Life As Refugees

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The spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC, Mark Regev, provides an interesting insight into the separatist and racist mindset of Israeli society and Zionism in his piece, “Life As Refugees”, in the January 23rd edition of the Washington Times. He proclaims that statements about the Right of Return are a cynical exploitation of human tragedy. He blames Arab governments, he blames the Palestinians and their leadership, he blames the United Nations, but alas, what he fails to do is look into the mirror and blame himself, his people, and his government.

I could use this space to touch upon contemporary examples of the implementation of the Right of Return from Kosovo to Cambodia, give historical facts about Plan Dalet and others to counter Mr. Regev’s Zionist revisionist history, but instead let me tell you about my family history, to get a sense of what I mean. You can choose to disbelieve what I write because history is usually written by the aggressors and the victors, to cover up their crimes. But this is the truth, whether you believe it or not. In my anecdote though, one must keep in mind that I am a privileged Palestinian, one with opportunities and foreign citizenships. This is something that has not been granted to most of the 3.7 million of my compatriots, who are registered by the United Nations as living in refugee camps, and 1.6 million more who are unregistered, but nevertheless exist.

My family lived, before 1948, when they were ethnically cleansed, in Haifa, the beautiful coastal port town in Northern Palestine. My father came from a big family who had many lands, and much influence. On the other side, my maternal grandfather worked for Barclay’s Bank in Haifa. In 1948, my mother’s family lost their house, the deed to which our family still holds, and became internally displaced refugees, by force of the armed units of the Israeli Haganah, and continued thereafter to suffer the consequences of being persecuted and discriminated against in their own country. My father’s house was ransacked in his absence, also by the Zionist Haganah forces, and his belongings taken. Having been a famous radio broadcaster and a fervent Palestinian Nationalist, the Zionists announced that if they caught him, they would put him in a cage, cut his tongue off, and parade him through the streets for all to see. Naturally he fled under cover to Arab East Jerusalem. Those who died in the Deir Yassin massacre, in what is now part of Israeli-controlled West Jerusalem, who were paraded in the streets by David Ben-Gurion’s troops before their slaughter, did not share his fortune. To this day, Sahyoun Street still exists in old Haifa, and all of our family ‘s lands and buildings in tact, all of which Israel gives us no right to return to or possess.

My family either became internally displaced, having escaped Zionist gunfire to towns such as Nazareth in Galilee, and others made their flight to Lebanon under night skies, where they were settled in a town called Damour. Some tried to return to their homes a couple of days, weeks, and even months later, to be turned back by the barrels of Israeli guns at the border. Eventually most successfully embittered their lives, as many Palestinians have valiantly done in exile. Nevertheless, they started from scratch, with no money, no lands, no titles in their new refuges. They have never been given compensation for their losses, nor been allowed to repatriate to their homes, despite persistent attempts for the past 52 years to do so.

My story is not a sad one, but the truth is that my father, who is old, will soon die away from the home that was taken from him, and the orchards that ran across my Mother’s porch, although still ours by international law, are now enjoyed by those who made my parents refugees. Israel’s Law of Return in 1950, and Absentee Property Seizure Law of 1951 makes it so. This is in defiance of a wide range of international legal instruments, including numerous UN resolutions, international human rights conventions, humanitarian conventions, and bilateral and regional agreements, as well as general legal principles considered to be binding, which recognize the right of return. Furthermore, this right is re-affirmed in UNSC 242 & 338 that is the basis of the Oslo Peace Process. And most importantly, it is in defiance of the basic pursuits of justice, freedom, self-determination, and happiness. What is truly sad is the vast majority of Palestinians, in light of these truths, have been languishing in poverty and banishment in 59 refugee camps at the hands of Israeli aggression and intransigence.

If the people of Israel want to truly live in peace, with security, and with their Arab neighbors, they must realize that the wrongs that have been perpetrated on their behalf must be resolved. They must accept that they are living on stolen lands and stolen property. They must realize that to appease the Palestinians who have spent 53 years as refugees, they must facilitate their return to their native homeland. Academic research presented at the UK House of Commons in November 1999 has shown that 78% of Israelis are living on 14 % of the land in Israel, making return not only moral and legal, but also practically possible. Instead of belligerently blaming the victims, as Mr. Regev does, the Israelis must fess up and take responsibility for their own transgressions, and allow me and 5.3 million of my fellow Palestinians to make the choice of whether we want to return. Apartheid died in South Africa, and it will eventually have to die in the Holy Land for there to be everlasting peace and justice.

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice” éDr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Mr. Rabee’ Sahyoun is a economic development policy researcher at the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies and is affiliated with the global grassroots Palestine Right To Return Coalition.

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