Wednesday, March 31, 2010

False settler linkage denies Jewish refugee rights

Update: The Financial Times restores some balance by publishing the following letter in response to Dr Rogan's article:

Sir, In “Refugees for settlers is the way forward for Israel” (March 29), Eugene Rogan writes that the “history of Israel and Palestine has been stained by forced displacement in the past”. The author goes on to mention the Palestinian refugees of 1948 and 1967, as well as the removal of Jewish communities from Sinai in 1982 and from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

Mr Rogan, however, completely omits the expulsion of approximately 850,000 Jews from Arab lands that took place mainly between 1940s and 1970s. Today, these Jews and their descendants constitute about half of Israel’s Jewish population.

In 2008, the US Congress passed House Resolution 185 that urges the president and US officials to ensure that any reference to Palestinian refugees in the context of the Middle East conflict must “also include a similarly explicit reference to the resolution of the issues of Jewish refugees from Arab countries”. On February 23, 2010, Israel’s parliament passed a bill recognising the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran.

The first step to solving “the refugee question, one of the most intractable problems of the Arab-Israeli conflict”, is to present historical truth which Mr Rogan, intentionally or not, fails to do.

Sasha Giler,
Boston, MA, US


With thanks: Sacha

Dr Eugene Rogan

The fixation with Israel's 'settlements' as the leading obstacle to peace in the Middle East has spawned a worrying trend: a false linkage between Israeli settlers and Palestinian Arab refugees.

In December, Ray Hanania, in his manifesto as Palestinian presidential candidate, put forward a proposal linking Jewish settlers and Arab refugees.

Now it's the turn of the director of the Middle East Centre at St Antony's College Oxford, Eugene Rogan. Rogan brightly unveils a plan, in an article for the Financial Times (28 March) Refugees for settlers is the way forward for Israel, proposing an exchange between Israeli settlers in Judea and Samaria and Palestinian refugees living in Syria and Lebanon.

While Jewish settlers would be allowed to stay in territory that will become a Palestinian state, descendants of Palestinians from refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon, Rogan argues, should be permitted a 'right of return' to their 'ancestral homes' in Israel proper.

"The only way forward is to put a real price on settlements that might make the Israeli government pause before expanding them," Rogan writes.

There are several things wrong with Rogan's plan. It is nothing more than a proposal to allow a Palestinian 'right of return' to Israel by subterfuge - a red line Israel has always refused to cross. Assuming that principle is enshrined in international law - a dubious proposition - why limit that 'right of return' to Palestinians from Syria and Lebanon? What about Palestinians in Jordan? Egypt? Kuwait? Chile? An influx of hundreds of thousands, largely radicalised, Arabs displacing current occupants from their 'ancestral homes' in Israel (assuming these homes still exist) would be a recipe for chaos and violence.

Secondly, Rogan assumes that only Jews moved into the occupied territories since 1967. Yasser Arafat brought thousands of Palestinians with him from Tunisia and during the Oslo years. Civil servants and administrators moved in from Jordan to run the new Palestinian Authority. Arabs built hundreds of new 'settlements' in the West Bank.

Most egregious of all, Rogan's plan ignores the fact that an exchange of refugees has already taken place: 850,000 Jews were driven out of Arab countries in the ten years following the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, two-thirds settling in Israel, while a roughly equivalent number of Palestinian refugees headed for Arab countries.

This exchange has already exacted a heavy price from the uprooted Jewish refugees, whose ancient communities were destroyed. Apart from suffering human rights abuses, they forfeited Jewish-owned land equivalent to four or five times the size of Israel and lost billions in assets. They received neither recognition nor compensation from Arab governments.

While Israel is expected to pay a further price for Jewish settlements in the West Bank, 'offset' by the return of Arab refugees to Israel proper, Arab states, who rid themselves almost completely of their Jews, are expected to pay no price whatsoever.

What is galling is this blindspot to the existence and rights of Jewish refugees exhibited by Middle East experts and policy makers such as Eugene Rogan. We are entitled to expect them to have an honest and unselective appreciation of the historical facts.

An equitable solution would be to recognise that Arab refugees in Syria and Lebanon, most of whom were not even born in Palestine, should be integrated into Syria and Lebanon and granted all the civil rights currently denied to them. Compensation for their losses should be paid to both sets of refugees - Jewish and Arab.

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