A.B. Yehoshua: Palestinians Do Not Possess Right of Return
by Gad Nahshon
A.B. Yehoshua, one of Israel's most renowned authors and a leading figure in the Israeli left argues in an article in Ha'Aretz, March 31, 2000, entitled "Ending the Palestinians' Circle of Misery," that the Palestinians do not possess a right of return to their family homes in Israel which is one of the primary Palestinian demands. He claims that much of the Palestinian tragedy is of their own making or at the hands of the other Arab nations. Yehoshua states that the end of the Palestinian tragedy will come when they cease focusing on returning to their homes in Israel proper and focus on returning to a Palestinian homeland.
Recently, leading figures in the Israeli left, including former Minister of Education and recent Israel Prize recipient, Shulamit Aloni, signed a petition calling for a Palestinian right of return "to their homeland." In the petition the term homeland is vague since it could refer to Israel proper and not just to the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Yehoshua's article points to a developing debate in the Israeli left regarding the Palestinian right of return. Following is Yehoshua's article:
"On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly approved a resolution to partition the land of Israel into two states, Palestinian and Israeli, with the territory equally divided between the two. The Jewish population, then numbering about 600,000 - as opposed to about 1.3 million Palestinians - was allotted large swaths of the barren desert as a land reserve for the absorption of the numerous Jewish refugees waiting at the gates. While the Palestinian population was expected to grow through natural increase, the Jewish state, according to the international community that authorized its establishment, was to devote itself to finding, a solution to the Jewish problem, taking in Jews of all nationalities, particularly Holocaust refugees.
So despite the difference in their numbers, the land was almost equally divided between the two peoples, with more than 70 percent of the fertile land allocated to the Palestinians."
"When the Palestinians failed in their aggressive war to destroy the Jewish state, they called on the Arab armies to invade the Jewish state and eliminate it, This move., too, was unsuccessful. The Jews, heroically defended territory, repulsed the invaders, and in certain places conquered areas slated for the Palestinian state. (The Jewish state acquired about 6,000 square kilometers [km] of territory designated for the Palestinian state.) In the heat of battle, a Jewish minority was expelled from the few settlements that Palestinians occupied, as were many Palestinians from Jewish settlements."
"In the final stages of the fighting, Palestinian areas were intentionally destroyed by the Israeli army and, with no military, justification, their inhabitants were expelled by force to beyond the armistice line that was marked at the war's end in 1949.
"Those who-fled, and those who were expelled, both Jews and Palestinians, cannot accurately be called refugees, but rather displaced persons, for there is an essential difference between the two terms. A refugee is a person who has fled or been expelled from the land of his birth; a displaced person is someone who has fled or been expelled from his home, but remains within the bounds of the territory of his homeland. The Jews who fled or were expelled by Arabs from the Old City of Jerusalem, the Etzion Bloc, Atarot, Kfar Darom or Beit Ha'arava, into Israeli territory, were never refugees but only displaced persons, who were immediately allocated new homes in the Israeli homeland."
"However the Palestinians did not call their uprooted people displaced persons. They were instead referred to as refugees, even though most remained in the Palestinian homeland and lived at most only 20 to 40 km away from their homes. The Arabs of Ashdod and Ashkelon moved to Gaza, only 20 km from their homes. The Arabs of Lod and Ramle moved to the Ramallah area, which is 30 or 40 km away from these towns. There were also Palestinians who fled, or were expelled, from Palestine and went to Arab countries: Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan where they did not receive local citizenship and their status remained that of refugees. But during the 19 years in which the Palestinian territory of the West Bank- and the Gaza Strip were under Palestinian, Jordanian, and Egyptian control, all of these refugees could have at least returned to their homeland, becoming displaced persons rather than refugees, and building themselves new homes in their homeland.
This is the beginning of the tragedy of the Palestinians, for which they themselves and the Arab countries carry direct moral responsibility. Even if ('from their point of view) they did have a legitimate hope that they would see the day when they would be able to eliminate the Jewish state and take back all of Palestine - or at least return to their homes just as the displaced persons from the Etzion Bloc and the, Old City did - there was still nothing to prevent the Palestinian displaced persons from building real homes. They could have lived ordinary, respectable, lives within their homeland, instead of humiliating provisional existences in miserable camps."
Homeland vs. Home
"The Palestinians, who formulated their national identity toward the end of the 19th century, to this very day confuse the concept of homeland with the concept of home...."
"... When, at the beginning of World War II the Soviet Union conquered parts of Finland in an aggressive and unjust war , took over land and settlements and exiled Finnish citizens into the Finnish state, those Finns were not refugees but rather displaced persons. They immediately built new homes in their homeland. Of course the dream of return that, Palestinian displaced persons and refugees nurtured in their hearts had no connection to a political solution, or to the fact that they had embarked on an aggressive war against the Jews. For many years, they continued to reject the principle of the solution of the partition of the land, and until the Palestinian Liberation Organization's 1988 decision, many did not recognize Israel."
"Meanwhile, they wanted to go home, literally. Thus, they sentenced themselves to a life of humiliation and poverty; a welfare existence without any basic rights.
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