Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Right of Return, and of No Return

By Bachir Habib

George W Bush wants to see a Palestinian state emerging next to Israel before the end of his mandate next November.
Truth, fantasy, goodwill, impossibility, political marketing campaign, maneuver to save Olmert’s cabinet… We heard a few interpretations regarding his motives.

To approach this issue from a realistic angle, we have to place it within its broader context: the negotiations on the final status between Israelis and Palestinians.
In these negotiations, alongside the “ideological” debate over Jerusalem, the major problem will also be: “the right of return for the Palestinians to their land”.

The US president suggested when touring the Middle East lately that Palestinian refugees should get damages for not returning to their land. This declaration is a very dangerous one, and makes us weary of a new international process being initiated at the end of which Israel will have finished with “the right of return”. Most probably, it is on this point that the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations will fail.

Looking at it from a different perspective, is it only a “right of return” Palestinians have? Don’t they have as well the right of not returning to their land?
While many Western countries gave the Palestinians the opportunity to work, pay taxes, and become citizens, the norm in many Arab countries, notably Lebanon is different. Here, Palestinians have practically no rights. They reside in overcrowded camps, don’t have a normal access to employment, social benefits or decent healthcare.
In Lebanon, Palestinian camps are considered special security zones which are cordoned off and watched closely from the outskirts by the authorities in addition to secret services agencies from around the globe. It is not difficult to see the link between the social conditions and the security threat. This explains how the camps residents became the usual suspect following every bombing or political assassination. Unfortunately, this is not just paranoia. The “ghetto” status of the camps in Lebanon have now made them a safe haven for terrorist organizations like “Fateh-el- Islam”. It is likely the camps will be used again and again in the local political standoffs, and both Lebanese and Palestinian civilians will suffer from it as happened in Nahr-el-Bared camp (northern Lebanon) in 2007.
What we are faced with is the result of a very hypocritical policy meant to make the Palestinian individual live in total misery for decades, in order to remind him that no matter how the conditions are in his country it’s better for him to go back once he’s allowed to. This is exactly how repeated governments have felt comfortable treating the Palestinian individual as inferior in rights, even if he was born in Lebanon and lived his whole life in this country and never travelled (anyway he’s basically not allowed to).
Over many years has been brewing the perfect recipe to generate troubled insecure ghettos and to kill the ambition and creativity of potential Palestinian-Lebanese citizens who would live their lives normally and pay their taxes sharing equal rights with their Lebanese counterparts.

Finally, among Palestinians who managed to “escape” from their camps in Lebanon and the rest of the Arab world, many are now very good citizens in a large array of countries. They have a passport and can travel, and when we meet them at any occasion, the large majority of them still present themselves as Palestinians.

This is to say that being Palestinian today is of course about having the right of return, but it is as well about having the right to choose not to go back and live in the darkness of the Gaza strip.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

What is happening in Gaza since the border with Egypt was forcefully opened by Palestinian militants is to be followed closely. Will the Palestininan civilians flee Gaza and seek refuge in Egypt or will they pick up essential goods and return. This is a very important distinction as the first option will make it easier for Israel to strike.Every human being has his threshold no matter what the determination to resist.The reassuring words of Hamas leadersis not enough.Other Arabs expects the Palestinians to suffer without limits while everyone else goes about their normal business.

Joseph

Rami said...

i agree with you bashir on the issue of their right to "not return" on condition that they have the right to choose where to go,like any citizen of the world . the problem with this unconditioned 1st right[not to return] is that it is the first step into putting the plan of their nationalization in the current countries of their stay like lebanon into action.!!!

Anonymous said...

rami the first normal and basic right in my view is the right of return, what i mean is that the right of return should't be exclusive, the problem with the argument of nationalization is that it s used as a political argument in internal politicas in lebanon. having the right to a lebanese or whatever citizenship or passport doesn't cancel the right of return. this is exactly what we miss when we discuss that matter in our very local lebanese politics.
joseph i agree the opening of the border can push many palestinians to seek refuge in egypt, but still, i think this is not really realistic on a large scale because what i think will happen is that palestinians will go shopping in egypt in order to try to have a normal life in gaza. having such a normal life is in itself a proof of failure for the israeli blokcade imposed. and politically, i think it might be an opening for dialogue between fatah and hamas on how to run things in gaza... (wishful thinking maybe)...
Bachir