Prime Minister Netanyahu, like other Israeli officials, routinely point out that about twenty percent of the population of Israel is Arab. Most often they go on to say that Arabs have significant roles in the Israeli community such as judges and physicians and hold elected seats in the Knesset. Some go on to say that if one were to visit Israel, he or she would find a significant Arab population living in the Jewish state as if to convey a message that Israel is a democracy not unlike Western democracies in Europe and North America.
To be clear, the Arab population remaining in Israel are native Palestinians who have been granted permission to remain on the land since the creation of the state in 1948. The vast majority of Palestinians, however, were expelled and now live in the West Bank and Gaza, in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and around the world and make up a diaspora currently estimated at 4.5 million individuals.
The argument that Palestinians and Israeli Jews can live together peacefully should not be a total surprise. Prior to the Zionist movement, all three Abrahamic religions freely practiced throughout the entire Holy Land and Muslims, Jews, and Christians were highly integrated within communities throughout the region. Even today, Old City Jerusalem has four quarters including Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Armenian.
Yet, while the case is made that Palestinians and Israelis can and do live together peacefully, Israel denies the return of refugees seeking to live within the state.
The right of all refugees is guaranteed by international law and put forth by the United Nations in resolution 194 article 11 which reads:
“Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.”
The Palestinian right of return is at the heart of the 63 year old Mideast crisis. Israel’s own rhetoric strangely supports the argument that integration is possible. Leaving only the question, when will justice finally be realized?
Deppen Webber is a graduate of the University of San Francisco, Organizer of the Free Palestine Movement, and an active member of the International Solidarity Movement – Northern California.