[These three articles were submitted but not accepted by the Boston University Right of Return Conference organizers.]
Many people who oppose Israel's oppression of Palestinians, however, do not emphasize the right of return demand; some avoid mentioning it altogether. Instead, they focus on the demand that Israel end its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. How come?
Their reasoning goes like this. Yes, the best solution would be for Palestinians to win the right of return with compensation from Israel for the property that was stolen from them by Zionists, and with the right to live as the equals of Jews under the law in all of Palestine. But this is a demand that is impossible to win. Israel would never allow it because it would mean the end of the Jewish state. The American political elite would never support it because they are committed to defending the security of Israel as a Jewish state. We must be realistic. The best that can be hoped for is to persuade American politicians to at least put pressure on Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories. This is a realistic goal, because it doesn't challenge the idea of a Jewish state, and it is what American politicians (and other world leaders) already claim to support. It won't address the fundamental grievance of Palestinians, but it will at least end the terrible oppression of them in the occupied territories. It is a realistic strategy. If we start demanding the right of return and, in doing so, challenge the rightness of the Jewish state idea itself, we will lose whatever influence we might otherwise have among the people with the real power to change things. Demanding the right of return is an unrealistic strategy.
But is it really? As Dr. Phil would say, "How is your 'realistic' strategy working for you?" Few would deny that it has accomplished nothing. The Occupation shows no sign of ending, and the oppression is only getting worse, as the recent slaughter of people in Gaza highlights. Even if Israel officially ended its occupation of the West Bank it would continue to oppress Palestinians there just as it oppresses Palestinians in Gaza, which it purports not to be occupying now. The "practical" strategy is based on a false assumption--that American and Israeli leaders want a peaceful resolution of the conflict and can be nudged and persuaded to make it happen. All of the evidence indicates, on the contrary, that they want to keep the conflict going indefinitely.
There is a reason why they do. The conflict strengthens both the Israeli and the American ruling elites' control over their own people--always the top concern of any ruling elite. Israel's ruling class of billionaires and generals and politicians needs the conflict to continue in order to ensure that the Israeli public remains so frightened of "Arabs" that they will obey their rulers who claim to be protecting them. The American ruling class of billionaires likewise uses the "War on Terror" to control Americans, and this requires that Americans stay frightened of "Arab terrorists." The Israel/Palestine conflict provides the American mass media the film footage it needs to keep American TV sets filled with images of what the media say are "anti-Semitic hate-driven Arab terrorists."
This is why the truly practical strategy is a revolutionary one: forget trying to persuade the politicians to do the right thing and focus instead on building a revolutionary movement among ordinary people. Building such a movement means talking to people about lots of things besides the Israel/Palestine conflict, but when we do talk about that conflict--which we very much need to do--the approach should be to focus precisely on the fundamental injustice at its root, which is Israel's ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and refusal to let them return to their homes and villages inside Israel and live as the equals of Jews before the law. Unlike politicians beholden to the rich, ordinary people care very much about what is right and what is wrong. When they learn that the conflict in Israel/Palestine is actually between those who value equality versus those who value inequality, they rapidly take the side of equality and oppose Zionism (see http://divestmentproject.com/ for a local example of this at the ballot box.)
When it comes to persuading ordinary people that Israel is wrong, focusing on the occupation, rather than the ethnic cleansing and the wrongness of the Jewish state idea, is a loser. When one only talks about the occupation, the pro-Israel side wins the argument by replying this way: "Israel hates oppressing Palestinians but it has no choice. It needs to maintain the occupation in order to make the Jewish state secure. Otherwise Palestinians who deny Israel has a right to exist would be able to mount an attack on Israel from the West Bank. You don't deny that Israel, the Jewish state, has a right to exist, do you?"
What is at stake here are not "long range" versus "short range" goals. Focusing on the occupation to be persuasive with politicians loses in both the short run and the long run. Relying on ordinary people by explaining the root of the conflict, and building a movement that aims, frankly, to overthrow the anti-democratic rule of the American plutocracy, wins in both the short and the long run. In the long run it makes it possible to actually win what we want--a more equal and democratic world based on justice and concern for one another. In the short run it maximizes the pressure on the ruling elite because what they fear more than anything else is a revolution. This is not to say that the elite will necessarily respond by oppressing people less; they might increase the level of repression instead. The only thing that the revolutionary approach can guarantee in the short run is the satisfaction of knowing that one is doing the only thing that has any realistic chance of ever solving the problem. The non-revolutionary approach cannot even accomplish that.
Making Right of Return a Win-Win for Palestinians and Most Israelis
But is this “snake oil” criticism of Right of Return valid? No, it is not; and here is why.
Let's start by looking at some numbers. Right of Return proponent Mazin Qumsiyeh, in his Sharing the Land of Canaan (pg. 49), writes:
Let us say that every one of those 154,000 rural Jews is a member of a four-person family and each family lives in a house on land for which some Palestinian family is owed a million dollars. That comes to 38,500 families (154,000 divided by 4), times a million dollars each, which comes to 38.5 billion dollars. Now let's assume that of the approximately 6 million Israeli Jews, one million of them live as four-person families in places like Tel Aviv and Haifa in houses that rightfully belong to Palestinians. This means there are about 250,000 (1,000,000 divided by 4) such families, and at a cost of one million dollars each they would owe Palestinians 250 billion dollars. Add these two sums and we get a total debt to Palestinians (for Jewish occupied homes and land) of about 289 billion dollars. That's about 1,136 billion Israeli New Shekels (NIS) (289 billion times 3.93, the current exchange rate.)
Wow! That sounds like a lot. But wait a minute. According to a Haaretz article by Ora Coren and Lilach Weissman, Haaretz Correspondents (13/02/2006), "The income of the 18 wealthiest families in Israel is equivalent to 77 percent of Israel's national budget, which is NIS 256 billion a year." Hmmmm. This means that in less than 4.4 years (1,136 divided by 256), the 18 wealthiest families in Israel could pay the entire debt owed by Israeli Jews living in homes and land stolen from Palestinians. It means that in 4.5 years (I added a tenth of a year so the 18 wealthiest families would still have enough income to live a normal lifestyle) a fund set up by these 18 wealthiest families could offer every Jewish Israeli who lives on stolen land a million U.S. dollars which they would use either to buy their home from the rightful Palestinian owner if the rightful owner agrees to sell it or else return the stolen home to its rightful owner and use the money to buy another home (probably it would have to be newly constructed).
The income thus going to all of the millions of people employed to build all of the new homes would represent an enormous shift of wealth from extremely wealthy to average people. (Money previously going to purchase and build weapons to kill Arabs would end up going to pay people to build houses for a change.) The solidarity that could develop between ordinary Jews and Palestinians in the social environment that this solution to the Palestine/Israel conflict would produce would be worth its weight in gold. It would be invaluable, obviously, to the Palestinians regaining their rightful property and social status as equals in their homeland. It would also, however, be extremely welcomed by the working class Israeli Jews who have been driven down into poverty by the social policies of people like the 18 wealthiest families. Life has been rough for these working class Israeli Jews lately.
As the Jewish Daily Forward wrote (April 7, 2006) “a deliberate move by Jerusalem policy-makers to modernize Israel's economy” has resulted in “a new class of millionaires, and an explosion of poverty and hunger. In just one generation, Israel has gone from the most egalitarian nation in the industrialized world to one of the least egalitarian.” Israeli workers have been forced to defend themselves with general strikes (December, 1997 and September, 2004) or threats of major strikes (November, 2006 and March, 2007.) Israeli Jewish working people have not been successful in reversing the policies of the 18 wealthiest families, in large part because instead of having solidarity with Palestinians they have been so pre-occupied by fear of Palestinians that they have felt obliged to obey the 18 wealthiest families and their politicians and generals who say the most important thing is fighting Palestinians.
It is clear that the problem in attaining Right of Return, with real justice for the Palestinians, is really the 18 wealthiest families in Israel, and not the supposed permanent anti-Arab racism of ordinary Jews, nor their supposed selfishness nor their supposed lack of noble altruism. In fact, the permanence of anti-Arab racism among Jews is as much a myth as the Zionist myth about gentiles being permanently anti-Semitic. Both myths are used to obscure the reality of class conflict--not only in terms of material interests but, more importantly, in terms of values. For example, it takes a lot of coercion and lies by the 18 wealthiest Israeli families and their politicians and generals to maintain fear of Arabs and paranoia among working class Israeli Jews, because left to themselves working class people value solidarity, not racism, and equality, not rule by the 18 wealthiest families and their generals and politicians. On the other hand, for the 18 wealthiest families, anti-Arab racism is money in their pockets. This is a stark conflict of values: working class values versus elite values. So where is it written in stone that the 18 wealthiest families will get away forever with their social control strategy of pitting ordinary Jews and Palestinians against each other and whipping up anti-Arab racism?
The answer to this question depends on what ordinary people in Palestine/Israel do, what kind of political movement they build, how they frame the conflict. Specifically, it depends on whether people identify the refusal of the 18 wealthiest families and their generals and politicians to pay for their Zionist crimes as the problem, or whether they lump every single Israeli Jew with the 18 wealthiest families in the category of "enemy" and wage a futile struggle--essentially pitting all Palestinians against all Israeli Jews--doomed to be isolated from the world wide support that a pro-working class movement would enjoy. It depends, in other words, on whether the advocates of Right of Return also talk about the need to make a social revolution against capitalist inequality.
A revolutionary movement for Right of Return that aims to create a society based on the working class values of equality and solidarity and democracy can win. This is not "snake oil"; it is both realistic and inspiring.
Newt Gingrich's Brilliant Insight about Palestinians
The solution to the Middle East conflict lies in applying Gingrich's brilliant insight to New Englanders inside the United States. Is New England a nation? Of course not. It never was. The phrase "New England" is just an invention, an informal way of referring to those Americans who happen to live in the so-called "New England" states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Just as "Palestinians" were merely subjects of the Ottoman Empire and never a real people called "Palestinians," New Englanders are really just Americans and were never a real people called "New Englanders." So-called "Palestinians" don't speak "Palestinianese"; they speak Arabic, like all other Arabs. Likewise so-called "New Englanders" don't speak "New Englandese"; they speak English, like virtually all other Americans.
What this means is that we can solve the Middle East conflict by doing successfully in New England what was attempted unsuccessfully in Palestine, in other words move Israel from Palestine (where it only creates trouble) to New England, and move most of the non-Jewish "New Englanders" out of the newly created Israel and let them live in America, with all the rest of their fellow Americans. Since "New Englanders" are just an invented people, they have no grounds for objecting to this.
We can create a Jewish state in New England that will enjoy real security because this time the neighbors of the relocated Israel will be Americans, who are not anti-Semitic.
Fortunately, we can pretty much predict how this plan will work out because we have the experience of the attempt to do it in Palestine to learn from. The first thing to do is, as in 1947 in Palestine, have the United Nations declare that New England is a Jewish state, and have Jews in New England declare that region to be the Jewish state of Israel, the state of the Jewish people (only), and a state in which the sovereign authority is "the Jewish people" rather than all the people who are citizens of the state. The wording for this declaration can be taken right from the current Declaration of the State of Israel written in 1948.
The UN resolution should, of course, say that non-Jews in N.E. are allowed to remain there and be citizens of Israel. They will not, however, enjoy equal status with Jews under the law, and will have to accept the fact that they will be living in a state that does not even purport to represent them or their well-being, because they are not Jewish.
Of course, some of the non-Jews in N.E. may not take kindly to this, because for some mysterious reason they, unlike other Americans, will be discovered to have been covertly, innately and irrationally anti-Semitic all along (who knew?) They will argue against the plan to turn New England into Israel, with phrases about equal rights under the law and religious discrimination being unconstitutional and other nonsense. Unfortunately, some of these anti-Semites will resort to terrorist violence against turning New England into Israel. And since non-Jews in N.E. are a majority of the population (for the time being) their violence will have to be dealt with firmly. Israel will have to form a military to drive these terrorists, who deny Israel's right to exist, into America (say upstate New York), which is, after all, where they belong since they are, of course, Americans, not "New Englanders." "New England" is not a nation, just an invention, remember? (I cannot thank Newt Gingrich enough for this insight!)
What about all of the property in N.E. belonging to these anti-Semites who are now refugees in upstate New York? Well, war is war; this property--land, houses, movable property, businesses, all of it--should be confiscated by the state of Israel for the use of newly arriving Jews to their new state. Some would say this is a bad idea because when the Israel in Palestine did this it caused a lot of trouble. But the only reason this idea didn't work in the Middle East is because Arabs are all anti-Semites; it will work in America because Americans (with the strange exception of New Englanders) are not anti-Semites.
Furthermore, when the non-Jew refugees demand to be allowed to return to their towns in N.E. where they used to live, they should be refused entry into Israel (we don't call it New England anymore) just as present-day Israel refuses to allow Palestinian refugees re-entry to their homes and villages. The reason in both cases is the same: the refugees must not be allowed to return to their homes inside Israel because if they did then the population of Israel would no longer be majority Jewish, which would make Israel no longer a Jewish state. And we all know that the Jewish state of Israel has a right to exist. Right?
If the "New Englander" refugees insist that they have a right of return under article 13b of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says everybody has a right to return to their country, they should be told, "Sorry, it's not your country anymore." Because of their anti-Semitism, they will not agree, but surely the majority of Americans, who are not anti-Semitic, will agree, no?
We know that not all of the anti-Semitic "New Englanders" will leave N.E. Some will stay. But many of those will have temporarily moved from their home town in N.E. to another town in N.E. to escape the violence (in some cases massacres of non-Jews, if the history in Palestine is any guide) that will have led to the flight of most non-Jews. Such persons should be declared "present absentees" on the grounds that though they are present inside Israel they were absent from their town of birth on a certain day (to be identified in a new law called the Absentee Property Law), and all of the property formerly owned by "present absentees" should become the property of the state of Israel to be used for the welfare of Jews, naturally. This new Absentee Property Law will be easy to write; it can be copied directly from the one already in effect in Israel today, where it classifies a quarter of a million non-Jewish people as "present absentees"--a status that can never change. Again, most Americans, not being anti-Semites, will support the wisdom of this law no doubt.
There is the possibility that the non-Jew anti-Semitic "New Englander" terrorist refugees in upstate New York will threaten the very existence of the state of Israel. To prevent this, Israel will have to occupy upstate New York and impose a military dictatorship over the anti-Semitic terrorist refugees, just as Israel has been forced to do in the West Bank and Gaza regions of Palestine. Nobody, especially peace-loving Jews, wants to impose a military dictatorship on anybody. But, alas, military occupations are unfortunate necessities in a world populated by anti-Semitic terrorists, and as disagreeable as such occupations are, surely good Americans, being strongly opposed to anti-Semitism and supportive of Israel's right to exist, will not object. Right?
John Spritzler is the editor of www.NewDemocracyWorld.org, author of The People As Enemy: The Leaders’ Hidden Agenda in World War II, and a retired Senior Research Scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health.
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