Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 December 2017, 08:34 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Gaza Strip and West Bank

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2003
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Gaza Strip and West Bank , 1 June 2003, available at: [accessed 12 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

More than 1.51 million Palestinian refugees lived in the 1967 Occupied Territories, around 43 percent of the total Palestinian population of 3.6 million. The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) registered 879,000 refugees in the Gaza Strip and 627,000 in the West Bank in 2002. In the Gaza Strip, 53 percent lived in eight camps, but in the West Bank only 27 percent lived in camps.

About 26,000 Palestinians were internally displaced in the territories in 2002, some 6,000 of whom were newly displaced during the year.

Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

The year ended with more turmoil and bloodshed in the territories. The Israeli army killed more than 1,000 Palestinians, including combatants, and destroyed thousands of homes causing yet further displacement. The fighting and repressive measures also cost thousands their jobs. Palestinian suicide bombings also increased, killing Israeli soldiers and nearly twice as many civilians as in the previous year, with a substantial increase in Israel itself. The Israeli government suspended the final-status negotiations and continued the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. Israel used live ammunition, missiles, tanks, and aircraft to target Palestinians suspected of terrorist attacks, killing not only their intended targets, but innocent civilians as well.

The Israeli Army assembled more than 30,000 troops for Operation Defensive Shield and the Palestinian death toll reached almost 500 during the months of March and April. Israeli soldiers used civilians as human shields, engaged in collective punishment, and restricted freedom of movement in the occupied territories for much of 2002. Israeli authorities did not allow a UN fact-finding mission commission to visit the Jenin camp. They also blocked access to humanitarian goods and personnel, human rights activists, journalists, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, sometimes for weeks.


Starting in early 2002, Israeli settlement agencies and settler organizations set up foundations for several dozen new settlements. The Israeli Housing Ministry began construction of a record 1,894 new units in the West Bank, more than twice the 2001 figure and, in December, announced further construction in 14 different settlements. By late December 2002, there were more than 400,000 Jewish settlers living in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. Around 210,000 lived in more than 160 settlements across the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and another 200,000 lived in more than 12 settlements in annexed East Jerusalem. Since the signing of the 1993 Oslo Agreement, the number of Jewish settlements in the West Bank has increased from about 150 to more than 172.

Although Israel maintains that the status of Jewish settlements is a political issue to be decided in negotiations, the settlements violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an occupying power from transferring segments of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.

Closures and Restrictions on Movement and Travel

Closures crippled the Palestinian economy, disrupted daily activities such as schooling for children, and at times prevented Palestinians from reaching hospitals for lifesaving medical assistance. Israel maintained its general closure of the territories – in place since 1989 with respect to the Gaza Strip and 1993 for the West Bank – preventing Palestinians, with the exception of residents of East Jerusalem, from traveling into Israel or East Jerusalem.

In addition to its general closure and external closures, Israel also imposed varying degrees of "internal closure" throughout the entire year. The Israeli Army and armed Israeli settlers prevented Palestinians from traveling between West Bank villages and towns, including within the areas under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority. In the Gaza Strip, Israel imposed a severe internal closure throughout 2002.

During periods of internal closure in 2002, only Israeli military personnel and Israeli settlers were permitted to use main roads in the West Bank. Israeli forces also regularly blocked north-south travel in the Gaza Strip.

During the year, Israel sealed off villages and areas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in most cases for weeks at a time. The Israeli army also imposed curfews on Palestinians in the areas under its control, only permitting them to leave their homes for several hours each week. Israel also intermittently closed traffic at border crossings between Jordan and the West Bank, and Egypt and the Gaza Strip. Air traffic to and from Gaza International Airport remained closed throughout 2002.

Israeli closures had a devastating impact on the economy, health care, education, and other aspects of life in the territories. Restrictions on movement prevented Palestinians from receiving medical care. By year's end, the Israeli forces' strict enforcement of internal closures reportedly contributed to at least 76 Palestinian deaths, since the start of the intifada in September 2000, by preventing would-be patients from reaching hospitals.

Israeli travel restrictions also hampered UNRWA's work by seriously curtailing the movement of UNRWA personnel and humanitarian assistance.

Palestinians rarely travel abroad for fear of being denied reentry to the Gaza Strip or the West Bank. The Israeli authorities require all Palestinians residing in the areas under Israeli control to obtain permits before traveling to other countries.

Demolition of Homes and Property

Israeli authorities continued the demolition of Palestinian houses as collective punishment and a deterrent. On August 1, 2002, they elaborated a policy of demolishing the houses of families of Palestinians involved in attacks against Israeli targets in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem or inside Israel as a deterrent. On August 6, 2002, the Israeli High Court allowed the authorities to carry out such demolitions; citing article 119 of the 1945 Emergency Regulations issued by the British Mandate. By year's end several thousand homes were demolished, including more than 400 in Jenin during the month of April alone, in addition to 1,120 pursuant to Israeli municipal and/or military decisions since the intifada started in September 29, 2000.

Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War states that "no protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited."

Israeli authorities also demolished Palestinian homes in 2002 on grounds that the owners did not obtain building permits. Although the Israeli government argued that such demolitions were the result of a neutral building policy, Amnesty International and other human rights organizations reported that Israeli officials enforce the rules in a discriminatory manner, strictly denying construction permits for Palestinian homes while allowing the construction of Israeli settlements to proceed.

Refugee Status

For more than 50 years, Palestinian refugees were considered excluded from the UN Refugee Convention and the protection mandate of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Most Palestinian refugees do, however, fall under the UNRWA mandate, a unique treatment that focuses on assistance without providing comprehensive protection. (see A Refugee is a Refugee: 50 Years of Excluding Palestinians from International Protection)

Durable Solutions

As violence escalated in the territories, hopes for a negotiated settlement evaporated. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon rejected the understanding reached during the previous Barak-Arafat negotiations and offered the Palestinians a truncated state preceded by a long interim phase.

The Palestinians rejected this plan, and the two parties appeared farther apart than ever on any settlement for displaced Palestinians. Even before the Al Aqsa Intifada, the question of solutions for Palestinians displaced from Israel-proper in 1948 and Palestinians displaced from the territories during and after the 1967 war was among the most contentious facing negotiators.

With respect to the 1967 displaced, the parties have not been able to agree on who should be considered for return, much less the modalities for their actual return. The gap in the parties' positions on the 1948 refugees is even wider. Palestinians insist on the "right of return" as proclaimed in UN Resolution 194, with its choice of either repatriation or compensation for refugees not wishing to repatriate.

While Israeli negotiators from the former Barak government reportedly agreed in the course of negotiations to the return of small numbers of refugees to Israel-proper under the rubric of family reunification, Israel continued to reject UN Resolution 194 as a basis for discussion in final-status negotiations, saying that the right of return is incompatible with Israel's right of self-determination.

In its letter to the U.S. Committee for Refugees dated March 24, 2003, the Israeli Embassy in the United States reiterated its opinion that "UN General Assembly Resolution 194, like all other General Assembly resolutions, [is] not binding" and stressed "that there is no basis in international law for a right of return."

Emergency Relief

With 22 percent of refugee children suffering from acute or chronic malnutrition, the UN secretary general's personal humanitarian envoy, Catherine Bertini, described the situation in the West Bank and Gaza as a serious and mounting crisis.

In January 2002, UNRWA initially launched an appeal for $117 million to cover its needs for the whole year. However as the Israeli-Palestinian violence escalated in the months of March and April, refugee needs increased. In July 2002, UNRWA asked international donors for an additional $55.7 million in the form of a supplementary appeal.

With a general fund budget for Relief Services of more than $33 million, UNRWA continued to distribute emergency food to nearly 1 million refugees in the occupied territories. It also continued to provide limited cash assistance for families in need and assisted more than 5,000 refugees whose homes were damaged or destroyed in military operations.

On December 10, 2002, as the humanitarian situation deteriorated dramatically and the demands on the agency increased, UNRWA issued an appeal for an additional $93.7 million for emergency activities for a six-month period.

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