development, legalizing the robbery of this land in contravention with international law (see in particular UN A/52/644, para 2, 1998). Israel treasury has accumulated $700 million in 1997 alone for the sale of lots of refugees’ land and much more in 1998. In 1998, Pi Glilot Corp plans to build on refugees land valued at $1 million per donum (1 donum = ¼ acre).

How is compensation paid?
The monetary compensation should be paid to villages as units under the umbrella of Palestine Land Commission (PLC) - to be established. The village is the best unit of Palestinian society for the following reasons. First, the village is a well-defined administrative unit. Its land is well-defined on maps and records. The village consists of 4-5 large families (hamulas) which are still intact. The family records (700,000) are preserved. The present location of these families is known. The problems of inheritance are reduced because the total entitlement of the village, and of the large family, is fixed. The suggestion that the compensation be paid to a government or authority will not be accepted by the refugees. Moreover, it has no legal basis.

Who pays?
The payment should come from the responsible party as per the terms of Resolution 194. This party is Israel government and Jewish groups who are the beneficiaries of the Palestinian property for such a long period. The refugees land and property have been a key factor in establishing the state and building its economy. With its $100 billion GNP, over DM 102 billion German compensation, $3 billion annual US aid, $80 million per annum US aid to Russian immigrants, US guarantees and loans, Israel is quite capable of paying its debts. The example of WJRO case towards Europe should be the same for the Palestinians towards Israel; even more so in view of the overwhelming support of the international community and the support of international law to the Palestinian case.

It will be a travesty of justice if external parties concerned with peace are urged to pay for compensation while the robbery and plunder are rewarded by giving clear legal title to the perpetrators, free of charge. This would certainly perpetuate violence and instability.

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