Archive for the ‘conferences’ Category

In March 2010 the Heinrich Böll Stiftung (a “political non-profit organization striving to promote democracy, civil society, equality and a healthy environment internationally,” linked to the German Green Party) held a conference on the Palestinian issue in Berlin.

The historic event of the formation of Israel had, however, far-reaching consequences not only for the Jewish people and the yishuv, the Jewish community in the British mandate territory of Palestine, but also for the Arab-Palestinian people. Around 800,000 Palestinians had to leave their home during the 1948-49 war either because they were driven out or forced to flee. 170,000 stayed in Israel, became citizens of Israel and, with approx. 1.3 million, have become a minority in the Jewish state over the last 60 years. Since then, the refugees of the Nakba (“catastrophe”) and their children have lived in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, in the Arab states of the Middle East and scattered throughout the entire world. Their numbers are estimated to be at least 4 to 5 million. Their day-to-day realities could hardly be more different. 2.4 million have lived for more than 40 years under Israeli occupation in the West Bank, 1.4 million under Israeli siege in the Gaza Strip, millions more live in the countries of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria next to Israel. In 2008, the UNRWA counted a total of roughly 4.6 million Palestinian refugees (this figure was 914,000 in 1950). Only a small percentage has managed to integrate. Others have started new lives, most of them in the Arab Gulf states, in Europe and North and Latin America.

The geographic and social fragmentation of the Palestinian people is essentially a result of the conflict in the Middle East. But a wide variety of other change processes – economic, social, gender-specific, political – have affected the societal development of the Palestinians over the last few decades and shape the reality of their fragmented existence. Because the political-diplomatic efforts for a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict are still dominated by the decades-long debate over a two-state solution which also finds its legitimacy under international law in the 1947 UN partition plan, it is time to take a closer look at the Palestinian people and their development, which is characterized by many contradictions, development over the last 60 years. Within the framework of a final status agreement, the goal will not just be to find a viable solution for the people living in the historic region of Palestine. The right of Palestinian refugees to return has been the subject of numerous UN resolutions. Thus, the extremely different realities of refugees will also be analyzed and their prospects for the future discussed.

Late last year the edited proceedings of that conference were published (in German). The volume contains contributions by leading experts on Palestinian and Middle East politics, and quite a few pieces on the Nakba, forced displacement, UNRWA and other refugee-related topics.

For those of you who read German, the full volume can be downloaded for free as a pdf here. For those who can’t, many of the original English-language conference papers can be found here.

h/t Michael Fischbach

Oxford RSC workshop on Palestinian refugees

Posted: January 24, 2012 by Rex Brynen in conferences

The Refugee Studies Centre at the Oxford Department of International Development, University of Oxford will be conducting a weekend workshop on Palestinian refugees on 10-11 March 2012. While rather pricey (£300), it does feature two outstanding experts on Middle East refugee issues:

Weekend Workshop
Saturday 10 – Sunday 11 March 2012

Refugee Studies Centre
Oxford Department of International Development
University of Oxford
3 Mansfield Road
Oxford, OX1 3TB

Fee: £300

This two-day, non-residential, workshop places the Palestinian refugee case study within the broader context of the international human rights regime. It examines, within a human rights framework, the policies and practices of Middle Eastern states as they impinge upon Palestinian refugees. Through a mix of lectures, working group exercises and interactive sessions, participants engage actively and critically with the contemporary debates in international law and analyse the specific context of Palestinian refugees in the Middle East (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza).

The workshop commences with the background of the Palestinian refugee crisis, with special attention to the socio- political historical context and legal status of Palestinian refugees in the region. This is followed by a careful examination of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights including its philosophical underpinnings and ensuing human rights instruments in international law. The key themes, which have taken centre stage in the debate on the Palestinian refugee crisis, are statelessness, right of return, repatriation, self-determination, restitution compensation and protection. These themes are critically examined along with current discussions about the respective roles of UNRWA, UNHCR and the UNCCP in the Palestinian refugee case.


Professor Dawn Chatty is University Professor in Anthropology and Forced Migration and Director of the Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford. She is a social anthropologist and has conducted extensive research among Palestinian and other forced migrants in the Middle East. Some of her recent works include Children of Palestine: Experiencing Forced Migration in the Middle East (ed. with Gillian Lewando-Hundt), Berghahn Press, 2005, andDispossession and Displacement in the Modern Middle East, Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Dr Susan M. Akram is Clinical Professor at Boston University School of Law, teaching immigration law, comparative refugee law, and international human rights law She is a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, Washington DC (JD), and the Institut International des Droits de l‘Homme, Strasbourg (Diploma in international human rights). She is a past Fulbright Senior Scholar in Palestine, teaching at Al-Quds University/Palestine School of Law in East Jerusalem ApplicationMaximum twenty-five places on the workshop.

For further information contact:

Heidi El-Megrisi
Refugee Studies Centre
Oxford Department of International Development
University of Oxford
3 Mansfield Road
Oxford OX1 3TB
United Kingdom

Tel +44 (0)1865 281728

photo: Jerash camp, by Omar Chatriwala

I’m just headed home from a very enjoyable Chatham House conference on the “Arab Spring” and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The meeting was part of the continuing Minster Lovell process, although unlike most of these it had no particular focus on the Palestinian refugee issue. It also took place against the very nice backdrop of Ma’in hot springs in Jordan, thereby continuing the tradition (for good or ill) of having meetings in lovely places that look absolutely nothing at all like refugee camps.

Discussion was rich and views were varied, making it impossible to provide an overall summary of workshop conclusions. Instead, I’ll offer my own take-away on the issues raised, with the caveat that others who were there may have very different views on these topics.

  • The Arab Spring might be a transformative event for the region, but it isn’t a transformative watershed for Israeli-Palestinian relations or the peace process. Instead, the apparent inability to move the peace process forward is largely due to Israeli and Palestinian reasons (compounded, as noted later, by dysfunctional diplomacy by the international community). Continued Palestinian political divisions are part of the reason for the stalemate. Far more fundamental are the problems on the Israeli side, and in particular the current Netanyahu government that has no interest in seeing the establishment of a viable Palestinian state on reasonable terms. In the context of such rejectionism, getting the parties to the negotiating table serves little purpose, other than to delegitimize negotiations (especially if it takes place in the context of continuing illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem).
  • The Arab Spring was one of the factors contributing to the Palestinian decision to pursue recognition at the United Nations, as Mahmud Abbas responded to growing public expectations. The process also gives the Palestinians a new set of diplomatic options, and a potential source of pressure that can be intensified or relaxed with changing circumstances.
  • The Arab Spring was also a factor in the Fateh-Hamas reconciliation agreement, due to increased Palestinian domestic expectations as well as changing regional circumstances (such the impact of events in Syria on Hamas, as well as renewed Egyptian mediation). However, there is still enormous distance to be travelled: a technocratic national unity government must be agreed, elections must be held, rival Fateh- and Hamas- controlled security services must be unified—all against a backdrop of continued political rivalry, hostility from Israel to any involvement of Hamas in the PA, and donor suspicion.
  • The transition in Egypt remains uncertain, but it is clear that a future, more representative Egyptian government will be much colder to Israel than was the Mubarak dictatorship. Even if the Freedom and Justice Party (Muslim Brotherhood) and al-Nour Party (Salafists) carry their initial success in the current parliamentary elections into subsequent round (and I’m sure they will), this does not necessarily mean an end to the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. A remilitarization of relations with Israel would be enormously expensive for Egypt, both in terms of increased defence expenditures and the almost certain loss of US aid. This could compromise efforts efforts at economic recovery—and the ever-pragmatic Muslim Brotherhood knows it.
  • We didn’t spend much time talking about Egypt’s partial loss of control over the Sinai, evidenced in increased tensions with the Bedouins, increased arms smuggling, attacks on the gas pipeline to Israel, and the cross-border attack near Eilat in August (initially blamed by Israel on the Popular Resistance Committees, but possibly conducted by a much more ad hoc group of militants inside and outside Gaza). This will be a continuing source of tension with Israel, and a possible flashpoint if there is a future high-casualty terrorist attack.
  • Events in Syria have major geostrategic implications, especially if the Asad regime falls in a way that severs Syria’s longstanding alliance with Iran and results in a downgrading of relations with Hizbullah. Such an outcome would certainly be a major loss for Iran and Hizbullah, and a gain for Israel. Israel, on the other hand, has always had a “predictable enemy” in the Asad regimes, and is also nervous at the possible implications of continuing instability in Syria, or the rise of an unpredictable populist nationalist regime (especially given Syria’s possession of a significant chemical weapon stockpile). Despite Hamas losing Damascus as a functional headquarters as the Syrian civil war intensifies, there is no reason to believe that it will suffer in the same way in the longer term. Hamas (unlike Hizbullah) has not been seen by Syrians as a supporter of the Ba’thist regime, and a great many Palestinian refugees in Syria have been sympathetic to the protesters. It doesn’t hurt that they are Sunnis either, given the sectarian undercurrents of some contemporary Syrian politics.
  • We didn’t much discuss the prospects for Jordan (perhaps because we were in Jordan, which generates particular sensitivities). I think the Hashemite regime will weather the storm, albeit with political damage. It will continue to emphasize the unity of Jordan AND play the East Bank vs. Palestinian card as serve its purposes. Any substantial reform in Jordan (and I am doubtful we will see that) would also shine an inevitable spotlight on the situation of Palestinians in the country.
  • Overall, we are likely to see greater support for the Palestinian cause in the wake of the Arab Spring among Arab regimes that are more sensitive to public opinion. This will be partly limited for the next few years, however, by a preoccupation with domestic issues in transitional countries. Moreover, I don’t think that an increase in Arab support actually makes a huge difference to Israeli-Palestinian negotiating dynamics. Instead, as suggested earlier, Israeli and Palestinian factors are more important.
  • A critical issue, therefore, is how the Arab Spring plays out within Israeli politics. As one colleague noted, events of the past year are refracted by most Israelis through the prism of their preexisting political views. Those who support a two state solution see the Arab Spring as further highlighting the need for peace, lest Israel otherwise find itself isolated in an increasingly hostile and Islamist regional environment. Israeli hardliners, on the other hand, tend to view recent events as confirmation of their view that the Middle East is a dangerous and unpredictable place, with Islamic radicalism lurking around every corner. In such a context, they would argue, it would be foolish to make risky territorial compromises with an unstable and potentially hostile Palestine. This view, of course, was articulated by Benjamin Netanyahu in his Knesset speech late last month, when he warned that “Israel is facing a period of instability and uncertainty in the region. This is certainly not the time to listen to those who say follow your heart,” and declared “I will not establish Israel’s policy on illusions. There’s a huge upheaval here…whoever doesn’t see it is burying his head in the sand.” I think that the alarmist view has a marginal advantage in this battle of interpretations—and in Israeli politics, even marginal shifts in public opinion can be important. On top of this, as Daniel Levy recently noted in Foreign Affairs, political and demographic trends in Israel tends favour the religious and nationalist camp. As a result, not only will Israel be increasingly less inclinded to reasonable compromise, but the Arab Spring will tend to reinforce this reluctance.
  • A wild card in all of this is the Israeli economy and related social dynamics. There was considerable discussion at the meeting of the (partly) Tahrir-square inspired Israeli social protests over the summer, and whether they would either shift the Israeli domestic balance or make conceptual connections between issues of Israeli social and economic development and Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. To date they haven’t. The Israeli participants also expressed considerable dismay at the state of Israeli democracy, given efforts to limit NGOs, criminalize commemoration of the Nakba, endorse boycotts, or otherwise freely express political views.
  • On the Palestinian side, the Arab Spring has created a sense that some historical momentum has been regained, and even that time might now be on their side. This is particularly true of Hamas, which can look to the political success of Islamist parties in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere as evidence that it can afford to take a long view. I am far from convinced that time is on the Palestinians side, given both continued Israeli settlement activity (especially around Jerusalem) as well as trends in Israeli domestic politics. Moreover, I think the view that history favours Palestinian liberation tends to work against a frank and realistic assessment of Palestinian strategic options, especially within Hamas itself (which has partly made a transition to acceptance of a two-state solution, but in a gradual and limited way).
  • There was discussion among the group over whether the two state model of resolving the conflict is itself dead, and whether alternative models might become more attractive. I agree that a two state solution gets harder by the day, although I’m not prepared to pronounce it dead quite yet. I think a one state model is illusory and unobtainable within this century, given Israel’s core, fundamental raison d’etre of being a Jewish state.  More likely, I fear, is a one-and-a-half state solution, in other words an evolving version of what we have now: an Israel state, and a Palestinian Bantustan.
  • Concern was also raised by several Israeli and Palestinian participants that trends in the region (the electoral success of Islamist parties, the growing influence of the religious vote in Israel) might gradually transform the conflict into a religious one that would be less amenable to resolution.
  • There was a broad consensus among participants that US policy has been something of a disaster under Obama. Too much emphasis had been placed on negotiations at the expense of clarifying core principles. Given the current election season in the US, no one expected that Washington would do much more in the next year. Moreover, if Obama were to be reelected, there was little optimism that his Middle East policy would much different in a second term. While it is hard to predict what Romney might do in the White House (on any issue), the general view was that he would tilt even more to the Israeli right waing. A Gingrich White House, with John Bolton as Secretary of State? That, of course, would be an unmitigated disaster for the peace process.
  • I strongly argued that European policy has been a coequal disaster with US policy. The EU had failed to generate the sorts of pressures it is capable of on the settlements issue. It had also failed to grasp the opportunities presented by the Palestinian UN bid. The British (who have some strikingly clever diplomats) has rather sadly lined up behind the American position in many regards. The French had handled it somewhat better in a public relations sense, but in substantive terms had done little better. Given the ongoing Eurozone crisis, no one is expecting European performance will improve any time soon.

Despite the meeting being part of the Minster Lovell series, there was virtually no direct discussion of the implication of this for refugees (some of which had been discussed at the last meeting. However, if my pessimistic view is accurate, it certainly suggests that there will be absolutely no progress to resolving the refugee issue any time soon.

In a recent blog post on last month’s Chatham House meeting on Palestinian refugee issues in Minster Lovell, I noted that:

The session on implementation mechanisms was anchored by an excellent presentation on the issues involved, summarizing the work of a multi-year project undertaken by a major international organization. The most difficult and complicated elements of this concerned any future compensation refugees, with the presenters underscoring the difficulty of sorting out multi-generational claims (for example, what inheritance laws would apply if claimants live in multiple legal jurisdictions) as well the substantial risk that available resources fall far short of refugee expectations.

The authors of that report, Norbert Wühler and Heike Niebergall, have made a pdf copy of their presentation slides available. You can download them here, or by clicking the image above. The work was largely financed by the International Development Research Centre.

A Minster Lovell report

Posted: October 15, 2011 by Rex Brynen in conferences, peace process
Tags: ,

Last week I attended the latest meeting of the so-called “Minster Lovell Process” on the Palestinian refugee issue. These meetings, first organized under the aupices of the Centre for Lebanese Studies at Oxford in the mid-1990s and relaunched in May 2000 under the auspices of Chatham House, are usually held in idyllic surroundings of the small village of Minster Lovell, located northwest of Oxford on the southern edge of the Cotswolds. You’ll find a summary of recent and past phases of the project here. All of these meetings have taken place under the Chatham House Rule:

When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.

The Minister Lovell Process is largely intended to promote a frank dialogue between Palestinians, Arab host countries, and the international community on the refugee issue. For that reason, there are usually no Israelis in attendance, for fear that the Arab-Israeli dynamics that might result would overwhelm the desired focus on the regional, Arab dimensions of the refugee issue. In some cases it would also be difficult to get everyone together in the same room, since Palestinian refugees from Syria or Lebanon can face real political and personal costs for any apparent collaboration with Israeli officials or scholars. The absence of Israelis, of course, also distorts the meetings in other ways, creating less opportunity for the articulation of Israeli concerns and perspectives. To address this, the project has variously held overlapping meetings (Israeli-Palestinian then Arab-Palestinian), held Israeli-Israeli meetings, or used other mechanisms. The June 2009 simulated refugee negotiations organized by Chatham House involved very senior former Israeli officials, whose presence then caused one former Arab diplomat  to precipitously flee the meeting following the introductions.

The Minister Lovell meetings are  intended to promote dialogue and networking well beyond the few days of the workshop. In several cases these connections have proven very useful in advancing specific policy initiatives, and some of the participants have gone on to very senior positions in their own governments. Minster Lovell discussions are undoubtedly facilitated by the setting, which includes a pub, a nearby ruined castle, a millstream, beautiful gardens, and green fields. Pretty much everyone who has ever been there would admit that it is as unlike a Palestinian refugee camp as one could possibly imagine.

Although the “Minister Lovell Process” is in large part about process, there is always a substantial focus for discussions too. This time there were three: an update on work being done on possible implementation mechanisms for any future agreement on the refugee issue; the implications for the refugee issue of the ongoing Palestinian initiative at the United Nations; and implications of the “Arab Spring” for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

  1. The session on implementation mechanisms was anchored by an excellent presentation on the issues involved, summarizing the work of a multi-year project undertaken by a major international organization. The most difficult and complicated elements of this concerned any future compensation refugees, with the presenters underscoring the difficulty of sorting out multi-generational claims (for example, what inheritance laws would apply if claimants live in multiple legal jurisdictions) as well the substantial risk that available resources fall far short of refugee expectations.
  2. With regard to the current UN bid, the meeting saw a reprise of earlier debate over whether a shift in UN representation from a PLO observer delegation to “Palestinian state” delegation would undermine the ability of the Palestinian side to advance refugee interests. This in turn led to broader discussion of issues of representation and legitimacy. Those close to the initiative put substantial weight on the domestic political ramifications of the initiative within the Palestinian territories, implicitly suggesting that the bid had as much to do with strengthening Mahmud Abbas in the midst of the Arab Spring as with a clearly thought-out Palestinian diplomatic strategy. There was also considerable discussion of the European response, with a number of participants feeling that Europe was working too hard to shelter the US from diplomatic fall-out and thereby passing up an opportunity to stake out an independent and constructive European position.
  3. Finally, with regard to the “Arab Spring,” some though that changes within the region would greatly buttress the Palestinian position, including on the refugee issue. I tend to see the effects as more mixed. In Jordan, the regime has implicitly used East Bank/Palestinian tensions as a wedge to weaken reformist pressures, which hardly works to the advantage of Palestinian refugee there. In Syria, many refugees have been sympathetic to the uprising, and Hamas has pointedly refused to endorse the beleaguered Ba’thist dictatorship. This presumably means that any post-Asad regime will not be hostile to the (predominately Sunni) refugee population. On the other hand, the current political tensions, violence, economic crisis, and repression has obvious negative effects on refugee households, and impedes UNRWA’s ability to deliver vital services.

Overall, it was a very enjoyable meeting in a very enjoyable setting. I think all of the participants, however, would quite gladly trade pleasant conversations in the Oxfordshire countryside for substantial progress in a meaningful peace process, and the achievement of a just, lasting, and mutually-acceptable resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue.

* * *

NOTE: It would seem that a lot of the old Minster Lovell meeting reports are no longer available at the Chatham House website (and show up as broken links) because of a recent website migration. Hopefully they’ll fix this soon.

The Forced Migration and Refugees Unit at the Ibrahim Abu-Lughod Institute of International Studies (FMRU/IALIIS) — Birzeit University invites interested researchers to submit proposals for its annual conference, planned to be held in mid-November, 2011,  on the theme of Palestinian Refugees: Different Generations but One Identity.

The concept of the refugee, as associated with the Palestinian case, is not limited to those who were actually displaced from historical Palestine during the nakba of 1948 in addition to those driven out during the Israeli invasion of June 1967 (the naksa). Palestinian refugees include successive generations of descendants of the first refugees. Nor is one speaking of Palestinian camp residents only, since many Palestinians left these camps to reside elsewhere in countries of first asylum or emigrated and today reside in the Diaspora. Any serious study must also include those formally described as internally displaced, having been forbidden from returning to their original homes without being driven over the borders of the state of Israel.

The conference will deal with Palestinian refugees under this broad definition, taking into account their material, social, psychological and cultural conditions in a comparative context, with the aim of identifying changes over time, and from one generation to another. Comparative studies will be made between those living within and outside of refugee camps, and as between regions and countries of residence, and between Palestine and other cases in the world.

Sub-themes to be addressed in the conference will include:

  • Studying the evolution of the social, intellectual, behavioral and psychological identity of Palestinian refugees, considering changes (if any) in this identity across generations, along with the involvement of refugees in their communities of residence.
  • The phenomenon found among some refugees of moving away from existing stereotypes, such as that of the victim, and its impact on successive generations.
  • Intergenerational differences in terms of educational attainment and the desire to learn and study.
  • The willingness and motivation of refugees to work and be productive; the accessibility of job opportunities.
  • Available health care and the utilization of health care facilities.
  • The role of refugee women and their contribution, inside and outside the refugee camps.
  • Changes in the identities of the young generation of refugees.
  • Relations between the young refugees who emigrated and their relatives.
  • Networking between young refugees, home and abroad.
  • Social and professional mobility within the camps and the role of refugee women in strengthening this mobility.

Potential participants are asked to send a  500-word abstract by July 30th, 2011 to the FMRU at Decisions on acceptance by mid-August, 2011. Submission of the first draft (8000-10,000 words) is expected no later than mid-October 2011, and submission of final paper (based on recommendations by the committee) by late October 2011. Travel and lodgings for those coming from abroad will be covered.

For further information, see the IALIIS website.

I’ve had to catch up on a large backlog of emails, so I’m a little late posting my notes from the second day of the recent St. Paul University Conference on Displacement and Reconciliation. As before, the notes below aren’t synthesized into any sort of coherent meta-analysis, and in many (but not all) cases reflect areas where the discussions had possible implications for the Palestinian refugee case.

 * * *

The day started off with a wide-ranging discussion on “reconciliation and exile,” featuring discussions on Indian communal violence (Andreas D’Souza, Henry Martyn Institute, Hyderabad), the Vietnamese diaspora (Thien-Huong Ninh, USC), Rwandan-Canadians (Lisa Ndejuru, Concordia University), and North Korean refugees in South Korea (Anne-Marie Morin-Dion, Université de Montréal).

  • Attachment to homeland symbolism should be seen as something much more powerful than simply romantic nostalgia, but rather as an important way in which refugee communities constitute and reconstitute their identities.
  • Expressing refugee and survivor narratives provides and an opportunity to “reweave” the connections across fractured and dispersed communities.
  • The difficulties facing North Korean refugees trying to integrate in South Korean societies underscored the extent to which variations in the education, background, and experience of differing segments of a single national population can pose both socioeconomic challenges but also may be reflected in the ways identity is both self-defined and ascribed.
  • In the Korean case, government policy welcoming and supporting North Korean refugees has not eliminated social discrimination and stereotyping. Might a future Palestinian state face similar problems in attempting to integrate repatriating refugees, especially those with lower levels of education and financial resources (for example, refugees from Lebanon)? On the other hand, the internet and satellite TV age has created an array of connectors across the Palestinian diaspora which might ameliorate any such effect. Certainly while there was some tensions between returning PLO cadres (the so-called “Tunisians”) and local Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, over time that supposed cleavage has diminished and returnees have been enormously successful at becoming an integral part of local society.
  • One commentator on the Rwandan case asked whether “small group” memorialization and reconciliation (within segments of the Tutsi diaspora) might actually inhibit “large group” reconciliation (between Tutsis and Hutu). How can story-telling and remembrance be done in a way that promotes lasting peace, rather than contributing to a cycle of ethnic tension and alienation?
  • Another commentator raised a point in my own reflections from yesterday: what might we learn from the remarkable post-WWII Western European experience in reconciliation after massive sustained ethno-nationalist violence? While it might not be politically correct to say it, reconciliation in Europe was often top-down and imposed.
  • One panelist responded by highlighting the importance of the evolution of European identities, and the decline in absolute identity borders with the rise of overlapping and interpenetrating European identity. Of course, the Israeli-Palestinian case is a very, very, very long way from that being a possibility.
  • It takes a long time for old images and stereotyping to fade.

Next the conference moved on to exploring issues of displacement, justice, and reconciliation in Colombia, featuring presentations by Roberto Vidal Lopez (Pontifica Universidad Javeriana, Bogata), Friedarike Santner (University of Vienna) and William Renan Rodriguez (University of Magdalena, who wasn’t able to attend), Elizabeth Kerr (University of Bradford), and Mateja Celestina (University of Manchester).

  • There are an estimated 3.6 to 5.2 million IDPs in Colombia, representing 8-11% of the total population. While elaborate legislation is in place to address this, implementation has often been weak due to weak institutional capacities, corruption, patronage, budget constraints, bureaucracy, and limited political will.
  • While there are few parallels between Colombian and Palestinian forced displacement, the Colombian case does highlight the importance of well-resourced institutions with strong leadership and political support in programme implementation. Clearly there is scope for a future Palestinian repatriation program to be afflicted by dysfunctional patronage and politicization.
  • The nature of violence in Colombia is contested (something which, ironically, some of the debate among participants highlighted)
  • There was discussion of the factors that shape the mobilization of victims in pursuit of their rights and interests (although perhaps less discussion of what the implications of this might be).
  • Questions were raised about whether reconciliation is being genuinely pursued in Colombia, or whether it was the “image of reconciliation” that was being sold.
  • Emphasis was placed on the importance of “home” in discussions of displacement (a place where “one’s presence and entitlement are taken for granted”). Displacement is not a homogenous or universal process, nor is it simply locational. It has important emotional, social, and psychological dimensions, and varies across groups, locales, age, gender, and other factors.
  • Resettled IDPs may be seen as preexisting communities as undesirable outsiders. The provision of support for resettled IDPs (and, by extension, repatriated refugees) may generate jealousies on the part of non-refugee/IDP populations, especially those in need. To their credit, much of the policy work on Palestinian refugees (notably by the PA and World Bank) has stressed the importance of integrating future refugee absorption in the context of broader housing, employment, and social service programmes for the general population.

In the afternoon, attention turned the Middle East. One panel examined claims programs for large-scale displacements (Norbert Wuehler, IOM), intra-Lebanese displacement and reconciliation (Nancy Maroun, Buffalo State College), and the role of NGOs and international organizations in addressing conflict-induced displacement in Turkey (AyseBetülÇelik, Sabanci University, Turkey).

  • Some clear parallels quickly emerged between the Colombian and Turkish cases. In both conflicts, the state has attempted to frame the issue as a solely internal one of counter-terrorism. In the Turkish case, however, pressure from the EU (and the “carrot” of possible future EU accession) resulted in some shifts in Turkey’s approach to the Kurdish issue. By contrast, the UN has had less impact because of sovereignty constraints.
    • In Turkey, the exclusion of Kurdish political actors renders NGOs a potentially important interlocutor with IDPs. However, the state often regards these suspiciously, or even aligned with Kurdish nationalists. The state itself tends to decouple the humanitarian issue of IDPs from the broader political issues that gave rise to it.
    • To some extent, Turks have been passive bystanders in a conflict between the state and the PKK. However, an absence of dialogue or even societal recognition of the problem has meant that inter-ethnic social tensions are increasing.
  • The Lebanese case study focused on the legacies of Christian-Druze conflict in Mount Lebanon, and the impact of post-Ta’if reconciliation. This involved Christian-Druze meetings which produced a formal local reconciliation agreement, a ceremony, compensation, and reconstruction, and potential return.
    • Many Lebanese IDPs did not feel included, suggesting that committees were unrepresentative. Accordingly, they often did not agree with the arrangements that were reached. The affected population also had little confidence in the process. The funding of compensation, and development were also deeply affected by parliamentary and neopatrimonial politics, with funding being mobilized to support election campaigns.
    • As a consequence, the Lebanese reconciliation process did not generate much reconciliation, and in many respects became a source of division.
  • Discussion of mass claims process started by highlighting the variation in reparations programmes, and the extent to which is specific to the sets of issues it seeks to address. There was a lot here of relevance to the Palestinian refugee issue.
    • There has been very little concrete research on the actual effects of reparation programmes and their impact on reconciliation. In some cases (Colombia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq) it is not clear that reparations have made any substantial contribution to social reconciliation.
    • In Sierra Leone, victims received very few resources, and much later than possible perpetrators did through post-conflict DDR programmes. However, small amounts of funds were made for local memorialization and reconciliation ceremonies.
    • However, reparations may provide another sort of reconciliation that discussions have largely ignored: contributing the ability of claimants to reconcile themselves to their post-conflict situation.
    • Reparations may help with a degree of state-to-state normalization.
    • Implementation matters (in terms of the impact of reparations on reconciliation), and the implementation record is not good. Symbolic reparation/remembrance/reconciliation processes might be more effective. Reparations can also be an implicit or explicit acknowledgment of past wrongs.
    • Reparation programmes can also be divisive.
    • There is a need for more concrete empirical research on the actual effects of reparations programmes.

The final panel of the conference turned to the Palestinian case. Ironically, this was the discussion I was least able to take notes on, since I was chairing the session!

  •  Jaber Suleiman (independent researcher, Beirut) presented an excellent overview and assessment of various initiatives to promote Lebanese-Palestinian dialogue and reconciliation. He suggested that efforts to date had significant but insufficient impact, for a variety of reasons. The faltering efforts of the Lebanese government to implement its own reform agenda was a major part of the problem.
  • Mick Dumper (Exeter University) used Jeremy Waldron’s 1992 article on superseding historical injustice to raise a number of critical issues regarding how the passage of time might affect rights, claims, and remedies in the Palestinian refugee question. He argued that while a number of counter-arguments could be made, these could not wholly refute Waldron’s argument. However, engagement on the issue itself opened up a number of areas of potential compromise and helped to identify possible new initiatives
  •  Mike Molloy (University of Ottawa) examined the important role that “intangibles” play in the refugee issue, highlighting the very different narratives that the two sides bring to the table. The refugee issue could not be addressed, he suggested, solely by technical and material means. Rather, it was necessary to find ways in which both sides could find recognition of their experiences, hopes, and fears.

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All-in-all it was an excellent conference, with a diverse group of participants. Kudos to Megan Bradley for organizing it!

At the moment I’m attending an excellent conference in Ottawa organized by Megan Bradley at Saint Paul University on “Displacement and Reconciliation.” The conference has panels on both the Palestinians and the broader Middle East tomorrow, but most of the two-day event will examine issues of forced displacement, transitional justice, repatriation, reparations, and reconciliation in a broad global context and with the objective of fostering durable solutions to the situation of refugees and IDPs. Among the cases to be explored are those of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sri Lanka, Timor Leste, the Great Lakes region, Kenya, northern Uganda, Vietnam, the Koreas, Columbia, and elsewhere.

You’ll find below a variety of comments, reflections, and observations arising from the conference that might relate to the Palestinian refugee issue. Obviously, the viewing the conference through a Palestinian-centric lens only captures a small portion of the very rich discussions. On the other hand, there’s only so much that I can liveblog, and this is after all the Palestinian Refugee ResearchNet blog.

Also, don’t expect too much integration of the various points below into a coherent overall account. If I was to hold off posting until I had an opportunity to synthesize everything, I would never get around to posting!

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 The first panel of the conference dealt with “conceptual links and theoretical insights” on displacement, transitional justice, and reconciliation.

  • James Milner (Carleton University) highlighted the linkage between protracted displacement and conflict (radicalization, armed refugees and spoilers, the dangers of unsustainable early refugee returns, cross-border issues). Certainly, many analysts of the Middle East could highlight the role of Palestinian refugees in the Palestinian armed struggle. However, most Palestinians would not see diaspora-based armed struggles as undermining peace, but rather as advancing the principle of Palestinian self-determination upon which any sustainable solution must be based. This highlights the contested conceptual character of both “peace” (is it just an absence of violence, or does it relate to human rights and broader issues of social justice) and spoiler (the PLO was considered by some as a “spoiler” —until the early 1990s, when suddenly the same movement was considered a fundamental foundation of the peace process itself).
  • Where does reconciliation fit with the priorities of achieving a solution? Is it an end in itself, or a means of achieving other ends? How important is it to sustainable peace?
  • Can human capacity development among refugees help to prepare for a more effective and sustainable transition to peace? Although the point was first raised in the conference presentations in the context of refugees in Africa, it is a point that UNRWA often makes about the long term value of its investments in Palestinian health and education.
  • Vern Neufeld Redekop (Saint Paul University) highlighted the many conceptual dimensions of forced displacement. One aspect that he highlighted was that the costs of displacement to victims include both interior and exterior dimensions (otherwise understood, perhaps, as intangible and tangible suffering and losses), as well as individual and collective ones. The typology seems a useful one for thinking about the many ways that the Nakba has affected Palestinians.
  • Anneke Smit (University of Windsor) looked at the impact of property restitution on conflict resolution. She noted the growing consensus on the property rights of refugees and IDPs, including the right of property restitution. Property compensation is increasingly seen as the second-best solution, to be used only when restitution is not possible. She also noted that the legal principles show insufficient recognition of the impact of “facts on the ground” and the passage of time. She argued for a more holistic approach to the issue that didn’t just focus on property restitution (and refugee return), but rather looked at the broad range of elements that might be part of a durable solution. This issue, of course, is a key debate in approaches to the Palestinian refugee issue, with some analysts favouring a “rights-based“ approach that stresses return and restitution, and others emphasizing “pragmatic” that stresses the importance of achievable compromise.
  • One commentator raised the paradox that there is so much focus on property restitution and compensation, but typically less emphasis on compensation/reparations for other kinds of loss (such as death and physical injury).
  • Another commentator raised the important issue of how to balance the long-term issues of reconciliation, with the immediate short-term operational pressures in the field and on the ground. Several speakers also raised the issue of stove-piping and disconnects within the UN and other humanitarian, developmental, human rights, political, and other organizations. These two sets of dynamics, I think, become mutually reinforcing, with short-term pressures and differences in organizational mandates and priorities compounding each other.
  • In all of these discussions, I wondered about the issue of case selection. Scholars are often inclined to believe, normatively and theoretically, that reconciliation, repatriation, and transitional justice are important contributions to long-term peace. However, we rarely discuss the cases where “peace” was achieved without these being priorities. In post-WWII Western Europe, for example—arguably the most successful case of conflict transformation in modern history, albeit one that took 50 years—the new order was often built on accepting forced displacement in a broader context of force majeure, realpolitik, and external (Soviet) threat. Moreover, reconciliation was largely a top-down, engineered process. Certainly it was a different era, but what are the analytical implications of the European experience?
  • Also it is probably important to address cases where there appears to be a real peace versus justice dilemma, such that pursuit of one might actually undermine the other in the short and medium term. This isn’t to say, of course, that I think that reconciliation and transitional justice are unimportant. Clearly they are, or can be. However I do think it is useful to look at these issues through a critical lens, and to avoid cookie-cutter approaches that assume universal dynamics in which “all good things go together.”

The second panel offered three case studies of reconciliation, transitional justice, and durable solutions to displacement. These focused on Bosnia (Humera Haider, University of Birmingham), Sri Lanka (Vellaithamby Ameerdeen, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka), and Timor Leste (IOM).

  • In Bosnia, after a slow start, implementation of the Dayton Agreement finally saw substantial degrees of “minority return” (roughly half a million of a million returnees) and property restitution. However, some of this return was limited or temporary. Also, returnees face a variety of political, social, and economic challenges. This can serve to increase (rather decrease) ethnic tensions.
  • Some economic reintegration efforts in Bosnia have sought to create functional cross-ethnic links, and some social reintegration efforts have sought to incorporate economic elements.
  • What is the relationship between micro-level confidence-building measures (what, in the Israeli-Palestinian context were once called “people-to-people” activities) and macro-level process of negotiation and conflict? Do they really reinforce each other? When do the former prove to be durable, and help to dampen down sporadic tensions at the macro level? To what extent are the former possible or useful in the absence of the latter? What role does national and communal leadership play in this?
  • The presentation on Sri Lanka highlighted some of these problems, with the “macro” problems of limited political reform and political devolution and the key role of the Sri Lankan military in Tamil areas aggravate the “micro” challenges of repatriation, local communal competition, etc.
  • In Timor Leste, the Commission for Reception, Truth, and Reconciliation (CAVR) played an important role in enabling truth-telling, historical memory, and forgiveness. Partly this reflected a positive view of the value of truth and reconciliation, and partly it reflected the political reality that there was little enthusiasm for legal prosecution of Indonesian officials, nor was it advisable for the nascent state of Timor Leste to antagonize its powerful Indonesian neighbour. (Reconciliation later became something of a negative term after the 2006 political crisis, with the public accusing the political/military elites of a failure to themselves reconcile.)
  • Reconciliation and truth-telling are not in of themselves sufficient, given the important of social, political, and economic context.

The third panel examined issues of reconciliation, peacebuilding, and the resolution of displacement in the African context, with case studies from the Great Lakes region (Odomora Mubangizi, Arrupe College, Harare), Kenya (Paige Morrow, formerly at the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights), and Uganda (Pius Ojara, Refugee Law Project, Kampala).

  • Is property restitution a particularly Western concept? One speaker argued that it was. Certainly, real property rights are deeply embedded in Western law and capitalism. However, even if they aren’t universal, they are certainly commonplace, and extend to many areas of the non-Western world, including the Middle East.
  • Do multigenerational conflicts have important dynamics that differ in important respects from more recent displacements?
  • Do refugee camps create longer-term dependencies? In what ways are the characteristics of Palestinian refugee camps and camp services similar to or different from camp experiences and effects elsewhere?
  • How does the reconciliation of conflicts arising from mass ethnic cleansing differ from forced displacements that are related to more localized confrontations?
  • Reconciliation presumes both polarization and the ability of people to reset their internal frames of analysis and perspective. The process isn’t just about dialogue, but about creating structures and spaces to sustain that dialogue.
  • It is important that people feel that they have some voice, and that there is some mechanism whereby they can have their grievances heard.
  • How can self-identities and narratives shift in a way that makes reconciliation with the other easier?
Day 2 details to follow soon…

The Institut français du Proche-Orient and the Council for British Research Levant will be holding their workshop on “Palestinian Refugee Camps in Jordan and the Near East” next week (March 7) at the British Institute (CBRL) in Amman. Details are below, and a full conference programme can be found here.

Center for the Study of Palestinian Society and Heritage

Sixth Annual Conference

call for papers

Challenges and Responses: Coping and Survival Strategies of Palestinians

The conditions which have prevailed in the Middle East, and among Palestinians in particular, during the last three decades since the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, seem to have led to splintering and lack of communication and coordination among Palestinian communities around the world. As a result, different Palestinian communities have resorted to different coping methods and varying survival strategies in dealing with the unique problems and conditions each community faces. The strategies we are concerned with may be formal or informal, conscious or unconscious; any mental, behavioral, or attitudinal patterns detectable to the researcher.

We would like to have papers which address, at least, the following issues:

  • Defining the community: place, numbers, time of arrival, etc.
  • Problems that the community has faced during the last three decades.
  • Strategies used by the community to overcome these problems.
  • The degree of solidarity within the community and the coherence of the group’s identity.
  • The degree of commitment of the community to Palestinian identity and the Palestinian cause.
  • Contact and communication with the homeland.

We hope to have one such paper on each Palestinian community, throughout the world, especially the least known communities in Europe, South America, and Africa.

An abstract of 200 – 300 words should be received by April 30, 2011 accompanied by a brief account of previous work related to the subject. Selected candidates will be advised by May 20, 2011 to send their papers by September 30, 2011. The conference will be held at the Society of Inaash el-Usra, Al Bireh, Palestine, during the period 21-22 of October 2011.

The papers will be published later in a book to be edited by the staff of the Center.

Papers should be based on serious academic field and/or library research and should concentrate on the logic and the epistemology which lies behind the concerned strategies rather than on individuals and political groups active in implementation of such strategies.

Accommodation and meals will be covered.


Dr. Sharif Kanaana, Chairman, Planning committee
P.O. Box 3549 Al-Bireh


Tel.: 02-2401123
Telfax: 02-2401544

Web site:

(Posted on behalf of the conference organizers)