With thanks: bh
In 1948, Munir Katul, now a retired Oregon urologist, lost his house on what is now Rehov Graetz in the German colony in Jerusalem: his is a sad story of displacement resulting from the Arab-Israeli conflict, repeated many times over in the region. The Jerusalem Post waxes lyrical:
Before he left his one-story, stone house for the last time, he looked down at the Persian rug lining the formal living room where he had played with his brother, George, 18 days earlier, as his father, Jibrail, huddled over the console radio, listened to the UN General Assembly vote on the partition of Palestine.
As he walked from the now empty living room, across the colorful tile porch, and passed the green-shuttered windows to the waiting taxi, he studied the pine trees and green gardens around him in the German Colony.
He remembered how he loved to get lost in all that backyard greenery, with his best friend, Leila Itayyim. After school they played tag and hide-and-seek, built dirt castles, raced their pet turtles and helped hisfather tend the garden. He took one last look at his favorite
tree, where he loved to hide high up in the branches to see everything without being seen, and wished he was sitting there instead of leaving.
Two aspects are striking about Munir's story: the first is that his Greek Orthodox parents and grandparents were born in Lebanon and came to Palestine because of the greater economic opportunities, thus giving the lie to the idea that Arabs have always lived in Palestine since 'time immemorial'. Munir's family fled back to Lebanon, yet the component of Munir's identity most important to him today is 'Palestinian'. Even today, aged 72, he chooses to line his hallway with photographs of the house on Rehov Graetz. Is this normal, or has Munir made a fetish of the 'wrong' Israel committed against him? It means that he can never feel at home anywhere else: he is not prepared to abandon his goal of repatriation to his old home in Jerusalem (although, to be fair, he also recognises this might be impractical):
Though it (Lebanon) was the land of his ancestors, everything seemed strange. The Arabic language and dress norms were the same. But below the surface, the customs and behaviors were slightly different. Life in the cosmopolitan city of Beirut was nothing like the warm, friendly, village environment that made Katul feel safe.
The other aspect is that Munir's father convinced himself that sooner or later his home would be caught up in a war zone, although his wife and his Jewish neighbours tried to persuade him to stay. We know that Arabs did choose to stay, and became Israeli citizens:
The neighbors had said a departure was premature. Even his mother, Alice, tried to talk her husband out of leaving. But Munir’s father was adamant.
In other words, the father chose to uproot his family. He did not attempt to sell his home, renting it out to Shell for a year. He probably believed he would return at some point. Perhaps that is why Munir calls himself 'displaced', but not 'a refugee.'
As Jews reclaim properties they lost in 1948, Israelis are busy agonising whether they are morally entitled to do so. Some say that it opens up a can of worms - what is to stop the Palestinians reclaiming their 'right of return' to properties in Israel proper?
Few stop to consider that, even if the Jews manage to recover every last acre of Jewish property in Palestine, they will only have reclaimed a fraction of the property which a million Jews lost in the Arab world. If Palestinians were to claim every last square inch of property they claimed to own in Israel, Jews would still be owed more.
Jews in almost all Arab states had little choice but to leave. They suffered a policy of 'collective punishment', discrimination, harassment and expulsion, that identified them as enemy aliens belonging to the Jewish minority of Palestine, although they lived hundreds of miles from the combat zone.
As Ashley Perry writes:
In fact, according to a newly released study by former CIA and State Department Treasury official titled 'The Palestinian Refugee Issue: Rhetoric vs. Reality' for the Jewish Political Studies Review, the value of assets lost by both refugee populations is incomparable.
Zabludoff uses data from John Measham Berncastle, who undertook the task to calculate the assets of the Palestinian refugees in the early 1950s under the aegis of the newly formed United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP). In today's figures, Zabludoff uses the US Consumer Price Index to calculate that the assets are worth $3.9 billion.
The Jewish refugees, being greater in number and more urban, had assets that total in today's prices almost double that of the Palestinian refugees.
On top of this equation one must remember that Israel returned over 90% of blocked bank accounts, safe deposit boxes and other items belonging to Palestinian refugees during the 1950s. This diminishes the UNCCP calculations further.I'm not saying that Munir should not be entitled to compensation. In theory, Israel's Custodian of Absentee Property Law makes it possible within the framework of a peace treaty to settle all outstanding claims by compensating the claimants. But so is a Jew who lost his property in Baghdad, Tripoli or Alexandria, entitled to compensation - a principle now enshrined in Israeli law, but by no means recognised by Arab states.