Jewish Fear and Palestinian Right of Return – Confronting the greatest obstacles in resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict
While it is the norm for a Palestinian to address the issue of “The Palestinian Right of Return”, it is not a familiar territory for a Palestinian to venture into an area as complex and as diverse—in terms of its origins and implications—as “Jewish Fear” is. However, it is my view that the best starting point in dealing with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the acceptance by both parties (i.e. Jews and Palestinians) that they are equally human beings who need to understand each other in a manner that does not exclude the right of either party to live in peace, security, and dignity.
When Jewish Fear is mentioned, a lot of people think of the Holocaust. That fact reflects one of the most common misunderstandings of Jews, for Jewish Fear had existed as a Jewish reality for a long time before the Holocaust. It is true that the Holocaust galvanized Jewish Fear and gave it a huge reinforcement, but the Holocaust is neither the sole nor the main source of Jewish Fear.
For centuries before the Holocaust, Jews—especially European Jews—were persecuted, demeaned, and discriminated against in more ways than what can be accounted for in an article. Anti-Semitism, as it is commonly understood to mean anti-Jewish, rendered Jews inferior and resulted in treating them as less than equal human beings.
As human beings, Jews were able to co-exist with anti-Semitism, but obviously never accepted it. Some Jews turned internally and tried to secure their own safety keeping their feelings of resentment to themselves; others rejected oppression and resisted it in many forms; but all resented their oppression and knew how unjust it was. Jews rejected and resisted their persecution, but that resistance seemed futile – due to the overwhelming odds against them – for centuries.
Late in the 19th century, Zionism emerged as an organized Jewish political force that advocated a cause that most Jews consider just: Establishing a safe homeland for Jews. Jews simply wanted a place they can call their own, in which they can freely live their lives in peace as Jews – a safe haven to which they can flee in an event of danger; danger that seemed, at least to Jews, to be inevitable.
It is true that there are many remarkable examples of Jews who were able to liberate themselves from Jewish Fear and lead their lives without it in their respective societies. Nevertheless, one would be hard pressed to find a single Jew who would not easily recall a story of bad treatment of Jews because of their Jewish heritage. Many Jews would agonize about stories that involve them, or others they know, where they could “pass” for non-Jews. “Passing” for a non-Jew is deeply painful, for it illustrates Jewish willful denial of Jews’ own identity.
The impact of Jewish Fear on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is profound. Jewish Fear has contributed to most Jews feeling reluctant to tolerate criticism of the state ofIsrael; for they considerIsraelto be the only safe haven for Jews. This impact of Jewish Fear also explains the individual personal attachments many non-Israeli Jews feel towards the state of Israel.
It is an acceptable notion among many Jews that being a weak minority was at the root of their persecution. They seeIsraelas the only place on earth where Jews are the strong majority, and they want to preserve that strong majority; almost at any cost. In that regard, the presence of the state ofIsraeldoes not only secure the sought-after safe haven for Jews, but also meets Jewish aspirations for equal nationhood among nations.
To illustrate how deep Jewish Fear is in the Jewish psyche, I invite readers to consider the current balance of power in the Middle East. Israelis far stronger than the Palestinians and more powerful militarily than the entire Arab countries put together. Yet, Jewish Fear continues to dominate mainstream Jewish thinking, and most threats to the state ofIsraelare usually characterized as existential threats almost as soon as they become known.
All this is to say that Jewish Fear is real; it exists; it is deep; comprehending it is fundamental to understanding the Zionist narrative; and fairly dealing with it is essential to justly solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Without having to get into a maze of historic and geopolitical analysis, one can accurately assert that for a multitude of reasons—including some imperial interests, religious factors, and ancient historic claims—the Zionist movement focused on Palestine as the place in which to establish a homeland for Jews. The establishment of a state for the Jews in Palestine was the Zionist concept, and its free “gift” to the Europeans, for solving a problem that was called the “Jewish Problem” in Europe.
Impact of Jewish Fear on the Palestinian People:
It is important to remember that Palestinians had no role—none whatsoever—in the persecution of Jews. While Jewish persecution is an undeniable historic fact, it is also an undeniable historic fact that the Palestinians did not cause it; did not initiate it; did not participate in it; and were not in any way whatsoever responsible for it. Indeed, Jewish Fear had been a Jewish reality for centuries prior to the Palestinians becoming part of any conflict with Jews.
Around the turn of the last century, “The Mother of All Lies” was pronounced. In an attempt to claim that Zionism was seeking to solve what was then known in Europe as the Jewish Problem without causing harm to anyone else—which would have been consistent with Jewish self-image as justice-loving people—Zionist propaganda declared Palestine to be “A Land Without People for a People Without Land.” Based on that lie, Palestine was a ripe land for the taking without the Palestinians; their heritage, culture, art, songs, attachment to the land, economy, roots, history, love stories, fields, schools, playgrounds, memories, churches, mosques, trees, gardens, achievements—and indeed their very existence—were all denied. That Mother of All Lies planted the seeds for the horrible ethnic cleansing that followed.
The first major success Zionists accomplished was on November 2nd 1917, when the British government—through the infamous Balfour Declaration—promised a homeland for the Jews in Palestine without consulting its indigenous inhabitants; i.e. the Palestinian people.
In implementing the Balfour Declaration, the British facilitated the transfer of waves upon waves of European Jews intoPalestine. Palestinians rejected the denial of their existence, asserted their presence on their land, and resisted British and Zionist actions to reshape their society without their consent. Palestinian resistance took various forms, from civil disobedience to popular demonstrations to general strikes to the use of violence against the British mandate authority. Facing overwhelming odds, Palestinian resistance was crushed, and Zionist efforts continued to score success after success as Jewish immigration toPalestinebecame the new face-changing reality ofPalestine.
The Palestinian Right of Return:
The darkest chapter of Palestinian history unfolded when the state of Israel was established on the ruins of Palestinian society in 1948; more than 64 years ago. Israeli Jews call it “the war of independence.” Palestinians call it “An-Nakbah”; Arabic for “The Catastrophe”. The 1948 war resulted in the displacement of more than 750,000 Palestinian civilians who, with their descendents, became known as the Palestine Refugees. There is no phrase to describe the horrors of displacing the Palestine Refuges other than Ethnic Cleansing. Further to ethnic cleansing, the total destruction and removal from existence of hundreds of Palestinian villages can only be described by the word Catastrophe – i.e. An-Nakbah, as Palestinians describe the utter horrors that they individually and collectively experienced at the hands of the Zionist gangs who sought the removal of their country (Palestine) from geography and their heritage from history. United Nations Relief and Works Agency for the Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) reported in 2012 that there are five million registered Palestine Refugees living inGaza, the West Bank,Jordan,Syria, andLebanon.
During the 1948 war, some of the displaced Palestinians had fled the horrors of war, but most were forcibly removed by Zionist forces. All the Palestine Refugees, however, had expected to return to their homes shortly after the cessation of war hostilities.
After hostilities of the 1948 war had subsided, and regardless of how they left, the Palestine Refugees (who were farmers, peasants, city dwellers, teachers, doctors, civil servants, merchants, students, women, children, old folks, etc.) wanted to return to their homes, farms, businesses, schools, villages, towns, neighbourhoods, and cities to resume their normal lives as they were before the war was ignited. That is the Right of Return.
The then newly established state of Israel denied—and continues, to this very day, to deny—the Palestine Refugees their right to return. That denial constitutes the fundamental injustice that has been, and continues to be, committed by the state of Israel against the Palestinian people since 1948.
During its third session, the United Nations General Assembly passed its Resolution 194 (III) of December 11th, 1948. Resolution 194 states in its paragraph 11 that the General Assembly: “Resolves 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 and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible;” It is worth noting that The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted a day earlier (i.e. December 10th, 1948) by the very same General Assembly of the United Nations.
In the Right of Return, Palestinians do not only see justice; they see their dignity and their humanity. Demanding equal humanity, which the Right of Return affirms, is part of Palestinians’ self-respect. To a Palestinian, holding on to the Right of Return has become a defining factor of what a Palestinian is. For Palestinians, the Right of Return is “THE CAUSE”, and they will never relinquish their demand for its full realization. Leaders may come and go, political programs may change from one party to another, but the Right of Return is the only constant that defines and unites the Palestinian people. Hundreds of the villages to which millions of Palestinians seek to “return” do not even exist today, but the hope to return and the dream to rebuild and reconstitute their presence over their land grows stronger with every generation among Palestinians. Human history does not record a people accepting denial of their very existence; and no matter how overwhelming the odds against them might be, the Palestinian people will not be the first to do so.
Reconciling Jewish Fear with the Palestinian Right of Return:
Zionists argue that by rejecting the Right of Return they protect the “Jewish character” of the state ofIsrael. The Right of Return would, in Zionists’ eyes, eliminate the safe haven for Jews. In other words, Zionists claim that implementing the Right of Return and satisfying Jewish Fear are mutually exclusive; Thus the current impasse.
However, I assert that it is possible to implement the Palestinian Right of Return and satisfy Jewish Fear at the same time. I see that happening in the peaceful transformation of the state of Israel from a state that defines itself only as a “Jewish State” into a bi-national constitutional democracy—on all the land of historic Palestine—rooted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights where Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others are treated as equal citizens and made to feel safe, secure, and at home. Such transformation would be constitutionally guaranteed and institutionally secured for all times. While the details of the specific structure of the bi-national state are obviously numerous, the following would be its main shaping characteristics:
- Jews will not lose anything except dominating Palestinians, and Palestinians will gain everything except dominating Jews.
- The Palestinian-Israeli conflict will not end with either party victorious over the other, but it can end with both parties winning.
- Mutual respect will be the law, the culture, the norm, and the new path to a better, shared future for all in one country that would be as much Jewish as it is Palestinian.
- For the state to be truly bi-national, there will be two levels of equality in it: individual equality among citizens before the law; and collective equality for the two founding communities, where they agree on an arrangement by which neither community would dominate the other by means of population growth or otherwise.
Before such transformation taking place, some earlier steps might be necessary, such as starting with two states to build confidence and give healing a chance in both communities.
Empathically dealing with Jewish Fear is in the best interest of the Palestinians. Likewise, justly dealing with the Palestinian Right of Return is in the best interest of the Jews. Perhaps it will be the destiny of the Palestinian people to bring a permanent end to Jewish Fear.
From the humanity of Palestinians and Jews, I draw hope as I see a country that has its own characteristics, but also that looks a lot like Canada, where multiculturalism defines the cultural norm, diversity is celebrated, and linguistic duality (Arabic and Hebrew) is embraced. I see Palestine/Israel living in harmony with itself, and at peace with its neighbours. I see full implementation of the Right of Return and I see a permanent end to Jewish Fear. Indeed, I see a light onto all nations.
Hope is the stuff from which life is made!