The Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited


The bulldozers have been working around the clock building the separation barrier, and it is now clear that the end is at hand. The residents’ expulsion is imminent; they will soon be forced to move from their homes and ancestral land. This, at least, is the impression I had after leaving the small village Nu’eman.

Nu’eman is a Palestinian village located within the borders of the Jerusalem municipality, on its southern tip. After the 1967 war, it was annexed to the Jerusalem municipal boundaries together with 27 other villages and 70 square kilometers of land. Israeli law was imposed on this area as it became part of Greater Jerusalem.

Unlike most of the inhabitants of the annexed villages, who were subsequently registered by the Israeli civil administration as Israeli residents (as opposed to citizens), the inhabitants of Nu’eman were given West Bank identity cards. This created a juridical situation straight out of Kafka. The Nu’eman residents and their houses belong to different legal and administrative systems: The houses and land are part of the Jerusalem municipal system, while the inhabitants are residents of the West Bank and therefore subjected to Israeli military rule.

The inhabitants managed, nonetheless, to go on with their lives. The children went to school in Jerusalem, the residents had access to the city’s hospitals and clinics, and many of the adults worked in the metropolis.

All this changed, after the eruption of the second Intifada. The roads connecting the village with Jerusalem were closed off, forcing the Palestinian residents to become dependent on the West Bank for their livelihood, health-care, and their children’s education. Peculiarly, no other Jerusalem neighborhood was cut off at such an early stage.

It now appears tenable that the draconic measures imposed on the villagers over the past few years have all been part of a sinister real estate scheme. The small Palestinian village is destined to be destroyed, and in its stead a new Jewish settlement called Har Homa C will be erected — a massive project, with over 5,000 apartments. A short article appeared in the local paper, stating as much. Apparently, the real estate investors involved have deep pockets and unobstructed access to government officials. For them, millions and millions of dollars are at stake.

So after all roads connecting the small village to Jerusalem were blocked off and access to the city was denied, the military notified the residents that the separation barrier would surround the village on its southern side, cutting it off from the West Bank and thus creating an island of sorts.

This prophecy is rapidly becoming a reality. In a few weeks the construction of this barrier, a complex series of trenches, roads, and fences, will be complete. Already, the Palestinian residents are unable to reach their places of work, while their children are unable to go to school. Recently, the bulldozers destroyed the permanent water pipe leading to the village, and now a makeshift hose is used to supply water. The villagers’ infrastructure of existence has been ruined, and if nothing changes within the near future they will have to leave the village of “their own accord.”

As the facts on the ground attest, the separation barrier, which was ostensibly built to satisfy security needs, is being used as an extremely efficient weapon of dispossession and violation. The Palestinians’ basic rights to freedom of movement and livelihood as well as the rights to education, health and even burial are being systematically abused–not only with guns, tanks and airplanes but with Caterpillar bulldozers and Fiat tractors. Nu’eman, so it seems, will be among the first villages whose residents are expelled. The Palestinian refugee problem revisited.

NEVE GORDON is an activist in Ta’ayush, Arab-Jewish Partnership and can be reached at

Neve Gordon is a Leverhulme Visiting Professor in the Department of Politics and International Studies and the co-author of The Human Right to Dominate.