Border protests: Refugees reclaim their place in the debate

Posted: June 7th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

It’s unclear how many protesters were killed yesterday near the Syrian border. Reports range from eight – in the Israeli media – to more than 20, according to Syrian Television. According to Israeli sources, at least some of the protesters were killed from mines near the fence. Millions of landmines are buried in the ground of the Golan Heights.

The Syrian government has a vested interest in diverting attention from the daily killing of dozens of citizens by Assad’s regime to the confrontation near the border. Israel, on the other hand, wants to minimize the reported number of casualties – so the numbers from both sides should be taken a grain of salt.

Many people pointed to the hypocrisy of Damascus in blaming Israel for the killings while engaging in the ongoing murder of its own citizens. Such claims, however justified, do not exempt Israelis from the need examine the events and their moral and political implications. The Israeli leadership makes it sound as though the shooting of protesters couldn’t have been avoided, but there are many other ways to stop unarmed people – and those should have been at least tried. The “danger” of a few people entering Israel (only to be deported immediately) is not as serious as the lost of so many lives.

There are two points to be made here. First, Israel claims that it has the right – just like any other country – to defend its borders. But the fact is that Israel doesn’t have a mutually recognized border with Syria. The international border passes in the Hula Valley; the Golan Heights were occupied when Israel launched an attack on Syria in 1967.

The land conquered in the Six Day War was unilaterally annexed to Israel in 1981. Later, several governments in Jerusalem refused offers by Damascus to return the land in exchange for a peace agreement, asking instead to negotiate a new international border. No country, including the United States, has recognized Israel’s sovereignty in the Golan, which means that technically, as far as international law is concerned, the protesters crossed no border.

That doesn’t mean that Israel needs to allow free movement through the armistice line. But it does mean that as long as we don’t reach a solution that is mutually agreed upon and recognized by the international community – a presently impossible scenario due to events in Syria – Israel is likely to face more challenges to its control over the occupied territory.

Even more important is an effort to solve the refugee problem. For years, Israeli decision makers have simply denied this issue, claiming that the responsibility for the creation of the problem lies with the refugees themselves and the Arab world, due to the rejection of the 1947 partition offer (UN resolution 181) and the departure of Jews from Arab countries (even though it was mostly voluntarily). To use a phrase by Dahlia Shaham, Israeli leaders have once again replaced policy and end goals with justifications. They were aided by the Palestinian Authority’s tendency to focus the attention on the West bank and Gaza, and almost leave the Palestinian diaspora out of the political agenda. Now, for the first time since the Oslo agreement, the Refugees claim their place in the debate.

Israelis and their supporters need to understand that the refugee issue will not disappear. Apart from assuming responsibility for its creation – or at least, for a share in its creation – Israel must strive to reach a political solution to the issue of the Palestinian refugees, one that the refugees themselves will take part in.

Yesterday, when the dramatic events near the Syrian border unfolded, I went with a history-obsessed friend to visit the remains of Abu-Shusha, a Palestinian village near Kibbutz Gezer, some 25 minutes from Tel Aviv. We drove back and forth in the dirt road between the Kibbutz’s fields, walked on foot up and down the hill between the newly-planted olive and fig trees, but could hardly spot a trace of the community of more than a thousand Palestinians who once lived there. Later, as we drove back, my friend vowed to return there soon and continue the search. “Things don’t just disappear,” he told me.

Nor do people.


Read more on these issues:

Why Jews need to talk about the Nakba

How Nakba villages sunk into Israeli landscape

5 Comments on “Border protests: Refugees reclaim their place in the debate”

  1. 1 maayan said at 4:31 pm on June 7th, 2011:

    People do disappear. They die of old age. The large majority of Palestinian refugees are no longer with us because they have passed away.

    According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the world’s official overseer of all refugees, it is only the first generation of refugees who may be considered such. The second and third generations are not refugees. In other words, most Palestinians alive today are not refugees.

    Even though one of my parents was a refugee (voluntary, just like most Palestinian refugees), I am not a refugee. Neither are the majority of Palestinians today. They are only considered so because, thanks to UNWRA, they are the only people on the planet whose refugee status is transmitted without end from generation to generation.

    This needs to stop and then we won’t talk about the refugee problem because there isn’t a problem.

    If there is a problem, it lies in Syria and Lebanon and other countries where Palestinians live but where the governments treat them in a manner that is beneath contempt. They don’t provide them with civilian rights even though they are born on the soil of those countries. It’s a charade which is as useful for propaganda purposes as sending Palestinians to the Golan border in order to deflect reporting of the murderous rampage Syrian forces are executing against their own people.

    Instead of supporting this game of using the Palestinians as pawns, you and your fellow supporters of the Palestinian “refugees” should make every effort to have their host countries treat them as they do all their other citizens. Enough of this disgusting discrimination!

  2. 2 Eamonn said at 11:42 am on June 8th, 2011:

    “There are two points to be made here. First, Israel claims that it has the right – just like any other country – to defend its borders. But the fact is that Israel doesn’t have a mutually recognized border with Syria. The international border passes in the Hula Valley; the Golan Heights were occupied when Israel launched an attack on Syria in 1967.”

    True but Syria and Israel signed a disengagement deal in 1974. Both sides pulled back, agreed to behave themselves and left the UN UNDOF in the middle. So, while it’s not a border, it’s not just any old line drawn by Israel either, it’s a de facto separator agreed on by the parties and without either giving up on their overrall claims.

    If that line isn’t respected from the Syrian side, what would be the argument against some crazy Israeli settlers breaking through the fence and setting up an outpost?

  3. 3 maayan said at 6:04 pm on June 8th, 2011:

    It’s a border as far as Israel is concerned since it annexed the Golan.

  4. 4 maayan said at 11:27 am on June 16th, 2011:

  5. 5 maayan said at 11:08 am on June 24th, 2011:

    Worth a read:

    (she’s a leftist, by the way)