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Palestinian refugees are demanding to be heard. Will we listen?

70 years later, Palestinian refugees are no longer waiting for peace talks to determine their fate. In Gaza, they are actively reclaiming their place at the table.

Palestinians seen at sunset during a protest as part of the Great Return March, near the Israeli-Gaza fence, eastern of Jabaliya refugee camp, Gaza Strip, April 23, 2018. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

Palestinians seen at sunset during a protest as part of the Great Return March, near the Israeli-Gaza fence, eastern of Jabaliya refugee camp, Gaza Strip, April 23, 2018. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

On a warm spring day in late April 1956, Moshe Dayan, then the IDF chief of staff and Israel’s eminent war hero, delivered an address that would become a central part of Israel’s national ethos. Dayan had arrived at Kibbutz Nahal Oz to eulogize Roi Rotberg, a kibbutz security guard who was ambushed by an Egyptian police officer and a Palestinian farmer, and then abducted into the Gaza Strip where he was brutally murdered. The chief of staff had met Rotberg the previous day during a routine visit to Nahal Oz, as the community was preparing for a number of upcoming weddings. The eulogy took him just half an hour to write.

Rotberg’s murder was especially gruesome, shocking a country that had already seen a tremendous amount of bloodshed and calamity in a short period of time, imbuing the eulogy with a warrior pathos of the kind one would hear from today’s leaders. “Our children shall not have lives to live if we do not dig shelters; and without the barbed wire fence and the machine gun, we shall not pave a path nor drill for water,” Dayan told the crowd. “The millions of Jews, annihilated without a land, peer out at us from the ashes of Israeli history and command us to settle and rebuild a land for our people.”

Moshe Dayan reviews troops in Sharm el-Sheikh at the end of the 1956 war. (IDF Spokesperson)

Moshe Dayan reviews troops in Sharm el-Sheikh at the end of the 1956 war. (IDF Spokesperson)

Dayan’s speech was likened at the time to Israel’s version of the Gettysburg Address, a sober statement of purpose delivered to those who shouldered the burden of carrying on the nation’s mission. But the eulogy also carried a curious secondary message: it was the first public address by a high-ranking member of the Israeli military brass to acknowledge — without reservations — the suffering that Palestinians had endured during the establishment of the State of Israel, as well as the source of their rage:

Let us not hurl blame at the murderers. Why should we complain of their hatred for us? Eight years they have sat in the refugee camps of Gaza, and seen, with their own eyes, how we have made a homeland of the soil and the villages where they and their forebears once dwelt.

Not from the Arabs of Gaza must we demand the blood of Roi, but from ourselves. How our eyes are closed to the reality of our fate, unwilling to see the destiny of our generation in its full cruelty. Have we forgotten that this small band of youths, settled in Nahal Oz, carries on its shoulders the heavy gates of Gaza, beyond which hundreds of thousands of eyes and arms huddle together and pray for the onset of our weakness so that they may tear us to pieces — has this been forgotten? For we know that if the hope of our destruction is to perish, we must be, morning and evening, armed and ready.

Today, more than six decades later, as Palestinians in Gaza — the majority of them descendants of refugees of the 1948 war who fled or were expelled from their homes — march toward the border with Israel, Dayan’s words resonate as strongly as ever. Before Netanyahu, before the racist laws, before two intifadas, and before the military dictatorship in the West Bank and Gaza, came Israel’s policy of preventing Palestinians from returning to their villages, towns, and cities.

Long before bands of Palestinian fedayeen crossed the border from Gaza and often committed violent attacks against Israeli security forces and civilians, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion ordered the army to shoot and kill Palestinian “infiltrators” — the majority of them refugees who had crossed newly-created borders in order to retrieve livestock, tools, or work their land.

Dayan’s statement of purpose is clear: we displaced these people, their anger is beyond warranted — but we are not letting them come home. It was the denial of return that sparked the Palestinian national movement, which was led by those living in exile until the 1980s, when the First Intifada swept across the occupied territories. Before that uprising, the Palestinian revolution was led by those whose homeland was denied to them, who often operated out of Arab states that suffered from the lingering refugee issue while simultaneously exploiting it for political gain.

The protests at the Gaza border have various goals: to end the 11-year blockade on the Strip, to call attention to the humanitarian conditions plaguing its residents, and to bring freedom to what has been called the world’s largest open-air prison. But there is a reason the protests in Gaza are being held under the banner of the “Great Return March” and are culminating on Nakba Day, when Palestinians mark their expulsion from their homeland: it puts the issue of Palestinian refugees back at the center of the international conversation.

Palestinian citizens of Israel take part in the March of Return to the village of Lubya in northern Israel, May 6, 2014. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian citizens of Israel take part in the March of Return to the village of Lubya in northern Israel, May 6, 2014. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The consequences of the march for Israelis and their supporters, at least presently, are negligible. The carnage at the border with Gaza — with over 45 killed and thousands wounded by Israeli snipers — has little effect on a public that does not take kindly to any form of Palestinian protest, least of all the kind that puts Palestinian refugees, seen as the ultimate threat to the state’s existence, at the forefront. In the spirit of Dayan, Israelis — even many of those on the mainstream left — have become convinced that the only way to ensure Jewish life in this land is by the sword (even if there is some movement in the direction of accepting return under certain conditions).

The international community, and especially activists abroad, will be forced to contend with a different question. Organizations that support justice in Israel-Palestine will have to decide not whether they support the right of Gazans to march (which they overwhelmingly do), but whether they support the central message that lies at its core: that Palestinians should be able to return to their villages, towns, and cities.

Various attempts to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians attempted to find workable solutions to the refugee problem. But with the veritable death of the peace process, Palestinian refugees are no longer waiting around for leaders to decide their fate; they are actively reclaiming their rightful place at the table, and activists of all stripes will inevitably be called upon to decide where they stand.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Mark

      With Abbas and Hamas in charge, is there a table for them to join?

      Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      An important and moving statement by Edo Konrad. It gets things right. We drown in propaganda. Konrad’s words are the opposite of propaganda. They describe reality in all its complexity and get at the truth. And the real choices before us.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Itshak Gordin Halevy

      I do not think anyone will want to hear the stories they have been telling for 70 years. The world is tired of subsidizing terrorism. The negationist Abbas has fallen so low that he is probably the last to go to Venezuela. What does Abbas represent? Nothing

      Reply to Comment
        • Itshak Gordin Halevy

          You let yourself be manipulated with pleasure by the Haaretz which is an extreme left newspaper. It is a fact that the world is tired of the “Palestinian cause” and its begging. It is the only “People” who lives on international charity. Meanwhile, people in Africa and Asia are dying in utter destitution. Hence Israel’s success in the world.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            You lost your bearings a long time ago. Haaretz is normal, you are extreme right. You know a rightist has no argument when they simply say “extreme left” as if that were any kind of argument.
            The rest of your post is simply incoherent.

            Reply to Comment
    4. Ahmad

      Im palestenien lebanon now in belgium seeking for azylum ….71 years and we are treated like animals in lebanon no body talk by us.. we dont want any thing just to live in peace and dignity

      Reply to Comment
    5. Itshak Gordin Halevy

      Jewish refugees expelled from Arab countries in the 50′ and 60′ are demanding to be heard by the leftists. Will the leftists listen?

      Reply to Comment
      • duh

        As long as they don’t repeat worn-out Zionist propaganda, absolutely.

        Reply to Comment
    6. Lewis from Afula

      The best thing about the so-called “fakestinyans” is that they simply don’t exist.
      No distinct religion or language, no capital, no set borders, no native currency, no royal palace, no king, no founding father, no nothing.

      Just a bunch of Jordanians who re-named themselves in the 1970s.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Lewis: In fact, Israel controls the population registry of Gaza and the West Bank – http://gisha.org/en-blog/2011/11/14/the-population-registry/

        “Israel continues to control the Palestinian population registry which is common to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Any change made in these records requires Israel’s approval, including the registration of births, marriages, divorces, deaths or address changes.”

        So all Israel has to do is destroy the population registry and all the Palestinians will disappear! Lewis, that’s brilliant.

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          The population register of self-disenfranchized Jordanians is aload of %#@U(*. Their registry contains people who died 20 years ago, double counts East Jerusalem residents, counts people who left the country years ago. Its fake – like the people themselves – because the more humans they invent, the more $$$ they obtain from UN, EU et al.

          Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Like the racist gangsters that they are, the Israeli Right tried to disappear a few thousand Africa refugees to Uganda and Rwanda. They didn’t get away with it. Likewise they are not going to get away with disappearing millions of Palestinians to somewhere else, in reality or in their own minds. Reality intrudes. The Palestinians aren’t going anywhere. Looks like the Israeli right wing will actually have to drop their obsessive compulsive purity neurosis and overlord complex and actually share the land with non-Jews. In one state, it would appear. Along the way though war crimes and crimes against humanity may have to accounted for. Put the whole lot of these gangsters, Israelis and Palestinians, in one cage in a courtroom and try the whole lot of them. Like the Cosa Nostra and Ndrangheta of Sicily and Calabria.

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          Ben, the illegal Eritrean colonists need to go back to Africa.
          Unfortunately, the uberleftist Supreme Court is still comtrolled by self-haters, communists and other miscellaneous degenerates. These bolshevik, court-appointed elites think they overide the will of the nation (ie Parlaiment). But this is now very gradually changing as the nation’s mindset becomes more realistic.

          I believe the illegals are illegal and we will soon say goodbye to them. Rwanda and Ugnada are waiting for them.

          The Jordanians, who now call themselves Fakestinyans, are only temporarily squatting in the Land of Israel. When the European civil war gets going (in a decade’s time perhaps), their illegal squatting will come to an end.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Lewis is entirely representative of the Israeli right wing. He is the real right wing. He just drops the pretenses and the polite talk. He drops the mask. I know these people. This is what they are really like.

            Israel Is the Terrorist
            Ilana Hammerman Apr 05, 2018
            “About a week ago, on the highway between Hermesh and Mevo Dotan, two soldiers were killed and two were injured by a car that was driven by a resident of Barta’a. There are not many Israelis who know where these settlements are located and in what kind of reality they exist. But the vast majority probably have no doubt who was the terrorist here, and who, the innocent victim…. The problem is that terror has long since become the reality, and the entity that has allowed and is allowing this to happen is the State of Israel. Look at the map and find Barta’a, and maybe you’d even be interested in going there and seeing and hearing how its residents live and what their surroundings are like. I happened to do so a few days before the car-ramming incident, and it was completely clear to me – and not for the first time – that this reality is a product of the ongoing policy of terror pursued by generations of Israeli governments, and that it is this policy that gives rise to the acts of resistance against it. What’s amazing is only that there aren’t more such acts, because it’s really and truly an intolerable situation….”
            https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-israel-is-the-terrorist-1.5976966

            Reply to Comment
      • duh

        What really doesn’t exist is a Zionist movement that never contemplated violence for political gain, never used children for military purposes and always separated civilian and military sites. You can take that non-existence to the bank.

        Reply to Comment
    7. Ben really needs to stop reading Haaretz. This is essentially an ugly propaganda rag where self-haters like Gideon Levy and Amir Hass deposit their Bolshevik myths and legends. The fact that Ben keeps quoting Haaretz just shows how far deep down the Communist rabbit hole he’s gone.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “…self-haters…Bolshevik…Communist…”

        This too is what the Israeli right wing is really like.

        The most consistent impression I get from Halevy, Geller, Lewis von Afula, et al., their shared trait, is that they either don’t read about what is really going on in their country, they are willfully ignorant, do not want to know or accept what is going on, or pretend not to know. (Geller for example takes this to a comic art form: he openly declares he knows what an article says without reading it, what Palestinians really think without asking them, etc. But I digress.) And not just the right wing. The mass of Israelis. Or is there a difference at this point? People like Gideon Levy and Amira Hass and Zeev Sternhell tell the unvarnished truth about their country, as do the soldiers of Breaking the Silence, and for that the mass of Israelis hate them for it, and using downright fascist language, call them “traitors.” But as Levy says, the mass of Israelis won’t later be able to say “we didn’t know.” They know.

        Reply to Comment
        • mig

          “Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

          Reply to Comment

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