On World Refugee Day this year, it is time to turn our attention to the world’s largest and longest displaced population, Palestinian refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Today there are more than 7.4 million displaced Palestinians around the world including 5.8 million displaced as a result of 1948, one million displaced in 1967 and more than 500,000 IDPS in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Some 5 million registered Palestinian refugees are registered with UNWRA with one third living in 58 refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the besieged Gaza Strip, and the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Like the Yongsan Tragedy of 2009 which led to the death of five protestors and a police officer during a forced eviction, home demolition in the occupied Palestinian territories is a dirty business. But in places like occupied East Jerusalem, forced eviction and home demolitions are a daily occurrence and part of a systematic and ethnically motivated Israeli policy to further colonize and Judaize Palestinian land. In the four-year period between 2008 and 2012, more than 4,000 Palestinians were displaced after their homes were demolished by Israel.
Israel evicts Palestinian families and then demolishes their homes in order to construct illegal Jewish-only settlements. An estimated 27,000 Palestinian homes have been destroyed since 1967. In this year alone, 257 Palestinian structures have already been demolished by Israel with 472 people displaced according to the Israeli Committee on Home Demolitions.
Not many Koreans are aware that a Korean company is profiting from these illegal house demolitions and the exacerbation of the Palestinian refugee problem. Hyundai Heavy Industries’ equipment continues to be used to illegally demolish Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem. UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk recently called upon Hyundai and other companies whose equipment is being used for illegal settlement development in East Jerusalem to be held accountable. Only two weeks ago, on May 29, Hyundai construction equipment was used to destroy the Salaymeh family’s two-storey home in Beit Hanina.
Principle 2 of the United Nations Global Compact, adopted in 1999, stipulates that it is the responsibility of corporations to ensure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses. In addition, the destruction of personal and public property that is not essential for military operations is expressly prohibited in Article 53 of the IV Geneva Convention of 1949. Furthermore, the construction of Jewish-only settlements in the occupied territories is in violation of Article 49 of the same convention as the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on Israeli Settlements concluded earlier in the year.
The Palestinian refugee crisis has its roots in the Catastrophe of 1948 in which 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes in an ethnic cleansing campaign that led to the founding of the State of Israel. It also entailed the destruction of 531 Palestinian villages and 11 urban neighborhoods inside the new Israeli state (two thirds of the total of Palestinian villages) by the 1960s.
According to the Israeli Committee on Home Demolitions, Israel demolished 6,000 houses immediately after the 1967 6-Day War. Thousands more were demolished during the First and Second Intifadas, continuing through the Oslo Accords. 4,247 homes were demolished in the Israeli invasion of Gaza of 2008-2009 and 400 were destroyed in the 2012 invasion, displacing 3,000 people. Currently, the homes of tens of thousands of Bedouin families in the Negev are threatened with demolition.
While the rights of refugees and the obligations of states are well established in the 1951 Refugee Convention, UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (1948) and Security Council Resolution 237 (1967) both specifically deal with the Palestinian refugee question, guaranteeing the right of return to those displaced in 1948 and 1967.
With this knowledge, Hyundai Heavy Industries must stop selling its equipment to Israel and ensure that that equipment already sold is not used for illegal home demolitions. In 2003 the UN Sub-Commission on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights stated that it is the responsibility of companies to ensure they do not benefit from war crimes, crimes against humanity or other violations of international humanitarian law and act to prevent its own products from being used to commit human rights violations. This principle was more recently reiterated by the UN’s International Fact Finding Mission on Israeli settlements.
A small but important step in addressing one of the world’s longest-running refugee problems is to hold Hyundai Heavy Industries accountable for complicity in human rights abuses and ensure that it ends sales to Israel immediately.