Rula Jebreal has a wonderful piece up at the Nation calling out Israel for bragging on its relief efforts in Nepal while Gaza is in rubble and 150,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria are being slowly decimated in Yarmouk refugee camp.
The headline of the piece is “Israel must open its doors” to the Yarmouk refugees, but the piece urges Israel to open its doors to all Palestinian refugees. And it is notable for its explanation to American readers of what the right of return means.
Throughout history, Jewish people were displaced, abused, and murdered en masse, over and over again. The tragic irony is that, today, it is the Palestinians being persecuted, as were the Jews, not for what they have done but for who they are….
Israel’s national leaders call on Jews across the world to immigrate to Israel, backed by a discriminatory law granting automatic citizenship to Jews who choose to live there, but denying it to [700,000] Palestinians expelled in 1948—as well as to those who have lived under Israeli occupation and effective political control for a half century. A Jew born anywhere in the world is welcomed by the State of Israel, while a Christian or Muslim born in Safed or Al-Majdal and forced into exile in 1948 is denied the right to return to his or her birthplace. And this despite the fact that a majority of the world’s Jews has chosen, freely, to decline the option of settling in Israel, even as Israel’s leaders insist it is the only place they can be safe.
The desire to return home is a central tenet of the Palestinian national narrative. Our homeland is in our bloodstream and in our memories, transferred from generation to generation. Millions of Palestinians have never seen Palestine, but many wear the keys to their family homes in Haifa, Akka, or Jaffa around their necks. Palestine is vivid in their dreams and in their cultural narrative. History defines their identity just as much as it colors their future, and a true peace will require that all of the country’s residents, past and present, be reconciled as equals.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, despite winning re-election by appealing to the worst instincts of his base, has an historic opportunity—which he will no doubt fail to seize—to begin that reconciliation. He could make good on that opportunity by replicating the offer he made to France’s Jews after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and invite those former residents of what is today Israel to return home, saving them from the slaughter in Yarmouk. While the people of Tel Aviv enjoy the beach, their cafes, nightclubs, and unfettered freedom, another diaspora, over the border in Syria, is facing a human catastrophe. Meanwhile, the 71 percent of the population of Gaza who are refugees lose hope and grow desperate as they remain trapped behind the Iron Wall of Zionism.
The right of return for Palestinian refugees remains one of the great stumbling blocks to any lasting peace agreement—it is not even contemplated as part of the two-state solution … Israel should extend the right of return to all Palestinian refugees. This would not only be a humanitarian gesture, but also an act of justice—one which is necessary for a sustainable peace in which both peoples can achieve security and equality for themselves and their children.
Jebreal also quotes President Obama on the refugees in his 2009 Cairo speech. I was there, but I forgot this part:
For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations – large and small – that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.
The Cairo speech was a rare and remarkable acknowledgment by a US president of what the Palestinians call “Al Nakba”—the Catastrophe—in which some 700,000 Palestinians were forced to flee or were expelled from their homeland in 1948 and scattered to every corner of the world in a seemingly endless exodus.
This is a landmark piece because it makes such a moving argument for a basic human right, in the US liberal press. The two state solution entailed selling-out Palestinian refugees in order to gain a peace; and many Palestinians and Arab countries accepted it; but with the two-state solution dead, this basic human rights issue has gotten renewed life.
It is also a landmark in the Nation’s progress away from the enthusiastic Zionism that distinguished the publication in decades past. Editor Katrina vanden Heuvel has openly struggled with that legacy. Former editor Freda Kirchwey campaigned for Israel’s establishment, “regularly exchanged information with Jewish Agency representatives in New York,” ran articles seeking to discredit Arab testimony at the United Nations against the creation of a Jewish state and other articles saying that Zionists were bringing the blessings of “westernization” to “primitive countries,” and was “oblivious to the rights of Palestine’s Arabs,” John Judis has reported in his book on the U.S. role in establishing Israel.