How Many Homelands Do the Israelis Get to Have?

If Israel wants justice for refugees, let us give justice to them all, to all the refugees of this horrible conflict, from Baghdad to Jaffa

Just as the current intensive, prolific negotiations with the Palestinians were approaching their happy conclusion, with everything falling neatly into place, Israel suddenly raised a new demand: Without compensating the Jewish refugees from the Arab states, it won't agree to declare an end to the conflict.

Everything has been resolved, the end of the conflict is at hand, so now let's go after one more little castle on the way to the just peace that awaits just around the bend. Fortunately the National Security Council has published a position paper, as reported by Barak Ravid in Haaretz, and a propaganda campaign has been launched by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who has hereditary rights to the issue. (His father was born in Algeria. )

After being taught for decades that the incentive for immigration from the Arab states was Zionism, it now turns out that this was actually a wave of refugees. And after thinking that Israel had already shattered all records for chuzpah, along comes this campaign to say that we ain't see nothing yet.

It is hard to decide where to begin refuting the ridiculous comparison between the fate of the Palestinian refugees and their Jewish counterparts, but not to worry: the position paper of the National Security Council sees no place for comparison. The refugees suffered a "tragedy," while the Palestinians' fate is no more than an "issue." And the high point is that blame in both cases falls on the Arab states. It's hard to believe: Israel had no part in the problem of the Palestinian refugees.

Rightly, Israel since its birth has steered clear of the issue, fully aware that it was a minefield, but one can trust the Netanyahu government to boldly go where no one has gone before. Maybe now, they probably figured in Jerusalem, since there's no peace process anyway, we can raise this issue as well, maybe it will pay off for us in the Sephardi synagogues of America.

Israel demands compensation for the property of the 800,000 refugees from the Arab states. It offers no compensation for the lost property of some 650,000 Palestinians, whose lands served to establish the State of Israel. This should be paid by the international community, not Israel. The ratio would be three to two in Israel's favor, according to the NSC arithmetic. Will Israel compensate the Palestinians for '48, '67, and all that has happened since, including the demolished houses, the stolen lands and resources? Not likely.

The NSC also chose to ignore the most important difference between the two refugee communities: while the Jews immigrated, willingly or unwillingly - Israel has yet to decide on that one - to the state they consider home, the Palestinians were exiled or forced to flee to refugee camps and the diaspora. One set of refugees had to agree to live freely in their state, while the other still faces occupation and exile. One group of refugees has no wish to return, while the other does. The difference is pretty hard to miss.

Just as Israel has no qualms about returning pre-1948 Jewish property to its rightful owners, from Hebron to Sheikh Jarrah, by means of expelling Palestinians from their homes, it has never even considered doing the same thing with Palestinian property. Why? There's no need to ask, it simply will never happen. If Israel agreed now to even discuss it, this would be a tremendous Palestinian achievement. According to this reasoning, the Palestinians should return to their homes, just like the Jews of Hebron, or at least be compensated for their suffering, as the Jews from Arab countries should be. Since one cannot believe that this is the intention of the NSC or the government, this position paper appears to be no more than another ploy to remove the problem of the Palestinian refugees from the agenda, or, simply, another nationalistic move that does not recognize any form of equal rights between Palestinians and Jews.

Still, the crux of the matter is a question of principle which was well stated by MK Ahmed Tibi. "How many homelands do you have?" he asked Ayalon on television, and his question still hangs in the air. Is Israel the homeland, or is it Iraq? The Hebrew struggles to put the word "homeland" in the plural. If Israel wants justice for refugees, let us give justice to them all, to all the refugees of this horrible conflict, from Baghdad to Jaffa. Until then, it would be best to concentrate on ending the suffering of those who continue to be the victims of policies that began in 1948 and have not ceased for a moment since.