- The Buried History of Palestine
In July 1949 Israel told the United Nations in response to questions about the future of Palestinian refugees that 'the clock cannot be put back'. This phrase has become the mainstay of Israel's arguments against the return of the refugees to their homes, properties and lands. It has also become part of conventional international wisdom about a solution to one of the most protracted refugee cases in the world today.
This stands in contrast to ongoing efforts to strengthen international law and practice vis-à-vis the right of refugees worldwide to return and to restitution, including the recently adopted UN Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons. The irony of this situation is either ignored or overlooked in the Palestinian [End Page 229] case. Many legal precedents for restitution are rooted in the tireless efforts of holocaust survivors and others in the wider Jewish diaspora who sought legal remedies for the terrible wrongs inflicted on their community in the 20th century.
The new Atlas of Palestine 1948 might easily be dismissed by some as an attempt to turn back the clock. The massive Atlas certainly provides the reader with an education about the history of Palestine. It goes into detail about the borders of the country, the location of villages, holy sites, wells, public infrastructure, land usage and the mass displacement and dispossession of the Palestinian Arab people in 1948.
Section one of part I of the Atlas provides an historical overview (9 maps) from the period of the British mandate beginning in 1922 and the development of the borders of historic Palestine through the 1947 United Nations plan to partition the country into two states. Section two (19 maps) describes population and land ownership up to the eve of the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948.
Section two includes three unique contributions: a detailed comparison and discussion of various sources documenting Jewish land ownership in Palestine during the first half of the 20th century; a description of land ownership in the Naqab (Negev) which comprised nearly half of the total land area of pre-1948 Palestine and where, unlike central and northern Palestine, ownership and user rights were governed by tradition and customs of local Bedouin tribes; and detailed lists of infrastructure, public amenities and religious sites.
The third section of the Atlas (32 maps) covers the period known to Palestinians as the Nakba or catastrophe when an estimated 750–900,000 Palestinian Arabs were forcibly displaced from their cities, villages and homes following the 1947 UN partition plan and during the first Arab-Israeli war which ended with the signing of Armistice agreements between Israel and neighbouring Arab states in 1949. A series of maps describes the various stages of displacement and dispossession. Another series maps those villages divided by the 1949 armistice line with Jordan. The Atlas also includes maps on the location of remaining Palestinian villages inside Israel today.
The second part of the Atlas includes more than 250 pages covering 15,000 sq. km of Palestine digitised from 1:20,000 sheets of the Survey of Palestine and a smaller number of 1:100,000 sheets from the same source. The remarkable aspect of part II of the Atlas is the merging of the above-mentioned sheets with Royal Air Force aerial photographs of the country from 1945 and 1946. The combined sheets/aerial photographs cover an area of 7,661 sq. km, including 610 Palestinian towns and villages (54 percent) and 128 Jewish towns and colonies (70 percent).
Landmarks covered include village sites, Zionist colonies within Arab villages, police stations, police posts, police offices, post offices, railway stations, camps, airports, landing grounds, schools, mosques, sheikh/tombs, cemeteries, churches/chapels, convents/monasteries/orphanages, synagogues, wells, cisterns, springs, water tanks, watch towers, and ruins.
Other features include the international boundaries, armistice lines, the partition plan, sub-district boundaries, village boundaries, tribal boundaries (approx.), built-up areas (within and without photo coverage), urban limits, demilitarised zones, mountain regions, plain regions, sand dunes, lakes/sea, aqueducts, cliff edges, railways, dismantled...