Tag Archives: refugees

Dying for an imaginary right of return

Picking up on a report by the Palestinian news agency Ma’an, blogger Elder of Ziyon recently found out that a Palestinian official used a meeting with diplomats to spread what can only be called a blood libel.

According to the Ma’an report, Fatah central committee member Mohammad Ishtayyeh said in a meeting with diplomats organized by the German Heinrich Böll Foundation in Ramallah “that the Palestinian Authority had attempted to negotiate the return of Palestinian refugees from Syria, but Israel had refused […] to allow them to come to the Palestinian territories.” The report noted that some “1,500 Palestinians have been killed in the ongoing Syria conflict, and around 250,000 Palestinian refugees have been forced to leave their homes in Syria due to violence in the country.”

But as Elder of Ziyon shows by quoting an AP report from January 10, 2013, Israel had “agreed to the return of those refugees to Gaza and the West Bank, but on condition that each refugee … sign a statement that he doesn’t have the right of return (to Israel).”

According to the AP report, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected this offer mediated by UN chief Ban Ki-moon, telling a group of Egyptian journalists in Cairo:

“So we rejected that and said it’s better they die in Syria than give up their right of return.”

With this callous statement Abbas demonstrated the hollowness and duplicity of Palestinian politics on several issues.

A report from this past January, entitled “Abbas hardens his stance on Palestinian ‘right of return,’” quotes Abbas stating in a recent speech:

“Let me put it simply: the right of return is a personal decision. What does this mean? That neither the PA, nor the state, nor the PLO, nor Abu-Mazen [Abbas], nor any Palestinian or Arab leader has the right to deprive someone from his right to return.”

If this was truly his position, Abbas would obviously also have no right to decide that Palestinians in Syria should remain in a dangerous war zone without even being asked if they wanted to give up their imaginary “right of return” to Israeli towns and villages they had never seen in order to find some safety in Gaza or the West Bank.

Quite unintentionally, Abbas also illustrated once more – and in multiple ways – how utterly ridiculous the Palestinian concept of a “right of return” really is. In early December 2012, a year before Abbas denied Palestinians in Syria the chance to find refuge in Gaza or the West Bank, he “returned to a triumphant homecoming in Ramallah after winning a resounding endorsement for Palestinian statehood at the United Nations General Assembly.” He told the cheering crowd:

“We now have a state… the world has said loudly ‘yes’ to the state of Palestine.”

Palestinians like to pose as a state at the UN (and on Twitter), they have countless embassies around the world, and the Arab League considers Palestine a member state. Yet, there are Palestinian “refugee” camps in the West Bank and Gaza, populated by residents who consider themselves “refugees” even though they and their parents were born in the territories that 138 UN member states supposedly recognize as the “State of Palestine.” They are “refugees” because, once upon a time, their grandparents lived in a place that is a few kilometers away from the place they live now, and it doesn’t matter that both places are supposedly in “historic Palestine.” As Abbas demonstrated once again by declaring that “it’s better” if Palestinians “die in Syria” than if they seek safety in the “State of Palestine” and give up the fantasy of “returning” to Israel, the so-called Palestinian cause is about one thing, and one thing only: trying to achieve what the Arab armies failed to accomplish in 1948 when they attempted to destroy the fledging Jewish state.

This is also the cause pushed so energetically by so-called “pro-Palestinian” activists – and they are as cynically open about it as Abbas: with their annual “Israel Apartheid Week” farce winding down, the Electronic Intifada published a post devoted to “Visualizing the discrimination faced by Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.” Yes, it turns out, there is real apartheid in Lebanon, and activists know it very well.

 Lebanon apartheid

The text accompanying the graphics laments:

“After more than six decades of forced displacement, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon find themselves largely excluded from the formal labor market. As a result of discriminatory laws and biased attitudes, most Palestinians face precarious working conditions and economic hardship.

In Lebanon nowadays, when asked why they are paid less, many refugees can only reply ‘because I’m Palestinian.’ Why are you banned from practicing more than 70 professions? Why can’t you travel? Why can’t you own property? Why were you arrested at every security checkpoint? Why won’t Lebanese hospitals treat you?

The answer is always the same: ‘because I am Palestinian.’”

But no prize for guessing who’s to blame, and what’s the solution:

“In the last 66 years of forced displacement caused by the Israeli occupation of Palestine, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon today survive but are deprived of the freedom to really live. […]

The most important question inside the Palestinian refugee camps is one which also has only one answer: what do you want?

The answer rings out: to return to Palestine and live in dignity.”

And needless to point out, to “return to Palestine” means to “return” to the part of “Palestine” that was “occupied” by Israel 66 years ago…

Whether it’s the Palestinian president or “Palestine Solidarity” activists in America, they don’t hide in any way what their “cause” is all about, and yet, hardly anyone notices that it’s not about the settlements. The world continues to pretend that it’s Israel’s responsibility that the Palestinians don’t have a state, while the Palestinians keep saying very clearly that they don’t want a state if that means accepting Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

* * *

Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

Dezionization: Hanan Ashrawi’s own goal

As upset as veteran Palestinian spokeswoman and high-ranking PLO member Hanan Ashrawi seems to be about recent Israeli efforts to highlight the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim countries, there is little doubt that she felt very clever when she came up with the assertion that Israel’s stance in this matter amounts to “dezionization.”

After arguing in an article for the Arab press that the “claim that Jews who migrated to Israel, which is supposed to be their homeland, are ‘refugees’ who were uprooted from their homelands… is a form of deception and delusion,” Ashrawi apparently thought that she should “improve” on this point. Writing  a few days later in the Huffington Post, she decried “Israel’s Cynical Definition of ‘Refugee’” and claimed:

“At the very core of Zionist ideology is the idea that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people. If this is the case, and Jews living in Israel are citizens of their singular national homeland, then the state cannot consider them refugees — they cannot be returnees to Israel and refugees from another homeland at the same time. Demanding that the international community treat Jewish immigrants as refugees is therefore an act of ‘dezionization.’”

It’s an argument that is stupid in so many ways that it is hard to list them all.

For starters, Israel of course doesn’t claim that the Jewish refugees who were forced to abandon their ancient communities all over the Middle East since the late 1940s are still refugees. But it’s an undisputable historical fact that many of them came to Israel as destitute refugees. Collectively, these refugees were forced to leave behind assets that would nowadays be worth several billion dollars, and it has been estimated that the “total area of land confiscated from Jews in Arab countries amounts to nearly 40,000 square miles — about five times the size of Israel’s entire land mass.”

Why Ashrawi would think it makes sense to argue that acknowledging these well-documented historical facts amounts to “an act of ‘dezionization’” is rather mysterious. Perhaps she is so busy trying to score points that she doesn’t stop to think through the implications of her “argument.”

Ashrawi’s bizarre notion that Jews who came to Israel could not be refugees if Israel is their homeland can easily be shown to be complete nonsense. Just consider what happens when Ashrawi’s criteria are applied to other refugees who ended up in their homelands: as I and others have pointed out, there were some 25 million people in post-war Europe and post-partition India who had to abandon their long-time homes to seek refuge in their respective homelands. According to Ashrawi’s “reasoning”, these 25 million people never were refugees – they were simply people who went home…

Moreover, if the Jews from the Middle East who fled to Israel shouldn’t be considered refugees, then neither should the Jews from Europe who fled the Nazis or who survived the Holocaust. According to Ashrawi, we have the choice to either agree with her view that it would be “cynical” to regard these people as refugees, or we insist on calling them refugees and risk “dezionization.”

Ashrawi seems to have convinced herself that somehow, Zionism crumbles if not all the Jews who came to Israel were motivated first and foremost by their Zionism and decided to make Aliyah out of their own free will. This is of course an utterly mistaken idea, as Ashrawi could have easily realized had she bothered to check out a document as basic as Israel’s Declaration of Independence. There she would have discovered that right from the start, the re-established Jewish state was meant to offer a refuge for persecuted Jews:

“After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.

Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland. […]

The catastrophe which recently befell the Jewish people – the massacre of millions of Jews in Europe – was another clear demonstration of the urgency of solving the problem of its homelessness by re-establishing in Eretz-Israel the Jewish State, which would open the gates of the homeland wide to every Jew and confer upon the Jewish people the status of a fully privileged member of the comity of nations.

Survivors of the Nazi holocaust in Europe, as well as Jews from other parts of the world, continued to migrate to Eretz-Israel, undaunted by difficulties, restrictions and dangers, and never ceased to assert their right to a life of dignity, freedom and honest toil in their national homeland.”

There are of course countless other documents and texts one could quote to illustrate how ridiculous Ashrawi’s idea is that it would be “an act of ‘dezionization’” to acknowledge that many of the Jews who came to Israel arrived as refugees. Indeed, if Ashrawi accomplished anything with her “dezionization”-bombast, she scored a spectacular own goal.

If we consider for a moment what it would mean for Palestinian claims of refugee-status if we took her argument about the supposed impossibility of being a refugee in one’s own homeland serious, we see that Ashrawi has single-handedly managed to solve the Palestinian refugee problem. Since Palestinians consider historic Palestine their homeland, there can’t be any Palestinian refugees there – not in Gaza, not in the West Bank, and arguably also not in Jordan.

Moreover, since official Palestinian documents describe the Palestinian people as “part of the Arab Nation, Palestinians who live in Arab countries really live under the rule of their nation and thus also cannot really claim to be refugees, right? Well, at least that’s what we get if we accept Hanan Ashrawi’s logic…

* * *

This is a somewhat belated cross-post from my JPost blog, where I posted this piece a few days ago.

 

Hanan Ashrawi’s cynical definition of ‘refugee’

Recent Israeli efforts to counter the widespread ignorance about the plight of the Jewish refugees who were forced to abandon their ancient communities all over the Middle East since the late 1940s have been widely denounced in the Arab media.

According to a report in the Jerusalem Post, veteran Palestinian spokeswoman and high-ranking PLO member Hanan Ashrawi added her voice to the chorus of disapproval when she penned an article arguing that there was no such thing as Jewish refugees from Arab countries. A few days later, she propagated her views on this matter also in an English-language article published in the Huffington Post under the title “Israel’s Cynical Definition of ‘Refugee.’”

But if anyone is proposing cynical definitions, it is Ashrawi.

As David Harris rightly emphasized in a devastating response to Ashrawi’s article, the views she expresses are part of longstanding Arab and Palestinian efforts to rewrite and deny Jewish history, and ultimately, these efforts are a deplorable reflection of the unwillingness to accept Israel’s right to exist.

But it’s actually not just about Israel. One of the reactions to Ashrawi’s article is entitled “Hanan Ashrawi’s war on history,” and the author Daniel Mandel rightly notes that, according to Ashrawi’s “logic”, “the millions of Muslims who fled India and the millions of Hindus who fled Pakistan around the same time [i.e. in the late 1940s] were not refugees either, since each ended up in their respective nation states.”

Indeed, in the late 1940s, when some 800 000 Arabs fled the fighting initiated in their name to prevent or undo the establishment of Israel, there were many millions of refugees all over the world, particularly in Europe and in South Asia, where the partition of India created at least an estimated 12 million refugees.

From all these many millions of refugees, only the Arabs from Palestine became eternal refugees who, up to this day, insist on a hereditary refugee status that has swelled the ranks of the original 800 000 to about 5 million, who are served by UNRWA, the UN agency created exclusively for Palestinian refugees.

While UNRWA officials and supporters are apparently happy to endorse the preposterous Arab notion of “positive discrimination” – a convenient euphemism for the cynical denial of basic rights to Palestinian refugees in Arab countries – the political motivation for this very real policy of apartheid is clear: while official Palestinian documents describe the Palestinian people as “part of the Arab Nation,” the refugees were not integrated into their Arab host countries in order to keep their demand for an imaginary “right of return” to Israel alive; and whenever this “part of the Arab Nation” was offered the opportunity to establish for itself yet another Arab Muslim state, the price of peaceful co-existence with Israel was apparently too high.

The sophistry of all the arguments that are used to justify continued Palestinian rejectionism and the cynical claim that Palestinian refugees must be considered a very special case with special rights is once again illustrated by Hanan Ashrawi’s current efforts to deny that the roughly 800 000 Jews who fled Arab and Muslim countries were refugees.

A great visual illustration of Ashrawi’s dishonesty is at the blog It’s Complicated, where you can find a set of eight photos of Jewish and Arab refugees with the challenge:

“See if you can tell the Arab refugees from the Jews. Both sets lived in very similar conditions upon losing their homes. Life was hell for both. One of these groups has been exploited mercilessly and most of its members are still mired in misery, but do not belittle the suffering of the other group whose story now is very different.”

But it’s also worthwhile to consider just how preposterous Ashrawi’s main “argument” is. According to her, the “claim that Jews who migrated to Israel, which is supposed to be their homeland, are ‘refugees’ who were uprooted from their homelands… is a form of deception and delusion.”

What then about the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs who never even left the areas they considered as their homeland and just moved a few miles to Gaza, the West Bank or Jordan?

If Ashrawi wants to argue that people who left their original homes for whatever reason and ended up living in their historic homeland cannot be considered refugees, then surely the Palestinian Arabs who moved just a short distance and remained within the boundaries of what was historically regarded as Palestine never qualified as refugees. So according to Hanan Ashrawi’s criteria, we have to conclude that there is no such thing as Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank and Jordan.

Of course, the Palestinian Arabs who remained in the area of historic Palestine would indeed normally be regarded as internally displaced persons, and not as refugees.

Needless to say, nothing could be further from Ashrawi’s intentions than to have Palestinian refugees defined and treated just like any other refugees.

Indeed, she couldn’t care less about other refugees, as is amply illustrated by the fact that when her ridiculous criteria for Jewish refugee-status are applied to other refugees, most of the refugees from the late 1940s magically disappear. You see, the some 12 million German refugees after World War II and the probably even greater number of refugees created by the partition of India weren’t really refugees: after all, Ashrawi tells us that the reasons why these people left their homes aren’t that important, what is important is that the Germans who were expelled from formerly German areas or from long-established communities in other European countries mostly ended up living  in their homeland; the same applies to the Muslims and Hindus who moved between India and the newly created Pakistan.

According to Hanan Ashrawi, all these people just went home, and their plight paled in comparison to the Palestinians, who must be considered desperate refugees even when they remained within the boundaries of historic Palestine, and even when they live under Palestinian rule in Gaza and the West Bank.

And while Ashrawi is busy trying to convince the world that these Palestinians and their descendants deserve unquestioning support and empathy as refugees, her definition of refugees of course also denies that the Jews who fled Nazi persecution and those who survived the Holocaust were refugees: as far as Hanan Ashrawi is concerned, at least those Jews who came to Israel were never refugees, they just went home…

Truly: Palestinian propaganda at its best – or rather, at its cynical worst.

***

Finally, a personal note. When I read Hanan Ahrawi’s recent output, I couldn’t help remembering the times when I and many of my friends used to nod along with whatever she said. That was of course back in the hopeful Peace Now 1990s, when many Israelis believed that Hanan Ashrawi represented the Palestinians who were just like us, and wanted nothing more than peaceful coexistence.

For me personally, the rude awakening came in October 2000 when Ashrawi defended the gruesome lynching and mutilation of two Israeli soldiers in Ramallah, where Ashrawi lived. Her neighbors behaved like animals, but the internationally admired Palestinian spokeswoman couldn’t bring herself to condemn the barbarity and preferred instead to invent some sort of justification.  That was the moment when I realized who Hanan Ashrawi was, and what she stood for.

The ever-growing settlements

Last week, James Zogby, the founder and president of the Arab American Institute (AAI), published a post entitled “The Politics of Palestine.” It’s the usual lament about the endless oppression inflicted upon Palestinians by Israel (and its US supporters), and of course, there is the inevitable reference to the “ever-growing settlements” that make the Palestinians feel “increasingly squeezed.”

The fact that Zogby can rightly assume that even people who have only the foggiest idea about the Middle East will think that these “ever-growing settlements” are a major obstacle to a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict illustrates perfectly how divorced from reality much of the commentary and debate on this subject really are.

As Zogby knows full well, the “ever-growing settlements” haven’t grown for many years.

Veteran Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat acknowledged as much publicly when he stated in an interview last November that “despite Israel’s continual policy of ‘occupation and settlement building,’ an aerial photograph provided by European sources shows that settlements have been built on approximately 1.1% of the West Bank.”

Even before, this was no secret – though there were definitely attempts to conceal this fact: a news report from mid-2010 was featured in Ha’aretz with a headline announcing that “Israeli settlements control 42 percent of West Bank;” the subheader highlighted the claim that “21 per cent of the settlements’ built up areas lie on private Palestinian land,” but the report itself finally acknowledged that “the settlements’ built-up area is just one per cent of the territory.”

Years earlier, a report published in January 2003 documented that settlement watchdog groups like Peace Now and B’tselem estimated that the settlements were taking up between 1.4-1.7 percent of the West Bank. The report also pointed out that

“since their establishment nearly three decades ago, settlements have been the cause celebre of critics seeking to attribute the persistence of the conflict to Israeli policy. The criticism falls into two categories: moral/political arguments that settlements are ‘obstacles to peace,’ and legal claims that settlements are illegitimate or a violation of international norms. The pervasiveness of these claims masks the fact that, upon closer scrutiny, they are false, and they hide the true source of grievances and ideological fervor that fuel this conflict.”

When Saeb Erekat acknowledged last fall that just 1.1 percent of the pre-1967 West Bank territory had been gobbled up in some forty years of relentless Israeli settlement expansion, Evelyn Gordon asked at Commentary’s Contentions blog: “So if settlements cover only 1.1 percent of the West Bank, why does the entire West deem them the main obstacle to peace?” Answering her own question, she argued:

“Because admitting that settlements aren’t the main obstacle to peace would force it [i.e. the West] to confront an unpalatable truth: that the real obstacle to peace is Palestinian unwillingness to accept a Jewish state in any borders.

It’s not that evidence of this has ever been lacking. In July, for instance, a poll found that 66 percent of Palestinians view the two-state solution as a mere stepping-stone to Israel’s eradication. Last month, a whopping 89.8 percent of Palestinian respondents in another poll said they opposed waiving the “right of return” – their demand to eradicate the Jewish state demographically by flooding it with five million descendants of refugees – “even if [that means] no peace deal would be concluded.”

Similarly revealing is the fact that in the very same interview in which Erekat admitted that the settlements take up just 1.1 percent of the West Bank, he also acknowledged “that former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had offered a final peace settlement that would include territorial concession equivalent to the entire West Bank, the return of thousands of Palestinian refugees into the West Bank,* and the division of Jerusalem.” Yet, Palestinian President Abbas explained in an interview with the Washington Post in May 2009 that he had not accepted Olmert’s proposals because the “gaps were wide.”

In this context it is also noteworthy that at the outset of the negotiations, Abbas had explicitly stated that the Palestinians were open to adjustments of the 1967 lines as long as they would end up with an equivalent of the “6,205 square kilometers” of territory that made up the Jordanian-ruled West Bank and the Egyptian-controlled Gaza Strip before the Six-Day-War in 1967. But when Olmert presented an offer that fulfilled these demands, Abbas still felt justified to claim that the “gaps were wide.”

Needless to say, none of this prevented the Palestinians and their supporters to continue repeating the popular mantra about the devastating impact of the “ever-growing settlements.” But anybody really interested in peace would have to address the problems of the ever-growing Palestinian “refugee” population consisting of millions of Palestinians who nurture the fantasy that they can claim a “right of return” to the places their grandparents left when the Arab states failed in their attempt to undo Israel’s establishment in 1948.

[*Note: since the return of Palestinian refugees to the West Bank would be something decided by the Palestinians, Erekat presumably meant Olmert’s offer to accept some Palestinian refugees into Israel]

UPDATE:

At The Atlantic, Zvika Krieger has been debating with Robert Wright whether a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still possible. Krieger, who argues against Wright’s contention that it is “too late” because of the settlements, has outlined some of the long-known options for a border, and he has also provided an interesting post with some less well-known information about various plans and initiatives to deal with the challenges involved in moving up to 100 000 settlers out of the territories that would become part of a Palestinian state. Both of Krieger’s posts include a number of informative links; of particular interest is perhaps the website of the organization Blue White Future, which tries to work for creating conditions conducive to a two-state solution even in the absence of negotiations.