Recent calls for the Palestinians to abandon their right to go home should not be acceptable to anyone with elemental knowledge of legality and morality. The British “Mandate” to fulfill Lord Balfour’s promise of a Jewish homeland in populated Palestine (which had a minority Jewish presence of 7% at the time) was implemented by force without consulting the wishes of the Palestinian inhabitants or their future. Jewish land ownership at the eve of the British-inspired, American-pushed declaration of dividing Palestine to a “Jewish state” (55% of the land) and an “Arab State” (45%) in 1947 was less than 8% of all privately held lands.
From that time forward, Zionists have methodically altered the character of the land and the people. As a result of sometimes ingenious and other times brutal ways of ethnic cleansing, over 95% of Palestinian families (Muslim and Christian) have lost lands and/or homes to Zionists. This is not a Palestinian story but a fact attested to by Israeli historians themselves (Pappe, Morris, Sternhall, Schlaim, Segev etc.) and in the published words and documents of Israeli leaders.
Israel/Palestine now has about 4.5 million Jews and 3.7 million remaining Christians and Muslims. Of the 8 million Palestinians in the world, over 5 million are refugees or “displaced persons.” A quarter of Israel’s own 1.2 million “gentile” citizens are considered by the Israeli legal system as “present absentees” and their land confiscated. Lands and homes vacated by Christian and Muslim refugees and “absentees” are considered state property and turned over to the Jewish Agency which administers the land and leases it only to Jews. Palestinians are treated much worse than Blacks were treated in South Africa under Apartheid.
Incomplete success of ethnic cleansing led Israeli governments to attempt to isolate Palestinians in Bantustans and to ensure that refugees never return (3000 were killed trying to "infiltrate" back before fences were put up). The 30-year-old Israeli/American solution to the Palestinian "problem" was reinvented at Oslo and re-presented lately by Barak and Clinton as final deals to Palestinians. Modeled after Apartheid South Africa, it envisions no return of refugees and disjointed segments of a demilitarized "Palestine," without control of its natural resources or borders surrounded by Israeli Army and settlements. But even if Arafat agrees to this sham "peace", it cannot last.
Palestinian refugees know that their return is an inalienable, individual, human and collective right supported by International law and common morality. Research has also shown return to be feasible and is not a threat to social order. On the contrary, no lasting peace can occur without implementing this right and annulling it would set a precedent in International law.
Israel also needs to evolve from a “Jewish state” to a state of its citizens. It is only logical to expect that the current Palestinian citizens of Israel (and secular Israelis in general) are not “thrilled” to stand in awe at a national anthem that talks about Jewish yearning for a homeland. They are not keen about a state that has no constitution to protect “gentiles” but rather has specific laws to discriminate against them and insure Jewish only settlements continue to flourish while Arab towns and villages are destroyed or strangled. They are not content with an Israeli law of return giving automatic citizenship to any Jew in the world who desires it, while denying return to people born and raised there for generations simply for being gentile (many of them relatives of those Palestinian remaining and have not seen each other in 52 years).
(Dr. Mazin B. Qumsiyeh is Chair of the Media Committee, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition)