Restitution and Compensation
Compensation as Part of a Comprehensive Solution
to the Palestinian Refugee Problem,
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
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
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’
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.
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
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.
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.