Texts for discussing the question, “Must the war continue forever?” Moshe Dayan:
“Yesterday, when morning arrived, Ro’i was murdered. He was blinded by the quiet of the spring morning, and didn’t see those who were lying in ambush in the furrows to take his life. Let us not blame the murderers today. What would be the point of accusing them of hating us so fiercely? For eight years they’ve been living in refugee camps in Gaza, and right before their eyes we’re settling the land and the villages in which they and their ancestors once lived.
We, not the Arabs in Gaza, are the ones who bear responsibility for Ro’i’s death. Did we not shut our eyes and refuse to gaze directly at our fate, to see the brutal nature of the mission our generation is called upon to fulfill?
Have we forgotten that these youths, living in Nahal Oz, bear the heavy gates of Gaza on their shoulders?...
Today we’ll settle accounts with ourselves. We are the settler generation, and without a steel helmet and the artillery’s muzzle we’ll be unable either to plant a tree or build a house. Let us not hesitate to recognize the seething hatred filling the lives of hundreds of thousands of Arabs living all around us. Let us not look away, lest our hands weaken. This is the fate of our generation. This is our life’s choice – to be ready and armed, strong and inflexible, else the sword must fall from our clenched hand and we must die…”
From Dayan’s eulogy at Ro’i Rotberg’s funeral, April 30, 1956.
The Dayton Accords: What can we learn from the solution to the Bosnian refugee problem?
The break-up of Yugoslavia began in June1991 when Slovenia and Croatia declared independence, leading to the most serious European refugee crisis since the end of the second world war. Fighting spread to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992. Hostilities ended when peace agreements were signed in 1995. The agreements referred to the return of refugees to their homes, naturalization in their new place of residence, and compensation for lost property.
During the war in Yugoslavia, the nationalist groups involved in the violent conflict became subject to “ethnic cleansing”. Fifty percent of the Bosnia-Herzegovina population were Bosnian Moslems, 35 percent were Serbs, and 15 percent were Croats. Approximately 1 ½ million members of the three groups were expelled or fled during the war. The ethnic cleansing created ethnically “pure” areas inhabited only by members of a single national group.
After the refugees left, the government passed a law providing for the confiscation of any property which had been unoccupied by its owner for more than thirty days, declaring that they had become absentees. During the war, many people took over empty properties, but only five to ten percent of them had been authorized to do so by the government. When the war ended there was no legal impediment to the return of refugees to their homes or to the areas in which they had lived before the war, but they feared being harassed and attacked if they returned.
Nevertheless, even displaced persons who were found in areas populated by members of their own ethic group were stigmatized. The Dayton Accords regulated the right of the refugees to return. One of its clauses specified that each refugee was permitted to return to where they lived before the war and to reclaim their property. The Accords specifically stated that the reason why the refugee left their home or their property was irrelevant; because many of those who took over properties claimed that the refugees simply left voluntarily and thereby lost their property rights. Furthermore, the accords specify that every refugee was entitled to demand recognition from the government as the owner of their property, or to receive compensation for the property they lost. Approximately one-quarter of the homes had been destroyed while many others had been severely damaged, and thus the issue of compensation became complicated. Deciding on the compensation amount was difficult, because it was not entirely clear whether the property should be valued as of the time its owner lost possession, or at the time it was returned. Moreover, the procedure for returning property to its owner was administrative rather than judicial, unlike the procedure for receiving compensation that required suing in court. After the refugees applied to have their property returned, an investigation was conducted and a decision was reached fairly quickly. There was no great difficulty proving prior ownership because refugees had left during the 1990’s when property registration records were accurate and had been carefully preserved.
Thus far, approximately 70 percent of the refugees have had their property returned to them, but it is difficult to know how many of them actually came back. Many of them had sold their property, their homes, etc., and did not return. Many had also begun new lives elsewhere, and some feared to return to an area in which they would be members of an ethnic minority. But few relinquished completely their right to reclaim their property or to receive compensation. According to various statistics, by 2000 less than one-third of those displaced by the war had returned (650,000 refugees and internal refugees).
In addition to these measures, steps are being taken today to rehabilitate refugees in their new places of residence. All these projects are financed by the international community, primarily by the United States. Transfer of funds is conditional on the return and rehabilitation of the refugees – that is, on implementation of the Dayton Accords. Nevertheless, it is clear that there will never be sufficient funds available to build all the houses needed. During the first two years after the Accords were signed, for example, no refugees at all returned because they were afraid. Now, however, the situation is changing, in part because of the extensive campaign with respect to property rights and housing, funded by the international community.
No serious reconciliation efforts among the parties to the conflict are underway in Bosnia. The refugees refused to relinquish their right to return – their right in principle to come back and recover their property. They did so even knowing that not all of them would return. They viewed the right of return as a personal right that no one was authorized to relinquish on their behalf.
From: a lecture by Paul Partitor, an attorney working in Bosnia under the auspices of the OECD, presented in Tel Aviv, January 25, 2003.