Salman Abu Sitta: Reversing ethnic cleansing
- Reversing ethnic cleansing:
The Right to Return Home
Salman Abu Sitta*
June 5, 2006
In the spring of 1948, some Jewish mukhtars (headmen) of Jewish
colonies in Palestinian went over to the Arab Palestinian mukhtars in
the nearby villages which maintained good neighbourly relations with
them and whispered in their ears, "we are your good friends and
neighbours and we must give you our sincere advice. Those vicious
Palmach soldiers who just landed from Europe have no mercy. They
intend to `clean out' Arab villages. Take your family and run for
your life before it is too late". That was no "sincere" advice. This
`whispering campaign', was ordered by Palmach commander, Yigal Allon
(Paicovich) and it resulted in the depopulation of at least 12 villages.
There are many kinds of Israeli soldiers, not all carrying guns. A
most recently formed regiment is performing what is called `hasbara',
a public relations campaign, to white wash Israeli brutal policies of
occupation and racism. Ironically, the term `hasbara' is close to the
more appropriate term `za'bara' meaning loud meaningless noise.
Gershon Baskin (Right of Return to Palestine, AMIN, May 25th 2006)
gives his Palestinian friends a `sincere' advice as "a true friend of
the Palestinian people': drop your right to return home. Those Safad
villagers who listened in 1948 to their friendly Jewish neighbour, and
their children, have now to listen to their new Israeli friends: drop
the most basic human right, to have, keep and return to your own home.
Why should this campaign come from any body at all, let alone from
European Jews who, in the words of Arnold Toynbee, should have been
the first to learn from history?
Baskin gives his (and Israeli) reasons for denying the Right of
Return. Every one of these reasons cannot stand serious scrutiny.
Every one of them is a standard weapon in the now discredited Israeli
armoury of myths and misinformation.
Baskin starts with UN resolution 181 (Partition Plan), which was
"overwhelmingly accepted by the Jewish people" meaning the European
Jewish immigrants to Palestine, but Palestinians did not. Why should they?
Baskin does not mention that this plan allocates 55.5% of Palestine to
the Jewish European immigrants, who did not possess, even with the
collusion of the British Mandate, more than 5.5%. He does not mention
that 457 Palestinian towns and villages suddenly found themselves,
according to the Plan, under the sovereignty of those immigrants, many
of whom have just waded into Palestinian shores under the cover of
darkness from a smuggler's ship. He also does not mention that 48% of
the population in the would-be `Jewish state' was Palestinian Arabs.
He also does not mention that Ben Gurion, in his tactical plan to
provisionally accept the Partition Plan, proceeded immediately to
ethnically cleanse the coastal plain from the Palestinian `citizens'
of his new state.
Ben Gurion depopulated 250 villages and expelled half the total
refugees before the state of Israel was declared on 15th May 1948 and
before any Arab regular soldier came to reverse the ethnic cleansing.
Baskin does not dwell on the Israeli engineered largest, longest and
continuous ethnic cleansing operation in modern history in which 774
Palestinian towns and villages fell under Zionist control in 1948, of
which 675 were totally depopulated and 99 remained under military rule
for 16 years, to be replaced by second class status. The refugees from
these villages are now 6,400,000 (both UN registered and unregistered)
not 5 million as Baskin states. In fact, 75% of the Palestinian
people are refugees or displaced; a whole people fell victim to
Israel. Their land comprises 93% of Israel's area. Their movable and
immovable property have been confiscated by Israel in the largest
robbery since WWII. That was the result of the 1948 Nakba. But the
Nakba continues till today in occupied Palestine of 1967. Those who
missed 1948 Nakba can see it today on TV screens, albeit in a
different form with more slick 'hasbara'
I suppose it is elementary to say that ethnic cleansing is a war
crime. The 1998 Statute of Rome and the Sixth Nuremberg Charter
clearly say that. It is understood that those who condone ethnic
cleansing or who incite for it by word or deed are also committing a
war crime. Denying the Right of Return is perpetuating the ethnic
cleansing and hence participating in it.
So, once again, why do Israelis deny the Right of Return in spite of
the fact that the UN confirmed this right over a hundred times and
that Israel's admission to UN membership was conditional upon it?
The answer seems to be `realism': you cannot undo what was done 58
years ago. This is like saying: you will be punished if you intend to
kill someone, but you will be forgiven if you successfully do it.
Realism has many faces not mentioned by Baskin. There is the 58-year
reality of al Nakba. Every day, one page of this tragic book is
written by Palestinian blood and Israeli brutality. There is a
reality that the refugees have never given up, nor will they give up,
their right to return home. There is a reality that 97% of them are
within 100 km of their homes, 50% within 40 km and many are within
sight of their homes. The reality is, in spite of wars, raids,
occupation and Israeli brutal policies, they have not surrendered or
given up, all three generations of them.
The Zionist propaganda filled the Western minds with fabrications.
But the thick fog of `hasbara' is being lifted slowly. More and more
human rights groups, universities, churches are calling for Israel's
boycott and disinvestment.
Yes some, like Baskin, play the old game: `villages are destroyed',
`no place to return to' etc. Such stale arguments insult the
intelligence of the ordinary man, let alone the expert, and reflect
badly on its author.
What if this is true? If a robber destroys a home or builds another
floor on it, is he entitled to it? In that case, under what premise
did the European Jews recover their homes and property, up to the last
painting, from their European fellow citizens after half a century?
In the book of human rights and even in national laws nothing
supercedes the sanctity of private ownership and the right to return
But these Israeli claims about the impracticality of return are
patently false. There is room. Most of the confiscated Palestinian
land (93% of Israel) is utilized by the Israeli army and by the
bankrupt kibbutz which make up only 1.5% of Israeli Jews. Eighty
percent of Israeli Jews live in 14% of Israel. The rural Jews in the
southern half of the country are less in number than a single refugee
Not only destroyed villages can be constructed (90% of their sites
are still vacant) but they have to expand 6 times due to natural
increase. Amman, Beirut, Kuwait have expanded 10-30 times, the
Palestinian have contributed to their development. Israel itself grew
eight times, mostly through immigration. Why should it be difficult
to build 6000 houses in a village whether the original 1000 houses
were still standing or not?
But Baskin evades the real reason. Israel wants to maintain its
racist and Apartheid policies under the rubric of `Jewish state' and
the threat of the Palestinian demographic bomb.
What is the meaning of the `Jewish state'? There is no legal meaning
for a Jewish state, neither in the Partition Plan, which protected its
50% Arab population and which was "overwhelming accepted" by the
Jewish immigrants, nor any where in international law which does not
tolerate ethnic religious racist states.
To speak of a Palestinian `demographic threat' is pure racism. What
would British Jews do if London Municipality decides that Jews in
Golders Green are a demographic threat and they have to be ethnically
cleansed if their number exceeds that decided by the racist British
Then we hear from Baskin about the Israeli `generosity' in allowing a
`limited number' of Palestinians to recover their stolen property
under family reunification plan. This limited number is reduced to
zilch, especially after the Israeli law of nullifying the family
But Israel is generous. In Taba, it offered another four choices to
the refugees: select your favourite country of exile anywhere in the
world but not to your home.
When it comes to compensation, Israel is more generous. It wants to
grab 18.6 million donums of Palestinian land, a huge volume of houses,
shops, businesses, farms, movable property, at least 1200 million
cubic meters of water and other natural resources, public and
historical property, airports, military camps, railways, roads, mines
all to be paid by an "international fund" with a modest contribution
by Israel. In return, Israel would be the legal owner of all this
stolen property. No mention of compensation for war crimes or crimes
against humanity. Of course there is no mention that Palestinian are
entitled to return to their homes AND compensation for their suffering
Baskin sums the Israeli position well: "Anyone who understands
anything about Israel and Israelis must realize that there will be no
return to Israel proper". In simpler words, Israel wants to continue
its ethnic cleansing, pursue its racist and Apartheid policies and
does not "really want to live in peace" with the Palestinians but
instead of them.
The Palestinians, and most of the world with them, are determined to
pursue justice, eradicate racism and Apartheid. Just as South Africa
did. They have no intention of disappearing.
Baskin true "friendship" should go to the Israelis to help shake them
off their collective amnesia about what they have done and are doing
to the Palestinians and to advise them that their salvation lies in
shedding racism fully and forever. They have to amend their ways,
reverse ethnic cleansing and make reparations.
For it is clear that the history of Jews will ultimately be marked
indelibly, and above all other historical events, by what they have
done in Palestine.
* Salman Abu Sitta is a Palestinian author and researcher on refugees.
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