The Trump administration’s decision to end funding for the U.N. agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, or UNRWA, fulfilled a long-standing goal of Israel and its American supporters. For years, Israel has sought to resolve the refugee crisis through policies aimed at normalizing Palestinian exile and denying Palestinian rights. These tactics have ranged from deflecting its responsibility for the problem to challenging the status of Palestinian refugees under international law. Taking aim at UNRWA has long been a central part of Israel’s arsenal, but now it has the Trump administration, which also announced this week that it will close the de facto Palestinian embassy in Washington.
When Israel submitted its first bid to become a member of the United Nations in 1948, the Security Council refused its application citing, among other things, its responsibility to resolve the newly created refugee crisis.Approximately 750,000 Palestinians fled Palestine or were expelled by Zionist militias and the Israeli army during hostilities between December 1947 and March 1949. Their removal achieved the objective of establishing a decisive Jewish majority state in Mandatory Palestine, where Jews had constituted about 30 percent of the population.
Over the past month and a half, thousands of Palestinians in Gaza have taken part in a series of weekly protests called the Great Return March, culminating Tuesday with Nakba Day, when Palestinians mark their mass expulsion during Israel’s establishment in 1948.
Men, women and children have been braving Israeli army sniper fire to demand that they be allowed to exercise their internationally recognized right to return to lands they were expelled from by Israel. More than 100 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers, and thousands more have been wounded since the protests began.
While much of the media coverage has been casting the protests as a response to the Trump administration’s move of the U.S. Embassy to Israel to Jerusalem, they are in fact part of a century-long legacy of Palestinians protesting for their rights and freedom.
Palestinians have been organizing demonstrations, boycotts, strikes and outright revolts from hostile foreign rule since 1917, when colonial Britain designated Palestine for Jewish settlement. With the stroke of a pen, the great power declared that indigenous Palestinians, 90 percent of Palestine’s population, would not exist as a political community for the sake of establishing a Jewish national home.
Noura Erakat is a human rights attorney and an Assistant Professor at George Mason University. She has taught international human rights law in the Middle East at Georgetown University since Spring 2009. Noura is a Co-Editor of Jadaliyya. Read more . . .
My book, Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine(Stanford University Press, 2019) narrates the Palestinian struggle for freedom as told through the relationship between international law and politics during five critical junctures between 1917-2017 to better understand the emancipatory potential of law and to consider possible horizons for the future.
My research interests include human rights law, humanitarian law, refugee law, national security law, social justice, critical race theory, and the Palestinian-Israel conflict. Read more . . .
As a Co-Founding Editor of Jadaliyya, I have the privilege of working with a remarkable team of scholars and analysts who have their hand on the pulse of dynamic change and historical perspective in the Middle East.
Legal Agenda is a Beirut-based NGO established in 2010 dedicated to legal reform throughout the Arab world through civic and judicial empowerment including the interdisciplinary study of law and society.