Wednesday, February 04, 2009

We all need a home - but some more than others

Interesting post titled 'We all need a home' on Comment is Free by maverick writer Seth Freedman, a London stockbroker somewhat ambivalent towards his new homeland, Israel. Seth recently accompanied his grandfather on a trip down memory lane to London's East End. But the post reveals a certain double standard when it comes to the 'right to return':

"We ended the tour at the Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane, whose sprawling estate a friend of mine manages, a friend whose own heritage is, by contrast, utterly out of bounds.

His family fled Baghdad along with the rest of the Iraqi Jewish community, never once returning to the homes and businesses they were forced to abandon almost overnight. The graves of loved ones remain untended and unvisited, if they even still stand at all, and nothing remains of what was once one of the diaspora's most thriving Jewish centres. My friend spoke of his yearning to be able to visit his ancestral home even once, a prospect doomed to remain little more than a distant dream while the status quo persists in Iraq.

Hearing him speak with such longing for a land on which he's never even set foot was reminiscent of the countless Palestinians I've met who've expressed similar pining to return to their home towns which are physically but a few hundred miles away, yet a lifetime away in terms of access in the current conditions. Despite all of the poisoned water that's passed under the bridge since many of them and their forebears fled, the passion to return is not dimmed in the slightest; if anything, the urge to go home grows stronger with the passing years.

Whether theirs is an impossible dream – as Palestinians such as Samir El-Youssef suggest – or a realistic target worth working towards remains to be seen, but the underlying cleaving to their heritage cannot be casually discarded by anyone with an interest in a fair resolution to the decades-old conflict. While my grandfather has no desire to leave north London and set up home once more in the East End, and likewise my friend with Iraqi roots, it is having the freedom to at least choose whether to do so or not that is the important point – and so it is with the Palestinians. To shut the door on their dreams and to block their path to their own historical backgrounds guarantees that the sores that fester in today's crop of refugees will continue to fester for generations to come.

Read post in full (Comments open for three days)

My comment: here we have a Jew who could return to his East End roots but doesn't want to. A Jew who wants to visit Iraq but can't. And Palestinians who want to go back to their roots but can't. But Freedman considers ' it is the freedom to choose whether to do so that is the important point'. Only in the case of the Palestinians, however, is their 'lack of freedom to choose' an obstacle to 'a fair resolution of the conflict".

The Jew from Baghdad, as Freedman fairly points out, does not have that freedom of choice to return. He has had to move thousands of miles from his heritage and homeland, learn a new language and live with the dreadful English weather. Yet such is Freedman's one-sided view of the conflict that only the Palestinians' aspirations to return must be taken seriously.

Neither does Freedman see anything odd in those aspirations 'getting stronger with the passing years'. Yet most Palestinians, not even born in Palestine and displaced a matter of miles, found themselves still among people sharing their culture, religion and language.

The Palestinians are the only 'refugees' in history to claim 'a right of return' to a place their grandparents lived in. Freedman's own grandfather claims no such right to return to Stepney Green. Nor does Freedman hark further back in history to his lost Russian, Polish or German heritage. That's because Seth's family did what refugees nearly always do naturally: they resettled in a new country and built new lives.

To try to turn the clock back is both counter-intuitive and politically-motivated.


Anonymous said...

For comparison, there are two other famous examples of population exchange:

The Greco-Turkish exchange of the 1920's (sanctified by the Treaty of Lausanne), and the "other I-P" -- the Indo-Pakistani exchange at the time of the Partition of India (also following the end of British control).

Both of those cases were far bloodier than the Israel-Palestinian exchange. The Greco-Turkish exchange followed Turkey's genocide of possibly one-half-million Pontic Greeks. The Indo-Pakistani exchange involved the deaths of over one million people.

In both cases, the refugees were (mostly) resettled, and generally neither claimed nor were allowed a right of return.

The Greco-Turkish exchange was even required by treaty:

bataween said...

As ever, a most informative post, Independent Observer.