“The War of Return” by E. Wilf and A. Schwartz
On the web site of Yachad UK, the “pro-Israel/pro-peace organisation,” it is solemnly stated that “The creation of two States would allow both peoples to realise their national aspirations with the right of return for both Israelis and Palestinians in their respective countries”.
It sounds the ideal solution of the conflict: a Jewish majority in the State of Israel and an Arab majority in the State of Palestine. But there’s a problem. The Palestinian leaders want an Arab majority not only in the State of Palestine but in Israel too. And if you think that this may lead to the end of Israel as we know, you are right. For the Palestinians, even the so-called moderate, a “just peace” means turning Israel into an Arab majority State, then erasing the Law of Return and depriving me and you of the right to find shelter in Israel, if and when antisemitism makes our lives impossible in the UK. This is the reason why since 1949, they have put the “right of return” for the so-called “refugees” on the top of their agenda.
In the 1948 War of Independence, Israel faced armies determined to annihilate the Jewish State. It was a war of defence. It ended with the victory of Israel and left several Palestinian families displaced. Their sufferings must not be downplayed, (like those of the Jewish victims), but it must be noted that, in the first part of the 20th Century, their destiny was by no means unique. Following WWII ethnic Germans were expelled from Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and other Eastern European Countries, and resettled in Germany. At the same time, ethnic Italians expelled from Yugoslavia settled in Italy; when I was a teenager I had a school mate from such a background and we shared a passion for Japanese cartoons. Not to mention the massive exchange of populations following the 1947 Partition of India, when literally millions of people moved across the borders in both directions. The integration of all these refugees has been overseen by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees).
The Palestinians are different. They benefit from an agency established for them only, the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees). The UNRWA supports millions of people who have never been in Palestine, but consider themselves “Palestinian refugees”. Because this definition is indeed very generous: the status of ‘refugee’ is passed on through the generations, (as opposed to all the other refugees in the world), together with all its benefits.
Subsidised by the UNRWA, the camps where the Palestinians live have become nice suburbs in Syria and even in the West Bank. This is very revealing: even those Palestinians, who live in Palestine proper, be it Gaza or the West Bank, under Palestinian sovereignty, are still considered refugees. They still receive funding from UNRWA and obviously still consider the “return” to nowadays Israel an achievable national goal. Needless to say, their school curriculum is tailored to enforce these anti-Semitic aspirations. And this applies to millions of Palestinians worldwide, with the exception of those living in Jordan, who are actually Jordanian citizens.
The existence of millions of so-called refugees whose leaders assume they are entitled to move and live inside the boundaries of Israel is obviously a serious obstacle to peace.
As the authors of this book explain, the Soviet Union played a big part in originating the problem, offering support to the plans of revenge of the Arab Countries following the war of 1948 and the Six-Day War. The inevitable defeat of Israel would have made the “return” possible: this was the fantasy. As we know, Israel kept on winning war after war and the Palestinians continue to live in their golden cage.
With the exception of Jordan, no Arab Country is willing to extend citizenship to the Palestinian refugees, who therefore live as second class citizens, and cannot find a regular job. However, they do receive money, health care and free education from the UNRWA.
But part of the responsibility falls upon the Western Countries and the Israeli leaders who, since the time of the 1993 Oslo Accords, have deluded themselves that the Palestinian leaders would give up the demand of “return” during the negotiations leading up to Palestinian independence.
This did not happen: nor Arafat, nor Abu Mazen, neither the leaders of Hamas have renounced the aspiration to “return”. There has never been a Palestinian Willy Brandt, the Nobel Prize laureate who, in in 1970, told the German refugees from Eastern Europe, that it was time to move on and forget the dream to return to their former houses beyond the Iron Curtain.
Nowadays only fringe groups, such as Yachad, trust (with no reason) that the Palestinians will renounce the money generously provided by the UNRWA, together with its anti-Zionist ideology and anti-Semitic propaganda. The rest of the world have learnt to take seriously the speeches of the Palestinian leaders and their request to “return”; and they know that such a request is a serious obstacle to peace.
The concluding part of the book draws a path for the dismantling of the UNRWA and for the extension of citizenship of Arab Countries to those people who inhabit the refugee camps and call themselves Palestinians. It is refreshing to see how the problem is dealt in a serious way by these two authors.
It must be stressed that the authors of the book are not Right Wingers. Einat Wilf is a former Labour MP, and Adi Schwartz is a staff writer for Haaretz. They both belong to the peace camp and to the generation of Israeli Leftists who have believed in the two States solution. And they still do: for this reason, they passionately focus on the main obstacle of the solution of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
This book does not come from warmongers and it is required reading for everyone willing to understand the conflict in the Middle East.
[Sussex Jewish News — Tamuz/Av 5780 — Issue 309 — pp. 14–15]