The complexity of the legal status of Palestinian refugees first occurred to me shortly after I joined the Dutch Refugee Council as a legal officer in 1983. Peter van Krieken, who then had just completed an assignment with UNHCR in Beirut, addressed the subject during a workshop for attorneys specializing in asylum cases which I had organized. I still remember having considerable difficulty comprehending why these refugees constituted the only category kept outside the general international refugee regime and what consequences this had for their position. At the time I had no idea that some five years later, as an employee of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East ( UNRWA), I would be dealing full-time with exactly that refugee problem. There was, indeed, no relationship between the two. Nevertheless, the curiosity aroused at the time was one of the factors that in 1991, just after the Gulf war, contributed to my decision to commence the research of which this book is the result.
The idea for the book, originally written as a doctoral thesis, came up following my transfer to the Gaza Strip, after having first worked for UNRWA for some time in the West Bank. Because of the restrictions of the military occupation and the intifada, the Palestinian uprising which erupted in late 1987, there was little to do after regular working hours. Also, as I was working in Gaza in a management position, I was looking for an opportunity to keep my legal knowledge up to date. Having written a few articles on aspects of UNRWA's work, I soon realized how little legal literature dealing specifically with Palestinian refugees was available. This prompted me to consider a much more substantial study into the various aspects of the status of Palestinian refugees in international law. Working with and for Palestinian refugees for an extended period, while at the same time carrying out research related to their legal status, provided me with a unique opportunity to obtain a comprehensive insight into the subject. The final result would have been different had the book been written outside the region.
Numerous people contributed to the research. Professor Roel Fernhout and Professor Kees Groenendijk, under whose inspiring supervision the original thesis was written, were teachers in the true sense of the word. One of the first persons to encourage me to undertake the study, Professor Herman Meijers was a great supporter throughout the entire project. I greatly benefited from my discussions with him in shaping my ideas. Once I started writing he kindly offered carefully to review the various drafts and finally he agreed to be part of the commit-