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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Averting blame and forgiving terrorism

Published: April 4, 2008
Section: Opinions

Last Friday, Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine hosted Eitan Bronstein and Mohammad Jaradat, both of whom spoke about how the only just solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict would be allowing Palestinian refugees from the wars against Israel in 1948 and 1967 to return to Israel. Bronstein represented the Israeli organization Zochrot (meaning “remembering” in Hebrew), which educates Israelis on the issue of Palestinian refugees, and Jaradat represented the BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights.

According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), there are 4,562,820 registered refugees, encompassing not only original residents but also all of their descendants. The return of these refugees, according to the speakers, was presented as the only “human” and “moral” way to provide “reconciliation” to the Palestinians. Jaradat clarified he believed this would not necessitate return of Palestinians to their original homes but that they should be able to form communities near the areas of their original residency.

While the Palestinian refugee issue is real, it is not an issue for Israel solely (or even mostly) to solve. Bronstein admitted that Israel was only partially responsible for the flight of Palestinians in 1948, that the Arab states were also accountable, yet the solution he proposed puts the burden squarely on Israel’s shoulders. The Arab states, who initiated the refugee issue (Arab leaders such as Haled al Azm, the Syrian Prime Minister during 1948, and Mahmoud Abbas, as well as various Arab news sources, confirm this) by encouraging Palestinians to evacuate to make way for the Syrian, Jordanian, Lebanese, Iraqi, and Egyptian armies who were marching to destroy Israel, have barely made efforts to resolve the situation. Instead, they have left the burden on Israel and the global community. Indeed, the majority of refugees live in Arab countries: 61% of the total, or 2,768,919 refugees, live in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria; of those refugees who live in so-called “refugee camps,” 50% live in these countries.

Why have these Palestinians lived in their Arab host countries in “camps” for sixty years, aided by the UNRWA? Jordan has given the refugees their citizenship and absorbed them but they still continue to be considered “refugees.” Furthermore, these “camps” are actually permanent structures and for the most part resemble normal towns (as photographs of the Dheishe refugee camp in the West Bank from the SCB exhibit show). Yet the Arab countries prefer to keep their refugee status (which is somehow passed on from parents to all descendants, as if it were a genetic trait) in the spotlight of international attention, using it as a bargaining chip against Israel.

While it is important to recognize that Palestinian refugees exist, as Bronstein’s Zochrot does, this must be taken in perspective. It’s a shame that such an organization doesn’t exist in Arab countries to educate Arabs about the plight of the 850,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries who were expelled under threat of persecution after Israel declared independence; this number exceeds most estimates of the original numbers of Palestinian refugees (not including descendants). I suppose, were it to exist, such an organization would be called “Natadhakkar” (Arabic for “we remember”).

We also have to remember why so many Palestinians fled. There were instances of Israeli abuse, as Israelis were in the midst of a war fighting for their survival.The speakers forgot to mention the many examples of Arab massacres of Israelis during the war, such as in Kfar Etzion, where 120 were killed. Many fled because they were encouraged by the Arab armies, but many Palestinian towns were given ultimatums to stop combat. Then some towns continued to fight and their residents were expelled because they were threatening Israel’s survival. An example of the latter is the town of al-Majdal (which Bronstein mentioned but failed to recall the reason for the expulsion). Other towns, such as Abu Gosh, whose residents surrendered, still exist today in Israel.

Bronstein said that Zochrot was planning to conduct research on practical ways to implement a return of these refugees. There is no “practical” way to do this—unless your goal is to eliminate Israel’s existence as a democratic Jewish state by an influx of millions of Palestinians (who also pose a great security risk). Jaradat explicitly stated that he was an “unbeliever” himself, and favored the creation of a single, secular, democratic state in the place of Israel; given the strong Islamism in Palestinian society, basing a solution on one’s minority secular outlook is groundless. He even proposed that, since the coastal areas of Israel had historically been Arab, whereas Jewish religion maintains that areas in “Judea and Samaria” (the West Bank) and Jerusalem, such as Hebron, are holy sites, a possible solution could be a massive population transfer of more than ten million Israelis and Palestinians to swap territories (a la India and Pakistan). How’s that for “practical”?

Bronstein and Jaradat’s arguments are based on one major premise, which leaves their proposed solutions without merit. This is the belief that the fault in the conflict is solely Israel’s, since the Palestinians deserve “reconciliation” from the Israelis, not vice versa. Did he forget about more than sixty years of Palestinian terrorism against Israel, of the relentless homicide bombings and rocket attacks of Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad, and other groups? Did he forget about the Palestinian media and education system which indoctrinate many children to deny Israel’s right to exist, promote virulently anti-Semitic myths, and teach them to adore terrorist figures?

Perhaps he didn’t forget, since the fulfillment of this return would confirm the denial of Israel’s right to exist that many Palestinian children have learned, by resulting in the elimination of Israel’s existence as a Jewish-based state. In the whole presentation, I don’t think the “T-word” (terrorism) was mentioned once—a deadly omission of the facts. Once the return happens, would all of the terrorists suddenly disappear and settle into normal civilian life? Bronstein and Jaradat also dismissed Israel’s security concerns, such as the security wall and checkpoint stations, as unimportant. But look at the facts: from September 2000 to August 2003 (when the first stage of the wall was completed), Palestinian suicide bombers murdered 293 Israelis. But in the period from August 2003 through 2006, only 64 Israelis were likewise murdered. That’s a 78% reduction in fatalities, with a nearly identical reduction in injuries. That is not a trifling concern.

In their arguments for the Palestinian “right” of return, Bronstein and Jaradat advocate nothing short of the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state, and they forgive terrorism by dismissing Israel’s effective methods of terrorist prevention merely as ways of oppressing the Palestinians. The arguments seem rational on the surface, but they are in reality the ultimate form of injustice in sum for the current players in the conflict. The solution they envisage is nothing short of the destruction of Israel in its current state and its transformation into yet another Arab state. The bottom line is this: Israel has existed as a recognized and legitimate Jewish state for sixty years, and most Israelis want it to stay that way. Any solution to the conflict must preserve Israel as such. The conflict cannot be solved by ridding one nation of the state that they have created, and replacing it with a state for the other.