The forced displacement of Palestinians

Where the law fails to protect, a human rights-based approach provides a structure of accountability for both sides of the 'Green Line', from Al-Araqib to Susiya.

Rina Rosenberg Nadia Ben-Youssef Suhad Bishara
19 September 2013

Al-Araqib is a Palestinian Bedouin village in Israel whose residents are Israeli citizens. As of September 2013, Israel has destroyed the village 56 times to make way for two Jewish National Fund (JNF) forests. Susiya is a Palestinian village in Area ‘C’ of the West Bank whose residents live under Israeli occupation. The majority of structures in Susiya are subject to demolition orders and Israel intends to forcibly displace the community to clear the land for Jewish settlement. Separated by mere kilometers and the notorious ‘Green Line’, the villages share a single story of struggle against forced displacement.

Regardless of their location and the geo-political and legal contexts, the Israeli authorities threaten the very existence of these communities through similar methods and policies.

By their continued presence, these communities directly challenge their displacement, and seek avenues to effectively affirm their right to remain.  A human rights-based approach offers a conceptual framework that correctly focuses on the individuals and communities whose rights are being violated, wherever they are, and demands only that the violations cease. It is not rigid in terms of analyzing issues within separate legal contexts – one for Israel, one for the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT); as both are not only incapable of halting the violation of Palestinians’ rights, but have also long upheld a paradigm that is divorced from the facts on the ground.


"Al-Araqib to Susiya" documentary / Adalah

Below, the stories of the villages of Al-Araqib and Susiya highlight the various methods used by Israel to forcibly displace Palestinians, wherever they are. Perhaps the most effective method is the complex matrix of laws and regulations that Israel has created in order to ‘legally’ displace communities, in contravention of all existing human rights norms. It is only through a human rights-based approach that we can demand these protections for Palestinians, the victims and rights holders, and accountability from Israel, the perpetrator and duty-bearer, freed from political and strategic restraints.

Forced displacement

Forced displacement involves the “involuntary removal of persons from their homes or land, directly or indirectly attributable to the State.”[1] States are not permitted to forcibly displace people from their homes or land, except in strictly-defined and exceptional circumstances, and always with utmost respect for their rights.[2]  Today, Israel continues to displace Palestinian communities located within its sphere of control in Israel and in the OPT.

The Story of Al-Araqib

Al-Araqib is an ‘unrecognized’ Bedouin village located in the Naqab/Negev desert in southern Israel whose residents are Palestinian citizens of Israel who have been living in their ancestral village for over two centuries. Israel first displaced the people from their village in 1951, by appropriating their land for alleged ‘security purposes’ under the Land Acquisition Law (Actions and Compensation) (1953). In 1998, around 45 families decided to return, fearing that the JNF planned to plant a forest on their land, establishing facts on the ground that would finally sever their historic ties. Since their return, the village has faced a barrage of direct and indirect methods of displacement. 

As an ‘unrecognized village’ the state denies Al-Araqib access to basic services and infrastructure including water, electricity, sewerage, roads, schools and health care.  In 2003 and 2004, the ILA began aerially spraying the cultivated fields of Al-Araqib with a toxic chemical, causing harm to people, crops and livestock. The state and JNF began planting the ‘Ambassador’s Forest’ in 2006 on the southern part of Al-Araqib, and in 2009, the JNF and God-TV channel began planting a million trees on the western lands of the village. On 27 July 2010, the Israel Land Authority (ILA) and over 1,000 police razed the entire village, leaving over 300 villagers homeless and displacing most to a government-planned township. A handful of families vowed to stay; they continually rebuild their homes, despite the government’s tireless efforts to destroy the village, which has now been demolished 56 times.

The Story of Susiya

Susiya is located in the South Hebron Hills, in Area C of the West Bank. Today it has a population of 350, including 120 children. Over the last three decades, Susiya has suffered repeated demolitions, evictions, and restrictions imposed by Israel in its attempt to force the people off their land. The people of Susiya originally came from Tel Arad in the Naqab. Following the Nakba, they were displaced to the Old City of Susiya in the West Bank, where they were denied access to basic services and infrastructure. Following Israel’s occupation of the OPT in 1967, it began establishing illegal Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank.  In 1983, it founded the illegal Jewish settlement of Suseya on Susiya’s land. 

In 1986, Israel declared the main area of the Palestinian village an archaeological site and demolished 60 homes. The villagers rebuilt on neighboring land, but in 2001 the entire village was demolished and its inhabitants displaced yet again. A decade later in 2011, Israeli authorities destroyed 41 structures. Today, 70% of the structures in Susiya have pending demolition orders, including a school, a clinic supported by CARE International, and solar panels funded by the German government.[3] Jewish settlers frequently commit acts of violence against the villagers and their property, immune from prosecution by the Israeli authorities. Additionally, the Israeli military prevents Susiya’s residents from entering and cultivating large areas of their land because of its proximity to the settlements.

"From Al-Araqib to Susiya" Documentary/Adalah.

"Al-Araqib to Susiya" documentary / Adalah

Methods of Forced Displacement

Israel uses the following main methods to forcibly displace Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line:

Home demolitions: In accordance with the planning regimes in Israel and Area C, Palestinian structures in strategic areas are deemed illegal and subject to demolition.

Denial of basic services: Israel’s discriminatory planning regime has also legitimized the denial of basic services to Palestinians living in the unrecognized villages in the Naqab and many Palestinian villages in Area C.

Destroying livelihoods: Israel regularly destroys crops planted by Bedouin citizens in unrecognized villages.  In Area C, severe restrictions on Palestinians’ freedom of movement, e.g. checkpoints, segregated highways and the Separation Wall, uprooting of olive groves and destruction of wells has deprived thousands of basic means of sustenance.

Forestation and Nature Reserves: The JNF uses forestation as a means of confiscating Palestinian land, resulting in the displacement of its inhabitants. In Area C, the Israeli Civil Administration has designated 20% of the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea area as nature reserves, putting it out of Palestinian reach.

Land confiscation for ‘public purposes’: Israel has used a series of domestic laws to confiscate large tracts of Palestinian-owned land for ‘public purposes’, such as for highways and military zones, including 66% of the Naqab and 70% of Area C.
Expansion of Jewish settlements and outposts in Area C: 325,000 settlers now live in the 235 settlements and outposts in Area C. 

Settler violence: Palestinians throughout the occupied West Bank regularly face extreme physical violence, intimidation and harassment by Jewish settlers, while Israeli law enforcement systematically failures to prosecute or punish those responsible. 

State Harassment and violence is frequently used to coerce Palestinians to abandon their land. Protestors against forced displacement are regularly arrested and prosecuted and the state has sued individual Palestinians for the costs of destroying their homes.

The Suspension of the Law

In Israel and the OPT, clear domestic and international legal frameworks theoretically protect Palestinians from forced displacement. Palestinian citizens of Israel, including the people of Al-Araqib, hold constitutional rights, as elaborated in Israel’s basic laws, such as the right to property and dignity. Palestinians living under occupation, including the people of Susiya, are protected by international humanitarian law (IHL), which prohibits Israel, as an occupying power, from forcibly transferring, evicting, deporting, displacing and destroying their property as ‘protected persons’. International human rights law protects the rights of all persons, including the rights to adequate housing, health, education, a decent standard of living, non-discrimination and self-determination.

However, in reality, the law as applied in Israel and in the OPT fails, in either its form or application, to protect Palestinians from forced displacement. Since 1948, Israel has created a complex matrix of overlapping and discriminatory land, planning and military laws and regulations to seize control of Palestinian land and displace hundreds of thousands of its inhabitants through ‘legal’ means, whether they are its own citizens or ‘protected persons’. [4] Israel suspends legal protections for Palestinians and has systematically used the law as a tool to achieve a geo-political reality of a Jewish state on the maximum amount of land containing the minimum number of Palestinians.

The human rights based approach as the way forward

Shifting the focus to promoting and protecting the human rights of all Palestinians, allows victims and advocates to see beyond the complex system of laws and regulations carefully erected by Israel to enable it to remove Palestinians from their land. The normative framework empowers Palestinians to make claims of forced displacement against the state, which is obliged to protect human rights on an equal basis for all, without discrimination. Where the law fails to protect, or even facilitates the violation of rights, the human rights-based approach provides a structure of accountability, both for remedying past violations and in the development of future policies. Rather than prioritize the very system that enables forced displacement, a human rights based approach correctly positions the state as a duty-bearer to Palestinians regardless of what powers it has afforded itself to displace them and dispossess them of their land.

To watch the documentary 'From Al-Araqib to Susiya', click here.

[1] UN OHCHR, Fact Sheet No. 25, “Forced Evictions and Human Rights,” May 1996.

[2] UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment 7: Forced Evictions.

[3] See UN OCHA, “Susiya: At Imminent risk of forced displacement,” March 2012; CARE International, “Stop the demolition of the Palestinian village of Susiya and CARE’s health clinic – update,” 30 July 2012.

[4] During the Nakba (catastrophe) of 1948, over 700,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes and villages, with 544,000 crossing an international border. 156,000 Palestinians remained inside Israel’s new borders, 15-25% of whom were internally displaced. In 1967, 400,000-450,000 Palestinians were displaced in the context of armed conflict and Israel’s Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

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