Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Let Their People Stay

The legal principle of non-refoulment says that a country should not return asylum seekers to their country of origin if they face the possibility of persecution or of having their rights violated in their country of origin. This principle seems to be absent in considerations being made in Israel to deport a group of refugees after having been arrested by the newly formed "Oz unit." Along with some cavalier comments by Israeli politicians that 'there are no more refugees from Darfur' workers who are in Israel illegally along with refugees from points across Africa are being arrested in large numbers, along with their children and being slated for deportation.

News of the possibility of the children of refugees being deported, some of whom were actually born in Israel has resulted in significant backlash from the Israeli public who seem shocked by the possibility of deporting these children who in many cases are well integrated into Israeli society and no little of the homes they are going to be returned to.

This issue has focused attention on the situation of many of these migrant workers and refugees in Israel, many of whom have taken jobs that were once held by Palestinians until the second intifada. As an example, this story tells of the challenges faced by some refugees from the Sudan living in Israel and just trying to get by.

In some cases, the law is on Israel's side. For example, prohibitions against migrant workers bringing their children with them have been broken, but just because something is law, does not make it right. It seems that the basic principles of fairness and compassion would allow these people, who merely want a better life for themselves and their family. It's good to see that public pressure and recognition of injustice seems to be having an impact on the myopic policies of the government.


Anonymous said...

Interesting that one would show more compassion to those who have no ancestral connection whatsoever to the state of Israel, and argue in favour of them staying in Israel and bringing their families with them on the basis of moral rectitude, but completely disregard and argue away on the basis of political expediency the ancestral rights going back thousands of years of Palestinian Arabs who still hold keys and deeds to their homes and lands, which currently are in the hands of current occupants in a manner which any western country would clearly considered as being illegal occupants.


A friend.

Charlie H. Ettinson said...

Refugees from places like the Sudan, who fled near certain death with only what they could carry, and migrant workers who have come to build a better life for themselves are quite different from a population whose leadership waged, and continues to wage, war against Israel. The circumstances between the two cases are very different and in my view, are not comperable.

Anonymous said...

I fail to see the distinction between the two groups of dispossessed.

Many Palestinian refugees in 48 and 67 fled what they believed to be "near certain death with only what they could carry". And now their lands and homes are in the hands of those they fled. Deep down inside, do you really blame them for waging war to get back what belongs to them? Jewish history is replete with cases of ancient Jews waging wars to get back what belongs to them. Modern Israel was built on the same premise.

Granted you will argue that there are moral and immoral ways to wage a war. With this, I agree with you. But can you really blame them for waging war?

Those refugees that you argue to keep in Israel... do you not think that if they had the ability, they would not wage war to get back what is theirs in Sudan? Or, if Arab armies tomorrow invade Israel and win the war and annex the country, do you think that future Jewish Israelis will not wage war against these countries who expelled them? Would you condemn their war waging with the same vehemence as you condemn Palestinians now?

A friend.

Charlie H. Ettinson said...

I think there are many differences between the two refugee groups in question.
When I make mention of waging war, I am not only speaking of the tactics of terrorism and attacks against civilians of recent times. I'm really alluding to the major wars of 48, 67 and 73 where Arab states time and again attempt to undo the Jewish state on land set aside for it by the UN in 1948.
In that conflict Palestinian Arabs, who are now refugees, left their homes for several reasons, one of which was that they were encouraged by Arab leadership to vacate their homes so that the Arab armies could sweep through and wipe out Israel, which had declared its independance just hours before. In fact (see here: many arabs left their homes only because their leadership asked them to leave. An interesting explanation for the causes of Palestinian departure from Israel proper in 1948 is here( The war that was the reason for the 1948 refugee situation was begun not by Israel, but by the Arabs who are still paying for its concequences. The refugees from the Sudan are refugees because the Janjaweed has decided they just don't like them (oversimplification.)

Anonymous said...

The following comments are really only one, but I had to split them up because of the character restriction maximums in the comment page.

A friend.

Anonymous said...

The version of history you describe is by no means accepted, and is in fact, even amongst Israelis, subject to much controversy, and is I believe a minority Israeli view oft repeated to simply justify current Israeli policy. For every article you quote supporting the above historical narrative, I can point to another one supporting the opposite. For example, see the following quote from this Ha'aretz article: ""

"Any reasonable person, Zionist or non-Zionist, must acknowledge that the analogy drawn between Palestinians and Mizrahi Jews is unfounded. Palestinian refugees did not want to leave Palestine. Many Palestinian communities were destroyed in 1948, and some 700,000 Palestinians were expelled, or fled, from the borders of historic Palestine. Those who left did not do so of their own volition."

Or how about this more reputable quote from Martin Gilbert’s “Israel: A History”, 2008, Black Swan, where after discussing the massacre at Deir Yassin and, yes, also messages from foreign Arab governments for residents to flee, writes: “throughout Palestine Arabs were fleeing from the scene of battle, or from imminent battle, and their villages being destroyed. On April 21 Weitz wrote in his diary, ‘our army is steadily conquering Arab villages and their inhabitants are afraid and flee like mice. You have no idea what happened in the Arab villages. It is enough that during the night several shells will whistle over them and they flee for their lives. Villages are steadily emptying, and if we continue on this course – and we shall certainly do so as our strengths increase – then villages will empty of their inhabitants ” (page 174).

Or how about these two quotes from Benny Morris’s book “Righteous Victims”, 1999, Vintage Books: “Why 700,000 people became refugees was subsequently hotly disputed between Israel and its supporters and the Arabs and theirs. Israeli spokesmen – including “official” historians and writers textbooks – maintained that the Arabs had fled “voluntarily”, or because the Palestinian and Arab states’ leaders had urged or ordered them to leave, to clear the ground for the invasion of May 15 and enable their spokesmen to claim that they have been systematically expelled. Arab spokesmen countered that Israel had systematically and with premeditation expelled the refugees. Documentation that surfaced during the 1980s in Israeli and Western archives has demonstrated that neither “official” version is accurate or sufficient” (see pages 252 -253).

Anonymous said...

Later, he continues: “The principal cause of the mass flight of April-June was Jewish military attack, or fears of such an attack. Almost every instance – the exodus from Haifa April 21-May 1; from Jaffa, during late April-early May; from Tiberias on April 17-18; from Safad on May 10 – was the direct and immediate result of an attack on and conquest of Arab neighborhoods and towns. In no case did a population abandon its homes before an attack; in almost all cases it did so on the very day of the attack and in the days immediately following. And flight proved to be contagious (…)” (see page 257).

At another chapter, he writes: “The major economic harm was to the Palestinians, who lost much of their property to the victors” (p. 249).

There are, I think you will agree, no more authoritative Israeli historians and commentators than these two.

Both authors also document extensively cases where “The refugees from [Palestine] are refugees because [some segments of the Jewish military forces, either regular and irregular] decided they just don't like them (oversimplification.)”. No doubt you have noticed that I used your quote to make a point.

And the point is this: I am not trying to convince. Nobody in this sordid history holds the moral high ground, and sadly both you and I are pre-conditioned to take certain political positions, maybe simply because of our up-bringing (note that even though you admit that Palestinian expulsion was due to many reasons, you chose to highlight the one least damaging to a certain political and historical narrative, while I, who also admits that there are many reasons, chose to highlight the one that is most damaging to that political and historical narrative). But I think the real question that has to be asked is this: would you, or I, have the same position if we weren’t the people we are?

If you’re honest enough to admit this point, then you also realize, I hope, that what you wrote above (in the comments and distinguishing between Sudanese refugees and Palestinian refugees) is neither truth, not fact, but opinion, based on a particular set of facts you chose to highlight and others you chose to ignore.

And for this reason, I fail to see the distinction between the two groups of dispossessed. On a moral playing field, both are equal, and both deserve the same rights (I note that Arab countries have not treated these refugees any better than the Israelis, and that is a damning fact on both peoples).

On a political nationalist playing field, a few thousand Sudanese refugees do not threaten the Jewish character of the state. A few million Palestinians returning to their homes does.

That is the rub. Right there.

A friend.

Anonymous said...

P.S.: Some Israeli commentators argue that Palestinian refugees left voluntarily after encouragement from Arab states. Although in some instances it did happen, the above noted authors confirm otherwise. But, for argument’s sake only, let’s say that indeed, most Palestinians fled voluntarily when they heard the news that they were going to be caught right in the middle of two advancing armies. So what? Do you really blame them? Would you do any differently? I wouldn’t. I’d up and leave and come back when the idiots with the guns stopped shooting at one another, and thank my lucky stars (for at least I know stars exist and sometimes I am lucky), that one of the belligerents forwarned me in advance of the impending battle. This argument by some Israeli apologists is a false argument, that completely disregards human nature and the nature of war and civilians caught in the middle of it. Did they really expect that all these civilians will stay right there to die? In an alternate universe where this happened, I can already see the potential narrative: “Well, it’s not really our fault that 700,000 Palestinians died! If they only had fled, like sensible people would have done when they found out that the armies were coming, then they would have come back after the war and reclaimed their homes! But the fact is, they did die, and now the land is rightfully ours.”

Unfortunately, in our timeline, Palestinian refugees did not conveniently stay in their homes to die.

A friend

Anonymous said...

But if I did convince you of the moral equality of both groups of refugees, there is not much difference between the heading "Let Their People Stay" and "Let their people come back home".

In fact, I can think of at least one other ethno-religious group that used just this argument to justify a right of return after 2000 years.

Charlie H. Ettinson said...

First, I want to thank you for the obvious thought and effort you've made in the comments you've posted. I sincerely appreciate the time you've taken to reply.
I'm familiar with many of the points you've made and have just started reading Gilbert but have yet to get my hands on Morris. Nonetheless, of all the comments you've made, the most interesting one to me, at least is: " would you… have the same position if we weren’t the people we are?" It's a question I ask myself regularly and my answer is always: "I hope so." The truth is, it's impossible to know. I see the world through various prisms, composed of my values, my education, and many other factors. I think all people do this, but I like to think I can still think critically about most anything.
Returning to the main subject of debate: I do not pretend to know much about the Sudan, but I am reasonably confident in asserting that those refugees from the Sudan who find themselves scattered far from their homes are not the ones who begun the conflict that resulted in their status as refugees. This difference between the Sudanese and 1948 Palestinian refugees whose leadership did declare war on the new Israeli state does not mean that Palestinian refugees do not deserve compassion and justice, but it is, in my view a major difference. I think (I hope) my opinion would be quite different if Arab states had accepted Israel from the moment of its independence and Israelis THEN forced Arabs from their homes, but this was not the case.
The Palestinian refugees of 1948 deserve fair compensation for their losses. In law, we recognize that when for whatever reason the cause of the damage a person has suffered cannot be undone, then they are compensated in other, reasonable ways. In this case--as you point out--for political reasons, for the protection of Israel as the only Jewish state in the world, Palestinian refugees from 1948 deserve this fair compensation. I cannot think of any modern state that would accept a single, large population influx which would drastically alter its demographics.
Again, thank you for your well thought out response. It was stimulating food for thought.

Anonymous said...

"I cannot think of any modern state that would accept a single, large population influx which would drastically alter its demographics"

Very interesting comment. Very.

Am I to understand then, that, had you lived during the 1920's and 1930's, you would have opposed, based on that categorical and unequivocal statement you made, further Jewish immigration into Palestine? If you can consider the question objectively, I believe your answer would be "yes".

After all: on the eve of the Zionist Jewish influx in 1981(as Benny Morris calls it, p. 4 of the above cited book) there were 400,000 Muslims and between 13,000 to 20,000 Jews (Morris, p. 4). In 1914, 657,000 Muslims, 59,000 Jews (Morris, p. 83). By 1939, 950,000 Muslims, 460,000 Jews (Morris, p. 122)... need I continue? We know what the numbers became as the years went by. You will find similar numbers in Gilbert.

In an unusually frank comment from Ben-Gurion, looking at things from an Arab perspective: "were I an Arab...I would rise up against immigration liable sometime in the future to hand the country...over to jewish rule. What Arab cannot do his math and understand that immigration at the rate of 60,000 a year means a Jewish state in all Palestine" (Morris, p. 122).

Modern Israelis have learned their lesson: "Don't have others do unto you what you have done unto others".

A friend.

Charlie H. Ettinson said...

I thought you might comment on that statement.
I do not know of any examples of modern states that have accepted large population influxes that have changed the demographics of that state. I cannot think of a state that would.
In the 1920's and 30's, however, what is today Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories were not a state. They were a British mandate, and prior to that, were part of the Ottoman empire. There was no state in that part of the world and the mandate given to the British explicitly recognized the centrality of Palestine to Jewish history and gave the British the responsability for "putting into effect" the establishment of a Jewish national home "in Palestine." There was no Palestinian state, only a British mandate designed, in part, to ensure the creation of a Jewish one.

Anonymous said...

That argument is splitting hairs.

It's like saying, that 2000 years ago, Rome would have been justified to transfer hundreds of thousands of troublesome Germanic peoples to then Jewish Biblical Israel, because Israel was not independent and in fact a part of the Roman Empire, thereby tipping the demographic balance in favour of foreigners, despite objections by then Israelis.

Oh, but then you would reply that it's not the same situation, because 19th and early 20th century European Jews were never foreigners to then Palestine, but rather, have always retained a mystical link to the biblical land of Israel and always wanted to come back home.

Ok. So not Germans then. Let's pretend that somehow, the ancient Philistines, who were displaced by the Ancient Jews when they conquered the Biblical Israel, were still around but dispersed throughout the Roman Empire. Well then, Rome would have been entirely right to gather them all in Israel and change the demographics. After all, a thousand years before, they lived there.

I apologize, but I think your last argument does not hold up. I can think of no legal principle, either national or international, that supports the premise that a temporary foreign imperial power has the right to decide of the demographics and rights of the local subject populations in a manner that drastically and irrevocably alters their rights to their ancestral lands, unless the legal principals are those that applied during the Assyrian ascendancy, who after-all, literally invented the art of changing demographics by importing one group of people from one part of their Empire and placing them somewhere else to drown the locals under a sea of foreigners.

I realize the examples I use are extreme, and some hypothetical, but they effectively highlight some of the troublesome questions that arise when we take out God from the equation, and just limit ourselves to consider the issue in an objective manner.

A friend

Charlie H. Ettinson said...

As you may imagine, I disagree. I don’t think the argument is splitting hairs and I do think it holds up.

The British Mandate was decided upon, bestowed and supervised by the League of Nations, the precursor to the UN. Mandates and resolutions of the league are/were a source of international law. In effect, the mandate was a reflection of the international community’s position on the matter it was not simply the whim of a “foreign imperial power.” Therefore, the international community recognized that there should be a Jewish homeland on the territory to which Jews are indigenous. In other words, the mandate existed, and international law said, that Jews should have a homeland in a place to which their connection was not merely “mystical” but cultural, because, that’s where they trace the history of their people to.

Do Palestinians also deserve a homeland? Yes. Do some Palestinians also trace their roots to Israel proper? Yes. Do Palestinian refugees who left Israel in 1948 have a right to have their grievances resolved. Yes. Should such a resolution involve them returning to settle in Israel proper? No. It should involve compensation for their losses, and the development of a stable, peaceful, prosperous Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

I think we agree on all but that last point. You would argue that just as Jews claim to have a rights to land they consider ancestral after thousands of years, Palestinians have rights to physically return to land they left in 1948. I would argue that Jews are indigenous to Israel, that Palestinians who left Israel in 1948 deserve some sort of compensation for their losses, but that allowing them to return would be political suicide for the only Jewish nation-state in the world and that no state would accept suicidal conditions. I would say that rather than physically return, Palestinians deserve the opportunity to abandon their status as refugees, declare a new Palestinian state to be their home and build there a thriving, new country.

Anonymous said...

Forget the Palestinian Right of Return for now. I don't think peace can ever be achieved without this. Even if the Palestinian Authority agrees to renounce it, Hamas never will. And even if Hamas by some miracle does, the Palestinian refugees living in camps all around Israel (ex. Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, Gaza), will never accept it. There will always people out there who will organize and continue fighting.

But Israel had got other problems. This is the consequence of what we have been discussing above:

Does the process that started 60 years ago continue to this day?