by Eric Margolis
What we have seen in the West Bank and Gaza during the last three weeks was
a giant prison riot by Palestinians. Of the 115 plus people who have died,
and 3,000 wounded, 95% were Arabs.
In North America, the pro-Israel media poured venom on Palestinians,
claiming that stone-throwing teenagers on the occupied West Bank were
threatening Israel's very existence. Some media cheerleaders of Israel's
right wing even called on the United States to go to war against `these
animals.' American politicians vied to condemn Palestinian leader Yasser
Across the Muslim world, ferocious anti-Israel and anti-Jewish hatred
erupted with terrifying, unprecedented intensity. From Morocco to
Indonesia, pictures of a twelve-year old Arab boy and his father being
slowly shot to death by Israeli troops become for Muslims as much an
icon of Palestinian suffering as the famous, heartbreaking picture of a
ten-year old Jewish boy, hands raised over his head, being marched out of
the Warsaw Ghetto by Nazi SS troops.
Yet after this latest orgy of hate and violence, nothing really has
changed. Israelis and Palestinians remain stuck together, like two
scorpions in a bottle. Israel still faces the same three choices: a peace
agreement that a majority of Palestinians will find minimally acceptable;
keep shooting Palestinian rioters, which severely damages Israel's standing
worldwide and encourages anti-semitism; or ethnic cleansing Arabs from
Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.
Israel insists it made huge concessions at Camp David II, and says a
permanent peace deal was within reach, but collapsed because Yasser Arafat
refused to give up claims to the Old City of Jerusalem, which Israel
conquered in 1967 and annexed
But the Old City was not the only make or break issue. More important,
though largely ignored by the media, was the question of Palestinian's
right of return. During Israel's creation in 1948, and the 1967 war in
which Israel seized the West Bank, 1.1 million Palestinians were driven
from their homes and land(plus hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees
Fifty-two years later, the Palestinian refugee disapora, concentrated in
Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza, has grown to 5- 6 million,
the world's largest refugee population. According to UN figures, one in
four of the globe's refugees is Palestinian. They have subsisted in squalid
camps as stateless outcasts for half a century.
A quarter of the one million Palestinians who live in Israel proper are
internal refugees. No Palestinians have ever been compensated for loss of
their property or homeland, estimated at US $180 billion. Neither, should
it be noted, have Sephardic Jews from the Mideast who lost their property
when they moved or fled to Israel.
UN Resolution 194 of 1948 affirms the right of all Palestinians to either
return to their lost homes or elect to receive compensation. The UN
reaffirmed this resolution over 100 times since 1948. Numerous human
rights conventions have codified the legal right of expelled civilian
populations to return home.
Israel rejects these UN resolutions by asserting Palestinians were not
driven by Israeli forces from their homes, but voluntarily abandoned them,
either in response to Arab radio broadcasts, or to make way for supposedly
advancing Arab forces. Though many prominent Israeli historians have amply
debunked such claims, this 52-year old canard forms the legal basis for
denying Palestinians any right of return. `Abandoned' Palestinian
property was expropriated and given or sold to Jews.
Israeli governments have steadfastly maintained Israel has no moral or
monetary responsibility for Palestinian refugees and owes them nothing.
Israel rejects charges it is violating the 1949 Geneva Convention on
occupation of conquered territory by shooting civilian demonstrators and
inflicting collective punishments. Israel insists it is `administering'
rather than `occupying' the West Bank.
There is no room in Israel, insist Israelis, for Arab refugees, though room
was found for one million Russians, not all of them Jews, and Falasha
Ethiopians. If Arabs are allowed to return in any number, they will destroy
Israel, or swamp it demographically, Zionists warn.
At the failed Camp David talks, Israel's PM Ehud Barak reportedly agreed to
a token return of up to 100,000 Palestinian refugees labeled as `family
reunification.' President Clinton reportedly proposed American taxpayers
would pay Palestinians US $40 billion or more in compensation for land
expropriated by Israel.
Aside from these two sops, only a very limited number of Palestinian
refugees - subject to Israeli-American approval - would be allowed to
settle in the proposed new Palestinian mini-state. In other words, even
after a peace agreement, 2-3 million Palestinians would remain stateless
and homeless. There would be no right of return.
Even if Yasser Arafat is eventually strong-armed into a deal with Israel
and America, most of his people want no part of an agreement that leaves
them either penned up in an Israeli-dominated mini-state - little more
than a group of native reservations akin to apartheid South Africa's old
bantustans, surrounded by fences and Israeli troops - or left like human
garbage in refugee camps, at the mercy of their unloving Arab `brothers.'
That grim prospect, even more than Jerusalem, was the true cause of the
latest Palestinian explosion. Muslims and Jews will eventually find some
way to time-share the Old City's disputed 200 sq meters of holy places, as
competing Christian sects have learned to do in Bethlehem.
But there will be no lasting regional peace until millions of Palestinian
refugees are somehow made whole and convinced they have a future. Today,
they have none.
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster, and
author of the just released War at the Top of
the World - The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Tibet which was reviewed in
The Economist, May 13, 2000]
Copyright © 2000 Eric Margolis - All Rights