As a result of the Nakba—the Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestine—there are today almost 4.5 million Palestinians dispersed throughout the world. In addition, 1.4 million Palestinians live under Israeli domination in the West Bank, and 1.3 million in Gaza, a formerly sparsely populated desert strip now full of crowded refugee camps and towns. About 1.5 million Palestinians continue to live in Israel itself. The forced relocation of Palestinians into the West Bank and Gaza (almost all the residents of Gaza are refugees or descendants of refugees) is a violation of the Geneva Convention and international law, and a war crime.1
In the West Bank, hundreds of miles of 26-foot-high concrete wall divide Palestinians into small, encircled zones. In 2007, Amnesty International reported that "The hundreds of checkpoints and blockades which every day force long detours and delays on Palestinians trying to get to work, school or hospital, have for years limited their access to essential health services and caused medical complications, births at checkpoints and even death."
Israel's West Bank wall is called the Apartheid Wall, and similarities between Israel's treatment of Palestinians and the racist apartheid rule that existed in South Africa are glaring, and have been acknowledged by even strong supporters of Israel. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter told an Israeli newspaper, "When Israel does occupy this territory deep within the West Bank, and connects the 200-or-so settlements with each other, with a road, and then prohibits the Palestinians from using that road, or in many cases even crossing the road, this perpetrates even worse instances of apartness, or apartheid, than we witnessed even in South Africa."2
Since the election of the Hamas government in Gaza in 2006, Israel has imposed a brutal siege to force regime change. At the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009, Israel launched a massacre of Gaza, killing 1,400 people—mostly civilians.3 Hospitals, apartments, and schools were systematically shelled. The UN-commissioned Goldstone Report concluded that Israel carried out "indiscriminate attacks resulting in the loss of life and injury to civilians," "deliberate attacks against the civilian population," and "attacks on the foundations of civilian life in Gaza." After the massacre, Israel imposed a siege on the 1.5 million people in Gaza intended to degrade their health and crush their spirits, allowing only enough food to meet minimum caloric requirements for life, and specifically banning materials needed to rebuild.
In Israel proper, the Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, who make up 20 percent of the population of Israel, are subjected to second class citizenship. People who are deemed Jewish by Israeli-sponsored religious authorities can immigrate to Israel from anywhere in the world, but spouses of Palestinian Israeli citizens who live in Gaza or the West Bank cannot. Many benefits in Israeli society are available only to veterans of the Israeli army—a criterion that excludes the vast majority of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. And while much is made of the right of Palestinians who are Israeli citizens to vote, Israeli laws ban candidates who deny "the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people," or who deny "the democratic nature of the state" of Israel.4
Palestinians who live in exile throughout the Arab world and beyond are often stateless (without diplomatic protection or recognized passports), marginalized, isolated, and persecuted.