by Norma Masriyeh
Resettlement as a possible political solution to the Palestine refugee prob¬lem has resurfaced in the peace process negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. It seems, indeed, that the only solution Israel envisions for the refugees is their resettlement or integration into other Arab countries. This proposal, echoed by other Western states and bodies, is an indication that, in their perception, the problem is an economic one. Such a solution, which entailed a permanent resettlement in host countries and the abandonment of hope of repatriation, has been rejected by Palestinians since the early 1950s.
Resettlement in the classic sense means integration and full participa¬tion in the social and economic life of the host society. It is one of three durable solutions to refugee problems. The other two are repatriation to the original homeland, and resettlement which "involves moving refugees from their country of first asylum to a third country" (Stein, 1983).
Accordingly, Israel's call for resettling Palestinian refugees as a durable solution, relates to only two of the forms of resettlement. The first one applies to Palestinian refugees in host countries since 1948 to date; the second con¬cerns Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip after 1967, whom Israel wishes to see outside the borders of Palestine, in a third country.
Intensive discussion of the refugee issue started in the aftermath of the 1967 war at ministerial level in Israel. It was Yigal Allon (a prominent Labor Party leader and Cabinet member) who, in July 1967, was the first to suggest a "solution" to the refugee problem by resettling Gaza Strip refugees in the West Bank and Al-Arish (Zaru, 1991). In fact, the Galilee Document of the late 1960s, titled "Rehabilitation of Refugees and Development in the West Bank and Gaza Strip," was the first to suggest the allocation of funds for a four-year plan for development and rehabilitation of refugees. The basis of this plan was to effect changes in the living con¬ditions of the refugees (by setting up new housing projects outside the camps and the renovation of camps), as well as the integration of refugees within the nearby towns, to be under municipal responsibility (Davar,
August 16, 1973; Karawan, 1973).
The first concrete steps were taken in May 1970 when Shimon Peres set up a secret trust fund (Trust Fund for the Economic Development and Rehabilitation of Refugees) for this purpose. Peres hoped that, through the resettlement of Gaza refugees, the military government could replace UNRWA's work (The Jerusalem
Post, September 22, 1971). The trust was secret because, in Peres' words, "the chance of success is in inverse proportion to the amount of publicity" (The Observer,
August 1, 1971). The funds were spent without revealing the ultimate political goal of resettlement (ibid.).
The only sources available on the resettlement of refugees in the Gaza Strip are those of UNRWA, according to which two types of resettlement took place: the first involved the Israeli authorities offering the refugees housing units; and the second involved plots of land.
The first project to be established within the context of the first type was the "Canada Camp" before 1973. This project is a unique case because it was left in Egypt after the Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula in 1982 as part of the original Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt. In June 1985, the Egyptian government and the Israeli authorities agreed on a gradual return to the Gaza Strip of the refugees stranded in the Canada Camp project.
The other housing projects were:
1. The Shuqeiri Project in Khan Yunis, which commenced in March 1973; by June 1989 it had 135 families (848 persons) in 128 houses.
2. The Brazilian project in Rafah, started in April 1973; in June 1989 it had 436 families (2,820) persons in 422 houses.
3. The Sheikh Radwan project in Gaza City, commenced in March 1974; it had 790 families (5,029 persons) in 806 houses.
4. AI-Amal project in Khan Yunis, commenced in May 1979; it had 802 families (4,853 persons) in 842 houses.
In all, by June 1989, the number of houses reached 2,686, housing 3,054 families or 18,920 persons.
The second type of project involved the allocation of plots of land which started in September 1974. The initial size of each plot was 250 sq. m., subsequently reduced to 125 sq. m. In 1977, the Israeli authorities jus¬tified this reduction to shortage of land suitable for building purposes. However, this justification has to be examined against the authorities' pol¬icy to pave the way for future projected expansion of Jewish settlements in the Strip (UNRWA, 1989). In all, 6,642 plots of land were allocated, of which 250 were under construction. The project involved 5,428 houses and 6,905 families (ibid.).
The Military-Political Aspects of Resettlement
Israeli measures to resettle Gaza Strip refugees, which started in the early 1970s, do not conform with their humanitarian claims to improve the living conditions of refugees. These Israeli measures can instead be seen as an integral part of modern counter-insurgency doctrines promoted by security considerations in response to revolutionary guerrilla warfare or insurgency.
The Malayan "new villages," the "strategic hamlets" in Vietnam, the "aldeamentos" in Angola, and the "douars" in Algeria are just a few exam¬ples from resettlement history. They are resettlements carried out by Britain, the United States, Portugal and France respectively, within the framework of a counter-insurgency strategy (McCuen, 1966; Beckett and Pimlott, 1985).
In the context of counter-insurgency strategy, resettlement is perceived as being part of a "civic action" to counter-organize the population after the destruction of a guerrilla organization. It is a policy that follows the French concept, which emphasizes that "destruction must be followed by construction" (McCuen, 1966). The aim of initiating resettlement programs is to regain the confidence of the population through developing the con¬vincing "hearts and minds" policy. To achieve such a goal, "civic action" projects designed to improve the material conditions are a requirement which imply pacification policies:
Resettlement of sections of the population is another form sought by colonial regimes or governments to sever the links between the insur¬gents and the populace ... particularly when terror and/or guerrilla attacks persist and are attributed, at least partially, to support rendered the insurgents by portions of the populace. Civic action and political organization are extremely important during resettlement, indeed, they are often viewed as concomitant of that technique (O'Neill, 1978).
This kind of analysis highlights the real motives behind the Israeli refugee resettlement schemes in the Gaza Strip. (By June 1989, the number of Israeli-sponsored resettlement schemes in the Gaza Strip reached nine projects, and not a single project has been built since then.) These resettle¬ment schemes were set up after the crackdown on the Fedayeen (freedom fighters) in 1971, through Ariel Sharon's (then head of the Southern Command in the Gaza Strip) road-widening operations in the large camps in the Strip. These operations affected three large camps: Jabalia, Al-Shati' and Rafah. The destruction of shelters started in 1971 and, according to UNRWA statistics, 10,794 rooms were demolished, affecting 3,941 families (24,067 persons) (UNRWA, 1991). The Jerusalem Post gives the figure at 1,807 rooms (August 31, 1971).
The Israeli military authorities' crackdown on these large camps in the Gaza Strip was carried out with security in mind. It enabled them to exer¬cise more control on camp populations, and to disperse refugees. The long-¬term objectives were the liquidation of the refugee camps and the refugees as a category, which forms the core of the Palestinian question, and, in the long run, to attempt to promote the Israeli resettlement schemes.
The Israeli authorities' plan for improving the living conditions of refugees through "economic development" and resettlement (the carrot of their policies) aimed at isolating "the Fedayeen
from the rest of the citizen¬ry" (O'Neill, 1978). What the authorities did not realize then was that the strength of the Fedayeen
carne from among the local population ¬refugees and non-refugees - a fact which led the Israeli press to question the effectiveness of the Israeli policy in Gaza Strip camps: "It is impossible to separate the Fedayeen
from the locals, for the locals themselves are potential Fedayeen" (Ha' olam Hazeh,
August 3, 1971), in contrast to the West Bank where the insurgents were infiltrators rather than part of the local population (O'Neill, 1978).
While it can be argued that a certain measure of success has been obtained in the adoption of the military requirements of counter-insur¬gency, the Israeli authorities were less able to develop a convincing "hearts and minds" policy to win the support of Gazan refugees as a whole. The security measures adopted by the authorities did not deter refugees from giving support to the national struggle; indeed, if anything, they con¬tributed to the enhancement of the refugees' political identity. Nor did the resettlement schemes fulfill an Israeli wish to depopulate the camps, for those who moved out constituted only 18.4 percent of the total refugee community in the Strip (Al-Ittihad,
December 9, 1988). Moreover, the number of relocated refugees hardly exceeds the number by which the refugee population grows every year through natural increase.
The Israeli strategy for the refugee resettlement schemes in the Gaza Strip reflects a belief that most political problems can be reduced to social and economic problems. Hence, the Israeli authorities' shock at the relo¬cated refugees' role in the Intifada. In some instances, confrontations with the Israeli forces exceeded those in the camps, even though the Sheikh Radwan resettlement scheme was called Kfar Shalom
(the Village of Peace) for the calm that had reigned there prior to the Intifada.
The resettled refugees' involvement in the national struggle on an equal footing with camp refugees proved that refugees in resettlement projects were not isolated from the residents of other camps (author's sample sur¬vey), despite the fact that the infrastructure of resettlement projects has been set up with a counter-insurgency in mind. For example, wide roads, in contrast to the narrow alleys in refugee camps, were meant to facilitate control by military forces, in addition to the careful screening of refugees prior to admission into the schemes.
The experience of resettling Gaza refugees has challenged the Israeli authorities' belief that through relocation, "urbanization," or "depeasanti¬zation," the refugees' numbers, and thus resistance, would decline. The Israeli authorities ignored the fact that the refugee population in the Strip had become politicized. The unique character of Gaza Strip refugees, who felt the burden of Occupation more than any other areas of Palestinian refugee concentration, and the role of the Israeli control in sharpening and consolidating their collective cultural and political identity, enabled those refugees to hold their ground in the face of attacks during the Intifada.
More importantly, the Israeli authorities ignored the fact that "improv¬ing housing conditions" has never been an alternative to a political solu¬tion, nor a means to thwarting resistance, for as the historical experience of Palestinian refugees shows, repression escalates resistance, regardless of residential location. This theory is affirmed by the relocated refugees in the Sheikh Radwan resettlement scheme, 95.6 percent of whom believe that their conception of and contribution to the national struggle is as strong as it was prior to relocation (author's research).
Thus, the refugees' adherence to their political rights contrasts sharply with the Israeli assumption that the resettlement of refugees in the Gaza Strip will dissipate the dream of return, an assumption epitomized by Moshe Dayan's (then defense minister) statement of June 1973, "As long as the refugees remain in their camps ... their children will say they come from Jaffa or Haifa; if they move out of the camps, the hope is they will feel an attachment to their new land" (The Jerusalem
Post, June 13, 1973).
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