Israel’s 60th Birthday

Israel 60: Let the refugees return by Dave

Edith Garwood – “Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations fail because the root problem has not been addressed”

Sixty years ago, more than 700,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes, not knowing where they were going, not knowing when they would return. This displacement of over half of the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine created the largest and oldest refugee population today and is the root of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. This tragedy is called Al Nakba in Arabic.

We are often told the Palestinians fled of their own accord, but British and Israeli archives opened in the late 1970s tell a different story. The indigenous Arabs — Muslim, Christian, secular — were systematically driven out of areas desired for a new Jewish state.

Jews fleeing anti-Semitism in Europe started migrating to Palestine in the mid-19th century. The United Nations, attempting to quell conflicts between indigenous inhabitants and the new immigrants, proposed dividing the area.

Jewish immigrants accepted it, but the Arab side rejected it as unjust as it gave 55 percent of the land to the new immigrants while they were only one-third of the population and owned only 7 percent of the land at the time.

Arabs were expelled or fled

Archives show armed Jewish militias expelled Arabs using home demolitions, massacres, rape, beatings, bombings and widespread threats of terror. Some 300,000 were expelled before Israel declared itself an independent state in May 1948. Another 400,000 Palestinians were driven out or simply fled in the fighting that ensued.There are approximately 7 million Palestinians today, with 4 million still living as refugees in neighboring Arab countries as well as in the Israeli Occupied Palestinian Territories. After 60 years of dead-end peace initiatives, all parties are frustrated, especially in the refugee camps where frustration is spiraling and hope is dead.

Peace negotiations continue to fail because the root problem is not considered a priority. Negotiators and parties of the conflict are so anxious to alleviate the immediate suffering of both Israelis and Palestinians that the refugee issue is not sufficiently addressed.

The Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, rocket fire into Israel, illegal settlement growth, checkpoints, suicide bombers, the crippled Palestinian economy, The Wall, and the lack of adequate access to medicine, food and clean water require attention, but are only outgrowths of the root problem — the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

U.N. mediator Count Folke Bernadotte stated in 1948: “No settlement can be just and complete if recognition is not accorded to the right of the Arab refugee to return to the home from which he has been dislodged by the hazards and strategy of the armed conflict between Arabs and Jews in Palestine. The majority of these refugees have come from the territory which, under the [U.N. General] Assembly [partition] resolution of 29 November, was to be included in the Jewish State. The exodus of Palestinian Arabs resulted from panic created by fighting in their communities, by rumors concerning real or alleged acts of terrorism, or expulsion. It would be an offence against the principles of elemental justice if these innocent victims of the conflict were denied the right of return to their homes while Jewish immigrants flow into Palestine, and, indeed, at least offer the threat of permanent replacement of the Arab refugees who have been rooted in the land for centuries.”

Elephant in room is ignored

People in the region hold no hope for the newly initiated peace talks of the Bush administration. They understand there will be no significant change because the elephant in the room — the refugee issue — is habitually ignored.

The refugee issue and the Palestinians’ “Right of Return” need to be recognized, addressed and resolved for there to be any hope for peace in the region.

Ambassador in Charlotte

The Palestinian ambassador to the U.S., Afif Safieh, will speak and answer questions about Al Nakba at 2 p.m. Saturday at Marriott Center City, 100 West Trade St.

Edith Garwood is a long-time human rights activist in the Charlotte area and member of Palestine Media Watch (

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