Last Friday, The Guardian newspaper carried an op-ed by the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, calling for “Israel’s recognition of Palestinian refugee rights and its agreement to provide reparation.”
In doing so, he quoted Lord Folke Bernadotte, who said: “It would be an offence against the principles of elemental justice if these innocent [Palestinian] victims of the conflict were denied the right to return to their homes, while Jewish immigrants flow into Palestine.”
Refugees are the unfortunate bi-product of civil unrest and human conflict. No one has to tell Jews about what it means to be a refugee. My father was born in Breslau, Germany. When the Nazis came to power, he fled from his native home. After the war was over, there was nowhere to return to. Breslau was no longer part of Germany and the city of his birth, now part of Poland, had been renamed Wroclaw.
Of course, his story is but one of millions of similar tales of displaced persons, who, through no fault of their own, have had to leave their homes and rebuild their lives elsewhere. Ask the Greeks of northern Cyprus or the Armenians who were forcibly deported by the Ottoman Empire. Or ask the 600,000 Jews of the Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Morocco and Iran, who, with the establishment of the Jewish State, had to flee the countries in which their ancestors had lived since time immemorial.
However, Palestinian refugees are different. Firstly, if the Palestinian Arab Higher Committee had agreed to the partition plan proposed by the United Nations back in 1947, then there would never have been a War of Independence (or what the Palestinians call al Naqba (“the Catastrophe”) and they would never have become refugees.
And, secondly, whereas refugee problems are normally resolved through the absorption of the displaced by host nations, the Arab world, in spite of its incredible wealth and huge land mass, has stubbornly refused for the past 60 years to provide a home for its so-called “brothers” and has preferred to use them as a political pawn in its ongoing struggle against Israel.
The fact that Saeb Erekat still refers to the unfortunate inhabitants of the UNWRA camps as refugees suggests that he is caught in a time warp. They are no more refugees than my children are refugees from Breslau. As long as Palestinians like him continue to play the old tapes and blame others for their plight, then he and his people will remain trapped in the past.
Hopefully, the day will come when a Palestinian state will be established. Its leaders will then need to ingather their exiles in precisely the same way as the State of Israel has absorbed millions of poor and helpless Jews since the very day that it declared its independence.