Hope of Return Keeps the Palestinian Refugees Going

Negotiations would reveal the Palestinian refugees as human beings who understand the limitations of fully implementing their 'right of return.'

“Will they give up the right of return?” is the title of Alexander Yakobson’s op-ed (Haaretz, September 9.) Let’s assume that all the Palestinian refugees gathered along Israel’s borders and threw away the keys to their old houses that they have kept close to their hearts for generations and tore up the fading title deeds to their old lands. What would they get in exchange? After emotional tears and expressions of gratitude for their generosity, they would return to their camps to continue their daily lives as refugees. In Israel, on the other hand, people would return to their usual daily routines as well. Some would say “I told you so, Arabs understand only force!”

How can one dispose of this onerous problem, which has been around for almost 66 years, without even lifting a finger? An apt approach could be to paraphrase former MK Shmuel Flatto-Sharon’s question and ask “what have you done for Palestinian refugees?” (replacing his reference to Israel). Even a High Court of Justice decision to repatriate the villagers of Ikrit and Bir’im in the Galilee has been totally disregarded. Israel ignores not only United Nations resolutions, but the decisions of its own Supreme Court, as well. In the occupied territories, in which Israel has been ruling over a significant portion of the 1948 refugees for nearly 50 years, nothing is done except nightly incursions, detentions, and, for dessert, the shows put on by army units dressed up as Arabs.

As far as the refugees across the border are concerned, Israel in the past offered nothing except the bombing of ‘terrorist nests’ in camps lying in Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt (Gaza at that time). What has it offered the refugees, who, because of their status on foreign soil, are being butchered in wars in which they have no part. It is now the turn of refugees living in Syria who are suffering in a civil war, this time with a chemical fragrance, under the regime of a cruel and wily dictator.

When Palestinians are humiliated and disdained in 22 countries that aren’t theirs, when they are told to go back to the places they came from, all they can do is respond with a sad whisper: “we have a homeland too”, with some being more specific – “we’re from Al-Bassa” or “we’re from Al-Damun” (referring to now-ruined villages in pre-1948 Israel.) Jews in the monstrous version of Europe whispered to themselves “next year in Jerusalem.” Hope is what keeps people who are suffering going.

The most absurd are those who claim that even bringing up the subject of refugees is tantamount to calling for the destruction of Israel. They don’t consider it significant that the lives of millions of refugees have been ruined for 66 years, in 22 wondrous host countries. Is a Jew worth more than a Palestinian? Is a Palestinian’s suffering less painful than that of a Jew? Why can’t they raise the natural, human demand to return home? What kind of world do we live in if someone wanting to return home is seen as a hater of Israel? It’s a topsy- turvy kind of world.

In one regard I agree with Yakobson; we have to deal with this issue openly. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away and will only intensify it. In the course of dealing with it, one must first stop quivering, almost fainting, at the very mention of the ‘right of return,’ as if one were uttering apostasy to a crowd of believers. Secondly, one must accept responsibility for causing the refugee problem. After all, this baby belongs to Israel and it is impractical and immoral to renounce it. Thirdly, it is urgent to start asking the relevant parties themselves, as suggested by Palestinian leader Ahmed Qurei, whether they want to live in Israel or in the Palestinian state when it is established, or whether they wish to stay where they are.

After outlining such a framework, it is necessary to start serious negotiations, conducted in good faith, to determine ways of implementing the refugees’ demands. In-depth discussions will reveal that the devil is, surprisingly, a human being who acknowledges the limitations that beset the full implementation of the right of return. The main thing at this point is to change the approach and view the suffering refugees as human beings. This is in Israel’s interest as well. Alienation is the mother of future tragedies. Let our children, on both sides, live out their full lives without this unbearable heritage.

PD-Syria