With the number of Palestinian martyrs as a result of the Israeli bombardment exceeding 10,000, and in light of the ethnic and forced displacement and hostile acts committed against the Gaza Strip, there are fears today of a new Nakba, like that of 1948, which witnessed the displacement of three quarters of the Palestinian people, and their forced exile with the establishment of the Israeli occupation state.
To better understand the Palestinian scene today, and to know the historical, legal, and political context of the potential disaster, the Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD), in cooperation with the Center for Community Action at Al-Quds University, and the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, held a press conference with the participation of a group of international lawyers, specialists, and journalists in the field of human rights, on Monday, November 6, 2023, which was moderated by international lawyer and senior advisor to the Palestinian Cause program at ARDD, Dr. Lex Takkenberg.
According to Takkenberg, it is important to deliver and provide humanitarian assistance to all, provide international protection, and stop the war, in view of the atrocities committed by Israel against the Palestinians, and the numerous human rights violations taking place in the West Bank and Gaza, which are obvious war crimes that can amount to genocide.
As part of the conference, Associate Professor of International Law at the United Arab Emirates University, Jinan Bastaki, in collaboration with a specialized working group of the International Network for the Palestinian Cause, launched a background paper entitled: “Forced Displacement in Gaza and the Right of Return”, to monitor the ongoing ethnic cleansing mainly in Gaza, and in the West Bank.
For her part, the United Nations Rapporteur for the Occupied Territories and Advisor to the Migration and Asylum Program at ARDD, Francesca Albanese, said that “the conditions in Gaza are tragic and their impact is profound, and they seem to be heading towards the abyss. But there is still a chance to stop before falling into that abyss. So, this conference provides a picture as well as a legal and historical background for what is happening, in addition to raising awareness of the facts and potential risks in this regard, stressing the need for the international community to act urgently.
Albanese gave a detailed explanation of three basic legal concepts related to this war; the first of which is the right to self-defense, which was raised by the Israeli occupation after the events of October 7, which were not without context, as indicated by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, as they were the product of more than 75 years of suffocating occupation in which Gaza paid the highest price in human casualties and difficult living conditions, among other things, as over the course of five wars before this one, Gaza lost more than 4,0000 people, including 1,020 children.
Albanese explained that the technical meaning of this concept in international law is “the right to wage war and not self-defense”, this right does not give them the right to attack the area under occupation, even if it poses a threat to the occupier, according to the decision of the Supreme Court of the United Nations – the International Court of Justice, as Israel was supposed to respond to Hamas within the framework of international humanitarian law and let it take its course. Hence, Israel has no right to wage any war against Gaza, according to Albanese.
As for the second concept, ethnic cleansing, Albanese condemned and warned of its dangers from the first week after the attack, pointing out that her previous book on the forced displacement of Palestinian refugees since 1947 explained that Israel had caused the displacement of 750,000 Palestinians between 1947 and 1949, then displaced over 350,000 in 1969 after the 1967 war, while now in the current war there is an intention and even declared plans to get Palestinians out of Gaza. The forced displacement of civilians is a war crime under international law, one which Palestinians have always suffered from, such as the withdrawal of IDs by the IDF and the assault and closure by the settlers.
Through the third concept, genocide, Albanese warned of the dangers of ethnic cleansing and settler colonialism, which carry elements of genocide defined by the United Nations as “acts committed with the intention of destroying in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”, while these five acts are: killing members of the group, causing them serious physical or mental harm, and imposing living conditions aimed, with a clear intent, at destroying and targeting civilians.
Albanese stressed that there is a clear and declared intention by political and military leaders, as well as Israeli society, to completely destroy Gaza, which is very alarming; as “Genocide is not just an act, but a process that begins with the dehumanization of the other, and Europeans must be aware of this; the crime of the Holocaust against the Jews would not have happened without dehumanizing them over several centuries,” warning in the same context of the continuation of this war.
On the current situation in Gaza and the West Bank, the Director of the Human Rights Clinic and Community Action Center at Al-Quds University, Dr. Munir Nusseibeh, stressed that the occupation state used genocide to change the geographical distribution in the region, indicating that Israel has been falsifying history since 1948, forcibly displacing about 80% of the population and not allowing them to return to their land, in addition to deporting them outside and inside Palestine, and is currently carrying out a systematic program to displace Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
Nusseibeh pointed out that the conditions in hospitals and schools and the food situation are very concerning, in addition to the fact that the food is contaminated and unfit for human consumption, with the spread of epidemics in the Strip, which is likely to prevent Palestinians from returning to northern Gaza after all this destruction. Hence, it is important for Israel to abide by international humanitarian law, and not to target civilians, especially that, since the seventh of October, a group of settlers backed by officers gradually expelled Palestinians and pushed them out by force, destroying their homes and properties, thus leaving them nowhere to go.
On the right of return, international law professor Jinan Bastaki stressed the importance of enabling refugees to return to their homes inside Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, noting that 80% of the people of Gaza are refugees since (the Naksa and the Nakba) and have not been able to return to this day. Since 2007, restrictions have been imposed on Gazans, as well as arbitrary air, sea, and land blockades. Bastaki held the Israeli occupation responsible for preventing medical supplies and food from reaching Gaza, as that stands in violation of international humanitarian laws.
Moreover, Bastaki pointed out that Israel carried out ethnic cleansing under the fog of war and is trying to pressure Egypt to receive displaced people from Gaza, while it is currently working to displace more than a million civilians in Gaza to the south. ” However, the closest border crossing is the Eretz crossing. If Israel wants to ensure the safety of civilians in Gaza, it needs to allow safe access for them into Israel, but the reality is that Palestinian refugees are denied the right of return, especially since around 80% of the population of Gaza are recognized refugees, so they should be enabled to access Israel and the Occupied West Bank, if the refugees so choose. Indeed, the denial of the right of return of Palestinian refugees is a symptom of underlying structural conditions of protracted military occupation, settler colonialism, and its apartheid regime,” according to Bastaki.
Between all these proposals and discussions, it becomes clear that the Nakba of 1948 is similar to the Nakba of October 7, if we are to consider it a new Nakba, as the Israeli colonial mentality goes towards building Jewish settlements in Gaza, which is dangerous and will have ramifications on all neighboring countries. Hence, it is important to move to cease all hostilities, revoke all “evacuation” orders, and allow the safe and unhindered return of all internally displaced Palestinians to their homes, as well as allowing the unhindered provision of basic goods and services, as per the recommendations of the reference paper.
The paper also called for allowing the full, sustained, safe, and unhindered humanitarian access for UNRWA and other UN humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners, the ICRC and all other humanitarian organizations, and to urgently establish a mechanism to ensure the protection of the Palestinian civilian population, in accordance with international law and the relevant United Nations resolutions, as well as upholding international law, including IHL and human rights, whose violations and ongoing impunity for which are one of the key drivers of the current disaster, leading to ending the protracted military occupation and siege and dismantling the apartheid regime.