Opinion |

Refugee Chutzpah

The Palestinians yearn for the land. Their yearning will not stop, certainly not on orders from Israel and America

Gideon Levy
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Palestinian schoolchildren participate in the morning exercise at an UNRWA-run school, on the first day of a new school year, in Gaza City August 29, 2018.
Palestinian schoolchildren participate in the morning exercise at an UNRWA-run school, on the first day of a new school year, in Gaza City August 29, 2018. Credit: Mohammed Salem/Reuters
Gideon Levy

First we deprived them of their places of work – we fired laborers, tenant farmers and guards and robbed them of their livelihood. This was in the 1920s, long ago. At the time we called it “conquering labor” and “Hebrew labor” and said it was a “pioneer value.” Colonialism? No way.

Then came “redemption of the lands” and the “riots” broke out, and then there was the Partition Plan, and the war broke out and 750,000 of them were either forcibly expelled or fled for their lives. The UN said they must be returned, Israel never complied, and it also chased out the “infiltrators” who “infiltrated” their own homes – some just trying to save the remnants of their property.

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Israel never accepted a shred of responsibility. The Palestinians are to blame. Only them. They didn’t agree to the partition and so they deserved every disaster they got. Just ask any Israeli propagandist. They dispersed to many places. Many of their descendants still live in horrific conditions the likes of which no Israeli knows. In Lebanon, Syria and Gaza, they have had no way to break the cycle of poverty. Even in the West Bank, which is under Israeli control, there are still shameful camps that Israel hasn’t lifted a finger to improve.

What does it have to do with their refugee-hood? Israeli propaganda has created a situation in which any discussion of their fate is totally illegitimate, in which any such talk is “subversive” and part of a campaign to “destroy” Israel. The chief guilty party in the Palestinians’ tragedy has cleared itself of any blame, of any responsibility, of any sin, of any obligation to return them or compensate them.

But even that isn’t enough. A foul smell coming from the Jalazoun camp occasionally disturbs the settlers in Beit El. Perhaps the moral stench from the ruins of the Yarmouk camp in Syria, from bloody Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon, from Bureij and Shati in Gaza, from Fawar, A’ida, Nur a-Shams and Jenin in the West Bank still disturb the Zionist subconscious; the time has come for the final scene in the play. In this scene, we’ll put an end to the refugee problem, if there even really is such a “problem.”

The opening salvo came from Washington: The war Israel has declared on UNRWA found a receptive audience there and the Americans are already cutting the organization's budget and threatening to shut it down. No UNRWA, no refugees. But who will pay for the health, education and food costs of these hundreds of thousands of poor people? Then came an effort to tarnish the image of the victims and cast doubt on their refugee status.

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This is the greatest chutzpah of all. How dare they wallow in their refugee-hood? Why haven’t the Arab countries done anything to save them? Third- and fourth-generation refugees? There is no such thing. By what right? Israel, one of the most thriving countries, which arose thanks to world donations and charity, complains that one of the most battered population groups is faking it.

American and South African whites also blamed the blacks for their situation. A country that made victimhood a propaganda cornerstone complains when its victims do the same. And the biggest complaint of all: How dare the refugees dream of return? This is a formative moment in the history of Israeli brazenness, a moment in which Zionist propaganda has broken all records for chutzpah.

A people that bases its right to the land on 2,000 years of yearning is going after another people that it expelled from this land, for daring to yearn for it for 70 years. Two thousand years is fine, because we’re Jews; 70 years is not allowed, because they’re Palestinians. The Palestinians yearn for the land. Their yearning is hereditary, and much stronger than the yearning my father felt for Palestine.

Their yearning will not stop, certainly not on orders from Israel and America. Some of them live in terrible conditions. They should be rescued. Israel cannot evade responsibility for their situation, even if America says it can, UNRWA closes and the government decides there's no such thing as a Palestinian people or Palestinian refugees.