Any conflict resolution rests on two pillars: truth and justice. Truth is necessary to understand the nature of the conflict. Wars are waged because either side claims to have a monopoly on the truth. Justice is necessary because no resolution can last unless it is based on justice. Conflict resolution propped by naked power will not last. All these are elementary principles of conflict resolution.
None of the above is applied in the case of Palestine conflict ---and I have much reservation in calling it a 'conflict'.
No colonial project has been beset with so much falsification and deliberate misinformation like in the case of Palestine.
Land without people. God given land. We were here 2000 years ago, now we decided to return. Britain decreed Palestine as our national home. UN decreed the same. We were in a state of self defense. Palestinian refugees left on Arab orders. If refugees returned they will throw us back in the sea where we came from. There were no massacres or ethnic cleansing. There is no occupation today.
It really boggles the mind. None of these statements stand serious scrutiny.
That is one reason why justice is elusive so far. International law and a myriad of UN resolutions have been calling for justice in Palestine. The right of Return has been affirmed more than 130 times, the longest standing resolution in UN history.
Why then is the so called conflict still claiming victims almost daily?
The beginning was 100 years at the infamous Balfour Declaration, a promise of those who do not own to those who do not deserve the property of those who did not know. If this was done by individual they would be behind bars. In spite of British collusion during 30 years of the Mandate Zionists could acquire more the 6% of Palestine. Under strong US pressure, the UN passed resolution on partitioning Palestine: 55% to new European Jewish colonists and 45% to the majority Palestinian population. The UN partition plan was a recommendation with no legal meaning. Four months later, the UN and the US dropped the plan if favour of UN trusteeship.
In every conceivable article of international law, national and regional covenants and treaties, the right of displaced people to return home is sacrosanct. Palestinian refugees received the most consistent affirmation of this right.
Thus, there is a stalemate: between Palestinian determination to return home and the Israeli wars to deny their return.It can only be broken by the implementation of international law and the end of ethnic cleansing.
I maintain here that there is no demographic, geographical, legal, logistic or economic reason to justify the denial of the refugees’ right to return home . The only obstacle is the racist policies of colonialism. It is time to abolish them.
Positive Steps Forward
Let us take the positive step and start planning the return of the refugees. In planning the return of refugees, three elements should be examined.
1. The people
2. The land
3. The applicable laws
The last two, the land ownership and the applicable laws are sufficiently documented. It is the population that we need to examine carefully.
They consist of: the existing Palestinians and the returnees in addition to the existing Jewish population. All population figures pertain to the year 2008.
Distribution of Present Population in/out Palestine
Today Palestine in its three divided regions: Israel (Palestine 1948), West Bank and Gaza has a total population of about 10.5 million (all figures for 2008). Of this number Palestinians and Jews are comparable (4.7 m to 5.8m respectively).
Palestinians and Jews in and around Palestine:
The number for Jews includes all those who are not Palestinians, viz 300,000 foreign worker from Thailand and Romania (top tranche)and 1,000,000 Russians (next tranche) of whom about 40% are not certified as Jews by religious authorities. The parity between Palestinians and ‘Jews” is not important in itself. What is important is the granting of privileges to Jews and denials of rights to Palestinians.
This becomes clearer if we examine the figure for Palestinians. Of the 4,700,000 Palestinians on the soil of Palestinians, about half (2,230,000) are refugees (black dots on red background).
The bulk of refugees (5,400,000) are outside Palestine, mostly at a narrow ring along the borders of Palestine. In total, 6,770,000 Palestinians are UNRWA-registered and unregistered refugees, making up two thirds of Palestinian people, the largest percentage in any country at any time.
Present Palestinian Population Distribution in Palestine
The present population in Palestine itself are either refugees or under Israeli occupation or both:
Present occupants of Village lands
We can identify the following regions because they have similar characteristics:
2.Coastal region between Haifa and Jaffa
3. Central region containing Tel Aviv and Jewish concentration
4.South 1 which is Gaza district
5.South 2 which is Beer Sheba district. Both South 1,2 constitute Southern District.
The maps show that, excluding Beer Sheba district, there are 246 Palestinian village lands have no Jews today and 272 village lands have few Jews, less than 5000 Jews in each Qibbutz. These village lands are shown green. Beer Sheba district is practically empty save for repopulated Palestinian cities. This surprising result was left hidden to deter the return of the refugees.
Jewish land during the Mandate is shown in blue and is today fully populated.. Cities whether mixed or not are shown in brown. Unlike depopulated Palestinian villages which were totally destroyed by Israel, destruction in cities was limited to old quarters. The 3500-year old historical quarters in Tiberias were totally destroyed.
Cities have expanded due to influx of immigrants. Many still retain a sizable number of Palestinians.
The Palestinian village lands which have more than 30,000 Jews are shown dotted.
They are few and are naturally adjacent to Jewish areas. So if we now repopulate Palestinian villages by the return of the refugees we do not find any appreciable problem. In Galilee, the Little Triangle and Beer Sheba, there is already a sizable Palestinian people, shown in Green, ready to welcome their kith and kin.
Even if you add present Jewish population in proportion to their size the same conclusion is still valid; the return is feasible and of course valid.
From the above it is clear there is no demographic problem in the return of refugees. In addition, there are no legal, geographical and historical reasons to prevent return except one major obstacle. That is Zionist racist policies and Apartheid. With that obstacle removed, the return of the refugees will be readily possible. It is the only requirement for the end of this century-long conflict.
Jewish Israeli Population Distribution
Jews live in 924 localities with a total population of 5,509,778 within the armistice line of 1949. The distribution of those localities is revealing. Only 14 of those localities have a population of over 100,000 and 12 have a population between 50 and 100,000, and 29 localities between 20 and 50,000. That means that 87% percentage of Jews live in 55 localities, or five percent of the total number of localities. The area they occupy is 1400 km2 or 6% of Israel’s area. It is interesting to observe that this area where the majority live now is almost the same area they lived in during the British Mandate.
The remaining settlements are very small. For example, the kibbutz and moshav population is 390,542 living in 638 settlements excluding the Beer Sheba district. The original purpose of these small settlements was actually to hold and set roots in the refugees land to prevent their return. The original kibbutz consisted of 30-50 soldiers in a fortified military post who act as farmers in peacetime and act as garrison base in unsettled times. The kibbutz and moshav’s contribution to agriculture does not exceed 1.5 percent of Israel GDP, while at the same time they consume 70 percent of water.
You have not been told about this before. But it is already unannounced in Israel multi-expert survey conducted in 1995 entitled Israel 2020.
Thus it is possible to implement the return of the refugees without major displacement to the occupants of their houses.
Feasibility of Return
Phases of Return
Let us now examine the return plan still in more detail. There are three topics to consider.
First, rural refugees are the most pressing problem and can be repatriated easily.
Second, Jewish concentration areas.
Third, urban population in cities. There are 18 cities classified as follows: 3 mixed coastal cities (Jaffa- Tel Aviv, Haifa); 2 were mixed now Jewish (Tiberias and Safad); 3 were Palestinians now mixed (Acre, Lydda, Ramle), 4 was Palestinian, now Jewish (Baysan, Beer Sheba, Al Majdal (Asqalan), Isdud- was village), 2 were and are still Palestinian (Shafa Amr and Nazareth), 3 Palestinian cities on the Armistice Line whose land is lost(Gaza, Tul Karm and Qalqilya); and West Jerusalem was mixed, now Jewish.
Let us start with the return of rural refugees. We can divide the phases of their return into the following phases: rural south in two phases, rural Galilee in one phase, and central Palestine in one phase.
Return of Gaza Refugees
Take the most tragic of refugee situations Gaza Strip.
We shall deal first with those whose homes are between latitude 60 kilometers and 140 kilometers (south 1,2).
In this area, most the depopulated villages found refuge in Gaza Strip, which became home for the inhabitants of 247 villages, but a considerable number of villages in that region went to Jordan. Therefore, the return of population to these villages must simultaneously allow the return from Gaza Strip and Jordan.
We can repeat the same exercise for Galilee villages from latitude 230 to latitude 300.
Return of Galilee refugees
Returning the rural refugees in these phases will make a tremendous contribution to the return and will hardly affect the present Jewish occupants. In this way, we could arrange for the return of three-quarters of all refugees without significant displacement of existing occupants. The kibbutz residents can either rent some agricultural land from its legal owners or, turn into industry and tourism, which would require a small area of land.
The return of the rural villages in the central region between latitude 170 and 230 is not straightforward for two reasons. One, there is Jewish concentration on the coast. Two, there are existing Palestinian villages in this region.
This can be solved by creating independent Jewish cantons.
Jewish Urban Canton Details
As stated before, Jewish concentration is mainly urban in roughly the same area the early immigrants lived in during the British Mandate. We can divide this into three cantons: central canton around Tel Aviv metropolis, northern canton around Haifa, and Jerusalem canton. Jerusalem canton needs special political, historical, and demographic treatment and we shall not be discussed in this paper.
Central canton, Canton 1 exclusively Jewish, can be divided into three sub-cantons, all are on Jewish land shown blue. The first one C11 is Tel Aviv canton, and C12 Rishon Le Zion, and C13 Herzliya canton. To ensure physical continuity between these three cantons, some parts of Palestinian village land are added onto these cantons, shown in black. Cities are shown in brown. Palestinian land with new Jewish population over 30,000 are shown dotted. Canton 1 is in three parts to allow Palestinian villages to circulate. (2nd click).
We can see that BUA generally covers Jewish areas and partly spills over to Palestinian areas. In this specially crowded area, about two dozen depopulated villages out of 560 (4%) are over-built by new construction.
There will be an absolute need for close and peaceful proximity of population between Jaffa City and Jaffa villages on the one hand, and the three branches of the central canton. There is Jewish population of over 30,000 on the lands of some Jaffa villages. This small number could rent accommodation or move to one of the Jewish cantons.
Haifa canton, C2, comprises Haifa and colonies between Haifa and Acre. This canton is different but simpler. It is different in that has an equivalent number of Palestinians. It is simpler because it is confined and mixed. The record In Haifa shows that mixed population lives harmoniously.
As to Haifa canton, mixed population could remain as they were before 1948 and now. The population of Al Tira village, south of Haifa, now annexed to Haifa has the choice to accept annexation to Haifa or to remain independent as they were.
This leaves us with concentrations of rural kibbutz. There are five blocks.
Block 1 on the coastal plain, which has an area of 178 km2 and a Jewish population of 372,253 Jews and only 15,220 Palestinians. Block 2 is upper Marj Ibn Amer, which has an area of 119 km2 and Jewish population 51,671.
Block 3 is lower Marj Ibn Amer with an area of 104 km2 and a Jewish population of 50,475. Block 4 is an area of 123 km2 with a Jewish population 15,723, and Block 5 is an area of 59 km2 with a Jewish population 6,757.
It is of course naive to suggest that this would occur smoothly. The major obstacle, as I stated earlier, is the complete and final abolition of racism and Apartheid and all consequences of ethnic cleansing.
This is not farfetched as it may seem because all regimes whose practice is contrary to international law are doomed. The question is how and when this may happen.
With the abolition of racism and Apartheid, it is possible for each population however defined culturally, ethnically, or religiously to resume their lives in an atmosphere of democracy and rule of law. Hence, the definition of Jewish urban cantons and Jewish rural blocks, which would enable municipal councils in these areas to apply their own religious or cultural preferences such as worship, holidays, education, and the like. The same of course will be true for the Palestinian areas.
Freedom of movement and work should be guaranteed for all. Freedom of buying real estate should not exploit the power of wealth against economic needs and should therefore be restricted. It should not disturb the demographic composition on lines to be developed, similar to the Land Transfer Regulations law of 1940.
There remains the problem of originally totally Palestinian towns in the south, occupied today by Jewish population, namely Isdud, Majdal and Beer Sheba. In Beer Sheba and Isdud, there should be no problem because Jewish urban areas are removed from original Palestinian areas. In Majdal (Asqalan or Ashkelon), this is not the case, but there are enough open areas combining al Majdal with the village of Al Joura and expanding the same west and north towards village of Hamama. Safad and Tiberias always had mixed population and should remain so. Palestinian population of Lydda and Ramle and Beisan could return to rehabilitated old quarters leaving the Jewish immigrants in new neighborhoods.
Reconstruction of Destroyed Villages
If you look at this Google picture you will see rural Israeli fields. It looks very innocent, but it hides a war crime. Here is the grave of a destroyed village.
This is Bayt Jirja, a village in Gaza district south of Palestine. Its inhabitants are now refugees in Gaza Strip. Many young people who hail from this village are members of the resistance which held back the Israeli war on Gaza last summer.
But not all is lost.
The village inhabitants are still bound by family ties even in al shatat. When expelled the villagers sought refuge in one or mostly two of UNRWA five regions. This we have a good record of the village inhabitants in their social cohesion and in UNRWA records. Ninety percent of village sites are still vacant. We have aerial photos of most villages taken by RAF in 1945.
Here is Bayt Jirja comes to life again.
We have identified every house owner by name and where he and his family live today in a refugee camp, frequently within sight or at most within a bus ride.
There is a major reality hidden by the Israelis, that most (over 85%) of village sites are still vacant.
Now we are ready to bring the refugees back.
We have a database which enables us to know who the refugees are, where they are in exile maps and what are their villages of origin.
Here there three examples from Lebanon, Jordan and Gaza.
First the camp of exile. Here the villages from these refugees were expelled. That is the route they follow on their return. It is a short journey, on average only 35 miles.
The return can operate in phases, the most dramatic is the return of Gaza refugees followed by those in Jordan.
When they return they should start rebuilding their destroyed villages.
We started 5 years ago a program to do that.
All villages were destroyed by Israel in a systematic program to deny the refugees their return. We tried to collect any piece of information we could find about destroyed villages: from scare aerial photos, Mandate surveys, village books and sketches by villagers. We then identified as much as possible the names of house owners. We digitize all that and created a coherent map of the village.
Next we checked the present site from Satellite images.
Next we started an annual competition among Palestinian architectural students to reconstruct their villages. The competition was judged by an international jury.
Here are some examples.
Now all the logistics are in place.
The cost of repatriation can be estimated from this table. The amount needed is relatively small and can be offset by compensation to which the Palestinians are entitled since Al Nakba. Reconstruction of destroyed villages can be carried out by Palestinian engineers and labor quite easily, since many of them have built similar or much larger projects in the Gulf. It is worth noting the cost of reconstruction is a small fraction of the aid to Israel provided by the USA and European Union. Moreover, this cost of construction will be incurred only once, not annually as the case of aid to Israel. UNRWA should be able with its predominantly Palestinian staff to supervise the repatriation for a period of up to eight years. Law under these circumstances should be based on democracy and justice, and forbid at pain of punishment any resort to racism, Apartheid, and discrimination. The key determinant is upholding human rights and principles of justice.
Considering the Facts:
Let us consider these facts about Israelis :
FACT: Israel occupied all of Palestine by military force. There is no legal justification whatsoever. Israel has no borders. There is a pile of UN resolutions and articles of International law condemning Israel's actions. All these actions could be unraveled when international law is applied.
FACT: Israel enjoys unlimited support of US government, and a variable support from old colonials in Western Europe.
FACT: Israel is an important weapons and cyber products exporter. It is economically robust. Half of its companies are listed at the NY stock exchange. That is a strong indication of Jewish economic power in the West.
According to an extensive Israeli study in 1995 projecting "Israel 2020", there will not be, should not be in Israel more than 8 million Jews.
There is a constant flow of Jews leaving Israel or recovering their original citizenship. There are an estimated 750,000 Israelis living permanently abroad. There are one million Russians in Israel mostly for economic reasons.
Are they abandoning ship? Not really but many understand the status quo could not last.
Facts about Palestinians: They were 1.5 million in 1948. They are now 13m. In 2030 they will be 18 million, half in Palestine, the other half on its borders if they do not return. Only 12% are far from Palestine.
They have no tanks or airplanes. In Palestine itself, they are either second class citizens in Israel or under direct Israeli military occupation in the West Bank or under siege in Gaza, the largest and worst concentration camp in the world.
Many Arab regimes abandoned them. Trump and cohorts entered the scene as a bull in a China shop and destroyed international law. It does not look very pretty.
They have been in a constant state of struggle for 100 years since the infamous Balfour.
They stood their ground after 6 major wars and hundreds of air, sea and land Israeli attacks, particularly on refugee camps, including three recent wars on Gaza in the space of six years and again recently when Israel mowed down unarmed protesters.
They foiled 50 or 60 Western and Israeli "peace plans" since 1949 to resettle them anywhere in the world except Palestine.
At least 170 UN member states are no their side. Growing number of young people in the West are on their side, many are young Jews. This breakthrough occurred as a result of freely available electronic media which broke the Israeli monopoly on the press.
Their children, third generation refugees, know where they came from, where their homes were and are. They are now waving flags of return at the Israeli barbed wire.
They never gave up their Right of Return. They have no intention of abandoning their country Palestine.
In the last 100 years not one oppressive regime survived; Nazism, Fascism, formal Communism, European colonialism in Asia and Africa, institutional discrimination, racism, Apartheid. All gone. All gone. Except in Israel.
There is no legal, moral, geographic, demographic, economic or logistic reason why Palestinians cannot return home, except one. That is Israel's racist and Apartheid policy and practice. It must be abolished.
Brute power cannot prop oppression for long,
Justice shall prevail and that Palestinians shall return home.
Let us make that happen and soon.