Palestinian Refugees at the center again
Palestinian Refugees at the center again
By Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD
Author, “Sharing the Land of Canaan: Human Rights and the Israeli/Palestinian Struggle”
40,000 Palestinian refugees were directly affected by the recent Lebanese army attack (funded by the US government) on a fringe group. A few hundred Palestinian refugees are stranded on the borders of Iraq trying to flee the direct and deliberate attacks on them and the refusal of the so-called "government" of Iraq and the US/British occupation forces to provide protections. Israeli occupation forces (funded and armed by the US) attack refugee camps in the occupied West Bank and Gaza almost on a daily basis. These tragedies in Lebanon, occupied Iraq, and occupied Palestine once again highlight the truth that no peace is possible without addressing the central issue of the festering conflicts in Western Asia: the displacement of Palestinians by the Zionist movement backed by Western powers. While awareness of this in the International community is widespread, there is self-censorship in the US mainstream media to the detriment of US national interests.
The British and French empires made promises to the Zionist movement in 1917 to establish a "Jewish homeland" in Palestine if they won WWI. At the time, Palestine had a minority Jewish presence of 7% living on 3% of privately owned land. Jewish land ownership at the eve of the British-inspired, American-pushed UN General Assembly RECOMMENDATION of dividing Palestine into a "Jewish state" (55 percent of the land) and an "Arab state" (45 percent) in 1947 was less than seven percent of all privately held lands. This recommendation was never implemented and instead Israel was unilaterally declared by force and only admitted to the UN after assurances that it would comply in a "timely manner" with UN resolutions including those calling for Palestinian refugees to be repatriated. Yet, from that time forward, Israel backed by Western powers methodically expanded and destroyed the economic and political life of the remaining native Palestinians. As a result of sometimes ingenious and other times brutal ways of ethnic cleansing, a vast majority of Palestinian families (Christians and Muslims) have lost lands or homes. Israel/Palestine now has about five million Jews and five million Christians and Muslims. Of the nine million Palestinians in the world, nearly six million are refugees or displaced persons. A quarter of Israel's 1.2 million "Goyim" (non-Jewish) citizens are considered by the Israeli legal system as "present-absentees"; lands and homes vacated by Christian and Muslim refugees and "absentees" are considered state property and turned over to the Jewish agency that administers the land and leases it only to Jews. Dozens of Palestinian villages and towns are "unrecognized" inside the borders of what became Israel by 1949. Even as recent as last month, one whole Bedouin village in the Negev was destroyed. These are the lucky ones because they are considered by law Israeli (albeit 10th class) citizens. The situation in the occupied areas (including refugee camps in those areas) is much worse.
Israeli hafrada (Hebrew for Separation) not only ensures no return for refugees and displaced people but there is regular land confiscation in the occupied West Bank and efforts to literally imprison and starve the population so that the natives leave the remainder of Palestine. South African law professor John Dugard, special rapporteur for the United Nations on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, in a report to the UN General Assembly stated that Israel created an "apartheid regime ... worse than the one that existed in South Africa." President Jimmy Carter’s recent book titled "Palestine: Peace not apartheid" was actually far too mild. The Apartheid walls and barriers are built around shrinking group of ghettos and separate families from each other, from their farms, from schools, from hospitals, and from work. No such system was ever introduced in South Africa. The Jewish social professor at Harvard University Sarah Roy calls it an organized and meticulous decades-long program of "economic de-development". Ronald Reagan in his diaries in the early 1980s was clearer "the Israelis for sure intend on taking over the West Bank" (the remaining 20% of Palestine).
Research has shown that the return of Palestinian refugees to be legal, moral, and also doable (see www.Badil.org and http://www.prc.org.uk/data/aspx/d5/625.aspx ). Annulling it would set a poor precedent in flaunting international law and allowing exclusion based on religion. Israeli artists and intellectuals have called for transforming Israel to be a country of its citizens instead of the self-declared "Jewish state" in the same way that South Africa evolved to a state of all its citizens. It is only logical to expect that the current Palestinian citizens of Israel and secular Israelis in general would aspire to a state that has a constitution to protect all citizens instead of the current laws to discriminate against non-Jews. Israeli laws give automatic citizenship to any Jew in the world who desires it (except those who converted to other religions) while denying return to native Palestinians simply for being Christian or Muslim.
Meanwhile the U.S. congress, subservient to the Israeli lobby, gives more of our money to Israel every year than it does to Sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, and South America COMBINED. In this fact alone we will find a lot to explain the quagmire we are creating in places ranging from Iraq to Somalia. In it we find the reason why surveys even in Western Europe show the public to identify Israel and the US (not N Korea or Iran) as the two most dangerous countries in the world. To remedy this situation and advance US interests around the world is not too complicated: US citizens have to say enough is enough just like we did with ending US support for Apartheid South Africa. US policy would then support basic International and Humanitarian laws. We can start by engaging in boycotts, divestments and sanctions on Israel until it implements resolutions of the International Court of Justice, the 65 UN Security Council resolutions, and the over 300 UN General Assembly resolutions. Already many trade unions, churches, and universities around the world are moving in that direction. As always, the media and the government will follow.