A few days after the Parliamentary motion to condemn BDS, CIJA President Shimon Fogel wrote a very strongly worded piece in Huffington Post (Truth vs. Myth in the BDS Movement) explaining why Palestinians have no legal right to return to their homeland. I asked a Palestinian Canadian, born of a refugee family in Lebanon, to explain why he thinks this is unfair and unacceptable. Read more.
Of the 3 demands of the BDS movement, the “right of return” of Palestinians to the lands they inhabited before 1947 is probably the most contentious.
From the 3/4 million refugees in 1947/48, the total has now risen to over 5 million Palestinian refugees. Israeli Jews worry that if they were all to return, Israel would no longer have a Jewish majority. Democracy would mean that the many laws (and practices) that today give privileges to Jews inside Israel would almost certainly be swept away. Nobody anywhere ever wants to lose their privileges.
But what happened to the refugees was clearly unfair, and needs to be recognized and remedied. Does it matter if they were forced out of Israel at gunpoint or if they fled in terror without having been forced? Whatever the reason for leaving, they were not allowed back and all their lands, household possessions, farm animals, books, and bank accounts were seized without compensation.
In his Huffington Post article Shimon Fogel takes a legal approach, arguing that “no such “right” exists, – the very term ‘right of return’ has never featured in an internationally binding document.”
I asked Rami, a Palestinian Canadian who was born in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, and who still has family members there for his response. In his letter below, Rami explains how proud he is to have become Canadian because Canadians value fairness and human rights. The right to return, he argues is not only a legal question but also one of fairness, morality and human rights. Read his personal appeal below:
A personal response to Shimon Fogel: Palestinian refugees are real people
My mother and father were born in Safad, in northern Palestine (now called Israel). They were forced to leave their homes in 1948 . My father passed away in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon in 2004. He always had a dream to see the home he was born in, which was less than 100 km from his camp. He was never able to make it. Israel did not allow him to go back.
He told my family many stories about their town, fields, and community. He told the story of exile too.
Here are some more pictures that tell you the story of Palestinian refugees.
My father and mother ended up in Lebanon in April 1948. I was born there in a refugee camp. Thanks to UNRWA, the UN refugee agency for Palestinians, I got education. I was lucky to immigrate to Canada and become a proud citizen of a wonderful country.
In a recent article, Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), which advocates for Israeli interests in Canada, said that Palestinian refugees do not have the right to return to their towns. The main reason, according to Fogel, is that Abba Eban, who was Israel’s representative to the UN in 1948, was smart enough to manipulate the technical text of UN resolution 194 which deals with the refugee question. Eban’s brilliance found a way to excuse and justify my family’s loss.
Really? Well, I disagree. Many progressive Israelis disagree too, such as the Israeli organization Zochrot. My family’s suffering and my father’s dream to see his home, and the suffering and dreams of all Palestinian refugees to enjoy normal life, deserve respect. These dreams and rights do not depend on the IQ of Eban or Mr. Fogel. They depend on human consciousness.
“Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”
– The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 13
Palestinian children in a refugee camp in Lebanon in 2012. For these children, being a refugee is to have a life almost with no hope.
Most Palestinian refugees still live in camps and they desperately want peace and a reasonable solution that would make everyone feel protected, free and safe. Of course, this is not easy to accomplish, but we can start the first step if we have the will and imagination.
The Israeli human rights organization Zochrot , which believes in truth and reconciliation is inspiring. Canada is inspiring too: after a long and difficult path of injustice, Canadians are talking about truth and reconciliation with our aboriginal population.
Israel needs to recognize that what it did to my family and ¾ million other Palestinians was a form of ethnic cleansing according to the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe. Israel needs to admit what it did and enter into serious discussions about what we are going to do about it.
Unfortunately, “Israel is in national denial” when it comes to Palestinian history and rights, according to Eva Illouz, an Israeli professor of sociology at the Hebrew University. Canadians and all friends of peace can help to change that. Israel is the most powerful force in the region. It has the capacity and moral obligation to take the first step to change reality.
Let us stop hiding behind technical, legalistic language – it means little. Let us talk about people and human suffering – this means everything! Rami
NOTE: Canada Talks Israel Palestine has forwarded Rami’s letter to CIJA’s Shimon Fogel for comment. If we receive a response, we will be pleased to print it in a forthcoming blog post.