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Displacement at Heart of New Research Project on Palestinian Bedouin Community

28 May 2020 – The issue of violent displacement is key to a new research project involving Dr Brendan Ciarán Browne from the Discipline of Peace Studies, in Trinity’s School of Religion, which was recently awarded a research development grant worth approximately €500,000 from the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)-DFID Collaborative Humanitarian Protection Research Programme.

Palestinian Bedouin at risk of forced displacement: IHL vulnerabilities, ICC possibilities’, is a project which will focus on an area known as ‘E1’ in the West Bank. The planned expansion of the illegal Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim located in the West Bank linking to Jerusalem will result in a “forcible transfer” of the Palestinian Bedouin residents who mostly inhabit the E1 area, says Dr Browne.

The local presence for the project is now more important than ever…

Speaking from his home in Belfast, in the North of Ireland, Dr Browne detailed the good news of the research funding in the midst of a global pandemic which brought him back from Palestine to Belfast, where his wife was needed as a respiratory doctor. The project, however, doesn’t officially start until September 1st, when he hopes everything will be able to progress as planned.

The local presence for the project is now more important than ever, with partners Al Quds University Human Rights Clinic and Co Investigator Dr Munir Nuseibah in Jerusalem. The other key partners in the project are Project Investigator, Dr Alice Panepinto of Queen’s University Belfast, and in Liverpool John Moores University, Dr Triestino Mariniello.

“It’s not about European – Westerners parachuting in to do research projects with vulnerable communities. It’s very much about empowering the local community to take a lead in that”, says Dr Browne of the partnership with Al Quds University Human Rights Clinic, where he also spent a year teaching in 2015.

Watershed Moment

“The Palestinian Bedouin community are a nomadic community who have a long history of being subject to forcible and violent displacement as a result of ongoing settler colonial polices of the Israeli state”, says Dr Browne, adding that they are “a marginalised group”, that have experienced “the brunt of a lot of Israeli policies that has forced them off their land.”  

In terms of the urgency of the project now, Dr Browne says the International Criminal Court (ICC) is at “an important juncture” when it comes to considering the situation in Palestine, and this is where the testimonies he, and the project team, gather, can have a real impact.

…forcible displacement of a civilian population… falls under this category of a war crime.

Encompassing a mix of international legal scholars and local community organisations, Dr Browne says that it is hoped that the testimonies recounting the everyday life of this community that is under threat, can be used and presented as evidence.

“Recently, the ICC has focused on the situation in Palestine and to assess whether or not war crimes were happening in the region. One of the core issues at the heart of this project is forcible transfer and forcible displacement of a civilian population which falls under this category of a war crime.”

The other important aspect of the project, explains Dr Browne, is the capacity-building element. He says, “it’s also about helping support rights awareness campaigns by linking international legal scholars with local partners and the Palestinian Bedouin communities living in E1, and doing what we can as outsiders to foster greater global awareness of their rights as citizens living in that space.” This part of the project will be led by Al Quds University Human Rights Clinic, says Dr Browne, adding that this type of collaboration at a local level is essential for the success of the project.

Violent Displacement

Violent displacement is a theme that runs deep through Dr Browne’s research, not least because of a family history of internal displacement, when his father and his family were ‘burnt out’ of their house during the Northern Ireland Troubles.

 This is also the subject of his forthcoming book Burnt Out: Refugees, Displacement and the Northern Ireland Conflict, co-authored with Dr Niall Gilmartin (Ulster University), and was recently the focus of the art exhibition ‘Burn/t Out’ at Artcetera in Belfast in 2019.

With a legal background and a specialisation in human rights, his family history in the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland was formative in drawing connections between the experiences here and the “grave injustices” happening in Palestine, where he spent time between 2009 and 2012, and again for a year in 2015, and of which he says his research has been “consumed” by ever since.

…the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland was formative in drawing connections between the experiences here and the “grave injustices” happening in Palestine…

t was a job offer from Trinity College Dublin that brought him back to Ireland from Palestine in 2015, for the position of Assistant Professor of Conflict Resolution, and where he now co-teaches the MPhil in Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation from the Trinity Belfast campus. Dr Browne says “the Masters programme is an attractive option for people who want to come to a place where there is a period of conflict transition. We’ve got a unique set of circumstances in Belfast, and we focus very much on the experiential aspect of learning.”

Palestinian Bedouin at risk of forced displacement: IHL vulnerabilities, ICC possibilities is a two-year project which will facilitate desk-based research, fieldwork and community-based activities (including human rights workshops and advocacy capacity building for Bedouin women, teens and children).

Dr Brendan Ciaran Browne is an assistant professor with Trinity’s School of Religion. He is an interdisciplinary scholar with an LL.B, LL.M (Law & Human Rights) and PhD in Sociology, all from Queen’s University Belfast. Dr Browne has previously held positions at Queen’s University Belfast, and Al Quds (Bard) University, Palestine, where he taught Transitional Justice and the Laws of Armed Conflict. Dr Browne’s research interests are situated around political conflict, the impact of post-conflict reconstruction on children and young people, commemorating conflict, transitional justice, violent displacement in conflict, conflict and resilience in Palestine, and conducting research in conflict zones. His research is focused on Northern Ireland and Palestine where he spends time travelling regularly to conduct fieldwork.

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