Radical Australian Jews advocating for Israeli national suicide
Why a Return of Palestinian refugees to Israel will never happen and should never happen
Last month a small group of Australian Jews signed a petition coordinated by anti-Israel extremists Antony Loewenstein and Ned Curthoys rejecting their right to Israeli citizenship under Israel’s Law of Return, and instead demanding that Israel accept the return of “seven million Palestinian refugees from around the world”. This argument that Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war are entitled to return to their former homes and land inside Israel is a staple diet of the pro-Palestinian lobby including the vocal group, Australians for Palestine, with which the petition convenors are associated.
There are, however, a number of overwhelming historical and contemporary arguments against such a return. The exodus of the 600-700,000 Palestinians occurred in the context of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Three groups contributed to this tragedy: the Palestinian Arab leadership who attempted to destroy the Jewish State of Israel at birth; the Arab States who invaded Israel in an attempt to assist the Palestinians; and Israel which expelled many of the Palestinians for fear that they would constitute a hostile ‘fifth column’ that would undermine their defence of their borders.
On the cessation of hostilities in December 1948, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 194, which has often been cited by the pro-Palestinian lobby as supporting an unconditional return of the Palestinian refugees. In fact, the resolution was clearly conditional, and formally linked to acceptance of the earlier UN partition resolution creating both Jewish and Arab states in Palestine, and a negotiated peace. The resolution stated that ‘the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return’.
In practice, both the Palestinian leaders and the Arab governments initially rejected the resolution precisely because it implied recognition of Israel’s legitimacy. The anti-war journalist Martha Gellhorn undertook a series of interviews with Palestinian refugees, published in the Atlantic Monthly in October 1961, which suggested that most wanted revenge, rather than to live in peace with the Israelis.
Prior to the 1967 Six Day War, Palestinian right of return rhetoric was used to deny the legitimacy of the State of Israel, and so provide a rationale for the Arab refusal to recognize the State of Israel. However, following the 1967 war, the international debate shifted from questions about the legitimacy of Israel within the Green Line borders to questions about the legitimacy of a Palestinian State in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. The subsequent political contest for or against a two-state solution explicitly assumed that any resolution of the Palestinian refugee tragedy would be addressed within the territories occupied by Israel in 1967. There could be two states or there could be a Palestinian right of return, but there could not be both. It was instructive that the Oslo Peace Accord signed by Israel and the PLO in 1993 did not mention Resolution 194.
Palestinian demands for a right of return of the 1948 refugees were, however, formally revived during the ill-fated Camp David negotiations of July 2000. The Palestinian delegation argued for the right of every Palestinian refugee to return home in accordance with UN Resolution 194. They also called for an immediate timetable for the return of Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon to the Galilee.
In response, the Israelis denied any historical or moral responsibility for the Palestinian refugee exodus, and refused to recognize any right of return. This anti-right of return position is shared by the entire Israeli political spectrum including prominent peace activists such as Amos Oz, David Grossman, and A.B.Yehushua. They believe (as do many diaspora Jews including the author) that the Palestinians are entitled to at least partial compensation for the injustice of 1948 by securing a sovereign state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip alongside Israel. But only a tiny handful of Israelis would share the views of Loewenstein and Curthoys that the rights of Palestinian refugees can only be achieved by suppressing the rights of Israeli Jews.
The prominent revisionist historian Benny Morris, who had vigorously challenged the official Israeli view that the Palestinians had left voluntarily at the behest of Arab leaders in 1948, succinctly argued in an interview with the left-wing Tikkun Magazine in March 2001 that any right of return would lead to the ‘physical destruction’ of Israel. According to Morris, ‘A country divided between Israelis on the one hand and on the other Palestinians who had returned and were filled with anger not only at the way they had been treated in the past but also at not finding their villages or homes available – that country would quickly become ungovernable. Each individual Jew living in the country would be facing a real physical danger’.
Morris’ comments emphasize that any large-scale return of 1948 Palestinian refugees to Israel would be likely to bring civil war and enormous bloodshed rather than Israeli-Palestinian peace and reconciliation. The only sane and dignified solution to the refugee tragedy is the resettlement of all Palestinian refugees with compensation as either full citizens in the neighbouring Arab countries in which most have lived for over 60 years, or alternatively as citizens of a new Palestinian state to be established alongside Israel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.