Right of return revisited

The debate on the term return to 'an ancient homeland,' whether on the Zionist definition of the land or on the Palestinian definition, exposes an abyss between the two national movements fighting over the country.

Salman Masalha

Right of return revisited

A political tsunami is expected in September, the politicians keep warning us. Obviously the recognition of Palestinian statehood, if adopted, is expected to yank the rug from under the feet of the refugees who were raised on the dream of returning to the fig tree, the spring and the village that no longer exist.

Don't forget, the Palestinians who broke through the fence in the Golan and those who demonstrated near the Lebanese border on Nakba Day were not demonstrating only against Israel. They were demonstrating first and foremost against the Palestinian Authority. That's because all the PA's recent efforts have been focused on a United Nations debate on the request to recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.

The change in the Palestinian leadership's approach to the "right of return" is reflected in Mahmoud Abbas' statement at an education and culture forum that gathered in Ramallah in May. Abbas announced "the Palestinian leadership will never give up the right of return. The return to the homeland is our final destination to end the life of dispersal as refugees."

To avoid any vagueness he said "the return is in practice, not a slogan."

"Palestine is ours, and whoever comes from the north, the center or the south and lives anywhere in it is in fact living in the homeland."

Abbas gave an example from his own life. "When I return to Ramallah or Nablus I have my foot in the homeland," he said.

His words were not mentioned for some reason in the Hebrew-language media. Apart from a brief report, the Arab media didn't mention them either.

Only Dr. Faiz Abu Shamala of Gaza commented that Abbas' statement was "a political Palestinian eclipse." Shamala said he was astonished "such dangerous declarations are evoking no reaction from the Palestinian factions" and wondered "is the right of return, on Nakba Day, diminished to the return to Gaza and the West Bank?"

He mocked Abbas, saying "if the return to Palestine meant return to Gaza and the West Bank, UNRWA's work should have been stopped, as millions of refugees in camps in Gaza and the West Bank are thus implementing their dream of return."

Shamala took the trouble to explain to Abbas the real meaning of return. "The right of return, as every Palestinian Arab understands it, is Abbas' return to Safed and Yasser Abed Rabbo's return to Jaffa. That is the right that must continue nestling in the soul, even if the current political circumstances require an agreement on a Palestinian state in the 1948 cease-fire borders."

In this case, the debate on the term return to "an ancient homeland," whether on the Zionist definition of the land or on the Palestinian definition, exposes an abyss between the two national movements fighting over the bleeding country. The collision is between two completely different national approaches and two completely different worlds.

So even if a Palestinian state is established in the West Bank and Gaza, there is no chance the refugees will implement the "right of return" in it. Because unlike the Zionist "homeland" perception, the Palestinian refugees will not see the Palestinian state as a "homeland" but as another stop on the voyage of the refugees.

It is fortunate for the Palestinians that the Israeli government is rightist and recalcitrant. Because if Israel had an "analytical" government it would certainly have prepared a surprise for the world and voted in favor of Palestinian statehood in the UN in September. This would have turned the entire dispute on its head.
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Published: Op-Ed, Haaretz, 25 August 2011

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Israel sinking into religious-fundamentalist swamp

Israel sinking
into religious-fundamentalist swamp
The intention of the proposed new Basic Law that would define Israel as 'the national home for the Jewish people' is to deny the natural rights of Israel's Arab citizens....


Salman Masalha

The demographic problem

MK Avi Dichter (Kadima) sponsored, along with 40 other MKs from various parties, a mew Basic Law that defines Israel as "the national home for the Jewish people." The proposed law includes a number of sections that, in the vernacular, piss me off.

It is becoming clearer and clearer that this Knesset, all of it, is the most populist in nationalistic terms, and the least fundamentalist in religious terms. Now they want to exchange the impossible mantra "Jewish-democratic" with something new.

It is clear that the intention of Dichter's proposed law is to deny the natural rights of Arab citizens in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did well to explain the matter in a speech he gave in December 2003 at the Herzliya Conference: "We have a demographic problem. But it is not centered on the Palestinian Arabs in the territories, but on Israeli Arabs."

Even blunter words came from former Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra (Kadima ): "We have Arab citizens in the State of Israel. This is our greatest problem. Finish with Gaza, finish with Judea and Samaria, and the biggest problem remains."

Support for this approach comes in the section of the new bill that revokes the official status of the Arabic language, the language of 20% of Israeli citizens.

It is well known that Israeli politicians very much love to take after Europe. So it would be appropriate to let you know how Europe behaves. Finland is a European country and quite advanced by all opinions. There is a Swedish minority in Finland which is 5% of the population. In this Finland, which was once part of the Kingdom of Sweden, no one can be a public servant if they don't speak Swedish.

Similarly, it seems the "greatest danger" has pushed the legislators to introduce another racist section into their proposed law, which allows religious and national separation to enable the existence of "separate community settlement," and it also has pushed lawmakers to sink further and further into the religious-fundamentalist swamp.

Israel is fitting into the region more and more. The proposed law adds us to the club of enlightened nations such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. The law intends to make Knesset legislation and civil judges subject to Jewish jurisprudence and "Jewish tradition," in an attempt to establish Israel as a state based on unenlightened Jewish law - based on a Basic Law. In the term "Jewish tradition" is hiding a religious tradition of Jewish law.

Jewish tradition, like all other monotheistic traditions, includes a number of laws that can be described as moral abominations that completely oppose the universal declaration on human rights.

The frequent treatment of such questions does not testify to strength, but the opposite. The source of this weakness is the occupation of 1967. On one hand, this occupation has deepened via the "Zionist theft enterprise" called the settlements. On the other hand, the demographics between the sea and the Jordan River have not remained frozen.

Therefore, it is no surprise that the law was formulated in cooperation and at the initiative of the Institute for Zionist Strategies. This is to teach us that the Zionist mind continues to invent new ideas.

With a lack of foreseeable prospects for a national solution in Israel, the situation will reverse itself. The day is not far away that we will begin using the infamous Zionist language, but this time in reverse. This time we will start to speak of the "Jewish camp" or the minorities - the Jews of course. I will even go so far and introduce the phrase "honorable Jews." You have been warned.
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Published: Op-Ed, Haaretz, 10 August 2011
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Gideon Spiro | They call that a Left?

"There is no need to prefer benighted regimes in order to express opposition to the Israeli Occupation. As a citizen who has been asked to vote for Hadash, I feel insulted by this style. I expect leaders of the party, Jews and Arabs alike, to dissociate themselves from those words..."...

Gideon Spiro | They call that a Left?

Dr. Salman Masalha is a poet and translator who has a column in the newspaper Haaretz. Salman has gifts that are rare in Israel. He is totally immersed in Jewish and Arab culture. He has native-speaker mastery of both languages.

In his latest column (26 July 2011), under the headline above (“There is no Arab left-wing in Israel”, in the English version), he reports to his readers about words written by Muhammad Nafaa, the Secretary of the Communist Party, on the party’s website in Arabic. The Communist Party, the dominant component of the Hadash parliamentary list, takes pride in being both Jewish and Arab. I very much admire that fact. And this is what he wrote: “The Syrian dictatorship, the North Korean and the Iranian, are dozens of times preferable to the American, Israeli and NATO occupiers and all their Arab collaborators, especially in the Gulf states.”

This is a style that takes us decades back, to the Stalinist era, when the slogan was, “better to be wrong with the Soviet Union than to be right without it.”

No one can accuse me of being soft on the Israeli Occupation or the American ones (in Iraq, in Vietnam); but to prefer the North Korean dictatorship that is starving its people, the Iranian one where homosexuality is a crime and opponents are hanged in public squares, or the Syrian one that is slaughtering its citizens, over the Israeli or American occupations, is a very non-Left position. There is no need to prefer benighted regimes in order to express opposition to the Israeli Occupation. As a citizen who has been asked to vote for Hadash, I feel insulted by this style. I expect leaders of the party, Jews and Arabs alike, to dissociate themselves from those words.
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28 July 2011

Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent
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Haim Baram | There is a Jewish-Arab left

In response to "You call this a left?":

Haim Baram

There is a Jewish-Arab left

I am sure that Salman Masalha's article ("You call this a left?," July 27 ) was flattering to Jewish readers and affirmed their prejudice, already pervasive, that most Arab citizens are nationalistic and that the affliction has even spread to Hadash and the Israeli Communist Party (Maki ). There is nothing more convenient for an oppressor than to receive assurances of his righteousness against the oppressed. My friend Masalha produced, as is his wont, a cogent article in which few could discern the barren moral and ideological landscape.

Masalha claims that "the left is supposed to bridge the gap and the national tension by positing a civic agenda..." From a few remarks of Maki's secretary general Mohammed Nafa, he concludes that such a left wing "does not exist."

Nafa was mistaken when he appeared to be supportive of the murderous tyrannical regime in Syria, but he was right when he said: "We will never surrender to the Israeli prostitution that is trying to portray Israel as a victim."

Nafa's priorities are certainly logical. Arab citizens cannot change the situation in North Korea, Iran or even in Syria. Their task is to fight here to free their people in Palestine and for full equal rights in Israel. Since the government of Israel and the United States have been collaborating for more than 40 years to preserve the oppression, Nafa sees the struggle against then as the most important thing of all.

The task of the left is not to bridge gaps by means of a civic agenda. That is the traditional task of the conservative-liberal bourgeousie. The left is supposed to fight for justice and equality, against oppression and the hegemony of force in the international arena. The national struggle of an oppressed people is the raison d'etre of the left; the nationalism of the fundamentalists in the United States and Israel, whose purpose is to perpetuate discrimination and repression, is unacceptable.

The Cuban revolutionaries believed that national emotions in Latin America were fuel for the anti-imperialist struggle. That was true then and it is true now.

There is therefore no symmetry between the nationalism of a settler in Kedumim and that of a resident of Gaza. Terror against civilians is unacceptable, but the intent of national unity in Gaza is to liberate the Palestinians from occupation and siege; the intent of national unity in the name of "Zionism" is to perpetuate the occupation and create an apartheid state here.

The uniqueness of Hadash is in the fact that the Arab citizens who support the movement identify with the national aspirations of their people; however, they reject not only terror but also the negation of the rights of the Jews here. Masalha also knows, and concedes halfheartedly, that Hadash educates toward Jewish-Arab brotherhood not only in Bat Yam or Tel Aviv, but in Sakhnin, Nazareth and Taibeh.

Nafa, as quoted by Masalha, does not say that he supports the evil regimes in Syria, Iran or Korea (and they are evil, make no mistake ). He only asserts that the Jewish-Arab left in Hadash must "be more involved" in the struggle against the Israeli and the American occupation. That is the opinion of everyone who is part of the socialist left.

North Korea is an abomination, but it must not serve good Israeli radicals as an excuse to vote for Meretz - which comes out against all wars after they are over - instead of Hadash, which blends a social and a political line that should engender widespread support.

Nafa must see to it that his positions are not perceived as supporting Syria and the wicked regime there. But when Masalha ignores the role of Israel and the United States in the regional and global arena, it helps the enemies of the left and the enemies of peace.
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Published: Op-Ed, Haaretz, 1 August 2011
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