By Yitzhak Laor, 01:37 19.05.11
Between 1949 and 1956, in what Israel calls “retribution operations,” thousands of Palestinians, who did not come to attack, were killed on the borders. Hundreds of others, probably fewer, who came to kill or steal or take what was theirs, were also killed. Those thousands were all killed, and others were imprisoned, because the new state’s laws categorized them as “infiltrators.”
The argument about whether the Palestinians were driven out or fled is sanctimonious. From the moment hundreds of thousands of them were forbidden to return, their flight became a deportation. Civilian populations flee at a time of war and return, all over the world (Israel’s defenders always point out the exceptions ). But preventing their return, the killing and the internal debates show how the “refugee problem” was gradually but speedily labelled a security problem.
The military rule in the villages hunted down those who succeeded in returning. Until it was dismantled in 1967, this rule ensured the massive land confiscation and effectively prevented the return. In fact, not all of the state’s leadership during the war realized that the army and David Ben-Gurion intended to “cleanse” the land. So some leaders had no idea from where to deport people and from where not to deport them, and whether to allow them to return or not.
Kibbutz correspondence, for example, shows how little the early arguments for preventing the return had to do with security. Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim, for instance, coveted the Abu Gosh lands and demanded to drive out its residents. In any case, there wasn’t an immediate consensus against the return.
Shooting at the demonstrators in the north to “protect our sovereignty” this week was what Israel had done before as well – shooting Palestinans who think this is their land contrary to the law. The law was enacted by those who deported them, of course.
This point touches on the question of Israel’s illegitimacy. The panic from the word “return” stems from here. But to understand how extreme Benjamin Netanyahu is, and how much he is part of the radical nucleus of the rejectionist front, you must listen to his cliches about “we’re willing to cede parts of homeland.” What exactly is he ceding in the West Bank? What chapter from the Book of Joshua is he living in?
What we are dealing with is not the Palestinians’ return to Israel at all. If the struggle over Palestine has become Israel’s delegitimization, it is because Israel’s governments insist on talking about a Palestinian state and “destruction” in the same breath. The issue at stake is the refugees’ return to the Palestinian state alongside Israel. Israel has no other way to take part in solving what it created in atrocious innocence in 1948.
Israel, boasted Shimon Peres in one of his gushing outpourings, has turned into a blossoming garden. Well, a blossoming garden it isn’t. Suffice it to see the hospitals. But Israel is the only state in the world who has been receiving millions of dollars for every Jewish citizen for years. Never has there been another state whose standard of living was built by such high external funding, regardless of its resources. The Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank, should it be so lucky as to get half these sums, will undoubtedly succeed in establishing itself as a prosperous neighbor.
The matter will not end until the Israeli public understands that it’s in its own interest, and essential for its survival, to reconcile and withdraw from all the territories. Meanwhile, we’re left with the inflation of “Nakba” in Hebrew, including dime-store radicalism in the newspapers and on the Internet, tiny vociferous demonstrations and the IDF’s usual response. The dogs bark, says the establishment, and the caravan passes by. The wounded and the killed will be picked up by Red Crescent ambulances. Let the leftists donate their blood.