Friday, April 22, 2005

Palestinians must accept Reality of Right of Return April 22, 2005

Arab News Saudi Arabia
Orlando Sentinel, Florida, USA
By Ray Hanania

In Arabic, the term "al-Awda" means "the return," and it symbolizes the dreams and hopes of millions of Christian and Muslim Palestinians forced into exile as refugees by Israel in 1948. It's the essence of the Palestine-Israel conflict.

In order to create a Jewish state, Jews had to increase their population through immigration. When the notion of a Jewish homeland was embraced in 1917, there were about 85,000 Jews and 650,000 Christian and Muslim Palestinians.

That changed 30 years later to 614,000 Jews and 1.4 million Palestinians. They were still short of what they needed.

The United Nations proposed a partition plan to create a "Jewish state" and an "Arab state." But, the "Jewish state" had as many non-Jews as Jews. The proposed "Arab state" was overwhelmingly non-Jewish. Israel was faced with a harsh reality. It had to forcibly expel the non-Jews.

The 1947 war sent more than 700,000 Palestinians into exile. Israel also occupied half of the "Arab state," leaving Arabs with the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, about 22 percent of the original land.

That population change has stymied all progress toward peace. To remain a Jewish state, Israel cannot take the refugees back. Yet how do you reconcile refugee rights, which are supported by clear and irrefutable international laws?

It is such a difficult issue that Palestinian President Yasser Arafat could not accept Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's plan because it brushed off refugee rights and failed to provide a real sharing of Jerusalem.

For years, Palestinian refugees have been fed endless empty promises from the Arab countries that they will someday return. It's the main reason why most have lived and died in refugee camps rather than relocate and assimilate into the Arab world.

The problem has also created a powerful movement called "al-Awda," which is run by uncompromising ideologues and extremists who use the right of return as a political bludgeon to prevent Palestinian moderates from compromise with Israel.

The newly formed American Task Force on Palestine, an advocacy group based in the nation's capital, became one of the first Palestinian organizations to publicly define a moderate approach, writing: "Implementation of the right of return cannot obviate the logic of a resolution based on two states.

The challenge for the Israeli and Palestinian national leaderships is to arrive at a formula that recognizes refugee rights but which does not contradict the basis of a two-state solution and an end to the conflict." The ATFP was immediately denounced as "traitors" by the international al-Awda movement, even though compromising on the right of return is fundamental to achieving a two-state solution.

The Palestinian refugees have a legal and moral right to return to their lands. But the reality of the world today is not the reality of 1947, when the conflict forced the refugees into camps. Fifty-five years later, Palestinians have no choice but to accept a full and fair compromise, which Israel has yet to embrace. That compromise must include compensation and, more importantly, Israel's acknowledgment of their role in causing their plight.

Surveys show that despite the uncompromising al-Awda movement, most refugees do not expect to return to their original homes or lands.

So what's the real problem?

The al-Awda movement's rejection of compromise is based on generations of suffering that are easy to exploit. But it is the height of irresponsibility for any Arab group to tell the refugees that they should sit tight because one day they will return to the hills and valleys of 1947 Palestine. It is never going to happen.

The al-Awda activists, who rallied this past week at the University of California in Los Angeles, insist no one has a right to negotiate away the right of return.

That is not true. In fact, when a people turn to democracy and elect a government, as Palestinians have done twice, the government has a greater right to act above the individual interest and preserve the more important national interest.

The refugees deserve the truth, not more lies. Some may be able to return as a part of a negotiated deal with Israel. The rest will live in a smaller Palestine, compensated by their memories. In order to save Palestine, the bulk of the refugees must accept that reality.

A negotiated Palestine state will be their final homeland. Organizations like al-Awda are well-intentioned but are doing a great national disservice to Palestinians by insisting on the "legal right of return" while irresponsibly ignoring the "reality of the return."

To find out more about Ray Hanania, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at


Originally Published on Friday April 22, 2005

1 comment:

Ray said...

Some of the hate mail posted in response to the Reality of Return Column by individual activists who put their own interests about the interests of the Palestinians:

Right of Return

Was Ray Hanania trying to funny when he wrote his April 25 article “Palestinians Must Accept Reality of the ‘Right of Return’”? I do not find the idea of encouraging ethnic cleansing and genocide very funny at all.

Hanania is advocating what can only be called a prison camp — not a viable state — for the non-Jewish population of Israel, rolling out the red carpet for Israel to complete its ethnic cleansing. Is Hanania even aware that Israel’s Knesset has already openly discussed the transfer of Arab Israelis — removing the remaining Palestinians from their homes and land inside Israel proper — for the “good” of the state of course, and “transferring” them out? Transfer is not return. Transfer is ethnic cleansing.

Will Israel stop with this? Will this insane “compromise” bring peace? I sincerely doubt it. Once rid of all remaining Arab voices and votes, Israel will have only its most racist self to listen to. It will be completely free to continue demonizing Arabs and Muslims and looking for excuses to make war on its neighbors, ways to grab more resources and water, ways to make life miserable for vulnerable men, women and children so that mighty Israel can call them terrorists and drop one-ton bombs on apartment buildings filled with sleeping children.

Anne Selden Annab, United States published 29 April 2005


Right of Return [2]

Shame on Arab News for publishing such incomprehensible Zionist rubbish. Hanania can remain in his fantasy world, but all Palestinians, irrespective of where they come from, know that the right of return is sacred and real, and that even if it takes decades, we will return!

Sara J., Beirut published 29 April 2005


Right of Return [3]

Having a writer like Ray Hanania discredits your paper. There might be a million issues that will have to be considered while discussing the future of Palestine, but that does not mean that the right of refugees to return home should be given up. It cannot be, because it is one the most important of all Palestinian questions. The people who left their land and became refugees must be able to return to their land one day; if they are not able to, for any reason, their children should have that right. If they choose not to return, that too is their right. No one has the right to take that decision for them.

Hanania ignores the fact that a person of Jewish faith, no matter where in the world, has the right to “return” to Israel and get full citizenship and all the other rights that go along with it — that is a return for those who or whose forefathers were never there to begin with. But a Palestinian born and raised in Palestine and whose link with the land go back generations has no right to return to his land or home.

According to Hanania, the Bnei Menashe tribe, which lives in India and claims to be one of the “lost tribes,” has the right to come and live on the land and homes of those Palestinians who live in refugee camps. Look at the justice of this: While the Palestinian who were there for generations have no right to return, this “lost tribe” who never set their foot in the land have claim to it!

What is particularly sad is that Hanania is trying to discredit one organization while giving a boost to another. Al-Awda is doing good work and, insha-Allah, will continue doing it. No cause can be lost when it is just and when people keep faith in it. Al-Awda and similar organizations keep alive the faith of refugees that one day they will return to their land, the land that they were born in and where their fathers and grandfathers lived , died and lie buried.

Magdi Odeh, Ramallah published 29 April 2005