(Following article is in response to “Palestinian ‘Refugees’ Victimized By Their Leadership” by Melvin Horwitz published in The Hartford Courant on January 31, 2001)
“Israel was invaded by five Arab armies”, “Israel made the desert bloom”, “the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes would be Israel’s suicide” and more myths are reproduced on a daily basis. One such example is Melvin Horwitz’ commentary in this newspaper on January 31.
Horowitz claims that the Arabs first attacked but by May 1948 Jewish forces had already invaded and occupied large parts of the land which had been allocated to the Palestinians by the UN Partition Plan in 1947. For example, these forces mounted military operations in Qazaza (21 December 1947), Haifa (21 February 1948), Salamah (1 March 1948), Deir Yassin (9 April 1948) and Jaffa (26 April 1948). Also Israeli historians, such as Benny Morris, have refuted the claim that the Arabs started the 1948 war.
Horovitz’ claim that Israel “made the desert bloom” is a wild exaggeration which vastly overstates the extent of Jewish achievements and grossly underestimated Palestinian cultivation and the natural fertility of Palestine.
First, only half of the area of Palestine has a true desert climate. This mainly consists of the Negev desert which stretches south from Bir Saba’ to the Gulf of Aqaba. Second, the remaining half of Palestine has a mediterranean climate with substantial rainfall. It is naturally fertile. The average annual rainfall at Tel Aviv, for example, totals 539 mm., 639 mm. at Nazareth and 486 at Jerusalem. Thirdly, it was the Palestinians who expanded agricultural production and techniques during the 18th and 19th centuries before the arrival of European Jewish settlers.
For example, the Jaffa orange which is closely identified with Israel, had already been developed by Palestinian expertise before the Zionist colonisation of Palestine was under way.
In 1886 the American consul in Jerusalem, Henry Gillman, called attention to the excellent quality and superior grafting techniques of Palestinian citrus farmers: “I am particular in giving the details of this simple method of propagating this valuable fruit [the Jaffa Orange] as I believe it might be adopted with advantage in Florida” (US Government, Documents of the Jerusalem Consulate, 16 December 1886).
Finally, it is often said that Israel opposes the return of the refugees on the basis that this will change the Jewish character of the state, or as Horovitz writes “would be suicidal”. The Jewish character of Israel is really a euphemism for the Zionist discriminatory statutes of the State of Israel which violate human rights provisions. The international community is under no more of legal obligation to maintain Zionism in Israel than it is to maintain apartheid in the South Africa.
An ackward similarity comes to mind with the incendiary words of the apartheid philosophy spoken by former South African Prime Minister Dr. Verwoerd: “We want to keep South Africa white. Keeping it white can only mean one thing, namely white domination, not ‘leadership’, not ‘guidance’, but control, supremacy.”
How governments deal with past injustices is usually a telling indicator of their commitment to ensure that the same injustices do not occur again. The wrongdoing inflicted by Israel against the Palestinian people, came in many forms and shapes, and accountability for these crimes may, in the end, also come in many forms.
The right of return and restitution, being an individual right, cannot be overridden by intergovernmental agreement. Neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority, nor the two in concert, have the legal capacity to extinguish claims of individuals.
The Palestinian refugees’ right of return has not diminished since the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 194 in December 1948 but rather, has, on the contrary, gained even greater weight with the intervening passage of more than fifty years since the period of initial displacement of the Palestinian refugees. Implementation of the right of return is therefore a logical necessity for a just and legal peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, under international law.
It is sometimes said that there is no higher moral than to preserve peace. Rightly so. But as long as there are individuals such as Horovitz who spread myths and lies and support apartheid and racism, the road to peace and reconciliation will be very long, indeed.
The author is a Dutch-Palestinian political scientist, human rights activist and is affiliated to the the Palestine Right to Return Coalition (Al-Awda).