Factoids and the Palestinians right of return
Maurice OstroffIn his 1973 biography of Marilyn Monroe, Norman Mailer coined the word "factoid" by adding the suffix "oid" to the
word "fact". Tagged on to the end of a word, "oid" conveys the idea of resemblance to that word, for example asteroid means
like a star. Mailer described factoids as "facts which have no existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper, creations
which are not so much lies as a product to manipulate emotion in the Silent Majority."
The Encarta encyclopedia
describes factoid as something that may not be true but is widely accepted as true because it is repeatedly quoted, especially
in the media.
In terms of this definition factoid is probably the most appropriate
word to describe the Palestinian Right of return, a concept borrowed from the Israel Law of return, which was inspired by
the need to provide a homeland for millions of homeless Jews after WWII. Many countries including China, Armenia, Bulgaria,
Hungary, Ireland Italy, Japan and Greece have similar laws facilitating immigration by individuals with ethnic ties.
The Palestinians claim their demand is based on a legal right in terms of UN General Assembly Resolution 194,
but many legal authorities contend that this resolution does not support the claims. In fact it does not specifically refer
to a right of return though Article 11 states
"... that the refugees wishing to return
to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that
compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which,
under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible".
is relevant to note that unlike UN Security Council Resolutions, which are binding on member states, General Assembly resolutions
are considered to be merely non-binding recommendations. Nevertheless it is ironic that those Arab states that now rely on
194 to claim a right of return, voted against it because they said it does not contain such right and because it implicitly
Notably, the resolution does not refer to descendants of refugees,
but it does refer to all refugees, not only Arabs. It therefore includes the Jews who were forced to flee from Arab countries
and abandon property estimated at over $30 billion.
since resolution 194 specifically applies only to refugees who wish "to
live at peace with their neighbors", it does not apply to the Palestinians since both Hamas and
PLO charters emphatically reject peace with Israel. Article 13 of the Hamas charter specifically states that peaceful
solutions and international conferences contradict the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement and that Jihad is the
The official Palestinian Media Center web site confirms that promised changes to the PLO Charter
have not been made. Article 9 of the PLO covenant still plainly declares that armed struggle is not merely tactical, it is
the overall strategy. Article 19 rejects the 1947 UN partition, implicitly rejecting the Quartet�s proposed two-state
solution. Moreover it advocates destruction of the entire Jewish state. Article 20 deems the Balfour Declaration and the British
Mandate null and void.
The following opinion is not from an Israeli spokesperson. It is the considered
analysis of Saudi columnist Yousef Nasser Al-Sweidan as published in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Siyassa, March 5, 2007 under the
title "On the Impossible [Idea] of the Right of Return," (With acknowledgement to MEMRI - Special Dispatch April 12, 2007.)
"The refugee problem is the result of mistakes by the host countries. Clearly, the refugee problem is mainly the
result of cumulative mistakes made by the countries where [the refugees] live... such as Syria and Lebanon, which have isolated
the refugees in poor and shabby camps lacking the most basic conditions for a dignified human existence. Instead of helping
them to become fully integrated in their new society, they let them become victims of isolation and suffering... Later, the
worst of all happened when Arab intelligence agencies used the Palestinian organizations as a tool for settling scores in
internal Arab conflicts that probably have nothing to do with the Palestinians..."
"The Israelis, on the other
hand, were civilized and humane in their treatment of the thousands of Jewish refugees who had lost their property, homes
and businesses in the Arab countries, and who were forced to emigrate to Israel after the 1948 war. The Israeli government
received them, helped them, and provided them with all the conditions] to become integrated in their new society...
lies of the Syrian Ba'th regime, and its trading in slogans like 'right of return,' 'steadfastness,' 'resistance,' 'national
struggle,' and all the other ridiculous [slogans], are evident from the fact that, to this day, dozens of Palestinian families
[remain] stranded in the desert on the Syrian-Iraqi border".
Al-Sweidan's views are echoed by award-winning
human rights activist Bassem Eid who was born and continues to live in a refugee camp. He is the Founder and Director of the
Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group which exposes human rights violations by both Israelis and Palestinians.
a BBC Doha Debate on April 14 2007 Eid said that demanding the right of return was a futile exercise, which served no purpose
other than to keep the Palestinian refugees imprisoned in degrading refugee camps. The time had come, he said, to give up
this right and to exert pressure on Arab governments to recognize Palestinian refugees as citizens, allow them to work and
grant them freedom of movement.
The above Arab views expose a very tragic truth to which the media and politicians
have closed their eyes for 59 years. Apart from Jordan, Israel's Arab neighbors practice a cruel form of apartheid. They deny
citizenship to Palestinian refugees. They deny them freedom of movement and severely restrict the fields in which they may
work. Ralph Galloway, former director of UN aid to the Palestinians in Jordan summarized this situation succinctly.
"The Arab states do not want to solve the refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open sore,
as an affront to the United Nations and as a weapon against Israel. Arab leaders don�t give a damn whether the refugees
live or die". ("The Palestinians: People History, Politics" -Terence Prittie, p 71)
How have other
refugee problems have been resolved?
Another factoid is the frequently repeated claim that Palestinians are
the only refugees who have been unable to return to their homes, deliberately ignoring the fact that millions of refugees
have indeed been resettled in host countries.
In a November 1957 paper, "Century of the Homeless Man" published
by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Dr. Elfan Rees, Advisor on Refugees to the World Council of Churches,
"No large-scale refugee problem has ever been solved by repatriation, and there
are certainly no grounds for believing that this particular problem (the Palestine refugees) can be so solved�The facts
we must face force us to the conclusion that for most of the world refugees the only solution is integration where they are.
In terms of Article XIII of the 1945 Potsdam declaration signed by Stalin, Truman and Atlee, approximately
15 million Germans in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Austria were forcibly relocated to Germany. They lost title to the
property they left behind, and no arrangements were made to compensate them for their losses.
The creation of
Pakistan similarly resulted in relocation of millions of people. Immoveable property left behind by these refugees was seized
by the respective governments to help settle the incoming refugees.
All were successfully resettled in host countries
and none of those many millions were entitled to claim a right to return to their ancestral homelands. One must ask why only
the Palestinian refugees have been deliberately left to rot as political pawns, pacified by the false hope of return, rather
than be absorbed by their brethren in neighboring countries.
It is cruelty in the extreme to tantalize these refugees
with hopes they might gain something by giving up a right they in fact do not have - to make a concession that is not theirs
Hopefully there is some light at the end of the tunnel in the courageous statements of Mr. Al-Sweidan
and Mr. Eid, quoted above. They reinforce the prescient views expressed much earlier by Dr. Marguerite E. Ritchie in a paper
"Revolutionary Violence and Canadian Policy" presented to the Human Rights Institute of Canada. She wrote:
Canada is in the best possible position to urge that the Arab states, whose invasion of the territory assigned to Jewish Palestinians
created the refugee problem in 1948, accept and integrate into their territory those Arab refugees who live on international
dole in these UN camps.
After all, Canada includes among its most honored citizens the descendants of the United Empire Loyalists
who lost their homes as a result of the American Revolution. Canada did not keep those loyalists in camps, but rewarded them
for their loyalty by the gift of new land and new lives. Are the Arab states less generous towards their own brethren?"