Do you want to know what your enemies are thinking?
Listen to what they say. Usually they won’t tell you where and when the next terrorist attack will be but they will tell you their intentions and their strategy.
Even when they lie through their teeth, as Yasser Arafat was accustomed to do when speaking in English, the truth is discoverable. You just have to shut down the wishful thinking centers in your brain and listen to their words.
Mariam Barghouti is described as a “Palestinian American writer based in Ramallah.” In a recent article published in the Forward, she explained precisely how the concept of “Palestinian refugee” functions as an integral part of the Arab project to eliminate any Jewish sovereignty between the river and the sea and establish an Arab state in the place of Israel (h/t to Jim Wald):
Because of the Nakba, there is a part of Palestinian identity that is inherently linked with being a refugee. Those who fled the Nakba are banned from their cities of origin, their identities transformed and their past covered up under the signifiers of a new culture and language that is foreign, and hides what little remains of the past.
The Palestinian refugee story is the backbone of the Palestinian struggle. It is referenced in the poems we write and in the nostalgia that comes with exile, and it is the symbol of return to a life of dignity and belonging. [my emphasis]
There is much to learn from this. First, we see that although she mentions the pre-Zionist past, it’s clear that the specifically Palestinian part of her identity grows out of the Arab struggle against Jewish sovereignty that began about 100 years ago, and whose most poignant and definitional event was the nakba, the defeat in 1948, and the flight of many of the Arab residents from what would become Israel. The poems and nostalgia to which she refers are all connected to this defeat, in what contemporary Arab voices admitted would have been another Jewish bloodbath had they won.
The families of Arabs that fled before and during Israel’s War of Independence had lived in the land for various amounts of time. Some truly could trace their lineage back to the Arab conquest, others for several hundred years, and perhaps some were even descended from Jews that stayed in their ancestral home after the Roman destruction of Judea, and converted to Islam in the 7th century. But a large number were relatively recent immigrants from the surrounding countries, who migrated to Mandate Palestine because of economic opportunities offered by the British and Zionist development of the land.
Though defeated on the battlefield, the Arab nations were not prepared to end the struggle. In a stroke of strategic genius, they refused to agree to permit any solution for the Arab refugees other than return to the territory now occupied by the State of Israel. The strategy was then translated to a masterful tactical gambit: they convinced the Western nations that dominated the UN to create and place under Arab control an agency (UNRWA), paid for by a West guilt-ridden for its perceived crimes against both Jews and Arabs. UNRWA would not only feed, clothe, and house the refugees, but would guarantee the unlimited and open-ended growth of the refugee population and its indoctrination as a force to use against the Jewish state.
Unlike other UN agencies, UNRWA was designed to perpetuate the problem, not to solve it. To ensure the maximum number of refugees, UNRWA decided that anyone who could show that he or she had resided in the land for as little as two years prior to the war and left for any reason would be counted as a refugee; and to keep the population growing, that refugee status would be inherited in perpetuity.
Although in some cases children of non-Palestinian refugees can get “derivative” refugee status, it is not passed down further. And a non-Palestinian refugee who becomes a citizen of another country loses refugee status. But Palestinians in Judea and Samaria who had Jordanian citizenship were still considered refugees. When the Palestinian Authority was established, they remained refugees; and according to PA officials, even if a state of Palestine is established, they will still be stateless refugees (until they can “return to their homes” in Israel).
What Palestinian children learn in UNRWA schools is the narrative of expulsion and struggle, and that the only acceptable solution is “return” for the approximately 5.5 million people with Palestinian refugee status. As everyone knows, this is incompatible with the existence of a Jewish state.
This is why “the Palestinian refugee story is the backbone of the Palestinian struggle,” as Barghouti writes. The narrative that is taught to the descendants of the refugees blames the Jews for all Palestinian misfortunes, leaving out the fact that the Arab nations prevented the resettlement of the refugees after the war, as was done for the Jewish refugees from Arab nations, and continue to treat them like dirt. It focuses the resentment of the Palestinian Arabs on Israel, and defines the Palestinian identity in terms of opposition to Israel.
Importantly, the narrative does not allow for compromise. If the struggle to restore the refugees and their descendants to their “rightful” homes is essential to Palestinian identity, then denying them that return is denying them their identity. If you accept the narrative – and virtually all Palestinians do – then without complete victory, they are nothing, nobody.
I have argued and will continue to argue against those who insist that there is no Palestinian people, just a motley group of Arabs with no unique language, religion or culture. There is a Palestinian people, but it is not a remnant of ancient Canaanites. It is a group that has coalesced quite recently, perhaps as recently as the 1960s, when large numbers of Arabs began to self-identify as “Palestinians.” The Palestinian people was forged by the conflict with the Jews in the past 100 years, developing a unique culture different from that of Jordanians or Syrians, a culture in which – as Barghouti says – the story of the refugees is central.
What distinguishes Palestinian culture is its bottomless reservoir of resentment and hate for the Jews of Israel, a resentment so great and so pervasive that young children are encouraged to stone and stab Jews to death, and treated as heroes when they succeed in committing murder. It is a culture that doesn’t recognize any degree of responsibility for its problems, which are all attributed to others (Western colonialism, the Jews, Arab leaders, the US, and so on). This is not a healthy culture, and its narrative is anything but truthful.
But by cutting funding to UNRWA, the intended instrument of Israel’s destruction, and by “stripping [the Palestinians] of their narrative,” as Barghouti says, Donald Trump is contributing to ending a historic injustice against both Israel and the Palestinian “refugees,” who have been denied the opportunity to create a real national identity by having the nakba narrative rammed down their throats.
If there will ever be a reconciliation between the Jews and Arabs in the region it can only happen with the replacement of the story of Palestinian victimization, along with the murderousness it engenders, with a true historical narrative.
To my readers: best wishes for a happy and healthy new year. Shana tova umetuka!