Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The right of return

In a comment to my previous post, EngineeringChange said:

If I may ask, what is your view on the situation of the Palestinian refugees that once lived in present day Israel and were not allowed to return? Most of them can now be found in the dilapidated refugee camps in Lebanon or Syria or Jordan. I assume you believe in the Right of Return for Jews to Israel, so what is your view on a Right of Return for Palestinians who actually lived in Israel? And whatever your opinion is, do you think it holds for the majority of your Jewish countrymen? (I have never had the opportunity to ask this of a someone in Israel. It is an important issue with Palestinians)

To put it bluntly: from the point of view of almost all Israeli Jews, the Palestinian Right of Return means the end of Israel.

This is a simple question of demographics: If memory serves me right, the Palestinians demand that almost a million refugees (some of which actually lived in Palestine, but most of whom are their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren) be allowed to "return" to Israel.

Israel is a democracy. Its entire population is about 7 million people - of which about 1.5 million are Arabs. If a million Palestinians were to be granted Israeli citizenship with full voting rights - Arabs would immediately become almost 30% of the population. You would then have a country with 30% of its voters opposing its right to exist. This would be a disaster for the country. If you also consider that an average Arab family has about 5-10 children, things become even worse.


But beyond the demographics, this issue also has a very sensitive background. I'm not a historian, so I can only tell you what I know from the common Israeli folklore about the subject (with a little help from Wikipedia):
  1. Arab terror against Jews in Israel started in the 1930's - more than 10 years before the state of Israel was founded. It was led by Haj Amin al-Husayni, a pro-Nazi leader of the Israeli Arabs at the time.
  2. On October 29, 1947, the UN decided to end the British regime in the area, and partition the land of Israel into two countries: one Jewish, and one Arab. The Jewish residents of Israel were ecstatic, but the Palestinian Arabs rejected this UN decision, and responded with terror attacks against the Jewish population.
  3. On the 14th of May 1948, a day before the British mandate over the area was officially over, David Ben-Gurion declared the founding of the state of Israel. 8 hours later, Israel was invaded by the armies of 5 Arab countries: Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq. At the time, Israel did not have a strong army, but it fought back hard and eventually (almost a year later, and suffering many casualties) won the war.
  4. During this war, many Arab villages (some of which were outside the area allocated to the Jewish state by the UN partition plan), were taken by the Israelis. Many Palestinians fled from these areas, and settled in refugee camps in various Arab countries.
  5. Almost all Arab countries which have hosted (and still host) these refugees have not allowed them to become citizens - despite their Arab nationality. Their refugee status has been forcefully maintained for almost 60 years now - only so they can be used as a propaganda weapon against Israel.

A long time ago, during my military service, I visited refugee camps. What I found most striking there was the sewage system: hand-dug ditches in the middle of the street. These sorry people are living in sub-human conditions. The saddest thing is that the Arab leaderships, who declare that these people are their kin, do not care for their lives. It's more important for them display these people as a sign of Israel's aggressiveness.


I personally belong to the ~50% of Israeli Jews who support a peaceful solution to these problems. The media often refers to us as "the Israeli peace camp". I was delighted when the Oslo agreement was signed. I think Israeli settlements should be disbanded, and I think the Palestinians deserve a country of their own. I have no problem with fiscal compensation to Palestinians who fled from Israel in 1948. But when Palestinian leaders insist on the right of return as a condition for founding their country - it makes me doubt they share my views.

5 comments:

EngineeringChange said...

Thanks for your response. In reponse, let me propose a possible scenerio for you:

Although it may be considered unlikely and who how things on the ground change--but let us assume for a second that palestinians living inside israel keep on and even increase their birthrates to the point where in 50-100 years in the future that the state of Israel comprises 50% jews and 50% non-jews. What do you propose doing in this situation? Mass deportation to preserve the jewish identity of the state?

My point is why are israeli jews so afraid of living side-by-side with another people? I have a feeling your answer to this question will have something to do with the Holocaust and never again--Is this the reason? I know you bring up the issue of Arab terror starting in the 1930s....you emphasis 10 years before Israel was created. But I would rather emphasize that terror started more than 10 years after the Balfour delcaration of 1917. So the scenerio for a palestinian of the time is this: Palestine in 1900 had around 2% of its population jewish, then a foreigner decides he wants to create a Jewish state there. Then a mass influx of jewish immigrants flood the country with this purpose in mind. I argue to you sir (without condoning the violence) that this terrorism was a reaction to these provocations. That in theory there is nothing to say that Jews and arabs in palestine cannot live together in peace (like today)

I am very familiar with your narrative--it is the common held belief among americans. I ask in all honesty whether Jews in Israel know of the Palestine side to the story? Or whether they know of it and scoff at it?

Very quickly the story goes like:

A new and foreign and strange body decides to split palestine into two states--who are they to make such a decision--so of course the palestinians reject it. Israel starts kicking out all the palestinians who happened to be in 'Israel' now by transport with trucks and tractors. After a few massacres, many many other Palestinians lock their houses up and flee to avoid the looming war hoping to return in a few weeks. Arab armies attack this new colonial state of newcomers to protect the palestinians who are being kicked out and massacred.

I don't wish to argue about history--I realize there are two sides to every story. But I do wish to know the answers to the questions i posed before the narrative.

Quick facts: According to the leading Palestinian demographer Salman Abu-Sitta, there were 805,067 refugees created in 1948 which equates to 5,248,185 refugees and kin today.

The state of Palestian refugee camps is appalling--but the reason the arab states do not take them in is to keep the cause alive. If they absorbed them, that would absolve Israel of responibility and the world would forget. It is harsh, but the state of these people are ultimately Israels doing.

So many Palestinians will argue damn the demographics: The Right of Return is a sacred right in the psyche of ever palestinian, a legal right enshrined in Human Rights Declarations, and it is possible since around 78% of Jews live in only 14% of Israel--ie the Palestinians can fit.

EngineeringChange said...

And if I may, I will refer you to British White Paper of 1939

After reading the actual constitution, I see many of the points I am trying to make are in that document--rejected by the Jews at the time--and causing Jewish terrorism against the British.

Israeli Blogger said...

EngineeringChange,

> What do you propose doing in
> this situation? Mass deportation
> to preserve the Jewish identity
> of the state?

I really don't have a good answer for this. Radical right wing political parties in Israel have, in the past, proposed just what you suggested - mass deportation. Luckily, this proposition has not received widespread support in Israel, and the right wing now proposes exchange of land with a newly founded Palestinian state. According to their proposition, the Arab villages in Israel would become part of Palestine, while the Israeli settlements would become a formal part of Israel. Many Israeli Arabs oppose this idea, BTW. What scares me, is that this is the closest thing to a logical solution I have heard so far.

> My point is why are Israeli Jews so
> afraid of living side-by-side with
> another people? I have a feeling your
> answer to this question will have
> something to do with the Holocaust
> and never again--Is this the reason?

I don't think we're afraid to live side-by-side with others. We just don't like it when they send suicide bombers to kill children, amass about 10,000 rockets on the Lebanese border, kidnap our soldiers without any provocation, and then shoot those rockets at our cities (not at military installations), killing innocent civilians and forcing about a million of us to leave their homes or spend weeks in shelters.

> a foreigner decides he wants to create
> a Jewish state there. Then a mass influx
> of Jewish immigrants flood the country
> with this purpose in mind. I argue to
> you sir (without condoning the violence)
> that this terrorism was a reaction to
> these provocations.

You'll hear no argument from me here - terrorism was the Arab nation's way of dealing with the Jewish return to Israel. But dealing in the past will get us nowhere, as we can always go further back in history and find more wrongs done to either side. We need to understand what is driving the current hatred, and what can be done to stop it. Most conflicts between nations eventually subside, with each party accepting the violence of the other as a thing of the past - and abandoning their desire for more violent retribution.

> Very quickly the story goes like:
> A new and foreign and strange body
> decides to split Palestine into two
> states--who are they to make such
> a decision--so of course the Palestinians reject it.

That is not true. There was never a "state of Palestine". The influx of Jews was to land occupied for hundreds of years by the Turks, with Arab villages existing under the rule of the Ottoman Empire (which conquered the land from its previous conquerers, etc.). When the Turks were defeated by the British in WW1, the land came under British rule - and the influx of Jews increased as they fled the attorcities in Europe. The decision to split the area and form two countries here was an attempt to organize the chaos that was to remain once the British were gone. I don't think this decision was much different from the decisions to form governments in Lebanon, Jordan or Egypt.

Just as an anecdote - some of the laws in the state of Israel are still based on the Turkish and British legal systems.

> I ask in all honesty whether Jews in Israel
> know of the Palestine side to the story?
> Or whether they know of it and scoff at it?

Israelis have a very hard time believing the Palestinian narrative - mostly because of our experience with other Arab propaganda. For example, in addition to the narrative you suggested, Egyptian TV today still broadcasts programs that claim Jews kill Arab children and use their blood for cooking Passover meals.

> the reason the Arab states do not take
> [the refugees] in is to keep the cause alive.
> If they absorbed them, that would absolve
> Israel of responibility and the world would
> forget.

My point exactly. I'm not sure what you're driving at. So what you are saying is that it is ok to keep people suffering in order to keep a cause of vengeance alive?

> It is harsh, but the state of these
> people are ultimately Israel's doing.

How is it Israel's doing? I'm not sure I follow. I agree with you that if Israel did not exist, those people would probably not have been kept in refugee camps. So are you saying Israel should not exist?

> Quick facts: According to the leading
> Palestinian demographer Salman Abu-Sitta,
> there were 805,067 refugees created
> in 1948 which equates to 5,248,185 refugees and kin today.

Whoa - it's even worse than I thought. It just shows that the "right of return" is totally unrealistic.

> So many Palestinians will argue
> damn the demographics: The Right of
> Return is a sacred right in the psyche
> of ever palestinian, a legal right
> enshrined in Human Rights Declarations,

Which Human Rights Declarations are you referring to? Please explain so I can relate specifically.

> and it is possible since around 78% of
> Jews live in only 14% of Israel--ie the
> Palestinians can fit.

Are you kidding? Do you know the size of Israel?

Also - try to put yourself in our shoes. Would you be willing that the entire population of Mexico migrate to California to compensate for the way the Americans treated the Indians?

Israeli Blogger said...

EngineeringChange -

If you want a better understanding of the situation here, you must read this recent blog post by the Lebanese blogger Jos.

EngineeringChange said...

"I don't think this decision was much different from the decisions to form governments in Lebanon, Jordan or Egypt."

I see your point, except for one small difference. For Israel to exist as a Jewish state, it would neccessarily have to kick out its non-Jewish people that were living on that land previously--Palestine or whatever you want to call it. And since under the UN partition plan, this new Israel state contained 45% arabs--how could it ever be considered a 'jewish state'? I urge you to really read over the UN partition plan--its a recipe for disaster! The jews formed 1/3 of the population and owned 8% of land. In Lebanon, Syria and Jordan nobody had to kicked out--thats the main glaring difference.

There are definitely extremists out there. There is propaganda everywhere--but I hope that doesn't shut Israeli eyes from what happened. I fear that is the case though

"How is it Israel's doing?"

What I am saying is: These people after the war of 1948, when they had left their homes for a few weeks until the fighting died down--well they tried to return to their homes. Somebody prevented them from returning. The newly formed state of Israel did. That was a terrible injustice--those people should have been allowed to return to their homes. But Israel needed to be Jewish by any means neccessary so they weren't. So Israel is the reason they are living in filthy refugee camps rather than in their previous homes in present day Israel. If Arab states let these people into Syria, Lebanon etc they would absolve Israel of responsibility of not letting these people return.

"So are you saying Israel should not exist?"

I am saying I want nobody kicked out of their land. The UN parition plan--which I am against and Palestininians opposed had 45% arabs! Thats Israel for me--a state with Jews and Arabs living together in peace.

Look I am totally for a Jewish homeland--Jews have been persecuted throughout history and anti-semitism is a real thing. If there was a land that nobody lived in, sure, make the Jewish state there. But there were already people living in Israel!! And they were kicked out! Thats the problem for me. So Israel as a Jewish state for Jews only equates with kicking people off their land, it was and it a terrible injustice that was done:

"The bride is beautiful," the rabbis cabled Herzl, "but she is married to another man."

"Which Human Rights Declarations are you referring to?"

- Universal Declaration of Human Rights
- UN resolution 194
- Read about it here:
Palestine Refugees

"Are you kidding? Do you know the size of Israel?"
--I mean to say Israelis live in a few dozen urban areas, leaving much land free--so nobody needs to be displaced again.

I try to put myself in Israeli shoes all the time. Your analogy is way, way off though. If you want an analogy with Native Americans, I can give you a much better one....but this comment would be too long. So I will end here. :)