VIIIA Peter Beinart and the Right of Return of Palestinians

On 11 May 2021, Peter Beinart wrote and published an article, “Teshuvah: A Jewish Case for Palestinian Return.” In this blog, I summarize his argument. In my following blogs, I will attempt to refute each and every one of his claims. Peter is worth taking on. His summary of claims is comprehensive, succinct and driven by both moral passion and verbal skill. I recommend reading the full article.

I have not grouped the arguments in the order in which they occur but under the headings of memory – general, mythological and truthful –then under international law and policy and then Israeli law and policy before taking up the issue in Part III of Teshuvah. What appears as a long list of clear claims, proves, upon examination, to be a horrific, even if intelligent, combination of misleading, misunderstood confusions and contradictions.

Part I – HistoryOn Remembrance of Things Past and Responsibility

A. Palestinian displacement is recent, within personal memory; Jewish displacement was centuries old.

“The Palestinian families that mourn Jaffa or Safed lived there recently and remember intimate details about their lost homes. They experienced dispossession from Israel-Palestine. Jews…only imagined it.”

  • Jews are responsible for the Palestinian displacement; Palestinians are not responsible for the Jewish displacement. Mahmoud Darwash “You created our exile, we didn’t create your exile.” 
  • The bitter irony of Jews telling another people to give up on their homeland and assimilate in foreign lands. George Bisharat
  • Jewish leaders keep insisting that, to achieve peace, Palestinians must forget the Nakba, the catastrophe they endured in 1948. Beinart: “Peace will come when Jews remember…the better we will understand why they deserve the chance to return.”
  • B. Mythological Memory
  • “The most enduring myth is that Palestinians fled because Arab and Palestinian officials told them to.” “Palestinian and Arab officials often pleaded with them to stay.”
  • Zionist military operations proved “the major precipitants to flight.”
  • Arab government rejection of the United Nations proposal to partition Mandatory Palestine is a myth and misleading. Beinart: “Zionist leaders accepted the UN partition plan on paper while undoing it on the ground.”
  • C. The Historical Truth
  • The presence of Palestinians was intolerable, not because the continued presence of Palestinians personally threatened Jews, but because they threatened the demography of a Jewish state.
  • In most cases, Palestinian residents of Arab towns were expelled even though they offered peace agreements with the Zionists.
  • In roughly 18 months, Zionist forces evicted upwards of 700,000 individuals, more than half of Mandatory Palestine’s Arab population. “They emptied more than 400 Palestinian villages and depopulated the Palestinian sections of many of Israel-Palestine’s mixed cities and towns. In each of these places, Palestinians endured horrors that haunted them for the rest of their lives.”
  • Israelis used expelled Palestinians as human shields. “They forced the bulk of Eliaboun’s residents to evacuate the village and head north, thus serving as human shields for Israeli forces who trailed behind them, in case the road was mined.”
  • Israeli soldiers robbed Palestinian rebels “of their valuables and loaded them on trucks that deposited them across the Lebanese border.”
  • Israeli militants executed unarmed or captured Palestinians in cold blood.
  • Israelis raped Palestinians. [several dozen reported cases but the tip of the iceberg]
  • Eviction was usually followed by theft. The plunder was systematized by the Law of Absentee Properties. “When the United Nations passed its partition plan in November 1947, Jews owned roughly 7% of the territory of Mandatory Palestine. By the early 1950s, almost 95% of Israel’s land was owned by the Jewish state.” 
  • Israelis do not teach the Nakba “because it is hard to look the Nakba in the eye and not wonder, at least furtively, about the ethics of creating a Jewish state when doing so required forcing vast numbers of Palestinians from their homes.”

Part II: Policy and Practice

  • D. Current Policy and Morality
  • Morally, it is currently wrong to oppose Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza but supporting Palestinian return is taboo. Beinart: “If it is wrong to hold Palestinians as non-citizens under military law, and wrong to impose a blockade that denies them the necessities of life, it is surely also wrong to expel them and prevent them from returning home.”
  • The pragmatic argument for opposing the West Bank and Gaza policy and defending the rejection of return is bankrupt. Beinart “Palestinian refugees should return only to the West Bank and Gaza, regardless of whether that is where they are from, as part of a two-state solution that gives both Palestinians and Jews a country of their own. But with every passing year, as Israel further entrenches its control over all the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, this supposedly realistic alternative grows more detached from reality.”
  • What remains of the case against Palestinian refugee return is a series of historical and legal arguments, peddled by Israeli and American Jewish leaders, about why Palestinians deserved their expulsion and have no right to remedy it now.
  • The forced displacement of 1948 and now are equivalent. “The Israeli leaders who justify expelling Palestinians today in order to make Jerusalem a Jewish city are merely paraphrasing the Jewish organizations that have spent the last several decades justifying the expulsion of Palestinians in 1948 in order to create a Jewish state.”
  • “Refugee return “is a prerequisite for building a future in which both Jews and Palestinians enjoy safety and freedom in the land each people calls home.”
  • “Envisioning return requires uprooting deeply entrenched structures of Jewish supremacy and Palestinian subordination. It requires envisioning a different kind of country. “
  •  “Political systems that give everyone a voice in government generally prove more stable and more peaceful for everyone.”
  •           That re-envisioning would require “redistributing land, economic resources, and political power, and perhaps just as painfully, reconsidering cherished myths about the Israeli and Zionist past,” almost impossible to imagine how it could occur.
  • E. International Law
  • On its face, the claim that Palestinian refugees have no right to return is absurd since, “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” 
  • International law specifically asserts: Palestinians “wishing to return to their homes and to live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date.” 
  • The claim that General Assembly Resolutions aren’t legally binding and, that since Israel was only created in May 1948, Palestinian refugees were never its citizens; they would not be returning to “their country” are legalisms devoid of moral content.
  • In the decades since World War II, the international bodies that oversee refugees have developed a clear ethical principle: People who want to return home should be allowed to do so.
  • F. International Policy and Practice
  • “Since 1990, almost nine times as many refugees returned to their home countries as have been resettled in new ones.”
  • “Resettlement is preferred only when a refugee’s home country is so dangerous that it ‘cannot provide them with appropriate protection and support.’”
  • The 1995 Dayton Agreement with respect to Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia states, “All refugees and displaced persons have the right freely to return to their homes of origin” and “to have restored to them property of which they were deprived in the course of hostilities.” 
  • Jewish leaders endorse the rights of return and compensation for Jews expelled from Arab lands. Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress, claims that Arab Jews deserve “equal rights and treatment under international law.”
  • International law strongly favors refugee return.
  • In the trade off between Arab Jews and Palestinian refugees, Israeli leaders concede the very legitimacy of the very rights they don’t want Palestinians to have.
  • Jews are guilty of a double standard re “who counts as a refugee” since the effort to exclude the descendants is both cynical and hypocritical since Jews do not hold to the principle that refugee status should not be handed down when in other protracted situations, in Somalia and Afghanistan, there are multiple generations of refugees.
  • Jews who reclaim the citizenship of their grandparents and parents (and even more distant ancestors – Austria, Spain and Portugal) are hypocritical in denying Palestinians the same right.
  • G. Israeli Policy and Practice
  • Israelis regard repatriating Palestinian refugees as an impossibility since return is not viable for such a small state; but Israel leads the world in demonstrating how false this is.
  • If Jews robbed en masse in Europe deserve compensation, so do Palestinians.
  • It is possible to calculate the value of lost property as proved to be the case when Jewish residents of Gaza were repatriated and they were compensated by the state.
  • It is possible to envision the repatriation of Palestinians without the eviction of current Jewish occupants.
  • If a Jewish family owns a home once owned by a Palestinian, first the original Palestinian owner (or their heirs) and then the current Jewish owner, would be offered the cash value of the home in return for relinquishing their claim. If neither accepted the payment, a further compromise would follow: ownership of the property would revert to the original Palestinian owners, but the Jewish occupants would continue living there until the Jewish occupants moved or died, at which point the Palestinians woud repossess their property.
  • Crimes of the past, when left unaddressed, do not remain in the past; Israel did not stop expelling Palestinians when its war for independence ended. It displaced 400,000 more Palestinians when it conquered the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967.
  • In the 1950s, 28 Palestinian families, forced from Jaffa and Haifa in 1948, relocated to the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The Jerusalem District Court ruled earlier this month that six of them should be evicted.

Part III – Teshuvah

  • On Teshuvah
  • Teshuvah, generally translated as “repentance,” literally means “return” and is a requisite to return from moral exile.

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