It seems that racism and continued perpetuation of the Jewish exclusivity of Israel are probably the motivation behind Elie Wiesel’s contribution (“Palestinians’ rights do not include the right to Jerusalem”, Guardian 25/01/01). It is this racism described by the concept of an exclusive Jewish state that prevents Israel to allow Palestinian refugees to return, which it is legally obligated to do.
Elie Wiesel omits a number of facts from his comments suggesting that Palestinians do not have rights in Jerusalem. First of all, Jerusalem is a geographical collection of several entities artificially “united” by the Israeli Occupying Power. The vast majority of the area of what some term as “West Jerusalem” are lands and properties that used to be owned by Palestinians who have become refugees in 1947/1948. It also comprises Palestinian villages in the western environs of the Jerusalem district.
Of the 41 Palestinian villages existing in the Jerusalem district in 1948, 37 have been destroyed and only 4 still exist today. On the land of these destroyed Palestinian villages, some 33 Jewish colonies have been built. During 1948, an estimated 80,000 Palestinians, excluding their descendents, were evicted from the western part of the city, Ein Karim, Deir Yasin, Lifta and Al Malha.
Since the Oslo process, the occupation authorities have continued expropriating lands from Palestinians and continued to engage in expelling Palestinians from the city. The number of Palestinian refugees and their descendents in 1948 alone is estimated at around 480,000.
Between 1947 and 1996, the UN Security Council issued 21 resolutions on Jerusalem. The General Assembly has also issued similar resolutions (54 resolutions between 1947 and 1992, excluding those that were vetoed by the US). These resolutions were issued either because of Israeli policies and measures on Jerusalem in particular, or they referred to Jerusalem in the context of the Occupied Territories. The resolutions emphasize the illegitimacy of Jerusalem’s annexation, based on the illegitimacy of acquiring territory by war. Additionally, these resolutions regard the city as an integral part of the Occupied Territories and emphasize the applicability of international humanitarian law, especially the Fourth Geneva Convention. There has been unheard-of international unanimity over these resolutions.
That Israel has acquired territorial sovereignty in those areas is not sustainable in international law. Conquest, whether aggressive or defensive, does not confer title. Not only has the international community declined recognition of the title of Israel to Jerusalem, but they have, more positively, expressly and repeatedly declined to do so.
Negotiators would be making a huge error if they were not guided by the international resolutions and human rights standards applicable to Jerusalem. The city is under occupation, and the law applies to Jerusalem just as it does to other such cities. A postponement of implementing international law and human rights standards will create many complications, allowing the occupation to create more ‘facts’ and unilateral actions and preventing peace and justice.
Concerning the western part of the city, UN resolution 273 and the conditions of Israel’s membership to the United Nations must be fulfilled, that is, Palestinian refugees must be allowed to return to their homes in Jerusalem and have their destroyed and confiscated property restored.
The international community has consistently and formally recognised the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, their right to their property and to the income derived from their property. A wide range of international legal instruments, including UN resolutions, international human rights conventions, humanitarian conventions, and bilateral and regional agreements, as well as general legal principles considered to be binding, recognise the right of return.
Through the United Nations, it recognised that the continued displacement and dispossession of Palestinian refugees has arisen from the denial of their inalienable rights under the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and declared that full respect for the inalienable rights of the people of Palestine is an indispensable element in the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.
Allowing Palestinian refugees to return home is not “national suicide” as suggested by Elie Wiesel, rather it means the elimination of the racial discrimination of the Israeli state against Palestinians.
Any ideology that forces to categorise its citizenry into separate segments and provides preferential treatment for one segment cannot be called democratic, rather racist. Israel’s appearance as a democracy is an illusion because it is a democracy for Jews only. This is the very core of the apartheid-system operative in Israel.
Not allowing back Palestinian refugees amounts to collaboration with ethnic cleansing. The only solution that is both workable and moral is to implement the right of return for all Palestinians wishing to exercise it, no matter how inconvenient it may be for some.
The author is a Dutch-Palestinian political scientist, human rights activist and is affiliated to the the Palestine Right to Return Coalition (Al-Awda).