1st Ed: Internal Displacement in the Occupied Palestine Territories

1st Ed: Internal Displacement in the Occupied Palestine Territories

Causes of arbitrary displacement in OPT - In the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), internal displacement has resulted from the continuing Israeli policies of occupation since 1967, including intermittent violence.
The denial of human rights and the severity and consistency of Israeli government activities attest to a systematic and calculated state policy of forced displacement for the purpose of acquiring land, redefining demographic boundaries, and divesting Palestinians of ownership rights guaranteed under international law. 

Palestinians who have been forcibly and arbitrarily displaced from their homes in Gaza and the West Bank, and who have remained in the OPT, are considered internally displaced people. Palestinian displacement also include refugees from 1948 and the 1967 war who have subsequently been displaced within the OPT from their habitual residence in their place of refuge. Though not IDPs, displaced refugees are defined as "secondary displaced refugees" to whom relevant human rights law applies by way of analogy.

The Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the Human Rights of IDPs in 2009 would underline the various causes of forced displacement in the OPT including Israeli incursions and military clearing operations, evictions, land appropriations and house demolitions, illegal establishment and expansion of settlements and related infrastructure, the construction of the Separation Wall, violence by Israeli settlers, discriminatory denial of building permits for Palestinians, and the revocation of Palestinian residency rights in East Jerusalem.

Internal displacement in the OPT has both shown to be a gradual process entailing displacement of individual households over extended period of time, to a sudden and violent phenomena affecting thousands of households during violent clashes such as in Gaza in late 2008/early 2009. Displacement has also been attributed to restrictions on freedom of movement and a system of closures that makes life untenable for many residents in Palestinian enclaves.

The arbitrary displacement by Israel of Palestinians in the OPT, akin to population transfer, is in complete disregard and violation of relevant human rights and international humanitarian law. The former UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the OPT in 2006, in referring to displacement arising from the construction of the Separation Wall, would comment that the situation in the OPT was analogous to what has been described as ethnic cleansing in other contexts, but "political correctness forbade such language where Israel was concerned". Such political correctness continues to be in evidence.

Lack of certainty on figures of displacement

There are no confirmed statistics on the number of IDPs in the OPT and the numbers provided by various sources are only estimates. Only in the last few years has there been a systematic attempt to address internal displacement by the humanitarian community following advocacy of Palestinian and Israeli NGOs. Badil, a Palestinian NGO, has reported that between 1967 and 2008 over 129,000 people were displaced in all of the OPT. The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) estimates that over 24,000 Palestinian houses have been destroyed since 1967 as a result of conflict, punitive demolitions and administrative demolitions of houses without building permits.


[1] For an extended and detailed analysis of the situation of internal displacement in the OPT see Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 30 December 2009, Gaza offensive adds to scale of displacement accessible at www.internal-displacement/countries/OPT. This article represents a summary of the information available in the aforementioned report.

[1] CARE International, Norwegian Refugee Council, DIAKONIA, Doctors Without Borders, Premiere Urgence, the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (ICAHD), MA'AN Development Centre, and the Comitato Internationale per lo Suiluppo dei Popoli (CISP), 25 February 2008, Joint Submission to Human Rights Council on Human Rights Situation in Palestine and Other Arab Occupied Territories A/HRC/7/NGO/71; UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), 30 November 2009, OPT 2010 Consolidated Appeal; BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, 30 September 2009, Badil's Written Report in Response to Israel's Third Periodic Report to the UN Human Rights Committee (CCPR/C/ISR/3)

[1] See Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 30 December 2009, Gaza offensive adds to scale of displacement accessible at www.internal-displacement/countries/OPT.

[1] United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC), 10 March 2009, Human Rights Situation in Palestine and Other Occupied Arab Territories, A/HRC/10/22

[1] UN HRC, March 2009; al-Haq, December 2007, Where Villages Stood: Israel's Continuing Violations of International law in Occupied Latroun 1967-2007; CARE et al., 25 February 2008; B'Tselem, December 2005, Under the Guise of Security: Routing the Separation Barrier to Enable Israeli Settlement Expansion in the West Bank

[1] United Nations General Assembly (UN GA), 16 October 2006, Third Committee approves draft resolutions on human trafficking, literacy, ageing


Palestinians are generally forced to relocate away from Area C and East Jerusalem in the West Bank, and from the buffer zones in the Gaza Strip. In the West Bank, Palestinians have been displaced away from the vicinity of Israeli settlements, related infrastructure, military zones, and the Separation Wall.   In the Gaza Strip, repeated military incursions have displaced tens of thousands within Gaza and forced Palestinians away from buffer zones bordering Israel. Between 2000 and 2007, more than 30,000 Palestinians were displaced due to Israeli incursions and house demolitions in Gaza. In the latest Israeli large scale incursion in 2008/2009, over 100,000 were displaced, many temporarily, at the height of the conflict with over 4,000 houses demolished, close to 3,000 seriously damaged and nearly 53,000 suffering minor damage.[1]

The total number currently displaced in the OPT, many of whom may have been displaced repeatedly, remains unclear. Lack of clear monitoring does not provide information as to the extent to which Palestinians have either sought resettlement elsewhere or integrated in their place of displacement. The number of displaced may well be in excess of 160,000 as documented by some NGOs. There remain tens of thousands displaced in Gaza as reconstruction projects since 2005 have remained at a standstill because of the Israeli refusal to permit the transit of construction materials. The figures for the West Bank remain equally undefined with possibly close to 100,000 or more having been displaced due to settlement expansion, settler violence, revocation of residency rights in East Jerusalem, construction of the Separation Wall, and other related Israeli infrastructure.

Estimates of persons at risk of displacement are equally difficult to define. 90,000 people are reportedly at risk, including according to UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs an estimated 60,000 in Jerusalem alone[2], and several thousand Palestinian households facing eviction and house demolition orders across Area C of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. This also excludes large number of communities whose access to services are limited or circumscribed due to Israeli infrastructure and restrictive policies. Palestinian communities at particular risk of displacement include those in East Jerusalem, in Area C of the West Bank (particularly Bedouins and others living close to the Separation Wall, settlements, and other Israeli infrastructure) and those living near or in the extended buffer zone along Gaza's border with Israel.[3]

Lack of protection of displaced people and access to basic needs

Palestinians face a continuous protection crisis of intermittent cycles of violence, pervasive restrictions on their movement, and discriminatory policies and regulations. The latest Israeli offensive in Gaza, the most violent incursion in the OPT since 1967 left the territory devastated, where civilians displaced or not bore the brunt of the violence including displaced sheltering in UN-designated shelters who fell victims to Israel's indiscriminate targeting.[4]

Thousands of Palestinians continue to be displaced in Gaza because of the continuing blockade and near total isolation, and remain in precarious living conditions, residing in makeshift structures, or with a host community.[5] Equally, a number of communities in the West Bank as in the Jordan Valley, but equally so in other localities across Area C in the West Bank reside in precarious conditions victims of repeated house demolitions, settler violence and intimidation.

Those displaced or at risk of displacement face considerable difficulties. Displacement, or situations in which Palestinians have resisted displacement, has placed at risk or led to the loss of family unity, social welfare and livelihoods, and has also had wide-ranging physical and psychological impacts. Children endure the trauma of deep insecurity of having been attacked in their own homes or in a shelter and that of consequent displacement.[6] Israeli demolitions of houses or livelihood structures across the West Bank equally cause significant trauma and have a negative impact on child welfare, livelihood, and family unity.[7] A UNIFEM study in Gaza revealed a rise in domestic violence and risk-taking behaviour particularly among the displaced.[8]



[1] Badil, 30 September 2009

[1] Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, 7 April 2009, Statistics on house demolitions (1967-2009); OCHA, July and September 2009) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), September 2009, The Humanitarian Monitor

[1] UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), November 2009, The price of law enforcement failure: Israeli settler violence and evacuation of outpost; UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), 27 May 2008, "Lack of Permit" Demolitions and Resultant Displacement in Area C; UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), 30 November 2009, OPT 2010 Consolidated Appeal

[1] Save the Children, April 2009, Broken Homes Addressing the Impact of House Demolitions on Palestinian Children & Families

[1] United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC), 15 September 2009, Human Rights in Palestine and Other Arab Territories: Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, A/HRC/12/48.

[1] UN HRC, 15 September 2009..


Communities in areas under threat of expulsion or eviction have equally faced heightened protection risks, including violence, harassment and intimidation. West Bank closures and the Gaza blockade severely affect access to water, sanitation, health care and education services particularly for Palestinians living in Gaza and in remote and closed parts of Area C. Those who live in areas with a high risk of displacement are more likely to be unable to realise their economic, social and cultural rights. These areas are significantly poorer, more marginalised and less protected. Assistance from local and international organisations is often not available, particularly in remote areas of the West Bank; over half of displaced families surveyed in 2009 in the West Bank reported receiving no humanitarian assistance[9].

Lack of international will and foregone durable solutions to displacement

Israel is bound as the occupying power by obligations derived from international humanitarian law and applicable human rights law.[10] Yet the Israeli state remains the primary perpetrator of arbitrary displacement in violation of international law, and generally does not recognise displacement or provide remedy for situations of displacement.[11] The limited instances of restitution or return in the West Bank have largely been confined to Areas A and B under jurisdiction of the Palestinian National Authority, whereas most displacement is in Area C and in East Jerusalem. In Gaza, return has been subject to reconstruction of housing and access to land which have been impeded by the blockade and an ever-expanding Israeli imposed buffer zone.

There is no United Nations agency in the OPT mandated specifically to assist IDPs. This lack of mandated responsibility has led to gaps in response. In recent years, however, greater efforts have been made to provide a coordinated response to the situation of displacement. However Palestinians displaced or at risk of displacement continue to face significant challenges[12]. The operational environment remains constrained by the legal and administrative practices of the Israeli occupation authorities. Agencies trying to respond to forced displacement face considerable constraints caused by lack of resources, restrictions in access, the magnitude of displacement and the reluctance of international community to address central issues.

International NGOs and experts have reported that the persistent failure of the international community to address the underlying sources of forced displacement render any prospect of a viable two-state solution more remote by the day[13]. The international community's continued lack of will to address the situation enables continuing violations of law, including arbitrary displacement, to be perpetrated with impunity. In the OPT, durable solutions for the vast majority of forcibly displaced Palestinians remains largely dependent on end to Israeli policies of occupation which have systematically been at the root of displacement under the complicity by default of the international community.[14]

Karim Khalil is an Analyst at the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.

[1] UN HRC, 15 September 2009.

[1] Save the Children, April 2009

[1] United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), 2009, Voicing the needs of Women and Men in Gaza Beyond the aftermath of the 23 day Israeli military operations

[1] Save the Children, October 2009

[1] United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC), 10 March 2009, Human Rights Situation in Palestine and Other Occupied Arab Territories, A/HRC/10/22; United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC), 21 January 2008, Human Rights Situation in Palestine and Other Arab Occupied Territories A/HRC/7/17; International Court of Justice (ICJ), 9 July 2004, Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory Advisory Opinion; International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), 12 December 2007, Dignity Dignied in the Palestinian Territories

[1] Badil, 12 September 2007; OCHA, May 2009; UN HRC, 15 September 2009.

[1] Humanitarian Practice Network (HPN), September 2009, Putting dignity at the heart of the humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory

[1] CARE et al., February 2008

[1] United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC), 21 January 2008, Human Rights Situation in Palestine and Other Arab Occupied Territories A/HRC/7/17

Short Link : https://prc.org.uk/en/post/1300