"What is hateful to you do not do unto your neighbor. That is the whole Torah, the rest is commentary," opined the Babylonian-born Jewish scholar Hillel. I am reminded of Hillel's axiom today as we mark the 54th anniversary of the dispossession of Palestinians from their homeland.
Prior to and following Israel's establishment in 1948, some 750,000 Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes to points outside the new state - including refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This human tragedy was placed in motion when the UN voted to partition Palestine in 1947. Palestinians objected to the plan that allotted the most arable 55% of Palestine to the Jewish state, even though Jews were less than one third of the population and owned less than 6% of the land.
Israel's founding father, David Ben-Gurion, of course, accepted the UN plan, realizing that if Israel got the land, the population would follow. He candidly admitted, in his own words, that the Zionists were the "occupiers" and "aggressors" in Palestine, and concluded that only military superiority could completely demoralize Palestinians and lead to a Jewish state in Palestine.
To expand and control the land allocated to them, Zionist irregulars began attacking Palestinian towns and villages the day after the partition plan was announced. Such attacks included the massacre of more than 100 Palestinian men women and children at Deir Yassin. What today would be called terrorist forces, used the Deir Yassin massacre as a battle cry to expel Palestinian civilians and frighten them into fleeing their homes, thus creating the "problem" of Palestinian refugees. The Arab armies that entered after five months could not assist the Palestinians.
Thirteen months later, the UN addressed the injustice it created. It passed Resolution 194, giving Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes or compensation for any damages whether they chose to return or not. Israel's UN membership was conditioned on its acceptance of this resolution. Israel did accept it and was admitted to the UN but, more than half a century later, still refuses to implement Resolution 194.
Not only has the UN reaffirmed 194 over 40 times, but people's right to return to their homes has been enshrined in international law, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Fourth Geneva Convention: laws that Israel and other countries have ratified. In fact, most recently the U.S. and NATO supported the right of refugees to return to East Timor, Bosnia and Kosovo.
Ironically, Israel, which was built on a 2,000-year-old call for Jews to return to "their" home and has enacted laws that guarantee Jews' "return" from all over the world, refuses to acknowledge any responsibility for the Palestinian refugees, and denies their right to return after only 54 years of exile.
Furthermore, Israel says that it would never accept the Palestinian right of return due to the cost of absorbing the refugees and because it would fundamentally alter the Jewish character of the Israeli state.
It is not unreasonable to expect that a truly Jewish state would abide by Rabbi Hillel's basic tenet of Judaism and allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.
By refusing to abide by its moral and legal obligations, Israel clearly is not a Jewish, but rather a Zionist state, based on a 100-year-old European political movement demanding ethnic exclusivity.
As a result, the Palestinians, who had nothing to do with the Nazi genocide against Jews, have been made to pay the price for the realization of the Zionist goal to create Israel.
Ignoring the axiom two wrongs do not make a right, some argue that, for the sake of peace, Palestinian refugees must suffer the injustice of never returning to their homes. They propose instead that Arab countries, Western Europe and North America offer incentives and facilitate immigration to these countries by Palestinian refugees and their descendents.
The Palestinians should not be forced to endure more exile for a genocide they did not commit. To ease Israel's acceptance of returning Palestinian refugees a more equitable solution would be to offer not just Palestinians, but also Israelis, the choice of immigration to other countries. Not only would this free up more land and housing for those Palestinians wishing to return to the land of their birth, but most importantly, those who remain would be choosing to live peacefully together.
Issam Nashashibi, long-time activist for Palestinian human rights, is a U.S.-based Director of Deir Yassin Remembered (http://www.deiryassin.org), an organization of Jews and non-Jews whose objective is to build a memorial for the victims of the Deir Yassin massacre. He encourages your comments: [email protected]