The War of Return has just hit the bookstalls. Its authors, ex-Knesset member
Einat Wilf and journalist Adi Schwartz,show conclusively that the Palestinian objective
– a ‘right of return’ for Palestinian wartime refugees has not
changed since 1948. While this book casts the spotlight on Arab rejectionism of Israel, Lyn Julius in JNS News is disappointed that Jewish refugees from Arab countries do not figure more prominently:
Count Bernadotte: Arab rejection of Zionism was immutable
To further their objective, the Palestinian leadership is not
using guns or tanks – all that has been tried and failed. It is to
subvert the character of the Jewish state by overwhelming Israel
with hordes of returning refugees.
The book shows how the West, whether by accident or by design,
has fed this fantasy over the decades.
Although he was assassinated soon afterwards, the Swedish UN
mediator Count Bernadotte, Schwartz and Wilf contend, has much to
answer for. He was the first to accept that the Arab objection to
Zionism was an immutable fact of nature. Instead of letting Arab
states solve the Palestinian refugee problem, he devolved
responsibility to the UN . Article 11 of UN resolution 194 of
December 1948, oft quoted as the legal basis for the ‘right of
return’, was based on Bernadotte’s own plan to use the
Arab-Israeli conflict as a means of asserting western control.
Thereafter Arab states managed to thwart every attempt to wind up
the exclusively Palestinian UN agency UNWRA, with its
ever-growing tally of registered Palestinian ‘refugees’, and
eventually used it as breeding ground for terrorist violence.
Arafat cruised through the Oslo years with a double discourse,
paying lip-service to recognition of Israel, while not deviating
from the ultimate, subversive goal of Palestinian return.
The Palestinian objective embodied in the ‘right of return’ is
not bound by time. The Arabs took centuries to dislodge the
Crusaders from the Middle East. So will it be with the Zionists.
There is a precedent – the demand of 10 ethnic Germans to return
to what is now Poland. But they never gained political support and
were integrated into postwar Germany with full citizenship.
The Arab League is complicit with the Palestinian leadership,
having never repealed the 1959 resolution 1457, banning refugees
from enjoying citizenship in Arab host countries. However, the
authors do acknowledge that Jordan, where 40 percent of
Palestinian ‘refugees’ reside,, is the only country to grant them
The ‘right of return’ has been hiding in plain sight. But western
diplomats and media pundits have steadfastly refused to take it
It is a political weapon, overriding a humanitarian solution for
the refugees through rehabilitation or resettlement. In one
starting example, Palestinians razed to the ground Musa Alami’s
experimental farm near Jericho, designed to improve the lot of his
Arab refugees from Palestine and Jewish refugees from Arab
countries fleeing to Israel exchanged places in roughly equal
numbers. Disappointingly, the book only makes two cursory mentions
of the Jewish refugees, seemingly making more of Bhutanese
refugees from Nepal. In fact, several schemes for the exchange of
peoples and property were floated. Indeed in July 1949, the Iraqi
prime minister, Nuri al-Said, was first to suggest that more than
100,000 Iraqi Jews could be transferred to Israel in exchange
for the same number of Palestinians. (Ultimately only 14,000
Palestinians arrived in Iraq.) There was also a plan for Israel
to buy 100,000 dunams of land in Libya for resettling
17,000 Palestinian refugees. The authors only mention a similar
plan for Gaza.
The omissions are surprising, given that the Jewish refugees
were the subject of the translator Eylon Levy’s PhD thesis.
Adi Schwartz has also written extensively about the Jewish
refugees, pointing out a ‘Marshall Plan for refugees’ in the early
fifties. American aid was to have been split evenly between Israel
and the Arab states, with each side receiving $50 million to build
infrastructure to absorb refugees.The money to resettle the Arab
refugees was handed over to the UN, and the Americans gave Arab
countries another $53 million for “technical cooperation”. In
effect, the Arab side received double the money given to Israel
even though Israel took in more refugees, including Jews from Arab
It is likely that the authors did not want to deviate from a
polemic designed to persuade the West – UNWRA’s main supporters –
to dismantle this organisation. But linkage with the Jewish
refugees puts the flight of Palestinian refugees in context. They
serve as a contemporary model for successful resettlement.
However, this book performs a useful service, by cutting through
the thicket of false claims and misleading terminology
surrounding the Arab-Israeli conflict. The War of Return
casts the spotlight where it needs to be – on the underlying
anitsemitism driving Arab rejection of the existence of Israel.