Last Updated: Wed Dec 22, 2010 16:49 pm (KSA) 13:49 pm (GMT)

Palestinian refugees: Israel’s demographic policy and right of return

Recep Korkut

Israeli novelist Amos Oz depicts Israeli society as “a group of semi-hysterical refugees.” But for Israelis, the word “refugee” today corresponds literally to an existential threat

Refugees’ emergence as a nightmarish matter for Israel is closely connected to the recent shift in the Palestinian issue toward being discussed along with debates on the refugees’ right of return. As a reaction, the Israeli government has started to declare more frequently that Israel consists only and merely of Jews. Its intention is clear: to rule out all options other than the recognition of Israel as a purely Jewish state, thereby preventing the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel.

Apparently, the Israeli government is, in addition to its ongoing theft of land, embracing an incredible demographic policy. According to this unilateral demographic policy, Israel is not only doing its best to prevent the return of Palestinians from abroad but also trying to prompt the Palestinians inside to emigrate to other countries.

The issue of Palestinian refugees is a very sensitive subject -- so much so that not only the past, but also the future of the Palestinian issue is dependent on the issue of Palestinian refugees. Palestinians have been migrating for the last three generations, and they form the largest group among the 30 million refugees around the world. The number of Palestinians who had become refugees as a result of the big waves of migrations that started with the violent birth of the Israeli state in 1948 is more than 7 million. This roughly corresponds to 70 percent of all Palestinians living on earth. Scattered all over the world, particularly in neighboring countries, as a result of desperate mass migrations, Palestinians are waiting for the day when they return to their homeland from the camps without a past, today or in the future. It is estimated that some 3 million Palestinians live in Jordan, 500,000 in Syria, 400,000 in Lebanon and 50,000 in Egypt. However, the countries hosting these Palestinian refugees tend to be unwilling to integrate them with their respective societies and share the responsibility of international organizations in this regard. Accordingly, refugees continue to live under inhuman conditions, deprived of all sorts of fundamental social and economic rights. Violence and pressures do not leave them alone in the camps where they are marginalized.

In addition to millions of Palestinian refugees living abroad, there are numerous Palestinians who were displaced inside the country. Due to the physical purging policy implemented in parallel with the policy of periodically building new settlements, their own country has turned into an open refugee camp for Palestinians. As the never-ending diplomacy for a politically acceptable solution continues as regard the Palestinian issue, the refugees are truly given a life-and-death struggle in the barracks of the camps in which they are doomed to live under conditions that are not suitable for human life.

The Israeli government has launched a counter action to eliminate the risk of the issue of Palestinian refugees, which it sees as an existential threat to itself. For them, the priority is on the “Jewish refugees exiled in Arab lands.” Israeli Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon has said that Jews, too, had been displaced from their homes in Arab lands in 1948 and that refugee rights also apply to Jews. As a country that is trying to achieve its goals silently by complicating the Palestinian issue to the point of complete entanglement, it is not surprising for Israel to stick to such hypocritical policies. In the past, Israel’s former Prime Minister Golda Meir had boldly stated that “there is no such thing as a Palestinian people.” In a sermon, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader the of the Shas party, said recently that Palestinians should perish from the earth, which clearly indicates his mentality.

The international community’s failure

This charade is being hailed unquestioningly by the international community in a manner reminiscent of ancient pre-war rites. It is a complete disgrace for the international community to fail to make international law functional with regard to the status of millions of Palestinians. The right of return for Palestinian refugees was guaranteed by UN resolution No. 194 under international law. However, not a single step has been taken to implement this resolution thus far. While the right of return and compensation guaranteed by the UN Refugee Agency could not be destroyed by Israel’s political intrigues, they are destined to remain on the shelf. This is the result of the international community being stuck between its values and interests and by the domination of short-term interests of individual countries.

It is true that the international community is needed for the legal and acceptable settlement of the issue of refugees that has been in place since 1948. To do this, the issue of Palestinian refugees should be one of the top priorities of international politics. If the international community can be astute and sincere, it can change the ending of this story.

In the end, it is impossible for Palestinians to change their own situation. What can Palestinians gain from the struggle of their children who throw makeshift rockets and stones against a nuclear power that has the world’s fourth most powerful army? We need to lend support to the Palestinians, who are hungry, naked, unprotected and victimized by disease, treason and weakness. International pressure is a must for an acceptable change in Palestine, and this is somewhat associated with human sensitivity and sincerity dominating governments. The fate of these people should not be left to Benyamin Netanyahu, who compared a deal with Palestinians with one with Nazis, or to Avigdor Lieberman, who said the model of agreement with Palestinians should be like Putin’s 1990 decision to bomb Chechnya to wipe out one-third of its population.

*Published in Turkey's TODAY'S ZAMAN on Dec. 22.

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