Diane V. McLoughlin Mar. 10, '10
I have been contemplating ideas and questions today put to me by a commenter. I will call him Vlad. Vlad has asked me why I think Palestinian refugees have a right of return to Israel if Jews do not have the right of return to Arab countries. This is an interesting ethical question.
First, I personally cannot comment on whether or not Jews can return to Arab countries they left because I do not know if Jews wish to go back to Arab countries they left, and if they do, whether or not they would be allowed to go back. I think few would want to try living in Arab countries while the oppression of Palestinians by Israel continues. But I could be wrong. There is a long-standing Jewish community in Iran that is apparently content where it is. So that is interesting.
If Jews were forcefully expelled that was wrong. If Jews were expelled without being able to take with them the full value of their possessions and holdings then this is an issue for legal consideration and compensation.
But, I believe that there is a fallacy in the linking of the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in Israel, known as the Nakba ('catastrophe') to expulsion of Jews in Arab countries. No country should be above the law. All crimes suffered by victims ought to call for redress. We cannot say a crime was committed to me, therefore I intend to also commit similar crimes to people who had nothing to do with what happened to me.
It is factually false to imply that 'far greater' numbers of Jews were expelled by Arab countries than were Palestinians expelled by Israel, as Vlad supposes. Between 800,000 and one million Jews departed from Arab lands - some were expelled. Some were compelled. But importantly, some were enticed by Zionist organizations.Zionists wanted Jews to inhabit Palestine. Some Zionists were fanatical zealots. They had their reasons. Jews have long experience with discrimination and oppression, to varying degrees, from place to place, and from time to time. But Zionists could have saved some Jews from the Germans and didn't. Zionists could have helped some Jews escape to countries such as Britain. But didn't. 'One cow in Palestine is worth more than all the Jews in Poland.' So believed one Zionist fanatic. (See: http://www.jewsagainstzionism.com/antisemitism/holocaust/index.cfm)
Between 650,000 to 750,000 Palestinians were expelled by force and through the use of terrorism, by Israel. Some Arab countries reacted to the plight of the Palestinians by reacting in kind toward their native Jewish citizens. I believe that any expulsion, any discrimination, is wrong.
The argument by Israel that Palestinians should not have the right of return, a right which is recognized under international law, is weakened through actions by Israel herself. Israeli courts have granted Jews who lost control of properties in Jerusalem pre-1948 the right to take them back from Palestinians. As rights activists point out, this nullifies the case Israel tries to make that Palestinians who were expelled from their properties don't have the right to get it back. Another argument Israel tries to make is that all of this is ancient history; that current land ownership is carved in stone. The recent expulsions of Palestinian families from homes in Jerusalem they lived in for fifty years to give back to former Jewish owners completely nullifies Israel's argument that Palestinians do not have the right to take back what is theirs as well. (See: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/10/world/middleeast/10jerusalem.html?hpw )
Vlad insists that we should only focus on the woeful treatment of Palestinian refugees in places such as Lebanon, and that under no circumstances ought we to examine the woeful treatment of Palestinians either in Israel proper, the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, because he believes the former is far worse off than the latter.
Vlad implies, without coming right out with it, that not only is such criticism of Israel verbotten, but that it is racist to criticize Israel's racist oppression of the Palestinians.
What I would grant Vlad is the fact that he may well not know the true plight of Palestinians under Israel's boot. It is common knowledge that most Israelis themselves have little idea what their country is doing to the Palestinians either in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. But it seems to me that the German people did not come off too well in the court of world opinion when they claimed they did not know what their government was doing to the Jews, Gypsies, political opponents and activists, Gays, the Polish, physically and mentally handicapped, and whoever else wasn't approved of or got in the Nazi juggernaut's way of its maniacal aims.
Under Israel's 1992 Law of Political Parties, 'any party platform that challenges the Jewish character of the state, that for example calls for full and complete equality between Jews and Arabs in a state for all its citizens, can be disqualified, as lists have been in the past.' (See: http://www.arabhra.org/hra/SecondaryArticles/SecondaryArticlePage.aspx?SecondaryArticle=1499 )
Another example of discrimination against Arab-Israeli citizens: 'The government categorises the country into different zones and awards different statuses and benefits to different towns. For instance, it denotes certain areas national development areas, which then makes them eligible to receive benefits including special tax incentives for industry, educational programmes, and housing incentives. These areas are supposed to be determined according to socio-economic criteria. Yet the zones are drawn to include a disproportionate number of Jewish localities rather than Palestinian Arab ones. For example, in the 1998 classification, out of the 429 localities accorded Development Area A status, only 4 were Arab, despite the fact that Arab towns and villages are consistently at the bottom of the socio-economic scale. The zoning was used to exclude the vast majority of the Palestinian Arab minority from these benefits.'
Doing the math, Arab-Israelis account for approximately 20 percent of Israel's population. So, a fairer distribution of pubic services would find 86 Arab-Israeli localities accorded Development Area A status - not 4.
'In the private sector employers openly discriminate against Arab-Israeli workers.'
(scroll to pg. 849: http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:l_OZngtzJsAJ:www.law.nyu.edu/ecm_dlv2/groups/public/%40nyu_law_website__journals__journal_of_international_law_and_politics/documents/documents/ecm_pro_059603.pdf+list+discriminatory+policies+against+Arab-Israeli+citizens&hl=en&gl=ca&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESj8xOHWDD8SWXfGFg2Xe0VScerMq4djA95o36e5LEq9Cp4zFfZdOC9SF2V5ZkXd-xf64FxAqZfNNxY7KhwvX-dNd15Y5MfODmbG18upS-HvU6b7ZmUkAjjqb2iniXq3x8f_myMv&sig=AHIEtbRE7wI4I17VWsd2yjfA04iQ1LNoWg
(Srry for that ridiculously long link.)
Another way Israeli-Arabs are discriminated against is in Israel's racist marriage laws. 'The naturalization law of December 2003, which bars Palestinians from the occupied territories from obtaining any residency status or citizenship in Israel through marriage to an Israeli citizen, thereby preventing them from living in Israel with their spouses. Heavily criticized by Israeli and international human rights groups, the law is aimed exclusively against Israel's Palestinian minority, whose members often marry across the Green Line.' (http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Israel/FascismNeedsEnemy_Israel.html)
So I hope the above primer has been of some help to Vlad. It doesn't really capture the essence of the grinding oppression Palestinians are forced to endure. But maybe it might encourage him, support him, really, in continuing to ask probing questions and to seek out the truth for himself.