Noted expert on refugees, multimillionaire property tycoon (hotels, a specialty), and owner of The Australian Jewish News, Robert Magid, had a few neat things to say recently in a column in The AJN on the perplexing question of just who is and isn't a Palestinian refugee.
According to The AJN, his opinion piece first saw the light of day as a speech delivered at a conference at Manhattan's Harvard Club last month. Apparently, Mags, and "a host of [other] dignitaries and experts, including Israel's envoy to the UN Ron Prosor," had met to "address the UN's classification of Palestinian refugees as the principle stumbling block to a peace agreement between Israel and the PLO."
Herewith some highlights from Mags' guide for the perplexed (along with my comments):
"Recently I had a discussion with a Palestinian Muslim friend who related the following story: he was visiting Canada and met a young man who was born in Canada but claimed to be a Palestinian, but not only a Palestinian, he was 'a Palestinian refugee'. To prove the point he proceeded to take out of wallet an UNRWA card that qualified him as exactly that, a Palestinian refugee. Canadian-born, middle class, an ancestor came from the part of the British Mandate which became Israel: he is one of the 5 million who UNRWA claims to be Palestinian refugees." (The wrong of return, 22/3/13)
Now falling under the spell of Mags' little anecdote (as I imagine his fellow experts and dignitaries at the Harvard Club must also), I found myself muttering: Forsooth, what sort of chutzpah is this?
I mean, just because this so-called Palestinian refugee's grandparents were booted out of Palestine in 1948 by Zionist gangs composed of Polish, Russian, Czech, or Romanian Jews surely doesn't mean he's still a refugee entitled to return to Palestine, right?
OK, so his parents were born in a so-called refugee camp in Lebanon or Syria or Iraq or Jordan or Gaza or the West Bank; so they eventually made it to Canada back when that country was in a good mood - but does that entitle this bozo to claim he's a refugee? Really now...
Now as it happens - funny the coincidence! - I recently had a discussion with an Australian Jewish friend who related the following story: he too was visiting Canada and met a young man who was born in Canada to Polish Jewish parents but loudly claimed Palestine (or Israel as he insisted on calling it) as his birthright. And to prove the point he proceeded to babble on about God's promise to the Children of Abraham and Israel's nifty Law of Return, which allows anyone with a Jewish mother or grandmother or great-grandmother (gotta cover all bases) to acquire citizenship there. Canadian-born, middle class, never been to the Middle East, an ancestor from Poland: he is one of 5 and a half million North American Jews who, or so Zionism claims, are actually living in exile, and who, if they knew what was good for them, would pull their fingers out and move to Israel NOW.
"To describe a person living in his own country as a refugee is equivalent to talking of an orphan living happily with his own parents. It is a perfect oxymoron."
Hm... what about an Australian Jew who was born in China claiming a chunk of land in the Middle East as his birthright?
"This does not diminish from the Palestinian people the pain of dispossession, of the loss of the land no longer theirs, their great Naqba [sic]. And we should acknowledge that."
Whaaat?! Dispossessed Palestinians? Nakba? What sort of talk is this? A bit out there for a bloke like Mags, isn't it?
"This tragedy has befallen many people: in the Latin Americas, the Unites States, Canada and Australia."
Oh, I see, dispossession's no big deal then? The norm, actually. Excepting, of course, 70AD and all that. Right...
"In Australia we have arrived at a reconciliation with our indigenous people. After decades of ignoring the issue, we have recognised the suffering of the Aboriginal people of the country. In each speech we recognise the tribe which inhabited the specific location on which the speech is made and we express our sorrow. The Prime Minister has issued an apology on behalf of the nation. June 21 is celebrated as National Aboriginal Day."
That's right, June 21 is National Aboriginal Day... in Canada.
"That said, we do not, however, return settled land to its original owners. That is the compromise that has been reached. Hopefully, God willing, eventually a similar model can replace a call for a right of return of Palestinians."
And we don't exile the land's original owners to refugee camps in surrounding countries and refuse to allow them to return to Australia... unlike some places I could name... Well, one place, actually.