|Nakba Day – May 15 – saw Palestinians march in memory of the day that Palestinian self-determination was effectively destroyed with the creation of Israel, resulting in an exodus of refugees [GALLO/GETTY]|
Sunday May 15 witnessed the killing of 20 Palestinians who were demonstrating inside the Occupied Territories or trying to cross the Israeli “borders” with Lebanon and Syria – but it’s not the first time that the Israeli army has shot at Palestinian refugees trying to return to their homeland.
Although the Palestinian marchers were staging a symbolic return to their homeland on the 63rd anniversary of their dispossession (an-Nakba), many of their ancestors had made real attempts to physically go back to their homes, and were shot or killed by the Israeli army in the process.
In the years that followed the 1948 Nakba [“catastrophe”] – and those following the occupation of the rest of Palestine in 1967 – many Palestinians crossed the barbed-wire fences to see their homes, or spend time in the orange groves – few succeeded, and scores of others were killed.
The revival of a strong collective movement worldwide affirming the right of Palestinians to return to their homeland is partly inspired by the Arab revolutions which empowered Palestinians, particularly young Palestinians, to challenge the Israeli denial of their national rights.
Many of the young people taking part in the Nakba marches around the world have never even been to Palestine, yet they refuse to give up or forget. They joined hands with the older generation – still carrying the keys to their homes – in a moving, even deadly, show of renewed determination to reclaim their rights and restore their identity.
The movement, which has its roots in more than a decade of activism, is a strong expression of rejection of the Oslo negotiations – something Israel has used not only to expand its colonisation of Palestinian lands, but also to put an end to the Palestinian refugees’ right of return.
Wizards of Oslo
Right from the outset of the Oslo process, Israel pushed for an agreement that involved Palestinian acceptance to end all their legal and legitimate rights.
Thus when Israel – and for that matter the United States – talk about a two-state solution, they are essentially talking about establishing a Palestinian entity that lacks real sovereignty, in exchange for Palestinians giving up their historic claim to all their land.
Israel views the right of return as the biggest threat to its continuity as a Zionist state that maintains a Jewish identity through racist laws and deeds.
Israeli leaders refuse to take responsibility for the exodus they caused in 1948, driving out Palestinians from their homeland, while also refusing to take responsibility for their continued policies of dispossession, confiscation and demolition.
Most non-Arab Israelis are afraid to face their original sin of deliberately expelling the native Palestinian population in order to make room for Jewish immigrants, which started a process of uprooting a nation and planting a new identity.
Not that the Palestinians need to prove that the state of Israel, as it stands now, was a result of their own dispossession. In their memoires, Israeli leaders from Moshe Dayan to Yitzhak Rabin – who decades later opted for peace, but was assassinated by a Jewish extremist – have all documented and recorded their own role in the forced expulsions of Palestinians in their memoirs.
Acknowledged and justified
Even leading Israeli historians, after decades of denial of Palestinian accounts, presented new evidence of the political intent and details of the expulsion operations, themselves vindicating the Palestinian narrative.
The revelations, no matter how unequivocal the evidence, shook neither the Israeli leadership nor a society that has become convinced that the continuity of the Zionist project is tied to the denial of Palestinian nationhood.
Zionist historian Benny Morris, who wrote the ground-breaking book The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947/1948, even justified the expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948. “Without the uprooting of the Palestinians, a Jewish state would not have arisen here [in Palestine],” he said in a shocking interview in 2004.
Morris, who documented massacres – and even rape – committed in 1948 to ensure David Ben Gurion’s idea of “transfer” of the Palestinian population, warned against “acceptance of guilt”[PDF] by the state of Israel, which could validate Palestinian demands:
|On the macro-level, there is no question that there would never have been a Palestinian refugee problem had there been no Zionist movement. If Jews hadn’t started buying up land and pushing Palestinians off the land, and then in 1948 and again in 1967, pushing out Palestinians, there would be no Palestinian refugees. And on the micro-level, there were many specific instances in 1947 – 48 in which Israel took military steps that caused Palestinians to be expelled. But this cannot translate today into acceptance of political guilt that would lead to a “return” [of Palestinians].|
Morris and other Zionist intellectuals have argued that Israel should not take responsibility for its role in 1948, even if the Palestinian leadership waived the Palestinian right of return, since future generations of Palestinians would use such an act to reclaim their rights.
But if Morris has no moral qualms about such discriminatory statements that reflect a mentality of Israeli supremacy, Israel will still have a problem, not only because of Palestinians who won’t forget, but also because the right of return is based in international law and United Nations resolutions.
United Nations General Assembly resolution 194 in particular has called for the right of return of the Palestinian refugees and for reparations, while in 1967, UN Security Council resolution 267 reiterated the right of return for refugees from both the 1948 and 1967 wars.
In contrast, the Israeli Law of Return, which allows any Jew – including converts to Judaism – to live in Israel, and even in an illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank, is based on a racist exclusionary notion that denies Palestinians the same right.
But Israel does not base its policies on international laws but on exercising its military supremacy and aggression. However, there is a limit to what military power can do, and Israel has so far failed to force the Palestinians to give up the right of return.
The ongoing struggle
Israel understands that the Palestinian right of return lies at the heart of its conflict with the Palestinians, but it does not want to address the Palestinian issue as that of a legitimate struggle for self-determination, human rights and nationhood. Instead, Israel has been dealing with the Palestinians as a population that happens to be in its midst as if by accident – and that needs to be separated and controlled, if not expelled and eliminated.
Israel has failed and will continue to fail. If anything, Israeli attempts, including stipulations that Palestinians practically surrender through negotiations, not only have backfired but triggered a revival of the Palestinian struggle for the right of return.
In fact, from the very beginning, the Oslo process served as a catalyst for Palestinians to organise around the right of return as a reaction to Israel’s rejection of that particular right.
New generations of Palestinians, brought up under the years of the failed Oslo accords, understand that the Palestinian right of return is the crux of the struggle for their independence.
Movements for the right of return started appearing in the late 1990s, making it the most common dominator among Palestinians in exile and inside Palestine in the 21st century.
If the marches on the 63rd anniversary of the Nakba show anything, it is that just as those in the wider Arab world are awakening to their human rights and freedoms, the Palestinians – especially the new generation – are now courageously reclaiming their rights, and those of their ancestors. It is a new era, where, though Israeli firepower may still kill individuals, it will never kill the idea that is manifesting into a renewed Palestinian revolt.
Lamis Andoni is an analyst and commentator on Middle Eastern and Palestinian affairs.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.