Understanding the emotional issues surrounding al-Awda


No other issues evokes more emotion from Palestinians than the issue of “The Return,” in Arabic, al-Awda.

It is a difficult and painful issue to address, as I and others have discovered in recent weeks when I began exploring ways to approach a peaceful compromise for Palestinians in Israelis. It involves real lives, real suffering and the hopes and dreams of millions.

Critics on both sides, Palestinians and Israelis, have weighed in on the issue, some attacking me personally. I understand it. But there are even more who responded with reason, understanding what I wrote and who agree we must explore the difficulty of navigating this issue if we intend to achieve a peace based on a two-state solution.

And I even understand the emotion that has been characterized by hate from some activists and members of discussion lists who I believe have ignored the issues. That’s a topic for a future column, why Palestinians prefer to burn down their own rather than understand the complexities of emotional issues overwhelm us and sometimes hold us hostage to a life of continued despair.

I intend to move beyond that and explore the al-Awda issue in greater detail. We must.

Even though I reiterated my belief that the Palestinian refugees who were expelled from their homes by Israel in 1948 have a legal, moral and ethical right to return that is solid and uncompromising, some who read the columns failed to understand that meaning.

The right of the refugees to return is a law. It is founded on a legal premise of human rights that is so great that no individual can erase and yet so hopeless fragile that it is the only thing from which Palestinian refugees have managed to preserve their very existence.

In the context of achieving two-states and resolving the Palestine-Israel conflict peacefully, how do we resolve the issue of al-Awda?

Regardless of the answer, the fact is that the Palestinian right to return is undeniable and solid. It doesn’t mean it will happen. It doesn’t mean that in a two-state solution, refugees can expect to return to their lands.

Who knows what might happen in the future? Individuals cannot change laws, deny rights or compromise on fundamental justice.

In achieving a compromise, there is also the view that while that legal and moral and ethical right exists, it may never be implemented.

And that is my challenge to my critics –” the harsh critics and the sound ones who have offered intelligent responses. How do you organize a movement to achieve that right, as opposed to creating a movement that celebrates that right?

In other words, if it is a right, why haven’t Palestinians succeeded in implementing their legal, moral and ethical right to return to their rightful lands and homes?

Whose fault is that failure to achieve that goal, and how do we go about making it a reality?

Of course, some Palestinians have pointed out issues extraneous to the discussion, which they often refuse to debate. I am a Christian. I am married to a Jew. I oppose all violence and I support compromise. I believe that we should work toward ending the suffering of the Palestinian refugees, not cling to their suffering as an excuse to agitate.

Is the point of our existence to hold meetings and conferences and stand around nodding our heads in agreement that an injustice has been done? Or, should we demand more from our leaders and hold them accountable?

Should we not demand that those who claim to champion the al-Awda movement –” and there are many great members of al-Awda who have been outside of this debate –” must be accountable and responsible for what has happened and what has not happened?

Leaders are judged not on their personalities or the popularity of the issues they champion. Leaders are judged by results.

In responding to my columns, some have not been leaders. They typify the stereotype of the over-burdened Palestinian fraught with suffering and a life of despair who cannot get past their emotions. They find it easier to attack those among our community who seek to have an open and free discussion, rather than channel that energy into a positive movement that shows results.

I believe we can have better leaders. I also believe al-Awda deserves more public discussion than one or two columns. For the sake of the refugees. We may discuss and debate the issue but the refugees live the tragedy.

I believe it deserves further understanding on all sides, my side included. I will explore the reality of the return against the reality of compromise. There is the challenge to define how we embrace al-Awda if we achieve a two-state solution where Palestinians have real sovereignty over only part of the land.

It may not mean that refugees will be going back to their homes. But it also does not mean that they must be forced to give up their legal and moral and ethical right in a compromise.

That’s a challenge Israelis will have to confront and Palestinians must better understand.