Guest Post: One-Sided Right of Return

Israeli soldiers escort dispossessed and ethnically cleansed Palestinians from their home in 1948

Chris Whitman is a masters student at Hebrew University.  In his post he talks about the hypocrisy of allowing a Jewish Right of Return, but denying Palestinians that same right. As I have said before, the dismissal by Israelis of the Right of Return is a major reason why peace has not been made.

If there is one thorny subject that always gets pushed aside or never discussed seriously in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations or any debate on the topic I would say it revolves around the Right of Return. It is the issue, like Jerusalem and settlements that always gets pushed to “final status”  negotiations meaning “if we ever get to that point, hopefully they forgot about these issues.” The problem with this approach is of course with the issue that upwards of 7 million Palestinian refugees are not going away and their numbers are only increasing by the day. I am not going to describe in detail the points for and against Right of Return, anyone reading this should know my beliefs on the issue. Also I wish to discuss a far more important issue regarding the Right of Return which is the hypocrisy on the Israeli side regarding their approach to the Right of Return.

My usually Saturday in Palestine consists of reading political books and watching YouTube videos about Israel-Palestine from as many different (articulate) sides as possible. First I must admit when it comes to this issue I am a masochist in terms of those books/YouTube videos I watch because I choose videos/books that I disagree with more than agree with. My latest disdain has been with Benny Morris, the Israeli author (I feel that labeling him a historian is a compliment for what he actually does) who is 10 years deep in a political shift from moderate Israeli critic/debunker to Samuel Huntington’s reincarnation regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

For those of you who do not know Benny Morris he gained notoriety for his late 80s book entitled “The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem 1947-1949,” in which he debunked (partially) the long held Zionist myth regarding the Palestinian refugees. As he says many times, before his book there were two dominant Zionist myths regarding the reason for the Palestinian refugee problem. The first being that they left on the orders of Arab commanders within Palestine and without so that they would not be hit by invading Arab military strikes and they would return afterwards victoriously and the Jews would be gone. The second Zionist myth was the Palestinians planned a mass exodus and left to stain the newly emerged State of Israel and to make the Jews look like barbarians and force the international community to deal with the issue with a bias for the Palestinians.

[tweetmeme] Of course both of these seem obscene, mainly because they are, but even more so after partial archive openings in Israel that shed light on this myth. Morris, given limited access to handpicked declassified documents from the IDF, ascertains that both these myths were fictitious and instead propagate a better lie, namely that the Palestinians left mostly due to fear of military conquest, influence of conquests of neighboring villages, and strategic psychological warfare. He adheres to this argument to this day, regardless of new information being declassified and written about, that there was any master plan devised by the Zionists for expelling the indigenous Palestinian population from November 1947-1950. For information about the arguments put forward against Morris in this regard refer to Masalha, Finkelstein, and Pappe.

Now to my main point of contention for today, which is the hypocrisy regarding the Right of Return for Palestinians and the “return and redemption”  that is entitled to Jews from all over the world. My basis for angst began when I viewed this video filmed by a generic ignorant Zionist (meaning a blind sympathizer who ignores established facts and makes up numbers or sources to prove a point, not that all Zionists are generic or ignorant.) If one watches this video from when Benny Morris begins speaking around 6 mins it will give the basis. His argument is that the Right of Return is not feasible because the return of 5 million Palestinians to what is now Israel will create an automatic Palestinian majority and the Jewish state will cease to exist. Now this seems well and good but think of the complete contradiction inherent in the Zionist argument starting from the 1880s.

The Zionist movement since that time has been arguing that Jews are a nation and that they need to return to Zion (Israel and then some) to fulfill their potential. Around this time Jews made up 5% of the population (they were religious Mizrachim Jews concentrated mostly in Jerusalem and were anti-Zionist) when the first aliyah came to colonize Palestine. Yet this idea of the necessity to bring Jews from thousands of miles away from all corners of the world was a main pillar, and still is, in Zionism today. This is because when the Romans conquered the Israelite Kingdom the Romans supposedly exiled all the Jews (although disproven by Shlomo Sand not to mention the logical impossibility of having all the Jews forced into exile yet still  “having lived in the Land of Israel for 4000 years,” a common narrative) and that is why they failed to assimilate into other cultures because they are a unique nation that desires to “go home.”

This idea of needing to return because of a 2000 year old exaggeration is the basis of the Jewish right of return. It was argued by the Zionists at the time that their right was stronger than the Palestinians because of “need,” historical connection, and a longing to return home after 2000 years. This was pushed against the will of the majority of the indigenous Palestinian population since 1882, from the Balfour Declaration to the Peel Commission to UN Resolution 181 which divided Palestine. Would Benny Morris, were he alive in the late 1880s-1947 be arguing on behalf of the majority population being colonized by the Jews? His logic is that Palestinian Right of Return would destroy Israel, but didn’t Jewish colonization ruin Palestine? So the fundamental theme is Jews deserve and should get more because they are Jews, which is ultimately what this conflict comes down to when we discuss the current two-state solution.

A fellow student said to me the other week, “you know ideally, if we give the Palestinians their state in the West Bank and Gaza, take out most settlements, give them most of East Jerusalem including most of the Old City, I believe that is more than far enough and can end the conflict tomorrow…and I mean those Palestinian refugees just need to deal with the fact they are never coming back, no way around it, so they should stop arguing for it.” I started my response with a hypothetical to my fellow student: “so in 72AD when the Jews were “forced into exile” you would’ve been there saying to them “give up, never think about returning here, don’t even bother?” No you wouldn’t but for Palestinian Arabs it is ok, but not Jews.”

Secondly I said “your generic two-state solution idea has the same fundamental racism in it that all other partition plans have…the population of the historic land of Palestine is around 50% Jews and 50% Palestinians and you want to give 50% of the population almost 80% of the land, including continuous borders, the agricultural land, a viable sea outlet, and solid borders, while the rest get none of those things, do you see the inherent racism in that?” Of course I received a blank stare as if I were speaking to a wall but unfortunately that same racism applies to the Right of Return. Jews have been able to exercise their supposed 2000 year right of return uninhibited, encouraged, and subsidized for over 60 years but who can name me 1 Palestinian refugee that has been allowed to return to what is now Israel and live? The Palestinian refugees are alive, in desperate conditions, have proof of their dispersal, and deserve repatriation or at least compensation which is entitled to them under UN resolution 194.

Article 11-Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.

Israel gets the final say on what it ultimately wants to do in terms of compensation or repatriation but it is obliged to do so for a complete peace with the Palestinians that reconciles the injustices done to the Palestinians, and allows for justice to take a hold in a conflict where little is ever achieved. I do believe one of the fundamental problems Israel has with this is that of responsibility; it can afford to pay compensation with relative ease (and international help) but it is that underlying assumption that Jews did a wrong to the Palestinians that I believe Israeli society is not willing to accept and see as a bad thing .  But that will be another blog for another day.

Photo from Sixteen Minutes to Palestine

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2 thoughts on “Guest Post: One-Sided Right of Return

  1. I couldn’t agree more Chris! The Zionist basis in denying the Palestinians the moral right of returning to their homeland is ludicrous. The point that you brought up regarding the disparity in sympathetic feelings to Jews in 72 AD longing to go back to Zion and Palestinians longing to go back to Palestine creates the perfect atmosphere for this racist attitude the Israeli and other governments so adamantly apply. I couldn’t help but relate your article to an interesting Doha Debates Episode with Electronic Intifada founder, Ali Abunima who talks about this point and its hypocrisy. Interesting video and worth to look up.

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