Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Jews still owed lion's share of lost property

The house on Rehov Graetz

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.


bh said...

A joint Arab-Jewish identity seems an impossibility given the current political situation in the Middle East. And yet it was a reality, exemplified by Arabic-speaking Jews and their writers. In his extensive essay Reuven Snir investigates the complex history of Arab Jews



bh said...

i would encourage readers to read the original article rather than just the section bataween posted as it is a really interesting read, from several viewpoints.

That Munir's family were Lebanese but came to Palestine during the mandate period because there were better opportunities.

That Munit himself says:

Ethically and morally, the Palestinians who lost their homes, regardless of the reasons, should have the right of repatriation. Practically speaking, this will not happen because it could cause the displacement of Jews and create new refugees, in addition to the fact that Israel will never allow that. What I would like to see happen is for the Israeli people and government to acknowledge that a wrong was created. Then they can approach the Palestinians and offer to sit down to discuss how this can be rectified in a practical fashion that will not cause more turmoil to people. This means mostly compensation.

If there is a place in Israel for resettling some Palestinian refugees without displacing Jewish inhabitants – and I don’t know if there is – then it should also be considered, on a limited basis. The crucial element is the acknowledgment that a wrong was made, and the willingness to discuss a practical solution. This would satisfy an overwhelming majority of Palestinians. This has to be done cautiously so that it would not change the character of Israel as a Jewish state, and would be more of a symbolic nature to meet the grievances of Palestinians whose families were displaced in 1948 or later.

This can also be done in conjunction with land swaps to accommodate some large Jewish settlements that have been created next to the Green Line. This whole subject can be negotiated in a peace conference if both parties show willingness for accommodation. Personally, I do not expect to occupy my house again. It’s just not in the cards. However,
I want my right to it validated, and to be offered compensation for the wrong created.

He also says:
One wrong does not justify another. Jews or Arabs who left their homes and lands for any reason and were not allowed to return by the government in power should be offered repatriation or compensation. Realistically I doubt if many of the Jews yearn to return to hostile societies which persecuted them as a minority.

There is no connection between the two and I don’t think that Palestinian repatriation/compensation should be dependent on what other states or governments do. You cannot equate all the Arab governments to each other or to the Palestinians. Palestinians see Arab governments as a main source of betrayal and enmity to them.

My favourite part is that his daughter's husband is Jewish, and she will inherit the deed to the house when he passes away - I would love to know how the Israeli government would deal with the claims of her children to the house ...


bataween said...

Well I beg to differ, bh, that there is no connection between the two sets of refugees - there is a connection and it's called The Arab League.
It was the Arab League which decided to reject the Palestine partition plan and therefore paved the path to war. It was the Arab League state that sent their armies five months later to crush the new state of Israel once and for all, and it was the Arab League that conceived a coordinated plan to take revenge on their own Jewish citizens. Therefore strictly speaking, Palestinians should demand compensation from the Arab League, and so should Jews.

victor said...

I did read the interview in its entirety and have a couple of comments. First, Munir claims that Israelis cannot tell Palestinians how to feel about the loss of their homes and properties. Fair enough. He also says (I paraphrase): why should the majority (i.e. Palestinians) accept a partition that would split their homeland in two. Again, fair enough. The Palestinians had a right to reject the partition plan. That is their self-determination. But then Munir does the same thing himself, when he says that the Jewish "homeland title is in the context of a minority living in a Palestinian state." So now HE'S telling the Jews what THEIR status is, and how THEY should decide!! Munir is deciding that Jews should be a minority within a larger Arab context. I have news for him. Jews reject that. That is THEIR right, and THEIR self-determination: the Jews have no obligation to enter into a single binational state if they don't want to. Secondly, Munir claims that the Jewish state was established by means of "intimidation, coercion, and threats of physical force." Excuse me??? So what about the Arab plan to create a Palestinian state by pushing the Jews into the sea? No intimidation there? No coercion? No threat of physical force? Not ONCE does Munir make mention of this. If he demands that Israel acknowledge a wrong, then it's reasonable to demand that Arabs also acknowledge a wrong, which was to expel, forever, their Jewish citizens.

bataween said...

Victor, you are right to point out the contradictions in what Munir has to say - he wants to have things both ways.
Ultimately the Arabs have never had to apologise for their genocidal intentions in 1948 - everything has always ever been Israel's fault.Until they are ready to take responsibility for their actions, there will never be peace.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

Regarding the issue that Victor raises about Arab threats to the Jews in Israel at the time, we could and should quote the notorious boast of Arab League Secretary-general, Abdul-Rahman Azzam Pasha. He threatened [warned if you like] that the coming Arab war against the Jews in Israel would be "like the Mongol massacres and Crusades."

Further, the Palestinian Arabs and their leadership in the Arab Higher Committee for Palestine wanted the armies of the Arab League states to fight for them against the Jews. The Mufti of Jerusalem, [British-appointed] Haj Amin el-Husseini, took part in Arab League meetings to plan the war. See John Roy Carlson, Cairo to Damascus and other contemporary reports]. So what's Munir beef with the League? It did what the Palestinian Arabs wanted, more ineptly perhaps than they would have wanted, but maybe as best as those Arab armies could do. The Palestinian Arabs should at least have the decency to thank the British govt of the time [Ernest Bevin and all]. The UK did much to work for an Arab victory against the Jews, including sending Brit troops, tanks and fighter aircraft into battle against the Jews.

Independent Observer said...

Comparison should be made of I-P (Israel-Palestine) to I-P (India-Pakistan). Both have

- English administration leading to Partition
- Partition to separate hostile communities
- resultant civil war(s) and refugees
- population exchange
- fences

Yet the world is generally unconcerned about Indo-Pakistani refugees, because south Asian refugees have generally resettled rather than carry the grievance violently for half a century.

A similar comparison can be made to the Greco-Turkish population exchange - not only valdated but required by treaty and by the great powers.

Israel should insist the population exchange be completed, on the basis of the south Asian and Greco-Turkish cases.

Independent Observer said...

Israel should insist the population exchange be completed, on the basis of the south Asian and Greco-Turkish cases.

Of course, the Israeli public is not asking for such an exchange.

But the Israeli government is still remiss in not pushing harder for both population exchange and compensation for the Mizrahi naqba, at the very least as bargaining chips.