The Occupied Territories: Exit and Return



The roots of the Palestinian problem date back to the termination of the British mandate and the creation, by United Nations Resolution 181 (II), of the State of Israel in 1948 (United Nations 1990, 129). As a result, by the end of 1949, 726,000 Palestinian Arabs (Christians and Muslims) who previously resided in areas absorbed by Israel were displaced (Ibid., 162).

The lack of "a permanent population; a defined territory; government; and the capacity to enter into relations with other States" has rendered the Palestinians stateless, a status applicable to "a person who is not considered a national by any State under the operation of its law" (Goodwin-Gill Dec. 1990, 5, 11, 12).

During the June 1967 Six-Day War, Israel occupied the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, which led to the further exodus of refugees into Syria and Jordan. This paper will focus on the Palestinians in the West Bank (of whom there are 960,000), the Gaza Strip (550,000) and East Jerusalem (125,000) (Lockman 1989, 105).

Efforts to provide a legal framework for the protection of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories have not been successful in spite of numerous attempts by the United Nations General Assembly (Takkenberg 1991, 5-8). The two major multilateral conventions which dictate the fundamental principles of humanitarian law during military occupation - the Hague Convention II With Respect to the Laws and Customs of War on Land and Annexed Regulations of 18 October 1907 and the (Fourth) Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 1949 - have failed to be recognized de jure by the Israeli authorities for a number of legal claims (Mallison 1986, 262; National Lawyers Guild 1989, 13-17).

Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are governed by three legal codes. First, the Emergency Defence Regulations passed under the British mandate in 1945 have been deemed by the first Israeli military commander to be applicable to the Palestinians under occupation (Aruri 1989, 128). Second, the respective military governors of the West Bank and Gaza Strip are vested with "all powers of government, legislation, appointment, and administration" (Richardson 1984, 73). The military governors issue orders which adapt the legal code to the changing situation on a day-to-day basis (Aruri 1989, 128). Third, Jordanian law is also applicable in the West Bank (Ibid.). In the Gaza Strip, Egyptian military orders apply--for example, Military Order No. 331 with respect to the labour law (Country Reports 1990 1991, 1494). Since Israel's de facto annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967, East Jerusalem Palestinians are governed by Israeli law.

Military Order No. 947 issued on 8 November 1981 is interpreted by many as having established "the permanent Israeli system of control over the Palestinians in the Territories" (Benvenisti 1984, 43). This military order established a Civil Administration to manage civilian affairs, with the area military commander maintaining "the prerogative to enact primary legislation" (Ibid.). In the Occupied Territories, Civil Administration offices staffed mostly by Israeli Defense Force (IDF) personnel are present in all major towns. Palestinians have to consult Civil Administration offices for all administrative procedures.

Appeals by the Palestinians and the international community for the Israelis to comply with the provisions of the conventions mentioned earlier (which outline the principles of humanitarian law during military occupation) have intensified since December 1987 with the outbreak of the Palestinian popular uprising (Intifada). Human rights violations and the practice of collective punishment (see Amnesty International Report 1988, 1989, 1990) in the Occupied Territories have become more frequent since the beginning of the Intifada, as has the imposition of stricter measures to control the movement of Palestinians travelling both within the Occupied Territories and abroad.

2.                INTERNAL MOVEMENT

2.1       The Status of Palestinians

Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are not considered citizens of Israel; rather, they have residence status. The same applies to Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, which was annexed de facto by Israel in June 1967 and officially in July 1980. The right to residence status was initially established in 1967 with the registration of all Palestinians present in the Occupied Territories and East Jerusalem. Palestinians not present during the census were not entitled to residence status but had to apply to the Israeli authorities (Human Rights Watch 1991, 471-72). Generally, Palestinians are not "permitted to return to reside permanently with their families" (Country Reports 1990 1991, 1491).

2.2           The Identity Card

Colour-coded identity cards issued to Palestinians by the State of Israel provide proof of residence status. Palestinians living in the West Bank are issued orange identity cards, those living in the Gaza Strip, red cards, and those living in East Jerusalem, blue cards. More restrictions apply to holders of red and orange identity cards than to those who carry blue ones, as "East Jerusalem is governed as part of Israel" (Country Reports 1990 1991, 1492).

Identity cards are issued to Palestinians once they reach the age of sixteen. The cards issued to Palestinians in the Occupied Territories furnish the following information:

bearer's name        citizenship

parents' name        marital status

grandfather's name              spouse's name

date, place of birth               children's names, sex sex    children's dates of birth

religion   address

(Al-Haq Excerpts)

The identity cards must be carried at all times by the holder (Military Order No. 297). According to Military Order No. 297 issued in 1967, sanctions for not carrying this piece of identification include a jail sentence of up to one year and/or a fine of 1,000.00 New Israeli Shekels (NIS) (approximately US $ 500.00). Furthermore, members of the security forces can demand to see the identity card at any time (Al-Haq Excerpts).

The validity of the identity card is decided upon by the military government in accordance with Military Order No. 878 (Aronson 1987, 218). This in effect "control[s] the personal status of individuals in the Occupied Territories" (Ibid.).

The non-renewal of the identity card implies the loss of residence status (Ibid.). If, for example, Palestinians from the Occupied Territories should acquire citizenship abroad, they are "ordinarily not allowed to resume residence in the Occupied Territories ...[and]... [others] who remain outside the Territories for more than three years are often also not permitted to resume residence in the territories" (Country Reports 1990 1991, 1491). The "former" resident is required to obtain a tourist visa in order to return.

According to Military Order No. 5, the orange identity card holder (a Palestinian living in the West Bank) cannot remain "overnight within the area of pre-[19]67 Israel without a permit" (Shehadeh 1980, 72). Military Order No. 5 also prohibits overnight stays in Jerusalem. Furthermore, the arbitrary confiscation by security forces of the identity card restricts the freedom of movement of individuals. This prevents the individual "from leaving his house, because if... apprehended without it he would be breaking the law" (Ibid., 75).

2.3       The Green Identity Card

The green identity card is the most restrictive. Military Order No. 1269 (1989) authorizes the military government in the West Bank to issue identity cards to residents which restrict entry into Israel (East Jerusalem included). A similar military order applies to the Gaza Strip (Al-Haq Excerpts). The green card is issued to "Palestinians considered to be security risks" (Country Reports 1990 1991, 1490). This includes anyone with "a record of activism" during the Intifada (Mediterranean Quarterly 1991, 62). By

31 March 1991, the Israeli Cabinet had voted to bar from Israel "any Palestinian who had been arrested for `security violations'" (Keesing's 1991 1991, 38167). Palestinians affected by this order include persons who were placed under administrative detention (never formally charged), "lawyers, human rights organizations employees, and journalists" (Country Reports 1990 1991, 1490).

The bearer of a green identity card is restricted to the vicinity of their place of residence. For instance, an individual residing in Hebron, a city in the southern part of the West Bank, would not be permitted to travel to Nablus, a city in the northern part of the West Bank (Mediterranean Quarterly 1991, 62). Students are especially affected by these measures since they are unable to cross Jerusalem to reach their respective universities. Green card bearers are not permitted to travel abroad. In November 1990, after the incident at Haram-Al-Sharif in which 20 Palestinians were killed and other acts of violence ensued, the Israeli government extended the use of the green identity cards (Le Monde 1 Nov. 1990). According to Country Reports 1990 there was a total of 15,000 green identity card holders before November 1990 (1991, 1490). However, as of April 1991, the number of green identity card holders in the West Bank alone was reported to be 10,000 (From the Field Apr. 1991, 1).

Green identity card holders are easily identifiable as previous "offenders" and thus are potentially more likely to be subject to harassment by the security forces (Al-Haq 1990, 328).

2.4    The Magnetic Identity Card

In 1988, Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Defence Minister, announced that "all Gazans would be required to obtain new computer-coded exit permits in addition to the identity cards" (Facts on File 1989, 452). As of mid-1989, the Gaza Strip Civil Administration had stopped issuing green identity cards but had also refused to issue the magnetic cards to Gazans with security records, thereby barring their exit (From the Field Nov. 1990, 2).

2.5       The Case of Abu Ayash

Radwan Abu Ayash, a resident of the West Bank and head of the Arab Journalists' Association, was held for five months under administrative detention and released without trial or charge on 11 April 1991. On 25 April 1991 he was issued a green identity card (Journal of Palestine Studies June 1991, 213). The restrictions preventing Abu Ayash from travelling to Jerusalem and abroad were lifted on 4 June 1991 after "the intervention of several West European and international organizations" (Mideast Mirror 4 June 1991, 19). Abu Ayash is a prominent figure in the discussions concerning Palestinian representation at a Middle East peace conference scheduled to be held at the end of October 1991.

2.6        Work Permits

The majority of Palestinians depend on employment inside the "green line" or Israel. Before the Gulf War (January-March 1991) the number of Palestinians from the Occupied Territories employed in Israel ranged from 120,000 to 250,000 (Middle East International 19 Apr. 1991, 23).

In order for Palestinians to legally work in Israel, they must obtain a permit "via the labour office of the Israeli Civil Administration...whose work is controlled by Shabak, the domestic intelligence organization" (Ibid.). Approximately 40,000 people have chosen this route while many others decided to work illegally (The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs Apr. 1991, 41).

As a result of increased public pressure after the Haram-Al-Sharif incident in October 1990, a new policy restricting the Palestinian workforce in Israel was formulated by the Minister of Arab Affairs, David Magen (Middle East International 19 Apr. 1991, 23). The policy "aims at the complete elimination of `unauthorized' Palestinian labour" (Ibid.).

In effect, this new, stricter work permit policy limits the number of Palestinians who can enter Israel and thus affects the "livelihoods of the 22,000 West Bankers working in East Jerusalem before the Gulf War" (The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs Apr. 1991, 42). Furthermore, the new policy prohibits the West Bank green identity card holder from applying for work permits (From the Field Apr. 1991, 1).

According to Hadashot, an Israeli daily newspaper, on 26 February 1991,

the inhabitants of the territories...with employment permits will be allowed in. Such permits can be obtained only upon submitting either a promise of employment from the prospective Israeli employer, or an approval by the local rais (headman) who enters the applicant's name in the files of the Labour Office (Middle East International 19 Apr. 1991, 23).

In practice, "the workers' files are thoroughly checked, and those with `security' records or tax debts are rejected" (The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs Apr. 1991, 41). This process is arbitrary in nature and "requires all would-be Palestinian workers to obtain security and tax clearances from eight different Israeli offices" (From the Field Apr. 1991, 1).

Approximately 50,000 Palestinians can now work legally in Israel (Ibid.). The permits are valid from two months to two years, after which another application must be submitted (The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs Apr. 1991, 41). Reportedly, "verbal abuse, beatings and other forms of harassment are not infrequent" at Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) checkpoints (Ibid.).

According to Professor Israel Shahaq, head of the Israeli League for Civil and Human Rights, "the main aim of Israel's new policy is to increase the dependency of the Palestinian workers on the Shabak" (Middle East International 19 Apr. 1991, 24).

2.7           Freedom of Movement

2.7.0               General

Travel between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank entails crossing the State of Israel, and thus is limited to Palestinians who apply for and are issued permits by the Civil Administration.

2.7.1  Curfews

The IDF can restrict freedom of movement by placing entire towns or districts of towns, villages and refugee camps under a curfew which restricts persons to their dwellings. Extended curfews are occasionally lifted to allow the affected persons to purchase necessary food items. Curfews are imposed after demonstrations, to restore order, or for security reasons (Shehadeh 1980, 73). An area under curfew is "sealed" by IDF checkpoints.

During the Gulf War, a curfew was imposed in the Gaza Strip on 16 January and in the West Bank on 17 January. The curfew was not lifted "until 11 February when most residents of the West Bank and those of Rafah and Gaza Town in the Gaza Strip were permitted to leave their homes for six to eight hours a day" (UNRWA 1991, 2).

Curfews can also be imposed for fixed hours as is the case of the night curfew in Gaza since the beginning of the Intifada (Country Reports 1990 1991, 1490).

2.7.2        Closed Military Areas

The IDF has the authority to declare areas closed for security reasons. When this occurs, residents of the Occupied Territories are not permitted to enter Israel or East Jerusalem. This practice is occasionally used as a preventive measure, for example, during Passover and the celebration of Land Day, 28-30 March, when Palestinians commemorate the six Palestinians killed in the 1976 protests against land seizure (Journal of Palestine Studies June 1991, 205; Middle East International 5 Apr. 1991, 11).

2.7.3 Travel Bans

Travel bans have been applied on an individual as well as collective basis. The issuance of a green identity card implies a partial travel ban. Restrictions on travel can also serve other motives. For instance, travel bans were used to prevent "at least eight prominent Palestinians...[from attending]...a United Nations-sponsored conference on the Palestine question" (The Globe and Mail 30 Aug. 1990).

Collective travel bans have also been imposed on entire villages. Twenty-five West Bank villages are reported as having had the travel rights of their inhabitants restricted, some for as long as two years (Country Reports 1990 1991, 1490). The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) successfully petitioned the High Court of Justice to lift collective travel bans on 16 June 1990 (The Jerusalem Post International Edition 16 June 1990). However, "despite the High Court's ruling ... the Israeli Government in September imposed a travel ban on residents of three West Bank villages" (Country Reports 1990 1991, 1490).


3.1      West Bank Palestinians

Residents of the Occupied Territories travel to Jordan for a number of reasons (medical treatment, banking, studies, etc.). In the past, they were legally entitled to Jordanian citizenship and thus travelled abroad using Jordanian passports. This was the case until 31 July 1988, when King Hussein of Jordan announced a reduction of Jordanian participation in West Bank affairs (Keesing's 1988 1988, 36120). The new policy placed in doubt the "West Bank resident's automatic right to a passport" (Newsweek 15 Aug. 1988, 30).

Doubts about the new policy were clarified in September 1988 by the Jordanian Minister of the Interior, Rajai Dajani, when he stated that "a person currently resident in [the] West Bank, or if an expatriate, whose normal place of residence is the West Bank...will be [valid for two years]" (Minister of the Interior of Jordan Sept. 1988). The Minister went on to state that "the person who holds [a] two-year passport has all rights and privileges enjoyed by Jordanian citizens regarding movement, travel, buying and using his money...without restriction" (Ibid.). However, the issuance of a Jordanian passport to a West Bank resident is not to be taken for granted as Jordanian authorities carry out security checks before issuing the passports (Palestine Human Rights Information Centre 9 Sept. 1991).

This policy also reduced the amount of time West Bank residents could remain in the East Bank (Jordan) from three months to one month (Minister of the Interior Sept. 1988). However, exceptions are made for students and medical cases (Ibid.). Furthermore, "West Bankers who travel abroad [are] entitled to return to their homes via [the] East Bank even if their absence is for more than one month" (Ibid.).

Provided that the West Bank resident complies with the above mentioned procedures, "the Interior Ministry routinely grants permits for travel between the East Bank and Israeli-occupied territories" (Country Reports 1990 1991, 1502).

3.2  Gaza Strip Palestinians

Travel abroad for Gaza residents is more difficult as they are considered to be officially stateless. They are denied passports by the Israeli authorities, "just as they [Gaza residents] held none under Egypt which administered the strip from 1948 until 1967" (The Globe and Mail 9 July 1986).

Gaza Strip residents can apply at any Egyptian diplomatic mission for a travel document known as a laissez-passer, although permission to enter Egypt is denied "unless they are deemed to have due cause" (Ibid.). Gazans travelling with the Egyptian-issued laissez-passer must apply for a visa to enter Egypt. The laissez-passer is issued by the Ministry of the Interior and is valid for a period of two years. The nationality of Gazans is described in the laissez-passer as Palestinian.

3.3          Israeli-Issued Laissez-Passer

Palestinians from the Occupied Territories and East Jerusalem can apply for a laissez-passer issued by the State of Israel. A fee is charged for such a document and it is issued only pursuant to a security check (Palestine Human Rights Information Centre 9 Sept. 1991). The period of validity is one year, after which time it must be renewed. It is not considered a practical travel document by many Palestinians as it is not recognized by the neighbouring Arab states.

There is no guarantee that the holder of an Israeli-issued laissez-passer will be able to return home. The U.S. Department of State's Country Reports have, since 1987, noted Israel's refusal to renew the laissez-passer of Palestinians from the Occupied Territories who may have been abroad to study or to work "on grounds that they have abandoned their residences even though they may not have acquired foreign citizenship" (1991, 1491).

According to a representative of the Palestine Human Rights Information Centre in Jerusalem, the Israeli authorities have recently appeared to be more lenient in issuing laissez-passers (9 Sept. 1991).

3.4              Procedures and Problems

The Israeli authorities will grant permission to travel abroad only if the Palestinian accepts to remain abroad for a specified period of time. For example,

all Palestinian males between the ages of 16 and 35,... generally must stay outside the Occupied Territories at least nine months if they cross the bridge into Jordan, unless special permission for a one-month stay has been obtained in advance (Country Reports 1990 1991, 1491).

Since April 1988, males from East Jerusalem between the ages of 16 and 35 have been prohibited from travelling to Jordan for less than nine months (B'Tselem 1 Nov. 1989, 19).

A permit is required for Palestinians who want to travel to Jordan. Obtaining a permit entails "several different clearances" (Country Reports 1990 1991, 1491). The clearance itself is viewed as "an opportunity for the military government to exert pressure on a particular person" (Shehadeh 1980, 71-72).

Before the Gulf War, Israeli authorities permitted 1,000 persons to cross into Jordan daily. During the war, Israeli authorities reduced the number to 50 per day for "security concerns" (Journal of Palestine Studies June 1991, 191-192). It was not until 20 February 1991 that the number of Palestinians allowed to return from Jordan reached 400 per day. As a result, at least 30 Palestinians lost their right to reside in the territories due to the delay in crossing (Ibid.).

3.5 Family Reunification

The Israeli occupation in 1967 resulted in the exodus of half a million people from the Occupied Territories (United Nations 1990, 146). Families were divided between the West Bank and the East Bank. Since then, the United Nations General Assembly has passed several resolutions calling upon Israel to facilitate the "return of the displaced inhabitants"--for example, General Assembly Resolution 2963, 13 December 1972 (Journal of Palestine Studies Spring 1980, 132). More specifically, Article 74 of the (Fourth) Geneva Convention refers to the responsibility of the parties of the conflict to facilitate "in every possible way the reunion of families dispersed as a result of armed conflict" (UNHCR 1979, 96).

Israel argues against this by claiming that the laws of occupation do not require Israel to permit the return of former Palestinian residents who were abroad in 1967 or who have lost their residency status by protracted absence and relocation of domicile, even if they were born in the territories (Country Reports 1990 1991, 1491).

Family reunification applications made to Israel have a very low rate of approval, with only 9,000 out of 140,000 having been approved between 1967 and 1987 (Human Rights Watch 1991, 472). Furthermore, the International Committee of the Red Cross noted a reduction in the number of approvals since the beginning of the Intifada (Ibid.).

3.6     Deportation

Israel has been criticized by the international community for its policy of deporting Palestinians accused of being security risks. It is reported that "...more than 1,300 Palestinian leaders from various backgrounds--academics, journalists, trade unionists, and professionals have been deported since the occupation began in June 1967" (Mediterranean Quarterly 1991, 68).      

Until June 1990, Israel was also deporting foreign wives and minor children who remained after their tourist visas expired (Country Reports 1990 1991, 1491). In June 1990, Israel's High Court of Justice ruled against the deportation of 250 foreign wives and minor children by deciding to allow them "as well as those in illegal status who had been deported, to remain in the West Bank on extended tourist visas" (Ibid.).


Palestinians residing in the Gulf states have suffered as a consequence of the Gulf crisis. Reports indicate that large numbers of Palestinians were present in these countries. For example, before the Gulf crisis, approximately 400,000 mostly white-collar Palestinians lived in Kuwait (Le Point 2 Aug. 1991). Between August 1990 and March 1991, appproximately 150,000 Palestinians travelling with Jordanian passports moved into Jordan (UNRWA 1991, 7).

The end of the Gulf crisis intensified the problems faced by Palestinians in the Gulf states. Particularly affected were Palestinians in Kuwait who faced reprisals after being accused en masse of collaboration with the Iraqi forces (La Presse 20 Mar. 1991). Reports of human rights abuses including summary executions, torture, beatings, etc., have been documented (Le Monde 27 Mar. 1991).

Kuwaiti authorities threatened to "carry out mass expulsion of resident Palestinians" but international pressure prevented this from taking place (Middle East International 28 June 1991, 10). Nevertheless, 100,000 Palestinians still in Kuwait were told by the government to leave by 16 November 1991 after their employment and residence rights expired (The Christian Science Monitor 2 Aug. 1991; Middle East International 28 June 1991, 3).

In late June 1991, the Kuwaiti ambassador in Washington, Sheikh Saud Nasir al-Sabah, expected that other Gulf states would soon start to cancel the employment and residence rights of their Palestinian inhabitants (Middle East International 28 June 1991, 3). Reports indicate that Qatar had already begun "expelling scores of Palestinians" (The Chicago Tribune 7 Sept. 1990).

The majority of Palestinians affected hold Jordanian passports (The Independent 8 Aug. 1991). Most Palestinians travelling with these passports "are likely to return to Jordan" (The Independent 9 July 1991). Jordan, which has already accommodated the first wave of 200,000 Palestinians, will face more problems with the expected second wave of at least 100,000 Palestinians. Already, 33 percent of Jordan's population lives below the poverty line (UNRWA 1991, 6).

The number of Palestinians who still maintain residence status in the Occupied Territories (and thus the right to return according to Israeli law in the Occupied Territories) is difficult to gauge. But at least 58,000 Gaza Strip refugees holding Egyptian travel documents appear to be stranded in Kuwait (Reuters 11 July 1991). Egypt has enforced its entry visa requirements for Gazans travelling with Egyptian laissez-passers (Inter Press Service 17 Sept. 1990). The human rights organization Middle East Watch has called on Israel "to allow the repatriation of former Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza [and] on Egypt to facilitate the return of Gaza Palestinians with Egyptian travel documents to Gaza" (Middle East Watch 11 Sept. 1991, 4).

The outlook for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories appears bleak. A recent UNRWA report states:

Residents of the Occupied Territories have been further impoverished by the cut in transfer payments from the Gulf, fewer job opportunities in Israel, a deep drop in exports ... and an almost total collapse of the internal economy with massively reduced spending power (UNRWA 1991, 6).

As the situation worsens for many Palestinians being forced to leave the Gulf States and return principally to Jordan, the number of Palestinians seeking alternative destinations may well increase.


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This 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.