Timothy Crawley, The San Francisco Chronicle, Aug 4, 2009
This article was originally published by The San Francisco Chronicle and is republished with the author's permission.
Walk down what was formerly Al-Borj Street in Haifa, Israel, and you might catch sight of an old Jerusalem-stone building with arched doorways and windows cemented-over and a large Re/Max (an international real estate franchise) banner draped across the front. The house belongs to the Kanafani family, most of whom are living in exile in Lebanon but some of whom are now living as far away from home as San Francisco.
Defined as "absentee property" under Israeli law, the house is one of thousands of properties owned by Palestinian refugees who were forced from their lands by Jewish militias or fled during the war of 1948, in what would be remembered as the Palestinian "Nakba" - the Catastrophe. The Israeli Absentee Property Law of 1950 established the Custodian of Absentee Property to safeguard these homes until a resolution would be reached regarding the right of Palestinian refugees to return.
For-sale signs have now appeared on dozens of these buildings across the state, and many have already been sold to private owners, frustrating the refugees' legal right to recover their homes. A grave breach of international law, Israel's sales of Palestinian homes is severing the refugees' connection to the land - the linchpin for negotiations in their right of return to their homeland.
For displaced Palestinians, however, this phase of the Nakba is not limited to these illegal land sales by Israel. Eleven new unlawful settler outposts were established last week in the West Bank, undermining Israeli credibility in their discussions with the United States to freeze settlement expansion. Furthermore, a complete settlement freeze is unlikely as Israeli leaders claim that some construction is too far along to be halted, entitling the settlers to further entrench themselves upon Palestinian property.
Nor is the continuing Nakba limited to those living in the occupied Palestinian territories or refugees in exile abroad unable to return home. Internally displaced Bedouin citizens of Israel living in the Negev Desert are building shacks from scrap metal adjacent to their previous homes that were demolished by Israeli bulldozers. Demolition orders have been issued by the state for entire villages to make room for new Jewish towns.
The evacuation of the villages and the demolition of Bedouin homes represent the next step in the historical process of forcible displacement of Palestinian Arabs in favor of Jewish residents.
The Kanafani family loses a home in Haifa; lands in the West Bank including East Jerusalem are further colonized; and Bedouin citizens of Israel are displaced yet again. The Nakba did not just happen in 1948. It is continuing for thousands of Palestinians who are systematically denied their basic rights to property, housing, employment - and their right to live at peace in their own homes.
Peace will remain elusive so long as Israel's approach to Palestinian refugees is to erase them from history; when Palestinian property in the West Bank continues to be expropriated and developed for Israel; or when Palestinian families must be uprooted and their homes demolished because they are not Jews. The pressure of the Obama administration on the Israeli government must not wane. Beyond the call to freeze all settlement activity, President Obama should insist on equal rights for Palestinians, and oppose discriminatory Israeli policies that only prolong the Nakba.
Timothy Crawley, a student at Hastings College of the Law, is interning at Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.
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