09 December 2007 - Israel/Palestine: Week 12
The last week of class was a bit of a dud, really. We discussed various ways of implementing the Palestinian “right of return”—taking for granted, of course, that such a right existed. Just to provoke some debate, I proposed that Palestinian claims be offset against the claims of Jewish refugees from Arab countries, and then whoever was owed the balance would get a check from the international community.
Nobody really seemed taken by this proposal, or the others on the table, offering various kinds of restitution to Palestinian refugees. Debate sputtered as an exhausted class wound to a close. The professor closed with some observations on the menorah, Israel’s national symbol: Jewish state OK, but not at the cost of expelling Palestinians. And so we ended where we began: in Israel’s “original sin.”
The readings for the week were only a little more interesting. We read Sari Hanfi’s attack on the Israeli understanding of Palestinian debates on the “right of return,” which sees that “right” as a threat. His treatment seemed overly harsh and wilfully naïve. It is to be expected that this “right” would be viewed as a threat in the context of the history of the conflict, especially in the midst of the second intifada.
Hanafi also addressed the subject of “researching return.” In 2003, Palestinians researcher Dr. Khalil Shiqaqi released the results of a survey among Palestinian refugees that indicated that while the majority wants recognition of the “right to return,” the majority does not want to return to Israel. Such research has contributed to the unfolding debate among Palestinians, which is a good thing.
It seems that a fair trade for Israeli recognition of what Hanafi calls “the root of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” might be Palestinian acknowledgement of what was refused in 1948—namely, Israel’s right to exist a Jewish state. That does not mean an “exclusive” Jewish state, which is something Zionists have never sought. We read Nadim Rouhana’s arguments on this point, which struck me as disingenuous.
Rouhana’s claim that “Nowhere in mainstream Zionist discourse was it ever seriously considered to share the land with its people” is false and easily disproved by reading Herzl’s own writings, as well as other sources. What is “exclusive” is Rouhana’s concept of Palestine as Judenrein—the idea that Zionism was purely an external, colonial phenomenon that could only be fulfilled through force.
He quotes Hannah Arendt in the course of his argument, but Arendt in fact took the opposite view. Rouhana also miminizes the role of Palestinian violence, acknowledging it but arguing that Israeli guilt is the real source of fear. A reading by Alon Harel pointed out that “the majority of the interests served by Palestinian return could also be served—at least partially—by establishing a Palestinian state.”
We also read a selection from Benvenisti, Gans and Hanafi that provided some substance on the issue of compensation. Their analysis was somewhat biased, however: for example, it failed to note the overly broad UNWRA definition of “refugee.” Also, they endorse the idea that “Palestinian refugees were themselves the indirect victims of the German displacement of Jews,” which is abhorrent.
It is hard to imagine Israel accepting the burden of compensation for a problem that it bears, at most, partial responsibility for creating. It seems more likely that a collective fund will be created with contributions from the international community (as usual, the Arab states will likely escape responsibility). Most Palestinian claims would then be adjudicated internally. One can imagine variations on this theme.
Finally, we read a bit of Raef Zreik, who shares Rouhana’s misconceptions about Israel and history. These lead him to draw analogies to apartheid South Africa. It is clear from his description of the supposed similarities and differences between the two that he does not understand South African history, either. Yet he still rejects a rights-based approach as not radical enough! A fitting end to the course.