According to the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees, worldwide, there are 59.5 million people who have been forcibly displaced. 19.5 million of these people are considered refugees, or people persecuted and forced out of their homes, ultimately unable to return. An even larger portion, 38.2 million, are Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). IDPs are people forcibly displaced but remain within their own country. Unable to register as refugees or to seek asylum, IDPs do not receive access to even the few benefits offered by international aid organizations. The figures have tended to vary significantly from source to source, most since 2008 conceding that over half, or at least 6 million Palestinians are displaced persons. New studies, however, are saying that significantly more Palestinians are displaced than previously thought. So just how much does “over half” amount to?
As warfare and poverty increase, protracted conflicts push people out of their homes and some even outside of their borders, culminating in “refugee crises” in the media. Palestinians are among the largest population of displaced peoples in the world, along with Afghans, and now Syrians. According to Human Rights Watch organizations, NGOs, INGOs, and the media have generally referred to Palestinians displaced by demolitions and evictions as homeless, instead of IDPs. International law, media disparity, literal walls and limitations, and lack of reliable demographic research have always muddled the facts concerning Palestine.
The internally displaced persons face the threats of war without any promise of aid, let alone asylum; hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are considered internally displaced. Internal displacement occurs when civilians have been forced from their homes in their country of origin or citizenship, but have no destination country. The plight of IDPs versus refugees is that they are within their nation’s borders and have not yet reached the status of stateless or refugee, therefore they are not protected by international law. They receive minimal assistance and take major risks to find shelter and food.
Human rights organizations like the United Nations have published in-depth studies highlighting the devastating plight of Palestinians, calling for Israel to recognize and grant equity to the human rights of displaced peoples. One such report from 2015 demands Israel put an end to its “Policy of displacement and dispossession”. Israeli officials have claimed that forced evictions and demolition of Palestinian homes are part of necessary military operations, while Palestinians have refuted that these means of settlement expansion are illegal. Most articles talk about how, since its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, Israel has displaced “over half of the entire worldwide Palestinian population”. They go on to assert that the greatest force behind violence in the region is the displacement crisis. It is high time to be more specific about the facts and figures concerning the displacement of the Palestinian people. The entire worldwide population of Palestinians is estimated to be some 12 million; according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, current figures prove that roughly 10.6 million of them have been displaced, therefore, over 88% of the Palestinian people have been displaced since 1948, by the state of Israel and allied indifference.
In order to seek asylum, some governing body has to deem you a refugee. For any displaced person, the goal is almost always resettlement in their country of origin. But with ruined infrastructure, and the foibles of fledgling government, in some ways, resettlement and voluntary repatriation present similar challenges to displacement. The truth is that each independent aid organization and government redefines the terms in and around citizenship status all the time, usually pushing access to citizenship further rather than closer. As citizens of a state with limited powers, within a state of occupation, Palestinians face unique challenges in acquiring the basic necessities of life. The needs of these masses of people go almost entirely unmet. State policies, reporting disparities in the media, and a general lack of access to information as the result of protracted conflict have skewed the statistics on Palestine for far too long. No matter which statistics you choose to accept, the “more than half” of Palestinians who have been displaced is more than enough cause for concern.