(Mr. Mazin Qumsiyeh wrote the following article in response to Dr. Jerome Segal’s article ‘Right of Return Confusions’ )
Dear Dr. Segal,
I read your article titled “Right of Return Confusions.” I admire the detail and thought that went into this article and in many ways it addresses lots of misconceptions.
I will obviously point out the areas of disagreement not of agreement (& there are many between us).
As a scientist, I must and foremost state this general observation. Your analysis is predicated on accepting the assumption of two states, one “Jewish,” one “Arab.” You even extend this assumption based on UNGA 181 to assume that UNGA 181 calls for the “Jewish State” to always have a majority of Jews or that Jews should run the affairs of that state. UNGA 181 stated clearly that the rights of people who are non-Jews in the future “Jewish State” must be respected. It is of course a self contradictory resolution in that if implemented fairly, even the Jewish state would be mostly made up of non-Jews. Nevertheless, the resolution was adopted before the ethnic cleansing of 1948 and clearly prohibited transfer of population to implement the resolution. UNGA 194 calls for refugees to return to live in peace. UNGAs 181 and 194 both contradict your vision of a Jewish state that can regulate return of Palestinians to their lands and homes.
Israel/Palestine now has about 4.5 million Jews and 3.7 million Christians and Muslims. Of the 8 million Palestinians in the world, more than 5 million are refugees or “displaced persons.” A quarter of Israel’s 1.2 million “Gentile” citizens are considered by the Israeli legal system as “present absentees” and their land is confiscated.
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. Palestinians are treated much worse than blacks were in South Africa under apartheid.
Incomplete success of ethnic cleansing led Israeli governments to attempt to isolate Palestinians in bantustans (homelands) and to ensure that refugees never return (3,000 were killed trying to “infiltrate” back before fences were put up). The 30-year-old Israeli-American solution to the Palestinian “problem” was reinvented at Oslo and re-presented lately by Prime Minister Ehud Barak and President Clinton as final deals to Palestinians.
Modeled after apartheid in South Africa, it envisions no return of refugees (except “family reunification” at the discretion of the State) and disjointed segments of a demilitarized “Palestine,” without control of natural resources or borders surrounded by the Israeli army and settlements. But even if Arafat agrees to this sham “peace,” it cannot last. Palestinian refugees know their return is an inalienable, individual and collective right supported by international law and morality.
Research has also shown return to be feasible and not a threat to order. On the contrary, no lasting peace can occur without it; annulling it would set a precedent in international law. If 1.2 million Palestinians (currently citizens of Israel) can remain peaceful and obeying the law (for the majority) while being abused and treated as 4th class citizens, imagine how they and their relatives and other returnees would behave in a state that treated them fairly and decently and removed the biggest complaint they have (exile).
Israel needs to evolve from a Jewish state to a state of its citizens. It is only logical to expect that the current Palestinian citizens of Israel (and secular Israelis in general) are not thrilled to stand in awe at a national anthem that talks about Jewish yearning for a homeland. They are not keen about a state that has no constitution to protect Gentiles but rather has specific laws to discriminate against them and insure Jewish-only settlements continue to flourish while Arab towns and villages are destroyed or strangled. They are not content with an Israeli law of return giving automatic citizenship to any Jew in the world who desires it while denying return to people born and raised there for generations simply for being Gentile (many of them relatives of those Palestinians remaining and who have not seen each other in 52 years).
Trying to dance around the issues to maintain a Zionist “vision” of their “Jewish state” is problematical not only to Palestinian rights but also to the rights of Israelis who do not identify with this vision of a Jewish state with open immigration to any Jew in the world desiring it while unfairly preventing people from going back to their homes and lands. In terms of practicalities, Jews in America have some influence on foreign policy, helped draft and place laws to protect minorities, have done a tremendous service to protecting civil rights of all minorities, had a massive influence in the sciences, medicine, business etc. of this country. They did all of this while representing less than 4% of the population. Now why is there a problem in Jews in Israel/Palestine going from 80% of the population to 50-55% of the population (or even 40%) if a constitution is drafted while they are in the majority with separation of powers as in the US etc. to ensure rights of all minorities)?
(Dr. Mazin B. Qumsiyeh is Chair of the Media Committee, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition)