Letters to the Editor: On the Right of Return, Slovakia Synagogues and Israel's 'Unseen' Policy

Letters to the Editor
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Palestinians take part in a rally to mark the 69th anniversary of 'Nakba Day', in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Monday, May 15, 2017
Palestinians take part in a rally to mark the 69th anniversary of 'Nakba Day', in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Monday, May 15, 2017Credit: Majdi Mohammed/AP
Letters to the Editor

Counting refugees  

In response to “The right of return isn’t complicated” (Opinion, Uri Avnery, October 18).

I agree that it is not a problem for Israel to accept the right of return of the Palestinian refugees. But not for the reason Mr. Avnery gives. The word “return” is very clear; it means going back to where one has been before. So it can apply only to the people who left Palestine, not to their descendants who were born in another country.

There are less than 100,000 survivors from the 700,000 Arabs who left Palestine and became refugees, and they should be allowed to come back to Israel if they wish to, and if they are ready to live in peace with their Jewish neighbors, as is stated in the UN declaration about Palestine refugees, which mentions only the refugees but not their descendants: “Palestine refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date.” This applied to Jewish refugees as well as to Arab refugees from the war in Palestine.

The six million descendants should have been integrated in the countries where they were born. They are not refugees from Palestine, because they have never been there. There is no other example in history where descendants of refugees are still considered to be refugees, three generations later.

Joseph Grinblat
Retired Director, Migration Studies Section, United Nations Secretariat
Forest Hills, NY

The whole story

In response to “The father, the son and the Jewish spirit” (Ofer Aderet, September 20, Haaretz.com):

Unfortunately, this article did not tell the full story of the restoration projects in Bardejov, Slovakia, and omitted some very important parts of it.
The amazing father-son team cited indeed deserves credit for the ongoing efforts to preserve the memory and the heritage of Bardejov’s Jewish community – their contribution has been immense. At the same time, it is also important to note that they have not been working alone. The other parties involved in reviving the Jewish heritage of Bardejov are the Bardejov Jewish Preservation Committee (BJPC), the Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities in the Slovak Republic (known as UZZNO) and Giora Solar, an Israeli architect who specializes in conservation projects around the world. Peter and Pavol Hudak have been working with the above parties and with our financial, technical, and organizational support.

The Bardejov Jewish Preservation Committee (BJPC) is not a “municipal Jewish preservation committee” as mentioned in the article. It is a U.S.-registered nonprofit organization that was established in 2006 by Emil A. Fish, a survivor of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp who was born in Bardejov. BJPC was founded in response to the disrepair and dilapidated state of Bardejov’s Jewish sites discovered in 2005 by Fish when he visited there 56 years after he left. Since 2006 the organization has been a contributor and a major influence in the process of reviving the Jewish Heritage of Bardejov and accomplished many projects. The most important is the Bardejov Holocaust Memorial.

The memorial, designed by Giora Solar, includes the names of all those from Bardejov and its vicinity who perished in the Holocaust. Since its inauguration in 2014, the BJPC holds there a yearly commemorative ceremony with the participation of the city’s residents and dignitaries, descendants of Jews from Bardejov and guests from abroad. The Israeli ambassador to Slovakia, H.E. Zvi Aviner Vapni, participated in the last ceremony on June 2017.

The memorial, which was not mentioned in the article even though it is adjacent to the synagogue, has been instrumental in drawing the attention of local and international organizations to the significance of Bardejov’s Jewish suburbia and the importance of participating in its restoration. The suburbia includes three buildings: the synagogue, beit hamidrash and the mikveh. The restoration of the synagogue was carried out under the auspices of the Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities in the Slovak Republic (UZZNO). The next project, beit hamidrash’s restoration, was initiated, negotiated and will be constructed with the sponsorship of the BJPC.

Orit Stieglitz
Executive Director
Bardejov Jewish Preservation Committee
Pasadena, CA  

One bad turn deserves another

In response to “Breaking up West Bank families: An unseen Israeli policy” (Opinion, Amira Hass, October 18).

Amira Hass’s article about Israel’s practice of breaking up families reminded me of endeavors 11 years ago to counter Israel’s sudden and seemingly unreasonable conduct – which at times left a mother and her children outside the West Bank while the husband was at home waiting, while in other instances the Palestinian wife would be in the West Bank while her foreign-born husband was not allowed to return home. As the practice seemed to grow, a number of us who had been contacted and asked for help or who had heard of instances where someone was not allowed to return to the West Bank formed an ad hoc committee (the Israeli Committee for Residency Rights) to try to find ways to counter what seemed an unreasonable practice.

On occasion we were able to help a person who had been barred entry, but not always. Our efforts included talks with COGAT. But our main line of work was to contact embassies, as many as possible, not only those of countries whose nationals had been denied entry. We divided embassies among us. While we were able to meet with high-ranking officials, sometimes even ambassadors, and while all who heard us agreed that something should be done, we achieved nothing. Embassies don’t make policy. They carry out the policies of their governments. Our next step should have been to try to influence the governments, but we stopped short of that. Not only didn’t we have funds to travel about the world, but also because it is unlikely we could have convinced governments to change their policies. Governments do not form policy on the basis of what is nice, proper or decent.

The fact that Israel has again returned to separating families shows that we did not change the situation. All that we achieved was to help a handful of people who without our efforts in all likelihood would not have been allowed to return home. Yet were the governments of those people denied entry to reciprocate by denying entry to Israelis, the current practice of separating families might very well stop.

Dorothy Naor