From Shatila Camp– What does the right of return mean in 2010?

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
on 71 Comments

I’ve been spending more time in the camps recently. Two days a week, I leave my apartment on my leafy street in my quiet neighborhood and jump in a taxi heading southwest.

Ala mafra’ sou’ Shatila, iza t-reed,’ is what I usually say to the cab driver. He drives west first, past the open air restaurants and air-conditioned mall where wealthy Beirutis gambol. The car may or may not meander and idle in the sun for twenty minutes; traffic here is possessed of neither rhyme nor reason. Either way, the driver will always manage and he’ll always make a left onto the autostrade heading south. This is when my scenery begins to evoke life at the fringes.

Stately apartment blocks and gleaming condominiums give way to pockmarked dust-ridden tenements. It’s an abrupt change in Beirut – the city is too small for a gradual deaestheticization. The very poor and the very rich are separated only by a thin black film pasted on the windows of a Mercedes Benz here. But I think that’s the case in New York, too.

It’s not long before I’m stepping out of the cab into the heart of the Shatila market – a condensed open-air bazaar. I dodge two-way traffic on the narrow one-lane street and push my way through and around the shopping mass. To my right is a dusty, vacant lot encumbered by a lonely tree – maybe lemon. Other vegetation grows wildly in the lot’s far reaches. The wasted and decomposed bodies of Sabra and Shatila massacre victims lie beneath the red earth. This is a mass grave, adorned at the peripheries by pictures of the dead. The tree was planted in their honor near a sorry, faded plaque commemorating their deaths.

But you can’t see the grave from the market. Its entrance is obscured by the men pushing vegetables, fans, cassette players, batteries, sunglasses and all the other necessities and frivolities of China-manufactured daily life. I walk by and know it’s there and sometimes manage to not notice.

The market gets narrower, and the ground gets muddier and wetter the deeper I push. Eventually I tire of the bustle and veer into one of the narrow alleys that suffuse the camp and feed the market.

Shatila is an organism, and the alleys are its guts. Many are no more than a meter wide and are paved with concrete. Sixty-two years of growth have pushed the compacted refugee tenements up and together. The sun is blocked and cannot penetrate the camp’s depths; this is the bottom of the ocean. There is always water in the alleys, sometimes flowing and sometimes stagnating. The air is pregnant with human smells and teeming with living sounds. Small children yell, scream, laugh, run and fight in these alleys. Young men smoke cigarettes and do nothing. In other places, groups of women gather and chat. Inertia rests heavily on the faces of anyone old enough to understand.

Palestinians in the camps always ask me where I’m from. I tell them that I’m from Be’er Al Saba’a, but I was born in the Rafah camp; no one calls the camps home. Invariably they say, “May God strengthen the resistance and the men of Gaza,” or something like it. Usually we’ll talk, and as we’re parting ways some will ask for a favor: “Whenever you go back, bring me back a handful of dirt.” I’m always a little embarrassed when they ask.


The Palestinian right of return is enshrined not only in international law, but in the hearts and minds of all refugees. The fact that our forebears have mostly succumbed to time and heartbreak has not diminished our resolute demand to see that right fulfilled. In 1950, the right of return meant the expulsion of Zionists from our still warm hearths and the restoration of lands and property to their rightful owners. But, what does it mean in 2010?

My sense is that the right of return is a mythologized ideal that exists in a hallowed family space for most refugees. In other words, the prospect of actually returning to a house or an untilled field to lead a fellah lifestyle holds little appeal for many contemporary Palestinians. Thankfully, many refugees in the West and Jordan have done quite well (Lebanon is a very important exception). We can’t know until we ask them, but I think many Palestinians in America and other places like it wouldn’t resettle. Many were born abroad and enjoy high standards of living in the countries where they are citizens. Intermarriage and acculturation have permitted them to move on in a material sense.

I’m thinking of my American-born infant niece now. She will likely come of age in a world that sees the fulfillment of the Palestinian right of return and the emergence of a unified Palestine/Israel. But why would she leave her friends, family and native culture for her father’s homeland? More likely, she’ll visit every few years. She’ll speak broken Arabic to get around and take pictures at the major tourist sites. She may visit her great-grandfather’s village.

To be sure, there will be second and third generation Palestinian-Americans who do opt to go back. They will be motivated by a nationalistic zeal and a desire to develop their ancestral homeland. But even they may not choose to spend their entire lives there.

Some Palestinians will read this and have a negative visceral reaction to what I’ve written. They may regard my words as an implicit concession to the Zionist ethnic purge machinery. To them I respond that we ought to avoid politically fetishizing – Peter Beinartizing – our offspring. Lamenting the “lost” Palestinians is regressive. It’s an attempt to rob humans of their individual prerogatives for the sake of our political agendas.

There is an obvious corollary here. I’m talking about the Jewish experience in the Diaspora and the way Zionists employ emotional blackmail to promote aliya. In my view, if a Palestinian-American wants to become a plastic surgeon and live in Beverly Hills, well, who cares?

Yet, my niece may decide to go back; I certainly will. What does that mean? Do we painstakingly find my grandfather’s house in Be’er Al Saba’a and evict the current inhabitants? And if forty of us – all progeny – decide to go back, how do we divide his house forty ways? What about Khaled Adwan’s house in Barbara? It was razed along with the entire village. Do I claim the trees that Zionists planted in its place?

One begins to see how impossible it is to implement the 1950 version of the right of return.

But just so I don’t alienate more people than is necessary, I want to emphasize that if I could resurrect Musa Abu Moor and turn the clock back sixty years, I would. But I can’t. He’s dead now and his long suffering is buried with him. My priority is to think about ways to enable my niece and the luckless infants in Palestine and Lebanon to lead complete, fulfilling lives. That’s the idea here.

So what does the right of return mean in 2010?

I want to state outright that I am strongly opposed to forcing anyone out of a 1948 Nakba-era home (1967 is a little different and I’ll get to it below). Apart from the moral problems associated with evicting people, it’s a sure recipe for more violence. The idea may have an emotional appeal for many Palestinians – me included – but that appeal is borne of vengeance not justice. There is no justice in punishing people for crimes they didn’t commit (sadly, contemporary Israelis have no shortage of crimes to answer for).

If the right of return doesn’t mean property reclamation, what can it mean? As I see it, my right will have been fulfilled once I have the opportunity to purchase or rent property anywhere in Palestine/Israel. Any Palestinian in the Diaspora must have the right to move and settle there if that’s their choice. For very destitute refugees like those here in Lebanon, it means resettlement and integration programs, if they choose to go back. Lebanon is a complicated case, however, and I’ll address it at length below. As for monetary compensation, it’s a part of the formula, but not for individuals. I’ll explain more below.

The question of injustice remains, and refugees in Palestine and Lebanon continue to suffer the consequences of Zionism’s original sin. So what do we do?

Development monies will have to be dedicated to the Gaza Strip, West Bank and other underdeveloped areas in any unified state. All of society will pick up the tab through federal and state taxes (if a federal model is employed).

Refugee properties from 1948 can also be used to extract rehabilitation revenue. An additional 2 to 3 percent annual property tax levied against 1948 properties for a period of 100 years will yield substantial revenue. The money will be directly invested in developing poor communities and will be extracted from those who have benefited directly from the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. The key here is that the funds are being extracted on a non-racial basis. If a wealthy Palestinian decides to buy a house in West Jerusalem from a Jewish person, he too will have to pay the rehabilitation tax. Corporate and municipal developments can be treated similarly.

An additional tax assessment will likely drive the market value of 1948 properties down slightly, while simultaneously increasing the long-term cost of ownership. That may encourage an initial pop in the number of 1948 properties that change hands after the implementation of the rehabilitation tax. A corresponding sales tax can be levied on sales in the first twenty years after implementation. That’s to ensure that refugees capture the otherwise lost revenue that will correspond to a smaller assessment base.

This approach also has the added benefit of correcting some of the damage done by the 1858 Ottoman Land Law since ‘purchased’ properties will undergo the same assessments. The Levantine aristocracy employed the law to steal property from fellahin. Some of that property was later sold to the Jewish National Fund, which then ‘evicted’ the rightful landowners. The logic is the same; the thieving party is different.

The ethnic cleansing program that began in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967 deserves a different treatment. Because the process has been gradual and ongoing, we have itemized lists of what was taken by whom and when. In the West Bank, full compensation must be offered to the afflicted parties. A material distinction must be drawn between settlement communities like Ariel in the West Bank, where land was seized, and settlement communities where houses were seized and Palestinians expelled. In the Ariel case, I’m opposed to trying to remove an entire community built on occupied land. To the extent that it’s private land, the owners must be fully compensated with either similar plots of land or financially.

In cases like Hebron and East Jerusalem, where Palestinians have been expelled from their houses, forcibly evacuating settlers is a morally tenable option, in my view. The relatively small number of settlers and their outsized impact requires their removal. If eviction appears impractical or impossible then in kind compensation (other houses) must be offered. Jerusalem is too sensitive to allow one party to monopolize its holy places. Furthermore, by insisting on evacuation now, we avoid rewarding the criminals who are currently ethnically cleansing Jerusalem.

I mentioned above that I believe many Palestinians in the Diaspora will not resettle in Palestine/Israel. But I also believe that the Palestinians in Lebanon are an exception. Of course, the right of return is theirs, too. They should exercise it as they see fit when the political reality allows them to do so. But their situation is more complicated than just that.

There are about 400,000 Palestinian refugees here who are deprived of their basic human rights. It’s no secret that Lebanon is second only to Israel in its mistreatment of Palestinian refugees. There are outspoken elements of the Lebanese political spectrum who make it clear that the Palestinians are unwelcome here, and that they will be expelled at the first obvious opportunity. My concern is that enacting the right of return will enable those forces to do just that. It would be a heartbreaking irony if anti-Palestinian factions in Lebanon used the implementation of the right of return to ethnically cleanse Lebanon of its Palestinians.

Again, many Palestinians in Lebanon will likely want to be resettled in Palestine/Israel. Their resettlement isn’t a huge logistical problem; Israel absorbed a million Russians in the early nineties. The real issue is that some of them may not want to leave Lebanon, the only home they have ever known. How do we keep these people from being expelled against their will?

The international community will have to lean on the Lebanese government to protect the human rights of the refugees who opt to remain where they are. There are too many variables for us to come up with a clear solution for Lebanon’s refugees, but some of the development revenue I spoke about earlier ought to be earmarked for Palestinians here. Again, it may be the case that all the refugees decide to return to Palestine (in which case this is a moot point), but we should have protections in place for those that don’t. The right of return can’t be used to expel Palestinians from Lebanon.

The transition from apartheid to equality will not be easy. But there are several things that can be done to alleviate some of the pain. Jewish-Israelis must come to terms with the Nakba. After that, an apology for the crimes of the past must be forthcoming. I think we will all be surprised by the amount of goodwill generated by widespread recognition and an official apology. Palestinian leaders – if they’re wise – will take the opportunity to acknowledge the evil of the Nazi genocide. They will thereby demonstrate to everyone that there is nothing to be lost by recognizing the roots of the other’s insecurity and anger. That recognition in no way dilutes the moral or legal basis for our grievances.

Up until recently, we Palestinians have gotten away with forceful statements affirming our inalienable rights without having to explicitly state what those rights entail. But that’s not the case anymore. BDS and the one-state solution present us with the first real opportunity to implement the right of return. That means that it’s time for us to demythologize that right and to being speaking of it in practical terms. That’s what I’ve tried to do here.

My thinking on this issue was directed by two equally weighted principles: 1) Justice, without creating greater injustice; and, 2) Responsibility to future generations on both sides. Nothing I suggested here is perfect, and I found myself repeatedly frustrated by the irreversible injustices wrought by time and death. When that happened, I reminded myself that our responsibility is to the living and the unborn.  Yet, I should underline the fact that no solution is credible or workable without the consent of the refugees themselves. 

Finally, I may have alienated some Palestinians with what I’ve written here. But the time for maximalist dogma has passed. I challenge every one of you to begin thinking about the right of return in concrete ways. The day will soon arrive when we have the opportunity to implement that right in a unified Palestine/Israel. It’s crucial that we’re ready for it.

About Ahmed Moor

Ahmed Moor is a Palestinian-American who was born in the Gaza Strip. He is a PD Soros Fellow, co-editor of After Zionism and co-founder and CEO of Twitter: @ahmedmoor

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71 Responses

  1. Shmuel
    July 30, 2010, 11:51 am

    Thanks, Ahmed, for another great piece.

    • Citizen
      July 30, 2010, 2:05 pm

      Yes, Ahmed, I agree with Shmuel. I wish the American government involved in the “peace process” would listen to you–the Americans have the power to make both the Israelis and Palestinians listen. They just don’t have the will or common sense.

      • Shmuel
        July 30, 2010, 2:16 pm

        The thing that the vast majority of Israelis (and their US backers) don’t get is that people like Ahmed Moor (not Abbas or Fayyad – please forgive the comparison, Ahmed) are the true Palestinian moderates.

      • Citizen
        July 30, 2010, 4:07 pm

        Yes, I see this; again, I just wish my government would–it’s very distressing to watch what has been happening for so long, and to know we average Americans pay for it literally and in many ways otherwise.
        It’s like being forced to pay for one’s own humiliation, and for what you despise.

  2. Richard Witty
    July 30, 2010, 11:56 am

    “My thinking on this issue was directed by two equally weighted principles: 1) Justice, without creating greater injustice; and, 2) Responsibility to future generations on both sides. Nothing I suggested here is perfect, and I found myself repeatedly frustrated by the irreversible injustices wrought by time and death. When that happened, I reminded myself that our responsibility is to the living and the unborn. Yet, I should underline the fact that no solution is credible or workable without the consent of the refugees themselves. ”

    Thank you for adopting attitudes that potentially can result in mutual kindness.

    I hope your charity can result in collective attitudes. When that charity is seen, it is contagious and not limited to single communities.

    I think it is equally unlikely that Zionists will adopt the language that you use to describe even the theoretical or legal right of return, as you employ. I hope that each community, each person, can instead shift to what is important for their health, rather than correcting past wrongs. (One inherent problem with an orientation of past wrongs, is that people tend to think of how they were wronged, and not how they wronged, and also not how unintended harms created tragedies.)

    • Chaos4700
      July 30, 2010, 8:03 pm

      I hope that each community, each person, can instead shift to what is important for their health, rather than correcting past wrongs.

      If you really believed that, Witty, than you wouldn’t believe that Israel should exist.

    • pjdude
      July 30, 2010, 8:15 pm

      Justice without greater greater injustice in other words no justice as jewish would get of scot free for decades of crime

    • Donald
      July 31, 2010, 1:04 pm

      Ahmed’s piece was superb. Evidently, though Witty represents those who would not be willing to see Israel apologize for past crimes even if that would generate goodwill. Maintaining the illusion of tragic innocence on the Zionist side is more important to him than reconciliation with people that have been wronged.

      To the extent that RW represents Israeli thinking, the road to reconciliation is going to be a rocky one.

    • rmokhtar
      July 31, 2010, 1:20 pm

      Witty represents those who would not be willing to see Israel apologize for past crimes even if that would generate goodwill.

      I don’t think he even sees it as a crime, Donald.

    • RoHa
      July 31, 2010, 9:28 pm

      Community health depends on a committment to justice. If there is a continuous sense that injustice has not been recognised and addressed, there will be no reconciliation between the communities. The Jews will go on feeling that they are superior people with the real rights, and arouse the natural resentment from the Arabs.

      (And drop the two-wrongs-make-a-right stuff. I know you think that Arabs have wronged Jews, but you must accept first that the source of the wrong is the evil ideas of the Zionists. The Arabs did not go to Poland or Brooklyn or Golders Green. It was Western Jews who pushed into Palestine. )

      • Richard Witty
        August 1, 2010, 5:14 am

        The demand for language rather than change in actual relations is parallel on both sides.

        Both sides demand that the other adopt their language of apology. Both have valid, continually valid points.

        And, at the same time, demanding that the other adopt their language (say like the term “crime”) is a stopper.

        It itself is the renunciation of addressing need.

      • RoHa
        August 1, 2010, 8:28 pm

        “Both sides demand that the other adopt their language of apology. Both have valid, continually valid points.”

        No, they don’t.

        “And, at the same time, demanding that the other adopt their language (say like the term “crime”) is a stopper.”

        Because the guilty party refuses to admit it.

  3. lohdennis
    July 30, 2010, 12:12 pm

    Right of Return belongs to the individual and not to the State. In other words, Abbas can’t simply declare how each refugee or his/her descendants be compensated. One has to start with the premise that real estate, personal property, etc. have to be returned in their entirety to the Arab owners. In the case of irreversible destruction, ie, land bacame part of a major highway, compensation in monetary terms adjusted for inflation and another land equivalent in Israel should be provided. Full reclamation is absolutely essential as a fundamental principle because that is what they deserve. If specific individuals wants to make a “deal”, that is an individual matter. This would have to be administered by an agency that is not Jewish/Zionists.
    Can it be done? Of course, it can be done. Even Communist China is currently in the process of returning titles to illegally confiscated property rights when it ousted millions of Nationalist Chinese in 1949. In some cases, a plot of farmland in Shanghai is fetching couple hundred thousand times more in nominal value and this is what is being returned to the rightful owners.
    Putting into practice the Right of Return is an essential requirement to the future of Palestine that is Just and Peaceful.
    Of course, there is the issue of “royalty/rent” compensation while the refugees were out in addition to the “emotional/traumatic” damage. I’m sure the legal profession will come up with some scheme but I don’t think that is guaranteed by the UN Right of Return resolutions.

  4. Jim Haygood
    July 30, 2010, 12:19 pm

    ‘ Jewish-Israelis must come to terms with the Nakba. After that, an apology for the crimes of the past must be forthcoming.’

    What we in America constantly hear from Israel and its US Congressional mouthpieces is, ‘The Palestinians must recognize Israel’s right to exist [as a Jewish state] as a prerequisite for negotiations.’

    It’s about time that Palestinians got round to asserting, as Ahmed Moor does, that Jewish Israelis must confess that the Nakba was a crime and a theft, entailing suitable reparations which may include a Palestinian right of return.

    Obviously, neither side is likely to enter negotiations if major concessions in advance are posed as a prerequisite. The ‘Israel’s right to exist’ mantra is a long-running, tendentious stalling tactic.

    And so is the ‘two-state solution’ — Israel’s analogue to the South African bantustans. The two-state solution is a forlorn attempt to institutionalize Israeli apartheid. Its South African analogue was the brief period in the early 1990s when the white government created Coloured and Asian ‘junior parliaments’ to help hold the political line against black enfranchisement. This half-baked stalling action collapsed within a few years, to be succeeded by Nelson Mandela’s presidency over a unified nation.

    Ahmed Moor deserves credit for starting to design the future New Palestine. Put the vexillographers to work on a flag (South Africa had to replace its apartheid-era flag). Maybe Gilad Atzmon can team up with a Palestinian composer to create the new national anthem. And so forth.

    Goodbye, two-state twaddle. No one is fooled by this mindless Quartet diversion anymore.

    • Citizen
      July 30, 2010, 2:11 pm

      An honest broker would demand Israel recognize the right of the Palestinians to exist in their historical land as Palestinians with full civil rights. Quid Pro Quo precondition for negotiations.

  5. annie
    July 30, 2010, 12:45 pm

    ahmed, your writing is beautiful, it just blows me away line by line. the alleys are guts and air pregnant w/human smells. so rich i’m right there.

    just had to get that out of the way. oh, scooped up a little of gaza put it in my pocket i brought back home with me. those little shells w/the purple inside, there right here next to me.

    your ideas are so fine with me, all of them. thank you.

    • Taxi
      July 30, 2010, 1:07 pm

      Oh god annie I love those little shells with the purple patch!

      I hear today in Lebanon all cellphone lines were down for a couple of hours because of a ‘meeting’ Lebanese ‘war officials’ were holding.

      Rumors in Beirut today are rife with talk about an imminent and final confrontation with the bastard zionists.

      Know anything about this by any chance?

      • annie
        July 30, 2010, 4:59 pm

        yeah, i love my shells taxi

    • Taxi
      July 30, 2010, 1:11 pm

      Oh god annie I love those little shells with the purple teardrop!

      I hear today in Lebanon all cellphone lines were down for a couple of hours because of a ‘meeting’ Lebanese ‘war officials’ were holding.

      Rumors in Beirut today are rife with talk about an imminent and final confrontation with the bastard zionists.

      They reckon it’s gonna big, bad and very very ugly.

      Know anything about this by any chance?

      • annie
        July 30, 2010, 4:58 pm

        taxi, what news do you have of the beruit hariri telecom zionist spy scandal? anything?

      • Taxi
        July 30, 2010, 10:15 pm


        The hizb is acutely disturbed by the telecom spy – because lebanese telecom is controlled by the hizb, run and monitored by them – considered by them to be a major ‘intelligence defensive weapon’ against Israel.

        Actually, ‘experts’ on both sides of the conflict agree that israel lost the 2006 summer war because they could not break the hizb’s ‘communication’ system.

        The spy was actually discovered but not caught – he fled to israel and apparently now his family are trying to get him back home through some kinda deal with the hizb: they’re trying to talk their son to return home, go to trial and get a lenient sentence for his surrender and ‘co-operation’.

        Annie, you can’t underestimate the value of the lebanese intecom to the resistance – without it being hermetically sealed and controlled by the hizb, the resistance would become extremely vulnerable to israel attacks. It is so important to them that some 18 months ago, a mini civil war almost erupted overnight when young Hariri was considering assigning the ‘telecomunications’ office to a non-hizb member of parliament.

        I will keep you posted with more as i learn it.

        p.s. i’m jelous you got those shells!

      • Walid
        July 31, 2010, 3:01 am

        If Hizbullah controlled the telecommunications, It would not have been infested by any Israeli spies, some of which have been recently arrested and if convicted, will be condemned to be hanged. Israel, due to its Lebanese spies, now has access to all communications in Lebanon with exception to Hizbullah’s inpenetrable 200-mile private land line that criss-crosses Lebanon that was instrumental in Israeli’s failures in the 2006 war and what was behind the attempt to dismantle it. In May 2008, the government was under pressure to do it from Bush came close to starting a civil war, as you said, on the US promise that it would send in the marines once fighting started. The telecom minister pushing hard for the dismantling was pro-US but when the fighting started, the US marines never showed up and within 36 hours, Hizbullah had routed the pro-US militias and handed over the captured strategic locations to the army and slipped back into the night. A summary on what happened from the WSJ:
        link to

      • Miss Dee Mena
        July 31, 2010, 3:05 am

        Hezbollah has already been infiltrated by the Mossad with reports of agents within the group.

      • Taxi
        July 31, 2010, 7:45 am

        This is what Robert Fisk has to say about the Lebanese political ‘bowl of spaghetti’:
        link to

      • Walid
        July 31, 2010, 9:27 am

        Miss Dee Mena, had Hizbullah been infiltrated by Mossad, the 2006 war would have ended differently. What you are probably thinking about are the Lebanese rats, political and otherwise that were spying for Israel during the war and providing it with targetting information. A little known fact is that practically every one of its fighters is fluent in Hebrew and this along with their private phone network is what stopped the Israelis in their tracks in 2006. Bombing cities from an F16 flying at 50,000 feet high was a piece of cake for the weak-at-heart Israeli forces but meeting Hizbullah fighters face to face on the ground was a completely different story. The not so valiant IDF found it tougher than the Palestinian women and stone-throwing children they had gotten accustomed to fighting.

      • Miss Dee Mena
        July 31, 2010, 9:59 am

        Four years have passed since the last Hezbollah-Israeli war and things have happened since then. I wasn’t referring to the other Lebanese who have spied for Israel but actual Hezbollah members who may have cooperated with the Israelis. The alleged penetration is not significant but according to my sources it is relevant. However, at this stage there is no absolute proof so I will hold my judgement.

  6. Oren
    July 30, 2010, 1:46 pm

    great article… thank you.

    i wish mutual atonement and repentance on both sides.

  7. David Samel
    July 30, 2010, 2:13 pm

    Ahmed Moor tackles another difficult subject with sober analysis. For years, we have been hearing about Palestinians’ right of return, it basis in international law and UNGA Resolution 194, and the “demographic threat” it poses to Israel, and how the issue supposedly torpedoed negotiations in 2000 or some other time, etc. On the other hand, it is well known that hundreds of Palestinian villages were destroyed by the Israelis in the early years of the country. One Israeli cousin recently told me that the rubble of these villages are still visible if you know what to look for, but the casual observer probably would not even notice any signs of human habitation. Many villages have been built over by newer Israeli municipalities. So the obvious question is where would most of the Palestinians, whose homes and villages no longer exist, return to? Still, I never asked myself this thorny question. Ahmed has done the heavy lifting here.

    Several times, he acknowledges that some Palestinians may be irritated or even angered at Ahmed’s concessions to the last 60 years of history. But Ahmed’s reasonableness in thinking about the problem of millions of Israeli Jews, and carefully differentiating between Jews and Palestinians with different histories, sets a great example for others to follow. He apparently believes that transition to one state of equal citizens is inevitable, and I fully agree (and hope!! we’re right). If so, people like Ahmed Moor are doing a great service by paving the way for this transition by sensitively balancing competing concerns with an aim for providing all citizens the security and freedom needed for a long-lasting solution based on equality.

    • Bumblebye
      July 30, 2010, 2:31 pm

      It can’t begin until the US government isn’t also “occupied” territory though.

      • potsherd
        July 30, 2010, 8:46 pm

        What depresses me is that even if Palestine is liberated, the US government will still remain occupied.

    • pjdude
      July 30, 2010, 8:25 pm

      its all well and good to be practical but I can’t see how basically rewarding people for crimes is the way to go. Every single jewish household that is living on stolen land needs to pay some sort of cost for their crimes. and the crimes they benefited from. I have been called an anti semite before(I’m not I like jewish people and think they have every right to be in palestine. if they would have used legal and moral means to gain the land I would have had no problem with it) but I think that if a palestinian want to return to his/her lands he should be allowed to and the deed for all devolpment be given to him. those living their that aren’t moved so he can live on his land can just pay them rent. anything that rewards the jewish people for taking away other people’s rights should be considered. It seems to me that the people deemed “reasonable” are those who advocate stripping away right from those that have them whiling giving things to people who have no right to them.

    • Psychopathic god
      July 30, 2010, 9:34 pm

      Where is the Jewish Ahmed Moor?

      • Shmuel
        July 31, 2010, 3:12 am

        Phil Weiss, Adam Horowitz, Joseph Dana, Jerry Haber, etc.

  8. pineywoodslim
    July 30, 2010, 2:29 pm

    Thanks for your great eloquence in detailing a solution. Yet, I think the very moral forcefulness behind your thoughts is unfortunately enough to preclude any Israeli acceptance.

    Perhaps in a few years things will change.

  9. sensa
    July 30, 2010, 3:30 pm

    Thank you for your very well reasoned and compassionate article. The Lebanese Government is currently considering the expansion of Palestinian refugees’ “rights” in Lebanon: Right of ownership, expanded list of permitted “jobs”, resident permits, etc. As would be expected, many in the Christian camp are totally opposed, for fear that this would signal the end of the right of return, and the integration of the refugees, a majority of whom are Sunni Muslims, into the Lebanese demographics, thereby wreaking havoc in an already fragile sectarian “balance.” More grist for the mill…

    My sister visited the Burj Brajneh camp yesterday. She was accompanying a friend who teaches English to children of varying ages. She sent me some harrowing pictures of very narrow and dark alleys with an incomprehensible number of electric and presumably phone lines dangling everywhere like spaghetti, and inviting electrocution and fire hazards any minute of the day or night. Graffiti and torn posters are everywhere. But you look at the eyes of these children and all you can do from a distance is weep.

    • annie
      July 30, 2010, 5:02 pm

      very narrow and dark alleys with an incomprehensible number of electric and presumably phone lines dangling everywhere like spaghetti, and inviting electrocution and fire hazards

      jeez. how can humans be so cruel.

  10. Walid
    July 30, 2010, 4:00 pm

    The mass of Palestinians will not be going back; it’s a sad but a true fact as Ahmed is pointing out. Of course, we all wish that All Palestinians would be able to go back to go back but sadly this option will never be offered to most of them. The charade by Arab states about their going back has been going on for over 62 years and will probably go on for another 62 if the problem is not addressed with some realism. The hocus-pocus alibi of demographic balance and probable imbalance in Lebanon should be retired and Palestinians wishing to be naturalized in Lebanon should be accepted with open arms. From where I’m standing, Lebanon at this point needs the Palestinians a bit more than the Palestinians need Lebanon. Israel has played an astute game of stalling while the original refugees have been dying off. Today, the youngest refugee born in pre-48 Palestine would be 62 years old and Israel’s offer of a few years about taking back only those born in pre-48 Palestine and without any of their children born outside Palestine was bogus and unacceptable from the start. It’s time the Arab states, especially Lebanon have stopped playing games with the lives of the Palestinians. It has already been 62 years. It’s futile to pin any hopes on the ruthless Israel for a solution to this problem.

    • pjdude
      July 30, 2010, 8:27 pm

      that’s a great point but that is also exactly the reason why people need to push for palestinian to be able to go back. to reward Israel crimes is to encourage every despot to hold on to his war gains so they can keep them.

    • Taxi
      July 30, 2010, 10:36 pm


      Palestinians WILL HAVE their Palestine back – by hook, by crook or by ‘Gandhism, eventually they will.

      You really think israel can survive a ‘permenant’ war? You think Palestinians are gonna give up their rights just because 62 years have passed without a homeland? Sixty two years my friend is a drop in the ocean. Many invaders have come and GONE. It was always forever thus.

      • Walid
        July 31, 2010, 12:05 am

        Taxi, the Palestinians can’t do it alone. If you consider the 22 member states of the Arab League that has been misguiding them from the very start and up to a couple of days ago with what Abbas should do or not do in dealing with Netanyahu, 90% of them have either already signed a formal peace treaty with Israel or are currently engaged in some under-the-table commercial dealings with it. The last meaningful holdouts are Lebanon, Syria and half of the Palestinians with Syria practically begging to make a deal. Livni, one of the architects of the holocaust promised to the Gazans had been invited to Qatar to meet with the Arab Foreign Ministers 8 months before Israel made good on its promise so what can the Palestinians realistically do on their own? When you start facing the music as Ahmed is doing here, possible solutions start coming to mind; anything else would only result in more of the same misery for the Palestinians.

      • Taxi
        July 31, 2010, 7:08 am


        There will never be a ‘negotiated peace’. It’s like waiting for Godot.

        Only a war that will crush Israel will bring about peace in the middle east.

        Not because I say so or want it so, but because the israeli pattern of behavior is clear: occupy, occupy and well murder thousands upon thousands of civilians.

        Sometimes, in extreme cases like the I/P conflict, war is the only answer.

        And by the way, doesn’t matter that israel is armed to the teeth with bigger guns – the other side has now acquired enough sophisticated weaponry to reach the limbs and heart of israel.

        Remember David and Golliath?

        People like ahmed’s sophisticated reasoning will be useful AFTER the war, not before it, I’m afraid.

        I’ve been searching high and low for some thirty-five years for a ‘practicable’ peace, but alas war is the only answer. Regrettably.

      • maximalistNarrative
        July 31, 2010, 11:14 am

        Extreme warmongering such as this will lead to a disaster.

        I scratch my head why calls for violence against the Jewish state are not moderated by I am. It will be many hours before this comment is censored or not and by that time many for comments advocating genocide against Jews will be made.

      • Taxi
        July 31, 2010, 2:54 pm


        Take your fucking time-machine and go back live in your permanent 1940’s!

      • Bumblebye
        July 31, 2010, 3:24 pm

        What bloody warmongering, you dim bulb???
        Is Taxi saying to people that they should pick up their weapons and go on a killing spree? Or that the situation is so grim with regard to the lack of a genuine Israeli “partner for peace” (prevaricate, procrastinate, etfc,etfc) that no other solution can be envisioned?

      • Taxi
        July 31, 2010, 6:15 pm


        To mN ANYONE not sucking israel’s cock is hitler.

      • eljay
        July 31, 2010, 6:24 pm

        >> To mN ANYONE not sucking israel’s cock is hitler.

        If an Arab wishes to suck Israel’s cock, does he have to declare his Arab-ness beforehand? Or is “fellatio by deception” a crime over there?

      • Taxi
        July 31, 2010, 11:22 pm

        “Fellatio by deception”?

        Now THAT’s what Clinton’s defence team should have really ‘claimed’ during Monica’s blah blah.

        Yes he would have been laughed at here in America, but in Israel?

        They would have said: if her name is Monica Hussein then no doubt she’s guilty as fuck!

      • Schwartzman
        August 1, 2010, 12:32 am

        I can feel a Palestinian state becoming a reality. I pray to God that this will be the deal we’ve all been waiting for.

        Erekat to Haaretz: New proposal more generous than deal we offered Olmert

        link to

      • Taxi
        August 1, 2010, 8:21 am

        Dream on Shwartzi,

        There will never be a two state solution.

        There won’t even be a one bi-national state.

        After all that’s said and done, there will ONLY be Palestine.

        So pack your fucking bags and head back to shwartziland – your real ancestral homeland.

        Obvious from your name that you most certainly are NOT from the mideast.

      • potsherd
        August 1, 2010, 9:08 am

        Netanyahu will not accept any deal short of unconditional Palestinian surrender, and even if he did, Israel would never honor it. The history of broken deals between Israel and Palestine follows the same path of betrayal as the history of treaties between the US and the Indian tribes in the 19th century.

      • pjdude
        August 4, 2010, 2:56 am

        well I for one don’t see how how anything short of a UN or NATO invasion on behalf of the palestinians will net a peace that will have anything resembling real justice.

  11. JBL
    July 30, 2010, 4:35 pm

    Wow, thanks Walid. Truly awesome.
    Yes, we all wish… truth, justice, that whole 50s thing, but the reality is those Palestinians – and we love them, we really do – should get used to, well, the sad truth, that they really have no rights and Israel is – and let’s be brutally frank – ruthless, so it’s useless bothering them with this right of return stuff. In the end, it is all the Arabs’ fault.

    • Taxi
      July 30, 2010, 10:41 pm



      What exactly do you mean: “In the end, it is all the Arab’s fault.” And ‘… we love them, we really do….”


  12. Danaa
    July 30, 2010, 6:16 pm

    Ahmed, I agree with others here – very thoughtful and measured set of suggestions, ones long overdue. I especially agree with Shmuel that it is people who think like you that are the true moderates, and the sooner everyone realize that, the better. I’ll note in particular, Ahmed’s willingness to effectively forgo compensation for punitive damages. In that he is probably more charitable than many other Palestinians, who suffered – and are suffering immeasurable harm. but generosity of spirit is often a necessary prelude and epilog to settling difficult conflicts, so reconciliation and forgiveness will have to be part and parcel of any lasting solution that will not breed still more hatred and injustice.

    Two additional comments for your proposal:

    1. I believe the monetary aspect of settling the refugee problem is a significant one. Ahmed addressed one aspect of it – the rent/royalties payments, which would seem to be born primarily by Israelis, would go some way to raising the funds over time. But the true overall cost of a just – and practical – settlement will, according to my own back-of-the envelope calculations, come to over $500B, which neither Israel alone nor the Israel with surrounding Arab countries can afford to shoulder. Therefore, it’ll have to be a nearly global undertaking. I take comfort from the over $50 B promised for Afganistan by donor nations, and reckon that such an undertaking will be needed for the palestinian refugees as well. I was criticized before for bringing up specific amounts – as if it was mean as “blood money”, but that is not the intent. Rather, I am counting some of the very real and actual costs of either returning to Israel or settling elsewhere – as a matter of choice. One should not underestimate the cost of either course of action, whether such costs are due to “resettlement”, in-kind compensation, lump sums for”pain and suffering”, or new education/training/absorption efforts.

    2. As part and/or in lieu of monetary compensation, I think certain western countries should be REQUIRED to open their own doors to refugees who may wish to settle there. After all, some of these countries – such a the US and UK – were almost as big a part in creating the problem as Israelis were, and all the western countries bear responsibility for deliberately perpetuating it. It’ not an mpractical suggestion, IMO – a suitable quota system can be devised just as it was for Vietnamese refugees, as long as it is the palestinians themselves who make the choice.

  13. Charltonr
    July 30, 2010, 6:39 pm

    Fresh creative thinking like this, so equably expressed, is like manna in the desert. Toward a light at the end of the tunnel of the present and of the century just past, the only way out of what in Pilgrim’s Progress is called The Slough of Despond.

  14. lohdennis
    July 30, 2010, 10:20 pm

    Personally, as long as Jewish/Zionist Israel exists in Palestine, there will be no peace. I simply do not see the Jewish Israelis giving up much until they are forced to or taken away. Resettling of refugees somewhere else is not the issue. If that were the case, it could have been done decades ago.
    I, for one, would not want, a penny of my US tax dollars to foot the bill for settling Jewish Israeli debts due to its atrocities. The people who should foot that bill is Israel and its Zionist supporters worldwide. I have not doubt that even 500 billion is not enough to cover the cost of damage Israel has done to US alone. Just think of war against terror, all the security measures we do because of US support of Israel, etc. etc. Sorry, Israel and its supporters will be expected to pay the price–otherwise, it will come back with vengeance.

    • Schwartzman
      July 31, 2010, 8:20 am

      Israel and its supporters will be expected to pay the price–otherwise, it will come back with vengeance

      Love the tough guy rhetoric. Vengeance has been a failure so far, but why stop trying huh tough guy?

      I guess anyone can sound like a badass from the comforts of suburbia huh?

      • maximalistNarrative
        July 31, 2010, 11:16 am

        I agree with Schwartzman, there is too much violence advocated against the Jewish state on this forum. Is this the “war of ideas?” or the “war of rockets and terrorist attacks?” make up your mind

      • Chaos4700
        July 31, 2010, 3:41 pm

        Show of hands. How many of you Zionists have had your eyes gouged out by us?

        I rest my case regarding where the violence is really coming from.

      • VR
        July 31, 2010, 2:20 pm

        “I guess anyone can sound like a badass from the comforts of suburbia huh?”

        I guess Zionists of the diaspora ilk consider themselves badasses by the constant threats to opposition to the Zionist debacle in Israel. I do not need to go overseas to affect anything, I just show up with opposition to the monetary engine in the USA. Soon there will be opposition in the local shuls, in the quarterly meeting of Zionist supportive organizations in the community. We will split the community wide eventually, with no violence necessary – just an appeal to common moral conscience after we strip away the religious facade. You’re days are numbered.

  15. eljay
    July 30, 2010, 10:36 pm

    >> I hope that each community, each person, can instead shift to what is important for their health, rather than correcting past wrongs.

    Someone had better telegraph this information to the Holocaust Industry A.S.A.P.! The future of hundreds of millions (billions?) of dollars are at stake!

    “Yer ‘onner, the defendant has stolen my land, destroyed my home, slaughtered my livestock, burned my crops and murdered half my family. All I’m asking for is a little justice.”
    “Justice? That would involve correcting past wrongs and, well, we don’t do that here. It solves noth…excuse me a moment. What’s that? They found another alleged concentration camp guard? OFF WITH HIS HEAD! Remember the Holocaust!”

  16. Schwartzman
    July 31, 2010, 8:18 am

    Palestinians in the camps always ask me where I’m from. I tell them that I’m from Be’er Al Saba’a, but I was born in the Rafah camp; no one calls the camps home.

    That made me chuckle, you are an American Ahmed.

    • Chaos4700
      July 31, 2010, 3:39 pm

      “Schwartzman,” what part of the Middle East is that name from?

      • Schwartzman
        August 1, 2010, 12:13 am


        I am an American citizen. I don’t claim to be an Israeli, a German, a Russian, or a Pole. .

      • Chaos4700
        August 1, 2010, 12:25 am

        Really? So there is no “Jewish nation?”

        Better confront Witty about that. He considers his nationality to be Jewish first, and American second.

  17. MHughes976
    July 31, 2010, 8:33 am

    One State, if ever created by the agreement of previously warring groups of people, would be a new thing. England is perhaps considered to have become a new thing by a process beginning from the invasion of 1066 and extending until the new monarchy was generally accepted. The new thing would be constituted, as all legitimate states are, on the principle that the sovereign power protects all its subjects impartially, which means that ex-Israelis and ex-Palestinians would all have the right to vote in elections. Property rights would then have to be assigned with an eye to the benefit of all, which would involve setting a limit to the disruption imposed on individuals and a readiness to compromise. At this point Danaa-style international compensation or buy-out funds would come in handy. But it’s important that the right to share in sovereign power cannot be bought or sold.

    • lysias
      July 31, 2010, 9:09 am

      One State, if ever created by the agreement of previously warring groups of people, would be a new thing.

      Isn’t that what South Africa is?

      An historical analogy I am thinking of a lot recently is the United Kingdom after Catholic Emancipation in 1829. Catholics got what on paper at least were equal rights, but the state remained a Protestant one with Protestant symbols. Over time, however, the Protestantness of Britain gradually withered away, and Catholics became genuinely equal.

  18. hayate
    July 31, 2010, 9:45 am

    Well written. I recommend this piece to chomsky.

  19. RoHa
    July 31, 2010, 9:59 pm

    Splendidly done, Ahmed. But I fear that in Israel and among the Zionists your piece will fall upon deaf ears, because it turns on sound moral principles. Two you are explicit about:
    “1) Justice, without creating greater injustice; and, 2) Responsibility to future generations on both sides.”

    But you also give due weight to others you mention in passing. You recognize that children should be allowed to belong to the place they are born and bought up in, and to decide their own lives rather than follow the agendas of their ancestors. (Very un-Jewish, idea, I have to say.)

    And you insist “there is no justice in punishing people for crimes they didn’t commit”

    But I think you should give a bit more emphasis to the apology idea. A unified Palestine will need reconciliation between Jews and Arabs, and that will not be possible unless Zionism and the idea that Jews are special and privileged over others comprehensively, publicly, and explicitly rejected.

    The apology cannot be a feeble, Japanese-style, expression of regret at the unpleasantness of the past. It must say, openly, that the whole Zionist project was immoral in conception, creation, and conduct.

    Israeli Jews born in 1980 need not regard themselves as guilty of the crimes of 1948, but they must acknowledge that those were crimes. And accept guilt for part they played in the crimes of 2010.

    Altogether though, well done!

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