Influential Israeli figures demand that Israel recognize the Palestinian right of return. Dr Gadi Taub warns against comprise, though he is prepared to acknowledge partial responsibility for the fate of the refugees and blasts the double morality of the Israeli elite regarding the right of return
Ran Farchi (7/16/2007)
Dr Udi Adiv, who spied for Syria and was sentenced to 12 years in prison, recently told (June 30) a conference of Israeli Arabs that “Israelis are starting to accept the right of return”. Adiv believes there has been a big change in the Israeli public’s attitude “on the right of the
Palestinian refugees to return to their homes inside the Green Line”.
Another Taboo Broken
Udi Adiv is not the only one who thinks so, and a number of lecturers in academe who can be regarded as part of the post-Zionism group, openly declare their support for revoking the Law of Return and working towards the “right of return”. Professor Yoav Peled has been preaching this for ages.
In a debate in Qatar, which was attended by Dr Yossi Beilin and
broadcasted by the BBC, Dr Ilan Pappe who openly supports the
Palestinians, said that the Palestinians must not give up the “right of return”.
The far left, for example, an organization called Zochrot, is responsible for spreading naqba propaganda in Israel. Eyal Bornstein of the settlement of Neve Shalom is director of this organization, whose declared aim (see its website) is to “bring about the recognition of the moral debt owed for the injustice caused by the country and its institutions to the
Palestinian people and to further the fulfillment of the refugees’ right of return”. Members of his organization strive to erect plaques in Jewish settlements to the effect that the settlement was built on the ruins of such and such a Palestinian village. The movement leaders have also had success in the Supreme Court, when they fought to erect a plaque in Canada Park saying that three villages stood there before the Six Day War.
Ostensibly, one could view this phenomenon of Jews supporting the
Palestinians’ right of return as a marginal movement of the radical left. However, because other issues once considered taboo have been broken (opposition to a Palestinian state, the refusal to divide Jerusalem, and not handing over sovereign Israel territory inside the Green Line) we must sit up and pay attention to the erosion that has begun in Israel’s treatment of this question. The taboo was in first broken when Israel agreed to a clause in the Oslo Agreements concerning the refugees, and particularly when, at the end of Ehud Barak’s office at the Taba talks, Yossi Beilin agreed to submit a document saying that Israel recognizes its responsibility for the refugee problem, even if it does not consent to take them all back. The results of Beilin breaking this taboo were realized in the Geneva Initiative, when this idea was included in the clause on the refugees: Clause (7), sub section (4). The clause says that Israel will be one of the countries where the refugees can live if they wish.
In other words, this broke the taboo which says that Israel is not prepared to accept any Palestinians on its soil, for nationalist,
demographic reasons among others.
A Cold Wind Blowing Down Main Street
Prominent figures within the legal sphere, such as Professor Emanuel Gross, Dr Eyal Gross, and Supreme Court justice candidate Professor Kremnitzer, who unlike Udi Adiv are not considered members of the
pro-Palestinian left, have also called on the Legal Advisor to the Government to stop the progress of an amendment to the Citizenship Law, which seeks to prevent Palestinians from acquiring Israeli citizenship through the “family reunification” route. Consider too that the parties promoting the amendment have only cited security grounds, being afraid unfortunately to cite demographic expediencies, fearing the Supreme Court would reject it.
Author Amos Oz is another familiar figure, who judging by what he says shows signs that the Zionist left is drawing nearer the naqba viewpoint. Though Amos Oz has said in an article published in Yediot Ahronot (29 April) that “we cannot bring the refugees back” into Israel, because “then there would be two Palestinian states and not even one for the Jewish People”, he also said that “it is time we openly admit to playing a part in the Palestinians’ tragedy: perhaps we do not have sole responsibility and are not solely to blame, but our hands our not clean”. He concludes that Israel must agree to make “some of the effort to settle these Palestinians within the peace agreements, and outside Israel’s future borders of peace”. Amos Oz also believes that “The very fact of Israel accepting some of the blame for the Palestinian refugees’ tragedy and being prepared to share some of the burden of the solution might could send positive emotional shockwaves through the Palestinians. It might cause a kind of emotional breakthrough that could smooth future
negotiations quite a bit”. Oz believes that Israel should offer to be a partner in solving the problem by taking the refugees out of “the camps where they are rotting and providing every refugee who wants with a home, a job, and citizenship in the future Falastin”.
Oz says that these moves would oblige Israel to “admit to some blame for the Palestinian naqba and the responsibility that goes with it”.
It is positive that Amos Oz wants to ease the suffering of the people who live in those overcrowded housing projects, the refugee camps. Yet, what stands out is his almost total disregard for some of the reasons why the Arab countries kept the Palestinians in these conditions. Aside from the exigencies of rapidly absorbing the refugees they wanted their temporary situation to be permanent. They sought to utilize the Palestinians’ “consciousness of the return” to fan hatred and incitement and use them as pawns in attacking the Jewish state. Oz is showing his naivetÚ, but he is also falsely accusing Israel of actions for which Israel is freely beating its own breast while trying to make Israel responsible for solving the problems in practice.
Further to this, in addition to the practical side of agreeing to accept refugees stated in the Geneva Initiative, there is also a symbolic factor, which fits in with the spirit of what Amos Oz is saying. In the part concerning the reconciliation programs between the parties, clause (7) sub section (14) D says that such programs should include “developing suitable ways to memorialize the villages and communities that existed prior to 1949”. But by doing this, Israel ostensibly be taking the blame for the naqba and in agreeing to commemorate them would allow Palestinian
consciousness to be imposed on Israeli consciousness.
Stance of the Zionist Left
When Omedia interviewed him, Dr Gadi Taub, who is a self-defined member of the Zionist left and a critic of post-Zionism, said something which strongly opposed the “right of return”. He said that what the right means is that “Israel would no longer be a Jewish and democratic state because there would be no Jewish majority. This is what it would mean formally. But in practice terms, it would mean civil war, which under no
circumstances would be unacceptable to Zionism or to any moral person”.
Taub will not compromise on this point. “It is a point of principle we must not yield. The Arab population in Israel is large. And the
Jewish-democratic formula is not an abstract because in effect, making that population bigger would mean magnifying the friction tremendously”. He does not agree to the kind of compromise the Geneva Initiative
proposes. The Geneva Initiative is very vague about accepting Resolution 194, which we cannot accept mainly because of its interpretation”.
Taub is in favor of amending the Citizenship Law. “I think it is entirely legitimate for the country to monitor immigration and not to nationalize subversive elements”. He also accepts the security justification, arguing that “there we could not prevent people entering into fictitious
marriages, which malicious elements could then exploit. How could we tell the difference between friend and foe?”
No less important are the demographics. Taub thinks that allowing family reunification in Israel could upset the demographic balance. As things stand, Taub says, “there is a difference between our situation and the situation in Bosnia, since here separation is possible because one of the sides is a national majority. A national majority is not a racist thing. Bosnia is an alternative to rivers of blood being spilt. Therefore I do not agree with it (family reunification—R.F.). About the humanitarian side of family reunification. If it is humanitarian, Israel is ready to also help someone who wants to get married and live in Falastin”.
We are a country with a minority that is in conflict with the majority of that minority” explains Dr Taub, “compared to other countries our behavior is very liberal. Let me just remind you that the United States imprisoned all the Japanese. Israel may not be perfect but it does not do anything reckless”.
Willing to Accept Partial Responsibility for the Naqba
Unlike to his emphatic opinions on the practical issues, Taub is actually willing for ideological compromise. “I agree to acknowledge Israel’s partial responsibility for the naqba, in that it is partly responsible for the problem of the refugees. Partially responsible because the Arabs started the war and did not accept the Partition Plan. Still, I am not willing to say that the way to repair it is to bring the refugees into Israel”. Like Amos Oz, Taub is willing for Israel to help resettle the refugees, but not in Israel, because Israel is not prepared to commit suicide”. Taub also says that he realizes “that Zionism is a tragedy for the Palestinians”. In his opinion, being a Zionist does not mean you have to say that Zionism is pure. “Zionism is a realistic movement which operated under real conditions and needed to make all sorts of
compromises, some morally unpleasant to me …I don’t plan to run away from them but there is a difference between acknowledging the criticism out of a feeling of partnership and using the blot to delegitimize Israel”.
Taub does not come out strongly against Zochrot’s efforts to erect memorial plaques and thinks it “depends on the size of the plaque” and he says “It should be in the history books. We don’t have to deny the history.” However, he also thinks that behind this memorialization campaign is an attempt to subvert post 1949 reality. “They have started a ritual of memorializing it, of blaming us, which I cannot accept because we are only partly to blame, and they are no less to blame”. He says “I think these people want a bi-national state and want this to be a central idea in people’s consciousness. They want to break down Israel’s
nationhood and get us to promote a bi-national agenda, which I believe means civil war.
Despite the changes in Israeli discourse regarding the “return” and the “naqba”, Taub is unconcerned that accepting responsibility for the naqba will lead to naqba consciousness and accepting the “right of return”. “This is not a zero sum game. It is a question of degree. We must draw a clear line somewhere, namely between acknowledging responsibility and the solution. Israel will not permit the refugees to return to Israel. There will be a law of return regarding Palestinians who want to live in Falastin which with God’s help will be created. We can help them
economically, but we are not the address for the solution”.
The Supreme Court is the Problem
He does not think the self-defined Zionist left will be affected either.
As he sees it, the main problem lies elsewhere. “I think the problem is the Supreme Court”. He sees the pro-return discourse which is limited to a tiny elite as “ultra-liberal and anti-democratic and as trying to enforce issues through the court that are not accepted by the sovereign Israeli public. This elite is ready to behave undemocratically to advance a liberal agenda. It is an attack on the notion of a Jewish state and Jewish democracy”. Taub thinks it is seeping into the Supreme Court because “the Supreme Court belongs to this elite which is an elite with very little sympathy for Israel”. He calls it the “two passport elite of the top decile”, which he sees is morally “rotten” to quote him. “It is prepared for rivers of blood to be shed here as long as it feels justified”. He thinks that in many ways the Supreme Court is post-Zionist. Zionism is about Jewish sovereignty, the Supreme Court is post-Zionist because it subverts Israeli democracy”. He thinks the Supreme Court has developed ways of bypassing Israeli sovereignty. “The Supreme Court has taken it on itself to run the country. And the Supreme Court’s doctrine allows it to stand above the sovereign … the Supreme Court has assumed a position which supercedes the sovereign and diverges from it. This applies to everything because it interferes in everything that happens, every issue”.
Addressing the Israeli Arabs, Udi Adiv explained that “there is a lot of room to maneuver in Israeli society for the Palestinians and the Jewish left that supports them. There is a large community in Israel that can be influenced”. Considering what Gadi Taub says and other signs in Israeli society, Adiv may be right. In the real centers of power like the Supreme Court, citizens rights discourse can also coincide with the “return” dispute and has an attentive ear especially given the controversy over the Citizenship Law. Together with this, Dr Taub’s readiness to acknowledge blame could provide ammunition for anyone wishing to magnify Israelis’ feeling of guilt and make it an indictment with concrete repercussions for next time the refugee question arises.