June 5, 2006
Reversing ethnic cleansing: The Right to Return Home
By: Salman Abu Sitta*
In the spring of 1948, some Jewish mukhtars (headmen) of Jewish colonies in Palestinian went over to the Arab Palestinian mukhtars in the nearby villages which maintained good neighbourly relations with them and whispered in their ears, “we are your good friends and neighbours and we must give you our sincere advice. Those vicious Palmach soldiers who just landed from Europe have no mercy. They intend to ‘clean out’ Arab villages. Take your family and run for your life before it is too late”. That was no “sincere” advice. This ‘whispering campaign’, was ordered by Palmach commander, Yigal Allon (Paicovich) and it resulted in the depopulation of at least 12 villages.
There are many kinds of Israeli soldiers, not all carrying guns. A most recently formed regiment is performing what is called ‘hasbara’, a public relations campaign, to white wash Israeli brutal policies of occupation and racism. Ironically, the term ‘hasbara’ is close to the more appropriate term ‘za’bara’ meaning loud meaningless noise.
Gershon Baskin (Right of Return to Palestine, AMIN, May 25th 2006) gives his Palestinian friends a ‘sincere’ advice as “a true friend of the Palestinian people’: drop your right to return home. Those Safad villagers who listened in 1948 to their friendly Jewish neighbour, and their children, have now to listen to their new Israeli friends: drop the most basic human right, to have, keep and return to your own home.
Why should this campaign come from any body at all, let alone from European Jews who, in the words of Arnold Toynbee, should have been the first to learn from history?
Baskin gives his (and Israeli) reasons for denying the Right of Return. Every one of these reasons cannot stand serious scrutiny. Every one of them is a standard weapon in the now discredited Israeli armoury of myths and misinformation.
Baskin starts with UN resolution 181 (Partition Plan), which was “overwhelmingly accepted by the Jewish people” – meaning the European Jewish immigrants to Palestine, but Palestinians did not. Why should they?
Baskin does not mention that this plan allocates 55.5% of Palestine to the Jewish European immigrants, who did not possess, even with the collusion of the British Mandate, more than 5.5%. He does not mention that 457 Palestinian towns and villages suddenly found themselves, according to the Plan, under the sovereignty of those immigrants, many of whom have just waded into Palestinian shores under the cover of darkness from a smuggler’s ship. He also does not mention that 48% of the population in the would-be ‘Jewish state’ was Palestinian Arabs. He also does not mention that Ben Gurion, in his tactical plan to provisionally accept the Partition Plan, proceeded immediately to ethnically cleanse the coastal plain from the Palestinian ‘citizens’ of his new state.
Ben Gurion depopulated 250 villages and expelled half the total refugees before the state of Israel was declared on 15th May 1948 and before any Arab regular soldier came to reverse the ethnic cleansing.
Baskin does not dwell on the Israeli engineered largest, longest and continuous ethnic cleansing operation in modern history in which 774 Palestinian towns and villages fell under Zionist control in 1948, of which 675 were totally depopulated and 99 remained under military rule for 16 years, to be replaced by second class status. The refugees from these villages are now 6,400,000 (both UN registered and unregistered) – not 5 million as Baskin states. In fact, 75% of the Palestinian people are refugees or displaced; a whole people fell victim to Israel. Their land comprises 93% of Israel’s area. Their movable and immovable property have been confiscated by Israel in the largest robbery since WWII. That was the result of the 1948 Nakba. But the Nakba continues till today in occupied Palestine of 1967. Those who missed 1948 Nakba can see it today on TV screens, albeit in a different form with more slick ’hasbara’
I suppose it is elementary to say that ethnic cleansing is a war crime. The 1998 Statute of Rome and the Sixth Nuremberg Charter clearly say that. It is understood that those who condone ethnic cleansing or who incite for it by word or deed are also committing a war crime. Denying the Right of Return is perpetuating the ethnic cleansing and hence participating in it.
So, once again, why do Israelis deny the Right of Return in spite of the fact that the UN confirmed this right over a hundred times and that Israel’s admission to UN membership was conditional upon it?
The answer seems to be ‘realism’: you cannot undo what was done 58 years ago. This is like saying: you will be punished if you intend to kill someone, but you will be forgiven if you successfully do it.
Realism has many faces not mentioned by Baskin. There is the 58-year reality of al Nakba. Every day, one page of this tragic book is written by Palestinian blood and Israeli brutality. There is a reality that the refugees have never given up, nor will they give up, their right to return home. There is a reality that 97% of them are within 100 km of their homes, 50% within 40 km and many are within sight of their homes. The reality is, in spite of wars, raids, occupation and Israeli brutal policies, they have not surrendered or given up, all three generations of them.
The Zionist propaganda filled the Western minds with fabrications. But the thick fog of ‘hasbara’ is being lifted slowly. More and more human rights groups, universities, churches are calling for Israel’s boycott and disinvestment.
Yes some, like Baskin, play the old game: ‘villages are destroyed’, ‘no place to return to’… etc. Such stale arguments insult the intelligence of the ordinary man, let alone the expert, and reflect badly on its author.
What if this is true? If a robber destroys a home or builds another floor on it, is he entitled to it? In that case, under what premise did the European Jews recover their homes and property, up to the last painting, from their European fellow citizens after half a century?
In the book of human rights and even in national laws nothing supercedes the sanctity of private ownership and the right to return to it.
But these Israeli claims about the impracticality of return are patently false. There is room. Most of the confiscated Palestinian land (93% of Israel) is utilized by the Israeli army and by the bankrupt kibbutz which make up only 1.5% of Israeli Jews. Eighty percent of Israeli Jews live in 14% of Israel. The rural Jews in the southern half of the country are less in number than a single refugee camp:
Not only destroyed villages can be constructed (90% of their sites are still vacant) but they have to expand 6 times due to natural increase. Amman, Beirut, Kuwait have expanded 10- 30 times, the Palestinian have contributed to their development. Israel itself grew eight times, mostly through immigration. Why should it be difficult to build 6000 houses in a village whether the original 1000 houses were still standing or not?
But Baskin evades the real reason. Israel wants to maintain its racist and Apartheid policies under the rubric of ‘Jewish state’ and the threat of the Palestinian demographic bomb.
What is the meaning of the ‘Jewish state’? There is no legal meaning for a Jewish state, neither in the Partition Plan, which protected its 50% Arab population and which was “overwhelming accepted” by the Jewish immigrants, nor any where in international law which does not tolerate ethnic religious racist states.
To speak of a Palestinian ‘demographic threat’ is pure racism. What would British Jews do if London Municipality decides that Jews in Golders Green are a demographic threat and they have to be ethnically cleansed if their number exceeds that decided by the racist British Nationalist Party?
Then we hear from Baskin about the Israeli ‘generosity’ in allowing a ‘limited number’ of Palestinians to recover their stolen property under family reunification plan. This limited number is reduced to zilch, especially after the Israeli law of nullifying the family reunification program.
But Israel is generous. In Taba, it offered another four choices to the refugees: select your favourite country of exile anywhere in the world but not to your home.
When it comes to compensation, Israel is more generous. It wants to grab 18.6 million donums of Palestinian land, a huge volume of houses, shops, businesses, farms, movable property, at least 1200 million cubic meters of water and other natural resources, public and historical property, airports, military camps, railways, roads, mines – all to be paid by an “international fund” with a modest contribution by Israel. In return, Israel would be the legal owner of all this stolen property. No mention of compensation for war crimes or crimes against humanity. Of course there is no mention that Palestinian are entitled to return to their homes AND compensation for their suffering and losses.
Baskin sums the Israeli position well: “Anyone who understands anything about Israel and Israelis must realize that there will be no return to Israel proper”. In simpler words, Israel wants to continue its ethnic cleansing, pursue its racist and Apartheid policies and does not “really want to live in peace” with the Palestinians but instead of them.
The Palestinians, and most of the world with them, are determined to pursue justice, eradicate racism and Apartheid. Just as South Africa did. They have no intention of disappearing.
Baskin true “friendship” should go to the Israelis to help shake them off their collective amnesia about what they have done and are doing to the Palestinians and to advise them that their salvation lies in shedding racism fully and forever. They have to amend their ways, reverse ethnic cleansing and make reparations.
For it is clear that the history of Jews will ultimately be marked indelibly, and above all other historical events, by what they have done in Palestine.
* Salman Abu Sitta is a Palestinian author and researcher on refugees.
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