Monday, May 15, 2017

You Can Run, But You Can't Hide 2

Israelis say NO...

Uri replies to Salman in his weekly column, 17/5/14:

Dear Salman,

I was profoundly moved by this letter. It took me days to find the courage to answer. I try to do so as sincerely as possible.

I also vividly remember our conversation in Paris, and wrote about it in the second part of my memoirs, which will appear in the course of this year. It may be interesting for the readers to compare our two descriptions of the same conversation. About the scene near Hulayqat I have written in the first part, which has already appeared in Hebrew.

When I was wounded in the 1948 war, I decided that it would be my life's mission to work for peace between our two peoples. I hope that I have been true to that promise.

Making peace after such a long and bitter conflict is both a moral and a political endeavor. There is often a contradiction between the two aspects.

I respect the few people in Israel who, like Tikva, completely devote themselves to the moral side of the refugees' tragedy, whatever the consequence for the chances of peace. My own moral outlook tells me that peace must be the first aim, before and above everything else.

The war of 1948 was a terrible human tragedy. Both sides believed that it was an existential battle. that their very life was hanging in the balance. It is often forgotten that ethnic cleansing (not a familiar expression in those days) was practiced by both sides. Our side occupied large territories, creating a huge refugee problem, while the Palestinian side succeeded in occupying only small Jewish areas, like the Old City of Jerusalem and the Etzion settlement bloc south of Bethlehem. But not a single Jew remained there.

The war, like the later Bosnian war, was an ethnic war, in which both sides tried to conquer as large a part of the country as possible - EMPTY of the other population.

As an eyewitness and participant, I can testify to the fact that the origins of the refugee problem are extremely complex. During the first seven months of the war, the attacks on the Arab villages were an absolute military necessity. At that time, we were the weaker side. After a number of very cruel battles, the wheel turned and I believe that a deliberate policy of expulsion was adopted by the Zionist leadership.

But the real question is: Why were the 750,000 refugees not allowed home after the end of the hostilities?

One has to remember the situation. It was three years after the smokestacks of Auschwitz and the other camps had gone cold. Hundreds of thousands of wretched survivors crowded the refugee camps in Europe and had nowhere to go but to the new Israel. They were brought here and hastily put into the homes of the Palestinian refugees.

All this did not obliterate our moral obligation to put an end to the terrible tragedy of the Palestinian refugees. In 1953 I published in my magazine, Haolem Hazeh, a detailed plan for for the solution of the refugee problem. It included (a) an apology to the refugees and the acknowledgment in principle of the right to return, (b) the return and resettlement of a substantial number, (c) generous compensation to all the rest. Since the Israeli government refused to consider the possibility of the return of a single individual, the plan was not even discussed.

Why do I not stand on a hilltop and cry out for the return of all refugees?

Peace is made between consenting parties. There is absolutely no chance that the vast majority of Israelis would freely agree to the return of all the refugees and their descendants, who amount to six or seven million people - the same number as Israel's Jewish citizens. This would be the end of the 'Jewish state' and the beginning of a 'bi-national state', to which 99% of Israelis strenuously object. It can be imposed only by a crushing military defeat, which is currently impossible because of Israel's infinite military superiority, including nuclear arms.

I can stand on the hilltops and shout - but it would not bring peace (and a solution) one step closer.

To my mind, waiting for a solution in a hundred years, while the conflict and the misery continue, is not really moral.

Dear Salman, I have listened attentively to your presentation.

You say that Israel could easily absorb all the refugees by putting them into the Negev, which is almost empty. That is quite true.

The vast majority of Israelis would reject that, because they are fiercely resolved to have a large Jewish majority in Israel. But I also ask myself: What is the logic of that?

When I met with Yassar Arafat in Beirut during the war of 1982, I also visited several Palestinian refugee camps. I asked many refugees whether they wanted to return to Israel. Most said that they wanted to return to their villages (which were eradicated long ago) but not anywhere else in Israel.

What is the sense of putting them into the harsh conditions of the desert in a Zionist-dominated and Hebrew-speaking country, far from their original homes? Would they want that?

Arafat and his successors limit their aim to a 'just and AGREED solution', giving the Israeli government a veto right. That means, in practice, at most the return of a symbolic number.

My latest proposal is for the Israeli president to apolpgize and express the profound regret of the Israeli people for its part in the creation and prolongation of the tragedy.

The Israeli government must recognize the moral right of the refugees to return.

Israel should organize the return of 50,000 refugees every year for 10 years. (I am almost alone in Israel in demanding this number. Most peace groups would reduce that to 100,000 altogether.)

All the other refugees should receive compensation on the lines of the compensation paid by Germany to the Jewish victims. (no comparison, of course.)

With the foundation of the State of Palestine, they would receive Palestinian passports and be able to settle there, in their country.

In the not too distant future, when the two states, Israel and Palestine, shall be finally living side by side, with open borders and with their capitals in Jerusalem, perhaps within a region-wide framework, the problem will lose it sting.

It hurts me to write this letter. For me, the refugees are no abstract 'problem', but human beings with human faces. But I will not lie to you.

I would be honored to live next door to you (even in the Negev Desert).




1 comment:

Grappler said...

"Hundreds of thousands of wretched survivors crowded the refugee camps in Europe and had nowhere to go but to the new Israel."

At the risk of boring the reader, I will, once again, draw their attention to the testimony of Alfred Lilienthal in "What Price Israel". So as to shorten the post I'll cut some less controversial sentences.

The end of World War II — if end it did — created in Europe that epitome of distress, the Displaced Person. These refugees ... were of all faiths: about 500,000 Catholics, 100,000 Protestants, and 226,000 Jews. Of these last, some 100,000 were in the assembly camps of Germany, Austria and Italy; 50,000 undetained in the United Kingdom; 12,000 in Sweden; 10,500 in Switzerland;...

On August 31, 1945, President Truman wrote Britain's Prime Minister Clement Attlee that the issuance of 100,000 certificates of immigration to Palestine would help to alleviate the refugee situation. ... the British Government declared it would not accept the view "that Jews should be driven out of Europe or that they should not be permitted to live again in these countries without discrimination, contributing their ability and talent toward rebuilding the prosperity of Europe." The Prime Minister invited a joint inquiry into these matters by representatives of the United States and the United Kingdom. President Truman favorably received this proposal. But Zionists called it "a fresh betrayal" to which they would never submit.

The ... Committee ... was set up on December 10, 1945, with six American and six British members. ... ... Representatives of Jewish organizations as well as those who expressed the Christian and the Arab viewpoints were heard.... The full Committee held further sessions in Egypt, at which the Jewish Agency ... and organized Arab groups were heard. ... These exhaustive deliberations were completed in Switzerland and a report, unanimously signed at Lausanne, ...

The principal recommendation ... called for the immediate issuance of entrance certificates into Palestine for 100,000 Jews "who had been the victims of Nazi and Fascist persecution." Had these 100,000 admissions actually been granted, the overwhelming majority of Jewish Displaced Persons whose situation required immediate action would have been saved and the revolting D. P. Centers could soon have been closed. The report went on to state that "Jew shall not dominate Arab and Arab shall not dominate Jew in Palestine, which shall be neither a Jewish State nor an Arab State. . . . Palestine is a Holy Land, sacred to Christian, to Jew and to Moslem alike, and because it is a Holy Land, Palestine is not, and can never become a land which any race or religion can justly claim as its very own." (35)

But a Palestine which guarded "the rights and interests of Moslems, Jews and Christians alike," to quote the Committee, was never acceptable to Zionists. To the leaders of political Zionism, nationalist politics were immeasurably more important than humanitarian concerns. For, indeed, Zionism has never been refugeeism and refugeeism never Zionism.


The Anglo-American Committee had found that Palestine alone could never meet Jewish emigration needs and that the United States and British Government, in association with other countries, must endeavor to find new homes for displaced persons. And this, more than anything, doomed the Committee, so far as Zionism was concerned.