Monday, February 08, 2010

Rami Khouri alarmed at Knesset refugees bill

Reports that the Knesset is due shortly to pass a bill recognising the rights of Jewish refugees seem to have attracted little media coverage, still less comment. But one man has been sitting up and taking notice - the Palestinian commentator Rami G Khouri, writing in the Beirut Daily Star. This is what he has to say. My comment follows:

"The complexity of applying a single standard of law and morality to both sides – the critical foundation on which any successful diplomacy must proceed in the Palestinian-Israeli and wider Arab-Israeli conflict – was raised in the second development that caught my eye this week: a draft bill in the Israeli Parliament to compensate Jews who were forced out of or who fled Arab countries after the establishment of Israel in 1948.

"Among the arguments for the bill before the Immigration and Absorption Committee on Tuesday were references to a February 2008 US House of Representatives resolution saying that the United States should demand that Jewish refugees be acknowledged and treated in the same way as Palestinian refugees. The Israeli bill also demands compensation for Jewish communal properties, like synagogues and cemeteries.

"The prevalent Israeli aim in this bill is not to resolve all refugee cases fairly, but to claim that a “population exchange” between Palestinians and Jewish Israelis occurred in 1948. The point is to underline that the Palestinians have no more claims as refugees and, therefore, that there is nothing to be resolved.

"The reality is more complex, because of two reasons. The circumstances under which Palestinians and Arab Jews left their homes or were forced out are very different, and cannot be lumped into a single dynamic of population exchanges. Nevertheless, the resolution of these and other claims by refugees or displaced persons must reflect application of a single standard of refugee law, whether pertaining to restitution, repatriation, compensation or other mechanisms of conflict resolution.

"Are the Israelis ready to apply the same principles to the Palestinian refugees that they demand for their own people? Similarly, are Israelis prepared to allow an impartial international investigation of their conduct in the Gaza war, alongside a similar investigation in Gaza? Try as people might, we cannot escape the principle that adjudicating conflicts through the equal application of the law to both sides is the inescapable bottom line of any successful negotiation that sees feuding parties directly involved in the process.

"The UN secretary general and the Israeli Parliament this week reminded us how to evade that reality, when in fact we need to discover how to embrace it. "

My comment: Rami G Khouri objects to the principle behind the Jewish refugees bill currently going through the Israeli Knesset on the grounds that it advocates the concept of a 'population exchange'.

Yes, that does seem to be the logic driving Nissim Zeev, who proposed the bill. 'An exchange of populations' implies a generous concession towards the Arabs; it implies equivalence in the nature of the two sets of refugees. It subsumes some Israeli guilt for Arab refugees who left because of threats, promises and scaremongering by Arab leaders, while sidestepping the inconvenient fact that the Arab League was responsible for causing both refugee problems. Zeev's thinking here is: "we have two sets of refugees of roughly equivalent numbers. The exchange occurred. We can't turn the clock back, let's let bygones be bygones."

But the 'exchange of populations' does not take into account the 300,000 Jewish refugees who did not go to Israel. Their rights seem to occupy a kind of limbo. Who will speak up for them? The bill does not as yet make it clear. 'The exchange of populations' concept also short-changes Jews now living outside Israel who lost substantial amounts of property.

The two sets of refugees did indeed leave for different reasons. The Arab set was the result of a war instigated by their own side, the other set was the product of 'collective punishment' through state-sanctioned persecution and violence,well away from the battlefield, targeting Jews just because they were Jews. Despite the Plan Dalet propaganda that Israelis expelled Palestinians, one set of refugees fled the chaos and uncertainty of war ( and not all Arabs fled the war, hence there are over a million Arabs in Israel today), the other ethnic cleansing (less than one percent of the pre-1948 Jewish population remain in Arab lands).

The bill does not specify how cases on both sides might be resolved: Khouri is prejudging matters by stating they cannot be resolved fairly. Do I detect a slight note of anxiety that the Palestinians are beginning to lose the moral high ground on this issue? I think so.

Read article in full


Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

What Khouri and PLO spokesmen plus the Western apologists for the Arabs like to forget or keep hidden was that the Arab side not only started the war but started it with attacks on Jewish civilians throughout the country shortly after the UN general assembly partition plan recommendation was voted, 29 Nov 1947.

Throughout December 1947, Arab forces were shooting at Jews in south Tel Aviv and attacking the Jews in the Shimon haTsadiq quarter in Jerusalem. The Jews of Shimon haTsadiq fled in late December 1947, the first refugees in the war who could not go home afterwards.

How should the aggressors be rewarded?

bataween said...

Good point Eliyahu.
The idea of the Exchange of Pops lets the Arabs off the hook for starting the hostilities. It meets the Arabs halfway. In terms of strict morality, the aggressors should not be rewarded, but this is realpolitik.