Refugees size up their old Jericho homes: Mohammed Atiyeh's family fled in 1967. He is returning for the first time, writes Sarah Helm in Jericho

TWENTY-SIX years later, the primitive old stove was still in working order. There were gaping cracks in the walls, but under the dust the peacock murals were unspoilt, and the place seemed nearly habitable.

'I guess I was born in here,' said Mohammed Atiyeh, stepping into a dark ground-floor room. 'New furniture for the house had just been ordered from Jerusalem. We never saw it before we fled.'

Mr Atiyeh was back in Jericho, on the Israeli-occupied West Bank: one of the first of a stream of Palestinian refugees coming back from Jordan to take a look at what they left behind and to consider whether to return when Palestinians have self-rule.

There are about 2 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan. Figures are disputed, but probably the majority are members of families who fled during the Six-day War of 1967, when Israel seized the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Their future will be one of the key issues to be decided in peace negotiations starting yesterday when the details of self-rule, starting in Jericho and Gaza, are to be hammered out. The right of Palestinians to return to their former homes is one of the most contentious issues.

Mohammed Atiyeh was 13 when his family left this Jericho house, during the fear and mayhem of 1967. 'I remember the panic when we heard that Arab villages had been destroyed. I remember refugees from other parts of the West Bank flooding down to Jericho to cross the bridge.' His family and most other Jericho residents joined the exodus.

They climbed in a truck, and clattered across the Allenby Bridge, the crossing point across the Jordan river from the West Bank to the East Bank of Jordan proper, where Mr Atiyeh has lived ever since.

Those Palestinians who did not choose to return immediately after 1967 and live under the new occupation, were swiftly barred by Israel from returning in future. Their houses and land they left behind have either remained empty, been lived in by squatters, rented out or taken over by the Israeli authorities.

For many Jericho refugees this was their second flight in 20 years. Decrepit refugee camps built around the town are evidence of the first Palestinian flight of 1948, when refugees came to Jericho to escape the fighting that erupted when Israel was founded. Mr Atiyeh's family were among those fleeing from Jerusalem. He has been unable to find his parents' house in Katamon, now in Jewish west Jerusalem. It was long ago declared 'absentee property' by Israel and sold on to a Jewish family. 'I even have the dog licence showing we lived there,' he says.

From the roof of his Jericho house, over the date-palms and the banana-trees, Mr Atiyeh looked across the hazy valley towards his Jordan home - a farm less than 15 miles away. He will be crossing back there again within a few days.

But he may return to Jericho soon - and next time he may decide to stay. The outline peace accord, signed in Washington, makes no provision for the return of refugees who fled or were forced to flee to Arab countries in 1948. But the agreement does allow for the possible return of the 1967 refugees to their homes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

It may also allow them to vote in Palestinian elections, even if they remain resident in Jordan, which has granted them citizenship. How many will be allowed to return, and when, remains open to negotiation. Israel hopes to limit the number. King Hussein of Jordan appears unsure whether he wants Jordanian Palestinians - who now make up half his population and contribute to prosperity - to leave. The refugees themselves may not all wish to return to an uncertain future under Palestinian rule.

Since the signing of the peace accord a month ago, Jordanian Palestinians have been glancing anxiously at the homes and properties they left behind 26 years ago, particularly in Jericho where the prospect of self-rule has sent property prices spiralling. Absentee landlords are eager to secure their interests and a legal nightmare is unfolding. During Israel's occupation, privately owned Palestinian land may have been claimed by Israel, and its return will have to be negotiated. Claims and counter-claims among Palestinians themselves abound.

'People don't really know what they have any more. They haven't been here since 1967. Family transactions have been made from afar over the years but nobody has been to check what their property now looks like,' says Mr Atiyeh.

On behalf of other Palestinian refugees from Jericho, Mr Atiyeh secured from Israeli authorities maps of the town that delineate the boundaries of owners' plots. 'This land belongs to a friend in Amman. The maps show if it was taken over by Israel for military purposes,' he says, pointing to a patch of grass.

Mr Atiyeh returned to Jericho not only to see his lands but to assess the potential for Jericho and a Palestinian state. An agricultural businessman, he would like to open a factory for irrigation equipment in Jericho. The talk is of 'potential' as planning for self-rule gets under way. 'It is wonderful to be back, finding relatives and old friends. And it has changed each day I have been here. More people are coming every day. More shops are opening,' says Mr Atiyeh.

Suggested Topics
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Pepper, the 3ft 11in shiny box of circuits who can tell jokes and respond to human emotions
techDavid McNeill tests the mettle of one of the new generation of androids being developed in Tokyo
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

(Junior) IT Systems Administrator / Infrastructure Analyst

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice