The Status of Palestinian Refugees in International Law

By Lex Takkenberg | Go to book overview
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II Palestinian Refugees

1. General Remarks on the Notion of 'Palestinian Refugee'

The central theme of the study is to examine the status of Palestinian refugees in international law. Before dealing in the next two chapters with the position of Palestinian refugees under international refugee law, this chapter will focus on the subjects of the study themselves. What is meant by the term 'Palestinian refugees'? In what respect do these refugees differ from other forced migrants and why did this lead the international community to exclude them from the legal regime applicable to refugees in general? Finally, what definitions of the term 'Palestinian refugee' are being used? The second question will be dealt with in the next section; the last question will be the subject of sections 3 and 4. The present section will provide some general reflections on the notion of 'Palestinian refugee'.

Except for several resolutions of the Arab League, which will be discussed in chapter IV, there are no international instruments dealing specifically with Palestinian refugees. As a consequence there is also no generally accepted definition of who are to be considered Palestinian refugees in a legal context. It is therefore necessary to delimitate the group of persons whose status is the subject of this study by describing its characteristics in factual terms, that is without reference to specific rules of international law.

The study deals with one specific group of refugees: those Palestinians who fled that part of Mandate Palestine which in 1948 became the state of Israel, as a result of the war accompanying the establishment of that state,1 and who were subsequently prevented from returning there - as well as their descendants. This group is referred to in this study as 'Palestinian refugees' or 'the Palestinian refugees'. The term 'Palestinians' as used in this definition refers to Arab2 citizens of Mandate Palestine3.

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1
The reasons for the exodus of refugees from Palestine were discussed in ch. I, sub- section 3.2. The 1948 war began on 15 May 1948, immediately following the proclamation of the state of Israel, and ended with the conclusion of formal armistice agreements between Feb. and July 1949; cf. ch. I, n. 80.
2
Arabs share a common language, Arabic, and a common Arab culture; cf. Mansfield P., The Arabs, Middlesex, Penguin Books Ltd., 1992 ( 3rd edn.), ch. I; also Rodinson M., The Arabs, London, Croom Helm Ltd., 1981.
3
On Palestinian 'mandate-citizenship', see ch. V, sub-section 2.1. Before 1948, Palestinians were commonly referred to as 'Palestinian Arabs'. The term 'Palestinians' or

-49-

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