The Right of Return – Israel and Palestine

“What is vital for us,” said an Israeli cabinet minister recently, “is to obtain the most important thing, the renunciation by the Palestinians of the right of return of refugees to territory under Israeli sovereignty… This right of return is our greatest concern because we want to maintain the character and the Jewish majority in Israel and renouncing this right is the only way to achieve that.” 

The quote would be upsetting enough if it had come from the hawkish Benjamin Netnayahu or the ultra-hawkish Ariel Sharon. In fact, the quote comes from Yuli Tamir an Israeli cabinet minister close to Ehud Barak and one of the stars of the so-called left-wing peace camp. 

Moreover, had the speaker been from any country other than Israel (or the United States), and had the target population been any other than the Palestinians, the US media would probably be up in arms denouncing the statement as a shockingly racist and brazen example of state-sponsored ethnic cleansing. “How can such talk be heard even now, after all the painful lessons of this century!” would be the collective exclamation (as it was when the Milosevic regime was uttering similar pronunciations during the Bosnian war). But since the cabinet minister pronouncing those words is from Israel é and the Israeli Left at that! é the remarks go unnoticed, not surprisingly. 

It is important to remember in all of this a basic reality: Israel explicitly subordinates citizenship to race. According to the Law of Return of the State of Israel, all Jews as well as spouses and children of Jews are entitled to what is called aliyah é return to Israel. A Jewish person é any Jewish person — from anywhere around the world, can immigrate to Israel and practically obtain automatic Israeli citizenship with little difficulty. It does not matter if the immigrant had never set foot in Israeli soil, or even if any of his ancestors going back hundreds of years had never been to Israel either; by mere virtue of being Jewish, the person is entitled to live in the land of Israel. 

Israel, moreover, is the only country in the world today that has adopted, as a matter of official policy, the pursuit of a certain racial makeup of its citizenry: i.e., maintaining a Jewish majority. This policy, as is well known outside of the United States, is of course in direct violation of The International Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which explicitly prohibits “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin.” 

Minister Tamir’s statement violates another set of basic principles of International Law, articulated in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Here are a couple. 

Article 13, for instance, holds that: (1) “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state;” and (2) “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” Minister Tamir wishes to deny Palestinians their right to return to the homes from which they were forced to flee. 

Article 17 holds that: (1) “Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others;” and (2) “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.” Minister Tamir wishes to deprive Palestinians of lands and houses for which they still hold, to this day, legal deeds. 

Irony of ironies, Yuli Tamir is in fact Israeli’s Minister of immigrant absorption: that is, she is in charge of overseeing the implementation and management of Israel’s Law of Return. And yet, she denies Palestinians with valid property deeds to land and houses their most fundamental right of reclaiming what is rightfully theirs. 

Perhaps now, more than ever before, Israelis should ponder the words uttered by the father of their nation, David Ben-Burion. Just before he died, Ben-Gurion said: “[Israel] is two things. An ark and a Covenanté There are some who see Israel’s importance primarily as an Ark, a place where the persecuted can goé I think the covenant takes precedence over the concept of refugeé Israel cannot just be a refuge. If it is to survive as a valid nation, it has to be much, much moreé”

Mr. Ahmed Bouzid is President of Palestine Media Watch 

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