Tuesday, December 06, 2016
A new book by Einat Wilf and Adi Schwartz will soon be out to address the uniquely insoluble Palestinian refugee problem, the result of a ‘foreign imperialist plot’. (But one wonders if it has only become so insoluble because of Israel’s failure to stress ‘the exchange of populations ‘ with Jewish refugees.) Here is an extract from a taster in Haaretz:
None of the millions who became refugees in the 1940s are seriously asking to return to their previous homes, and certainly they don’t receive international recognition and institutional support for such a demand. Slowly but surely, sometimes with the gnashing of teeth, the refugees were rehabilitated in the countries where they found refuge and began their lives again.
The unique nature of the Palestinian refugee problem and the reason for its continuation to this day are therefore unrelated to the circumstances of its creation: Even if Arabs were expelled during the war, that expulsion wasn’t exceptional in the global context – not in its scope, and certainly not in its cruelty. On the contrary, the Palestinian Arabs themselves carried out total ethnic cleansing against the Jews, and did not leave a single Jew in the territory remaining in their hands at the end of the war in 1949.
That was also the fate of many Jews who had lived in Arab countries for hundreds and thousands of years: Many of them were expelled or had to leave due to the hostile attitude of the local population and the Arab governments, and found refuge in Israel.
The problem of the Palestinian refugees, its centrality in Palestinian awareness and the fact that it is so acute can be understood only in their context within the Palestinian narrative. According to the Palestinians, this was not one of the usual, if regrettable, side-effects of wars, along with the dead and wounded; that’s why it’s different and cannot be compared to the death and expulsion of Jews in that very same war.
The expulsion and flight of the Palestinians is seen as part of a foreign imperialist plot, of which Zionism was the representative and in the first place was meant to expel a native people from its land. The Palestinians refuse to see their departure from the land as something that happens during wars (in their case, the side that started the war and lost was the side that left), but as part of a conspiracy by a population group that had no rights to the land, which forced itself on a country that didn’t belong to it.
The departure of the Arabs from the country during the war, whether through expulsion or flight, has become a symbol of the injustice which, according to them, characterizes the entire Zionist project. The deliberate Arab decision to continue to be refugees and not to be rehabilitated during all the decades that have passed since the end of the war was and remains a clear political statement, which means nonrecognition of the outcome of the war that centered around the right of the Jewish people to self-definition, at least in part of its homeland.
The Palestinian refugee problem, and particularly its continuation, is not a result of the events of the war itself, but of an Arab and Palestinian decision to convey a clear message: The war they began 69 years ago this week in response to the United Nations Partition Plan, a war whose objective was to prevent the Jewish people from realizing its right of self-definition in its homeland – that war isn’t over yet.