The Status of Palestinian Refugees in International Law

By Lex Takkenberg | Go to book overview

VI Humanitarian Law

1. Introductory Remarks

The Palestinian refugee problem was born out of the first Arab-Israeli war of 1948-9. In 1949, the cessation of hostilities was formalized in several armistice agreements.1 Formally, however, the state of war continued:2 in respect of Lebanon and Syria to this day; in respect of Egypt and Jordan until 1979 and 1994, respectively, when both countries entered into peace treaties with Israel.3 The prolonged Arab-Israeli conflict has led to several wars and other armed conflicts in which the host countries of the Palestinian refugees, and sometimes the refugees themselves, were involved. The escalation of other regional conflicts resulted in further wars involving countries with a substantial Palestinian presence.

As Palestinian refugees have frequently been subjected to armed conflicts, international humanitarian law, the body of law that deals with different aspects of such conflicts, has therefore been of considerable importance to them. This has been particularly relevant for the large number of Palestinians who had found refuge in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. After the 1967 war, these two areas came under Israeli military control. The status of these areas having changed to that of 'occupied territory', the status of the refugees also changed. In addition to being refugees, they now also became persons protected by international humanitarian law. In this respect international protection has been provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).4 The same applied to Palestinians residing in other countries that have been subject to belligerent occupation and/or other manifestations of armed conflict, e.g. Kuwait5 and Lebanon.

____________________
1
For details, see ch I, n. 80.
2
The agreements 'being dictated exclusively by military, and not political, considerations' did not prejudice the political positions of any of the parties on the ultimate settlement of the Palestine question; UN, Origins, 1990, 141.
3
Treaty of Peace, 26 Mar. 1979, Egypt-Israel, text in 18 ILM362 ( 1979); Treaty of Peace, 26 Oct. 1994, Jordan-Israel, text in 34 ILM43 ( 1995).
4
On ICRC's mandate in the occupied territories, see ch. VIII, section 4.
5
On the relevance of humanitarian law for Palestinians in Kuwait after the 1991 Gulf war, see Middle East Watch, "Nowhere to go: the tragedy of the remaining Palestinian families in Kuwait", New York, Oct. 1991, 21-4, reproduced in 6 PYIL87 ( 1990- 91).

-196-

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