The Right to Return

Category: World Affairs Topics: Germany, Occupation Views: 1145

I do not know if dissatisfied Israelis from Germany consider going home at all, but I do know the lure of home, the comfort of the familiar, the emotion of justice. I am a member of a family that was shuffled out of Jaffa in 1948.

My immediate family did not flee to Lebanon or America, choosing instead to join our extended family in a part of Jerusalem, now called East Jerusalem. The borders and the names keep changing. Would my grandmother, mother and uncles like to go home to Jaffa to the family home they left behind? Comfortable now, they would probably opt to stay where they are. But, surly they would love to have their Jaffa home back.

My family is only one tiny reality. What about the families who have drifted for years in the camps of Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza and the West Bank? These refugees have lived next to open sewers, amid squalor and their neighbor's clotheslines for at least two generations.

Ask any one of them if they'd like to go back to the homes they left, and you can guess the answer. I have listened to Palestinian refugees who say, "What is right of return? Why would we even have to ask for this?"

Many Jews, unjustly and dreadfully dispelled from Europe are now seeking reparation from banks where their stolen money lies. Do they have a right to bring this injustice to the attention of the world? Must they act alone in their efforts to claim what is theirs or do they rely on international public opinion to help solve injustice? If so, then, is it not our right to call attention to our great refugee problem and allow world opinion to aid us in our struggle to support our return to the lost homes and to rise out of economic dependency into lives worth living?

I have a friend who is an Israeli woman. She sells beads (a strangely popular craft item) and hopes to move her wares into shops in our newly urban West Bank town of Ramallah. My friend is an Ashkenazi Jew from America. She claims to be a peace activist who looks forward to commercial success in both West and East Jerusalem. She loves to flirt with Arab merchants and jokes about proposals of marriage she's had from them.

She talks about her volunteer activities at Deheishe Refugee Camp, near Bethlehem, where she teaches English language to Palestinian teenage girls. My friend's parents are Holocaust survivors and she talks bitterly about her family's constant pressure on her to remember anti-Semitism and the murderous horror that she, as an American, never knew.

Does she want to go home to Germany? No. That she is in Israel answers that. My friend is eager to bring her shop and her wares to us in Ramallah and in East Jerusalem, but does she want us moving into her West Jerusalem neighborhood? Well, maybe not that.

"We do need to provide compensation," she says. "With money, Palestinians will be able to move on as I have. I've put my family's pain behind me, and I'm building a life here, trying to help those who look at me from maimed eyes. I have no quarrel with Arabs. I'm a businesswoman. I want to see a strong economy on all sides of me."

My friend has good intentions though she is not very perceptive. While her family talked about pain, they did not allow her to experience their dispossession. In America, she had her Zion. She grew up at home, reminded even as she was of the horror of history. I, however, as the granddaughter of refugees, am different because I grew up experiencing the pain of our calamity. I cannot go to Jaffa and visit my sweet grandparents in their ancestral home. That is gone. My grandmother lives with us and her love surrounds our family, but we are not free of the horror of occupation and dispossession. We live with it and have lived with it as long as I have been alive.

My friend says that the young people she teaches in the refugee camps do not want to move. "Right of return," she says, "Young people don't want to move, now. We'll make it possible for them to do better where they are. Isn't that enough?"

I answer her, "What about the elders who still carry keys to their homes in Jaffa, and in Jerusalem? Can they take their grandchildren home to see where they grew up? Sure the young want to move on and join the computer age, but without the right to be, can they? If you can sell your beads in Ramallah, surely I ought to be able to spend the summer at my grandparents' home in Jaffa."

In America where my friend was raised, everyone gave up a homeland somewhere, adapted to that and went on - because they could. Will it work in the Holy Land where Palestinians still embroider cloth in their native styles and wince at the idea of my friend's beads for sale? Are they expected to be Native Americans forced to trade their culture for beads? Will it work where money for stolen land is considered "bakshish", a dishonorable bribe?

The young are changing in my country. I do not embroider; I am a medical student; I am moving on. I like my apartment conveniently located inside the borders of Jerusalem. But, my future lies in the shadow of refugee camps and people without education, without anything to do with their days, without a right of return. Where will they return to? To a "memory of their future" in which they can go home again and then, move on.


Samah Jabr is a seventh year medical student at Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem. This article originally appeared in the Palestine Report. You can visit their website at

  Category: World Affairs
  Topics: Germany, Occupation
Views: 1145

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