The Question of Statehood and Refuge


Author: Apoorv Agarwal


Palestinians in the last 100 years have suffered the worst form of injustice. These people were dispossessed of their lands, driven from their homes and turned into refugees. Today, out of the 10.5 million or so Palestinians, about 5.5 million live outside Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. The roots of this refugee problem can be traced to the 1947-48 Civil war and Israeli War of Independence 1948-49.

Some of the worst atrocities were committed during the Israeli War of Independence, when according to some of the New Historians, it was a policy laid out by David Ben-Gurion to drive away Arabs, a policy sometimes also termed as ethnic cleansing [1].

Meanwhile, worldwide support of Israel was increasing especially on grounds of Holocaust and the failure of Allies to stop Hitler from exterminating Jews. United States of America was especially supportive of the idea of a Jewish State. It was one of the first countries to recognise Israel after it declared its independence on 14th May, 1948.

For Israel as a state, one important document worth mentioning is the Balfour Declaration. According to author Arthur Koestler it was an impossible idea, “One nation promising the land of another to a third” [2]. The Balfour Declaration Israeli and Palestinian Flagof 1917 stated the support for the establishment of Jewish homeland in Palestine by the government of United Kingdom [3].

Palestine was made a British Mandate in 1923 but Britain held control over the territory from 1917 after it drove out Ottoman forces during World War I. Palestine was classified as a Class A Mandate. Article 22(4) of the League Covenant, stated that defined Class A Mandates stated that certain communities that were formerly a part of Ottoman Empire “have reached a state of development where their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognised” [4]. Hence, Palestine as a state had already been provisionally recognised by the League of Nations in 1922.

US President Harry Truman was especially supportive of Jewish settlement of Palestine. When the British had refused entry of Jews to Palestine post World War II, Harry Truman himself asked Britain to admit 100,000 Jews to Palestine [5]. Britain as the Mandatory power had refused the entry of Jews (most of them Holocaust survivors) since the increased immigration had caused discontent among the Arabs and many had taken up arms against the British control of Palestine.

Britain did not transfer the Palestinian Mandate to the UN Trusteeship Council, instead referring the issue to United Nations General Assembly. Resolution 181 [6] was adopted by the General Assembly that stated Palestine be divided into two states: one Jewish and one Arab with Jerusalem under UN Trusteeship Council control [7]. This resolution was never put into force as Israel declared independence and the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli War ensued.

The generally agreed upon pre-requisites for the recognition of an independent state by other nations are as follows [8]:

i) A Functioning government

ii) A Determinable Territory

iii) A Fixed Population

iv) The Capacity to enter relations with other states

Israel is recognised at the United Nations as an independent state yet it does not have a defined border.

For the Palestinians, they are still without an independent nation. During the Six Day War in 1967, Israel annexed West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan (officially Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan) and Gaza Strip from Egypt. Palestinian Liberation Organisation declared an independent state of Palestine in 1988 from Algiers, Algeria and the Palestinian National Council declared Government in Exile with Yasser Arafat as President of Palestine [9].

The 1993 Oslo Accords finally led Israel to recognise Palestinians as people with political rights and PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. These peace accords were a disaster for Palestine as a state and Palestinians as a people [10]. Anyone who was critical of these accords was considered to be against peace and as US President Bill Clinton called them “haters of peace” [11].

Palestinians did not get any state meanwhile Israel continued to build more settlements in the occupied territories. Today, out of 7 million Israelis, about 500,000 live in these settlements. These settlements are in violation of Fourth Geneva Convention [12].

Palestinians are losing their homes and farmlands for the construction of settlements. Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention [13] states “Any destruction by occupying power of real or personal property… is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations”. Clearly, this destruction of property for the construction of settlements is by no means necessary for military operations.

According to a statement by International Committee of the Red Cross “…the Occupying Power must not interfere with its original economic and social structures, organization, legal system or demography”, where “its” refers to the occupied territories [14].

To quote Edward W. Said “We are the victims of the victims, the refugees of the refugees”. The sympathy towards Zionism post World War II was in part a result of the holocaust [15].

The details provided above are proof enough that Palestinians as a people have suffered for a long time and Israel is still violating International Laws for its own benefit. This conflict needs to end and it needs to end now. The settlements are a major thaw in the peace process and they need to be dismantled for the peace process to be given a chance.

For Further Information:

  1. Pappé, Ilan, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oneworld Publications, 2006). Summary can be found on Page last accessed on 12th March, 2013. Ilan Pappé is one of the New Historians.
  2. Quoted as has been mentioned in the 2008 BBC Documentary The Birth of Israel presentedby Jeremy Bowen.
  3. The document can be found on Page last accessed on 12th March, 2013.
  4. Details about the Article 22 of League of Nations Covenant can be found on
  5. See
  6. Details about the Resolution can be found on
  7. Jerusalem was to be set up as corpus separatum, the exact details can be found on Plan of Partition with Economic Union, Part III.
  8. See pages 4-5 of
  9. For the Oslo Accords, read Page last accessed on 12th March, 2013.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Said, Edward, The End of the Peace Process (Vintage Press, 2001), p. 312.
  12. Refer to the statement issued by the International Committee of the Red Cross at at Paragraph 5.
  13. Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention can be accessed at
  14. Ibid. 12, at Paragraph 3.
  15. Ibid. 11, p. 315.


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