The right of return is a core issue for Palestinians; let’s realize it

4 April 2013

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Realizing the right of return requires a transition from remembrance to action.

(Ali Jadallah / APA images)

This weekend a group of area students including myself will be hosting a groundbreaking conference at Boston University addressing the complex realities of the implementation of the Palestinian refugees’ Right of Return. The goal of this conference is to shape a new narrative that is focused on how to bring about return from a practical standpoint.

“I do not accept the version that [we] should encourage their [the Palestinians’] return … we should prevent their return … we must settle Jaffa, Jaffa will become a Jewish city… we must prevent at all costs their return” is what David Ben Gurion, first Prime Minister of Israel, proclaimed after the establishment of the state on Palestinian land in May 1948.

Israel was in fact born after a deliberate Zionist campaign to clear the area of its native inhabitants which resulted in the expulsion of approximately 700,000 Palestinians from their homes and land that they had nurtured, farmed and lived on for hundreds of years. These events are now known by Palestinians the world over as the “Nakba” or “catastrophe” of 1948, and for them, Ben Gurion’s words carry a tragic meaning.

Legacy and pride

My grandparents personally experienced the suffering caused by the Nakba as they hail from Yazur, a village that was located approximately four miles east of the ancient coastal city of Jaffa, now part of of Tel Aviv. Yazur was one of the many villages that were systematically depopulated of their native Palestinian inhabitants during the Zionist forces’ onslaught on the area in 1947 and 1948.

My grandfather had owned and farmed several plots of land in his village and traded citrus fruits. Since Palestine at the time was a predominantly agrarian society, the loss of land entailed more than a loss of territory for him, but also a weakened sense of identity, legacy and pride.

My grandparents were forced to flee Yazur and sought refuge first in the relatively calmer town of Hebron in the West Bank. They were initially under the impression that they would return after a short period of two or three weeks, but later learned that after the establishment of the State of Israel, Palestinian refugees were denied the right to return to their homes. My grandparents eventually settled in Jericho, a West Bank town with a warm climate similar to that of the coast and, like Yazur, famous for its citrus fruits.

My grandfather and his family returned only one time to Yazur — after the 1967 War during which Israel completed its conquest of historic Palestine by occupying the West Bank and Gaza Strip. My family were able to travel their village only as visitors, as all claims to their land and property were not recognized by the Israeli authorities. They found that their homes had been destroyed and replaced by new structures owned by Israelis.

Sorrow

My grandfather fell ill after this trip due to the sorrow and disappointment experienced by witnessing the state of his village. Despite their longing for return, the restrictions on even visiting their home increased immensely after the first and second intifada, and both my grandparents passed away in Jericho never to have lived in Yazur again.

For my grandparents, Ben Gurion’s utterance rang true. Their generation of refugees never returned, and Jaffa and Yazur became a part of Israel. Yet Palestinian steadfastness and attachment to the land from which they were expelled was never conquered despite deliberate Israeli efforts to extinguish them.

Millions of Palestinians in increasing numbers across the world commemorate the Nakba every year on the anniversary of the State of Israel’s founding and hold dearly the Right of Return. Yazur and every other village that was depopulated or demolished is remembered and celebrated.

The campaign of ethnic cleansing that accompanied Israel’s founding made more than half of the total Palestinian population refugees, and the Right of Return thus materialized into an integral and inseparable component of the struggle for liberation and equality.

In fact until justice is achieved, the Right of Return is a central and unshakable component of contemporary Palestinian identity. This inalienable right will thus never be forgotten despite repeated attempts on the part of Israel to obstruct its implementation and prevent its discussion by promoting falsehoods about the origins of the refugee issue.

Action

The Right of Return however, requires a transition from imagination and remembrance — which has generally characterized the discourse so far — towards action. With growing recognition and awareness of the injustices perpetrated against Palestinians, the academic/institutional conversation and examination of the Right must begin to move beyond pointing out the numerous legal and moral justifications for the Return, and instead build plans for practical implementation.

Despite claims to the contrary there are no insurmountable demographic, cultural or spatial obstacles to materializing a Return. This point must be highlighted and used against views that only focus on the obstacles.

Tthe Right of Return Conference will provide a platform for these ideas. The goal is to expand the discourse relating to the Palestinian plight for justice by incorporating the practical methods and implications of Return.

By bringing together leading voices from across the Palestinian Diaspora as well as numerous academics and activists who are instrumental in the global movement for Palestinian rights, we hope to spur new ideas from around the world and create a space for developing the mechanics of the Right of Return’s implementation. We hope the Conference’s output will be an important step in the creation and development of a new narrative that can be used to overcome the political obstacles to Palestinian return, restitution, justice and liberation.

Raed Habayeb is a member of the Right of Return Conference Organizing Committee. He is a MBA student at Boston University and also holds a master’s degree in government and a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering.

Comments

You are probably well aware of the collaborative effort between Zochrot and Badil on the practical feasibility of refugee return to historic Palestine (aka Israel & OPT) but just wanted to be sure: http://www.badil.org/en/al-maj.... Thanks for pursuing this one-state model providing freedom, justice and equality while Israel and J Street push for what Jewish historian Lenni Brenner calls "a weaponless sheep pen Palestinian Bantustan" (aka "2-state solution").

I find it quite shocking, really, how little the Palestinian movement and organizations have, over the decades, tried to advance the Palestinians' right of return. All that Arafat and his henchmen did throughout the 1970s and 1980s was throw darts at Israel from the safety of the Lebanese South. They precipitated a devastating civil war, went on to historic levels of treachery and betrayal among themselves and with every sympathetic voice that cried for justice to the Palestinians. We see the final humiliation at the UN today, where Abbas has instructed his delegate of failures to hold off on voting for Palestine. I think many Palestinians, sad to say, have become only too happy to stick with their wardens, the rubble of their towns, cities and culture...and to stabbing the Syrian people in the gut with their collaboration with blood-swilling, CIA trained Salafis--all to please those curently organizating their genecide with.

Today, the Palestinians are still shouting: Our right of return is not so bad, Mr. West. We will be well-behaved; we could even work together, as we did under our Great Leaders and stab our "Arab" brethren in the back and they in our back. Everything will be normal, you wait and see. Most importantly, Israel will now be safe! On my honor!"

I would be surprised if anyone, at the end of all this, will live in Palestine. None deserve this tortured land, and the race is on for the exit! It won't be Armageddon, just the result of the accumulation of generations of human filth.

"I would be surprised if anyone, at the end of all this, will live in Palestine. None deserve this tortured land, and the race is on for the exit! It won't be Armageddon, just the result of the accumulation of generations of human filth."

That is a disturbing way to talk about people and I encourage you to visit Israel and the territories before passing such judgments.

Creating some sort of realistic plan is necessary, and it comes at a great time. Right now awareness is high - 5 Broken Cameras, university campuses passing BDS resolutions, Obama visiting Israel (etc). If we can present to the world a way in which this can realistically be solved, the moral and legal arguments so far provided to people will carry more weight. People seem to care about morality only when it isn't difficult to achieve. In any case, I hope to see these plans come online - maybe the conference could be recorded or transcribed

20% of Israel's population is Arab with citizenship and full rights. When I see the same treatment of Jews in the territories I think we can talk about it.
To be considered the right of return must be offered to all Jews forced from their homes. The Arab world has displaced far more Jews than the Arab who took the advise of their leaders and for the most part left Israel on their own volition.

Your comment has been published. It’s a good example of misinformation including attempts to recruit and misuse the issue of Arab Jews to the Zionist cause of justifying and legitimating the dispossession of Palestinians. For interested readers here’s some of our recent articles that are relevant:

1. Palestinians ("Arabs" in Israeli parlance) have full citizenship and equal rights in Israel (so contends MiC). This is nonsense. Dozens of Jim Crow laws, regulations and social practices make Palestinians less than second-class citizens in their own homeland. Ben White has published a short but authoritative summary of discriminatory laws and regulations in "Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, discrimination and democracy" (Pluto Press, 2012).

2. Jews (MiC continues) would become second-class dhimmis if Palestinians were allowed to return and attained a voting majority in Israel. But a people's right not to be expelled from their homes is not dependent on future good behavior. And if that WERE the criterion, then the Zionists of Israel certainly lost the right to their alleged homeland many decades ago.

3. Justice for Palestinians expelled from their homeland in Palestine must be linked to justice for the even larger number of Jews expelled from surrounding Middle Eastern states after1948 (MiC's 3rd argument). Let's set aside the issue of how many of those Jews were actually "expelled" in the same way the Palestinians were. Whatever the exact number, there's no doubt that hundreds of thousands of Jews had their possessions confiscated without compensation. The impoverishment of the vibrant Jewish culture in the Middle East has been a tragic consequence of Zionism. But what is the relevance in the moral calculus here? Just as the Palestinians weren't responsible for the European Holocaust, so also they weren't responsible for the unjust treatment of Jews in surrounding Middle Eastern states.

Imho, the real solution for both the Palestinians and Israel to co-exist with one another is for an independent, sovereign Palestinian nation-state alongside Israel, rather than in place of Israel. That's the safe, sane and most sensible solution for the decades-old I/P debacle, and it's not too late. Israel must do her part by evacuating her settlers and pulling her troops back from West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, to make the 2-state solution possible.

"for both the Palestinians and Israel to co-exist"? (not mentioning the 100% impossibility of it)

Israel is a settler colony on Palestinian land. WHY should we bother to preserve it at all?

I am 64 years old and have seen the song and dance before..the dangling of money from the US, the visits except for the Emir of Katar which was amazing but the US president simply stated what they, the past performers have always stated..if there were a way to, let's put it this way, Obama comes, the people protest, of course and the money offered is put away. The US has backed Izrael because the country serves a military purpose and a political one. No president will be elected on the Palestinian platform. The US needs to have it's claws in Bahrain,and Israel. The first dance was with King Faisal, it was shocking and has gone on and on and I honestly think that Palestine needs another tactic. I applaud Mr. Abbas for trying to get in one door, I think that he has done well. I have seen all kinds of leaders try all kinds of things and the result remains the same, nada, nothing. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results..What to do? Frankly I have no idea.