She wishes to return

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This is Nasreen al-Najjar. She walks toward the fence separating the Gaza Strip from Israel. Alone, only her clothes on her body, she waves the Palestine flag.

She approaches the fence and tense soldiers keep her in their sights. They are amazed at her courage. They try to discern if she is hiding explosive, but do not see any. She moves slowly, she sometimes smiles at them. The commander of the unit suddenly stands and orders them to take down their rifles, lest any of them fire a bullet at her. He instructs two of them to go down to the fence and open an entrance for her so she can pass. She walks by them, greets them and continues on her way to visit the place where her parents were born. There she picks up vine leaves and other native plants that have continued to grow since that time.

She breathes in the air of her house, a house she was prevented from reaching until now. Neighbors come to ask if she needs anything. They want to know if they can help organize for a her real return, beyond this brief visit.

No, this did not happen. In reality, she was shot by a soldier and fell on the spot, a few dozen yards from the fence that cuts her from the 48’ territory. Because now—since the Nakba—this is Israel’s time. A country whose rulers do not dream of living together. A state whose soldiers shoot at anyone trying to visit their house, even a woman alone carrying a flag.

Where is Nasreen? Is she a refugee? Maybe from Barbara? Perhaps from Hamama? Where did she want to go? Maybe to Jaffa, a place of so many stories she has heard?

What is the thing that is so threatening in her march towards the fence? What is it that the Israelis are so careful to prevent? We heard our commanders sanctify the “defense and security infrastructure of the fence space.” The physical barrier that separates here and there. No one should undermine it and anyone who does, his blood be on his own hands. It’s not a mere threat, as you know. This is clear from the high number of Palestinians who were killed in an attempt to approach the fence.

This fence symbolizes the essence of the Jewish State, which was founded by dispossessing the Palestinians and expelling most of them from their homeland. Back in the 1950s Palestinians were marked as dangerous “infiltrators.” Today is no different. Walls and fences were and are erected (above and below the ground) to prevent the return of the refugees. If necessary, by shooting.

Not much has changed in terms of colonial thought and action. Therefore, from the point of view of the Israeli leadership, young men who put explosives in the fence get the same response as a woman walking towards the fence by herself, with he,r hands raised. Because, this fence is the bedrock of our civilization. It distinguishes between them (Palestinians) there and we (Israeli Jews) here. This is the whole thing in a nutshell.

Unfortunately we must admit while the threshold or the scale of atrocities committed against Palestinians is increasing over time, the Israeli army’s violent response is not surprising at all. It seems obvious, if a moment of sincerity is allowed. Maybe that’s the real horror. That there is nothing surprising about this behavior. That the human state of emergency has become a daily and trivial matter.

The Israeli military shooters received support and backing from their society and leaders. The only deviation was the excessive celebration of soldiers who took pleasure in shooting at a young Palestinian, like cruel hunters of wild animals.

Precisely because of this it was surprising to discover in a new survey among 500 Jewish Israelis questioned, quite a few of them support the right of return for Palestinian refugees. The Israeli research institute Geocartography Knowledge Group conducted the study book published last January and asked respondents:

“In 1948, during the War of Independence, most of the Palestinians in the country became refugees and they have been scattered all over the world ever since. The right of return of Palestinian refugees refers to the possibility of every Palestinian refugee (and his descendants) to choose between actual return to the place where they lived until 1948 and a different arrangement of compensation. The significance of the recognition of the right of return may therefore be that more than seven million Palestinian refugees will choose to return to this country. To what extent do you support or oppose the right of return as I presented it?”

Of those surveyed, 16.2 percent answered yes, so long as the refugees returned in peace. The detailed wording of the question and explicit inclusion of the number of refugees “over seven million” was made to ensure that the respondents would understand the meaning of the recognition and realization of the right of return. This was done after the same question was asked in less explicit language in two previous surveys we commissioned where more than twenty percent said they supported the Palestinian right of return.

How can we reconcile the violent and unequivocal Israeli response of the Israeli military that sought to prevent return by firing on the marchers and the results of a survey that shows close to one-fifth of Israeli-Jews are in support of returning Palestinian refugees?

In our opinion, the gap stems from the different conditions of discourse on the issue of return in Israel. The public discourse prevalent in Israel is an oppositional discourse, a zero-sum game. In other words, return in that context means Israelis have no place in the country.

A few days ago on a visit to his ruined village, Adnan Mahamid, a Palestinian refugee from al-Lajjun was asked what would happen to the Israelis now living on the land of his village (such as Kibbutz Megiddo) in a situation where his right to return would be recognized?

His answer moved listeners: “We do not want to cause others the suffering we go through. We will find a way to compromise on these lands.”

It turns out that when Israelis are asked about the right of return as a basic human right where the purpose is to live together in peace, quite a few responded positively to the vision of Adnan, the refugee from al-Lajjun.

The conclusion is that in order to promote justice and reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis, we must develop a discourse of recognition of the past injustices of and for a shared life. There is no point in arguing about their right versus our right. This argument is what strengthens the fence and gives a justification firing at anyone who approaches. We must practice a new language that includes all the inhabitants of this land and its refugees. It is in our interest that Nasreen recovers soon and we would like to welcome her back to her home with open arms. This will be the beginning of a process aimed at ceasing to be settlers and conquerors in order to live together in a communal home.

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What a video clip! On edge, watching, waiting to see whether an IDF sniper would bring her down, seconds only, but seemingly interminable, then hearing the shot, down goes Nasreen, myself feeling terrorized, eyes watery, unbelievable, right in front of me, waving the Palestinian colors, an innocent woman has just… Read more »