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Radical Australian Jews advocating for Israeli national suicide

April 29, 2010 – 8:59 pm16 Comments

Source: Bruce's MidEast Soundbites

Why a Return of Palestinian refugees to Israel will never happen and should never happen

By Philip Mendes

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.

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  • Steve Brook says:

    Yes, two states for two peoples really does seem the way to go. The question of Palestinian Right of Return can only be tackled in this context. Compensation for aggrieved Palestinians is essential, and will provide business for legal people on both sides for a long time to come.  However there are two major flies in the ointment: (a) the intransigeance of the current Netanyahu government in Israel, and (b) a similar intransigeance on the other side, especially that part of it led by Hamas. At the moment, neither side looks like blinking. Maybe it’s time for fresh ointment.

  • dreamhunk says:

    Those khazars in Israel are not even real Hebrews or Jews.

  • Sol Salbe says:

     Has anybody forgotten that Israel is a sovereign state and its citizens are the ones who should decide its migration policy?

    We have had a very good analogy in this country. Some of us are unfortunately old enough to remember the White Australia Policy. There was a lot of debate in this country about it. However, as far as I can recall, no one among the British people who are advantaged by this racist policy ever wrote a letter to their press giving up the right to move to Australia. Had they done so they would have been laughed at treated with derision by both supporters AND opponents of that policy here. This was something to be decided by Australians, not foreigners who should butt out of our internal affairs.

    If you look at policies presented at the last Federal elections there was huge difference between policies of the Socialist Alliance and Australians against further Immigration. But what they, and everyone else in between agreed, was that Australia’s immigration policy should be decided by us and no one else.

    Israel is no different and foreigners like Antony Loewenstein, Philip Mendes, Bob Brown, Malcolm Fraser, Pauline Hanson etc should not presume to have a say in Israel’s immigration policy.

  • Steve Brook says:

    (1) There is a fine line between “having a say” in Israel’s migration policy and simply having opinions about that policy. Everyone who expresses an opinion has a (perhaps forlorn) hope that this opinion will somehow have an influence on policy-making over there — but this cannot be the main motivation.

    (2) Of course Israel is a sovereign state. And to get out of the present conflict, it is necessary for that state to help create another sovereign state on its border for those Palestinians who want it. That’s an opinion, not an attempt to “have a say”.

    (3) So I am really a Khazar? Wow. 

  • Sol raises a very valid point. Israel being a Jewish state and therefore with (self-perceived) stakeholders all over the world, many have the view that they should have a say in the country’s policies. Interestingly, Israel itself does not allow citizens abroad to have a vote in elections! On that basis, it would be absurd that Diaspora Jews (who are only potential citizens) should have a say.

    Where it’s reasonable to draw the line is when it comes to foreign citizens writing petitions to a government. Do we see petitions to the government of Sudan to stop the genocide going on there? Closer to this topic, how about petitions to the Jordanian government in response to their repressive policies against Palestinians, who are in fact the majority? How about a right of return to their native land of Jordan?

  • SJ says:

    The post reminds of a ‘Doha’ debate I watched a whilst ago, when a Palestinian living in the West Bank argued for the Palestinians to give up the right of return in the context of a comprehensive peace plan, whilst a Palestinian born and bred in Chicago (whose grandmother had lived in Palestine) argued for a right of return. When questioned whether he would exercise that right, he evaded the question.
    This question needs to be addressed in the here and now. Where exactly are 5-6 million Palestinians going to return to. Their homes no longer exist. It politically and practically unfeasible. Its for this reason that even the likes of Noam Chomsky have come out against a mass right of return. This is not to say that in some final deal, there could be some limited right of return for some Palestinians in the context of family reunifcations etc. as was proposed by Israel back in 2000.
    Frankly, however, all these issues are largely theoretical. Palestinians and Israeli leaders can’t even sit together, they have to engage in ‘proximity talks’ and are miles away from getting even close to touching such thorny issues.  

  • philip mendes says:

    I have known Sol Salbe for many years, and I trust he will not mind if I try and interpret what he is saying to those readers who haven’t. He grew up in Israel, and only came to Australia in the late 1960s as a teenager. Reading between the lines, he seems to be saying that he as an ex-Israeli knows more about this issue than Australians, Jewish or otherwise. Now I could say that he has lived here for more than 40 years, and hence is more Australian than Israeli. But I won’t because I think he has at least a partial point. And I actually agree with him that Israelis should make this decision as a sovereign nation which is what I have said on many occasions, and precisely why there will never be any Palestinian right of return. But there does seem to be a personal barb in Sol’s comments which to me raises the question why he has attacked my piece (which actually implicitly concurs with his own argument), but was silent as far as I know when Curthoys and Loewenstein issued their petition which overtly contradicts his beliefs. It also reminds me of an article Sol published in the March 2010 of the AJDS newsletter reporting on the appalling “Israeli apartheid” seminar at Melb Uni. In that article, Sol cites without comment an ad-hominem attack by pro-Palestinian lobbyist and academic boycott campaigner Jake Lynch on my published analysis of John Pilger’s views on Israel. I actually suspect that Sol’s views on Pilger are closer to my own than to those of Jake Lynch. So again why is the anger misdirected, and for what reason?


  • Zhorkon says:

    Speaking of butting into other peoples/nations affairs, how about a “resident alien” in America pontificating to Australians about what Jews in Israel ought to do?
    I would suggest to you that this entire discussion lacks one thing – a foundation in reality, as revealed over 60+ years by Israeli experience with their Arab neighbors and co-residents,  about 1300 years  of Jews living as a dhimmi underclass beneath dominant and aggressive Mohammedans, and even longer experiences with a variety of often savagely hostile Christian and pagan overlords…
    Jews in Israel, for the most part, have the same uber-civilized, touchy-feely, do-gooder, socially-conscious instincts that their co-religionists in other countries have… despite endless wars and bitter experiences almost daily. If their Arab neighbors really wanted peace based on anything less than the complete destruction of the tiny State of Israel – the Jews’ one and only “homeland” on Earth – they could have had a territorial “compromise” long ago and could be living now under their own laws in their own State. Indeed, better than half of mandate Palestine is already exclusively Arab owned and occupied:  it is presently called Jordan.
    The Arab leaders – “Palestinians” and otherwise – have consistently rejected all workable compromises with the Jewish State, have continued to wage war through whatever means were at their disposal, and have consistently seeded the ground for further conflict with incessant propaganda, incitement and indoctrination of their populations…  Anyone who is honest and awake should know all about this;  these are simple, documented historical facts.
    At some point, all of us need to grow up, let go of our treasured illusions and hopes for “Peace Now”, and start to think in terms of perpetual – and, G-d willing, effective – defense. Any “concessions for peace” which strengthen or entrench or even encourage an implacable foe are counter-productive. Israelis need to think about the hard, strategic importance of the Judean hills (in slowing and blunting future conventional attacks and invasions) and their dependence on continued control of regional water supplies… not the nebulous promises of scheming leaders (Americans most certainly included), whose solemn pledges usually are “broken before the ink dries”.

  • Steve Brook says:

    Zhorkon left out “limp-wristed”, “caffe latte-sipping” and “Chardonnay-drinking” from the list of undesirable qualities Jews have to get rid of in order to meet his standards of excellence. So what we need is a bit of muscular Judaism, eh Zhorkon? Shoot first and ask questions after?

  • Ari says:

    There is also a very important argument to be made in this context which I did not notice above.  Namely, that in the context of the establishment of Israel some 600,000 Jews, atleast, were forced to flee Arab countries leaving behind valuable property.  That should also be part of the discussions and the negotiations when we come to compensating Palestinians for their property.

    And one final point in response to the old Khazar rubbish – The Jews are far more authentic a nation with claims to the Land of Israel than a vague national entity that saw themselves as Syrian until the Zionist enterprise and the First World War.  An entity whose entire national consciousness is predicated on the “catastrophe” that is Israel and the war that it now engages in.  Part of the Palestinian inability to forge peace even on the basis of nearly all of their demands is a direct result of the fact that without a conflict with Israel they have no other definitive national existence.

  • Steve Brook says:

    Nations are shaped by experiences common to a large number of people, plus things like common religion, language and so on. Palestinians may not have existed as a nation prior to the establishment of Israel, but their dispossession by that establishment was an experience widespread enough to generate powerful aspirations towards nationhood. All that’s missing now is a geographical area in which to realize these aspirations — a new state alongside and (hopefully) living in peace with Israel.

  • Ari says:

    I did not intend to dispell the fact that the Palestinians are a nation rather I meant to dispell an earlier comment that the Jews are Khazars with less of a connection to the Land.  As a side point, however, if the only thing binding the Palestinians as a nation is the wish to establish a state inspite of Israel, then the hopes for peace are misplaced.  For by definition, peace would mean shattering the Palestinian nation or atleast the most important thing leading to the formation of that nation.  That is, peace brings about a Palestinian crisis of identity so powerful as to render it  impossible to come to terms with.  As an Israeli who actually lives in Israel, I need more than a ‘hopeful’ peace in exchange for the possibility of placing Palestinian rockets within range of Ben – Gurion Airport.  And as I have written above, it does not seem hopeful.

  • Reality Check says:

    Well written Philip, and very informative. Also the comments from Sol and Steve very good, But we still have the right to protest when we see injustice in other places around the world; South Africa during Apartheid, for example. But who really cares what Loewenstein thinks and says. He only does so to further his own career. If there was peace in Israel he would be out of a job.

  • Ilana Leeds says:

    I quote:
    ‘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.’

    I think we should put a full stop after years. This can be cut out of the equation
    ‘or alternatively as citizens of a new Palestinian state to be established alongside Israel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.’
    And it would be better for the Israelis living in the country and dealing with the day to day realities to make decisions about who where what and when.

  • Steve Brook says:

    Quite right, Ilana Leeds. There is nothing sacred about any Right of Return, especially if this implies the forcible uprooting of an existing population from a specific territory. Similarly, there is nothing sacred about armed struggle, even as a response to oppression. Ask the IRA!

  • Mohan replies says:

    Sorry, to put it bluntly, this is a tissue of lies. The cause of the conflict was Zionist colonisation following the Balfour declaration, in collusion with the British colonial regime. And the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians began even before the declaration of Israel. Deir yesin for instance.

    This stands truth and history on its head. Even the resolution on partition did not allow for expulsion. Mendes is welcome to argue his views with historical evidence and I will refute them.

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