FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Refugees are the Key

by SAM BAHOUR

“[When David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s independence it] was the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David: a homeland for the chosen people Eretz Yisrael.”

“You have welcomed immigrants from the four corners of the Earth.”

– President George Bush, May 15, 2008

President Bush addressed the Israeli Knesset to mark Israel’s sixtieth anniversary. The President’s speech was absent of any real insight or policy. Instead of addressing the politics of a region that can only be equated to a powder keg about to explode, he assumed the other worldly role of bestowing on Israel a religious right, one dangerously terrifying because it represents the views of the most rabidly extremist Jews, similar to the Jewish law student that assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the gun-toting Israeli settlers (many holding dual U.S./Israeli citizenship) that populate Israel’s Jewish-only settlements across the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.

President Bush used the out-dated words “Eretz Yisrael” [biblical Land of Israel] to depict the Israeli state.  This sort of usage was, and is, exactly what most right-wing Jewish fundamentalists use to refer to an Israel that reaches from the Euphrates River, in what’s left of today’s Iraq, to the Mediterranean Sea.

Adding insult to injury, he went on to praise Israel’s welcoming of immigrants from around the world to populate the newly created State of Israel.  It meant absolutely nothing to President Bush that the indigenous Palestinian population, lingering for 60 years only hours away from where he was standing while addressing the Knesset and on whose ruins Israel was built, remains today’s longest standing refugee community.

The Palestinian refugees symbolize the long-standing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. The refugee problem has its roots in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, which ended in the mass displacement of over 750,000 Palestinian Arabs (approximately half of the Arab population). According to historical accounts of the War, including from recent Israeli historians, Jewish Zionist forces precipitated the flight of the Palestinian Arabs as part of a campaign of population transfer. The nascent State of Israel subsequently enacted laws to expropriate the refugees’ property and bar their return. The refugees were left homeless and destitute, mostly dependent on foreign aid for survival. The subsequent Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip resulted in the further displacement of around 200,000 Palestinians.

Today there are over 5.5 million Palestinian refugees and displaced persons who have never been allowed the choice to return to their homes or given redress for their losses.  The continued denial of their rights encapsulates the decades-long strife, disenfranchisement and dispossession the Palestinians have suffered.

With the advent of the peace process in the early 1990s, hopes were ignited that the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip would end and the plight of the refugees would be resolved. These hopes were dashed as the negotiations reached an eventual deadlock, leading to a stalemate and Israeli military onslaught on Palestinian areas that continues to plague the region.

Following the breakdown of the talks there was much debate about who was to blame for the failure. But this debate obscures the larger problem stoking the flames of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians: Israel’s unwillingness to comply with rules of international laws, including the rights of the Palestinian refugees, and third party failure to enforce them.

Taking the Palestinian refugee issue as a case in point, the State of Israel, who controls the key to solving their problem, has refused to recognize the right of the refugees to choose whether to return to their homes and denied any responsibility for the problem since 1948.  Israel has adopted this position in violation of international law, including UN General Assembly Resolution 194, which affirmed the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes or receive compensation.  The General Assembly has affirmed this most basic human right of the Palestinian refugees every year since 1948. Additionally, admission of Israel to membership in the United Nations (General Assembly Resolution 273 of May 11, 1949) requires Israel to comply with General Assembly Resolution 194 of December 11, 1948.  At the time, Israel stated it agreed to comply with this resolution.

Israel has defended its refusal to concede the right of return on the grounds that the massive return of Palestinian refugees would spell the death of the Jewish state.  But admitting its historical responsibility to the Palestinian people and recognizing the rights of the refugees could in fact deliver security and prosperity to Israel. Indeed, Israeli recognition of these basic principles would improve the atmosphere on the ground, help create more parity between the parties, and provide a fair framework for working out the details of a peace plan for resolving the conflict.

Israel’s first Prime Minister said that “the old [refugees] will die, and the young will forget”.  A few days ago, Israel’s current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, explicitly stated that Palestinians must, “relinquish your demand for the realization of the right of return.”  Following these ill-fated desires, Israel has sought to deny or delay addressing the refugee issue.  However, the amount of blood shed since 1948 proves the fallacy and the immorality of the Israeli position. Adhering to it will only lead to more bloodshed.

The rights of the Palestinian people, and in particular the refugees, should be recognized alongside any legitimate rights of the Israeli people. Ultimately, it is through the evenhanded application of international legitimacy that we may be able to get out of the current stalemate and reach real grounds for peace.  Otherwise, the failed Israeli practice of “might is right” will prevail and prolong needless death and destruction on all sides.

It does not come as a surprise to Palestinians, and an ever-growing number of non-Palestinians, that President Bush’s speech reflected blindness to the plight of Palestinian refugees.  Those Palestinians from the Diaspora, not refugees, but Palestinians with their homes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, along with non-Palestinian foreign nationals trying to assist Palestinians by working and serving in the occupied territory, have become the latest category of victims of the most recent application of the Israeli “might is right” mindset.  Israel has been denying entry to scores of foreign nationals, Palestinians and others, trying to enter the occupied territory.  The mass majority of these foreign nationals are U.S. citizens and the Bush Administration, although acknowledging that Israel is discriminating against U.S. citizens based on their ethnicity, have done very little in standing up to its “eternal” ally Israel in order to resolve this latest problem.

If U.S. citizens are left to vie for themselves in the face of Israeli intransigence, Palestinian refugees are absolutely correct in not believing that any U.S. mediated “peace process” will lead to the realization of their inalienable rights, including the right of return.

Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism and the author of the infamous novel The Old New Land (Altneuland) and the book The Jewish State (Der Judenstaat), who Bush was keen on recalling in his speech, is surely laughing in his grave at Bush’s visit to Israel and his being more Zionist than Israeli extremists.

SAM BAHOUR is a Palestinian-American businessman living in the besieged Palestinian City of El-Bireh in the West Bank.  He co-edited with Staughton and Alice Lynd HOMELAND: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians (1994) and can be reached at sbahour@palnet.com.

Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business consultant in Ramallah and serves as a policy adviser to Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network. He was born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio and blogs at ePalestine.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

May 29, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
No Laughing Matter: The Manchester Bomber is the Spawn of Hillary and Barack’s Excellent Libyan Adventure
Vijay Prashad
The Afghan Toll
Melvin Goodman
The Washington Post’s Renewed Attack on Whistlblowers
Robert Fisk
We Must Look to the Past, Not ISIS, for the True Nature of Islam
Dean Baker
A Tax on Wall Street Trading is the Best Solution to Income Inequality
Lawrence Davidson
Reality and Its Enemies
Harry Hobbs
Australia’s Time to Recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Sovereignty
Ray McGovern
Will Europe Finally Rethink NATO’s Costs?
Cesar Chelala
Poetry to the Rescue of America’s Soul
Andrew Stewart
Xi, Trump and Geopolitics
Binoy Kampmark
The Merry Life of Dragnet Surveillance
Stephen Martin
The Silent Apartheid: Militarizing Architecture & Infrastructure
Weekend Edition
May 26, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Swamp Politics, Trump Style: “Russiagate” Diverts From the Real White House Scandals
Paul Street
It’s Not Gonna Be Okay: the Nauseating Nothingness of Neoliberal Capitalist and Professional Class Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
The ICEmen Cometh
Ron Jacobs
The Deep State is the State
Pete Dolack
Why Pence Might be Even Worse Than Trump
Patrick Cockburn
We Know What Inspired the Manchester Attack, We Just Won’t Admit It
Thomas Powell
The Dirty Secret of the Korean War
Mark Ashwill
The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position
John Davis
Beyond Hope
Uri Avnery
The Visitation: Trump in Israel
Ralph Nader
The Left/Right Challenge to the Failed “War on Drugs”
Traci Yoder
Free Speech on Campus: a Critical Analysis
Dave Lindorff
Beware the Supporter Scorned: Upstate New York Trump Voters Hit Hard in President’s Proposed 2018 Budget
Daniel Read
“Sickening Cowardice”: Now More Than Ever, Britain’s Theresa May Must be Held to Account on the Plight of Yemen’s Children
Ana Portnoy
Before the Gates: Puerto Rico’s First Bankruptcy Trial
M. Reza Behnam
Rethinking Iran’s Terrorism Designation
Brian Cloughley
Ukraine and the NATO Military Alliance
Josh Hoxie
Pain as a Policy Choice
David Macaray
Stephen Hawking Needs to Keep His Mouth Shut
Ramzy Baroud
Fear as an Obstacle to Peace: Why Are Israelis So Afraid?
Kathleen Wallace
The Bilious Incongruity of Trump’s Toilet
Seth Sandronsky
Temping Now
Alan Barber – Dean Baker
Blue Collar Blues: Manufacturing Falls in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania in April
Jill Richardson
Saving America’s Great Places
Richard Lawless
Are Credit Rating Agencies America’s Secret Fifth Column?
Louis Proyect
Venezuela Reconsidered
Murray Dobbin
The NDP’s Singh and Ashton: Flash Versus Vision
Ron Leighton
Endarkenment: Postmodernism, Identity Politics, and the Attack on Free Speech
Anthony Papa
Drug War Victim: Oklahoma’s Larry Yarbrough to be Freed after 23 Years in Prison
Rev. John Dear
A Call to Mobilize the Nation Over the Next 18 Months
Yves Engler
Why Anti-Zionism and Anti-Jewish Prejudice Have to Do With Each Other
Ish Mishra
Political Underworld and Adventure Journalism
Binoy Kampmark
Roger Moore in Bondage
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail