By Mohammad Ahmad
December 28, 2013
Branding the exodus of the Arab Palestinians as ‘willing’ is not going to evaporate the problem. It is just an illusion to try to satisfy the conscience that resides within all human beings
The history of the creation of the Israeli state and its aftermath is traumatic for both sides of the conflict. Fighting wars where the basis lies in what happened centuries ago has, unfortunately, been the destiny of mankind. Trying to correct the wrongs of history is fraught with upheaval and destruction. This destruction and distress can be minimised and even eliminated if humans show real faith in their proclaimed beliefs that the wrongs of this world are answerable in the other. Since both sides to the conflict claim holding this belief, perhaps leaving some things to God may well bear the message of peace for all inhabitants of the region. In this perspective, it would be a good idea if the people of Israel objectively revisit their instruments of independence and subsequent legislation like the absentee property laws, etc.
Israel’s proclamation of independence states: The state of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the ingathering of the exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the holy places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
We appeal — in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months — to the Arab inhabitants of the state of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the up building of the state on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.”
This proclamation laid down that the elected Constituent Assembly would prepare a constitution for the state of Israel by no later than October 1, 1948. The election could not be held till February 25, 1949 and the Assembly thus elected was not able to frame the constitution in its four meetings. On February 16, 1949, this Assembly adopted the Transition Law, renaming itself ‘first Knesset’, becoming the heir of the Constituent Assembly for the purpose of fulfilling that function. The constitution it passed sowed the seeds of permanent trouble.
Palestinian Arabs drove out of Israel in numbers due to the perceived threat from the security forces of Israel, though never intending to leave their places of abode permanently. The initial exodus was due to ‘Plan Dalet’ and subsequently when Israel annexed East Jerusalem, extending its boundaries much beyond the Jordanian one, into the West Bank. This massive demographic upheaval is the real pain of the region.
Without going into the legality of all this it can be said that the state of Israel cannot justify its claims from its own perspective if it chooses to treat any group that inhabited its land differently. Branding the exodus of the Arab Palestinians as ‘willing’ is not going to evaporate the problem. It is just an illusion to try to satisfy the conscience that resides within all human beings. Even modern day Israeli historians have started looking at this exodus objectively and admitting a partial involvement of intimidation and fear. Denying the right to return and citizenship to Arab Palestinians of the West Bank and East Jerusalem is discrimination. It negates the very principle of Israel’s creation, i.e. the right of refugees to return. It is inconceivable how a state founded on the right to return for all Jews perceived to have been made so forcibly over centuries, could deny the same right to its Palestinian Arabs made refugees or exiles in the recent past by its own actions. Palestinians physically residing in Israel hold the status of ‘permanent resident’ of the state of Israel, the same status granted as have the foreign citizens who have freely chosen to come to Israel and want to live there. Treating the Palestinian Arabs who remain as immigrants living in their homes at the beneficence of the authorities and not by right, is unjustifiable.
The tandem action of the exodus of Palestinians and the absentee property laws of Israel has ensured the viability of Israel by providing land and property to immigrant settlers. However, the long term survival of the state of Israel rests on the equal treatment of all who have the inalienable right to reside in the land irrespective of their ethnicity or religion. The right to return needs to be provided to all refugees not just to Jews. Sharing the fruits of Israel’s economic success with all that should have the right to be its citizens will bring long-term peace. Living in fear of war should not be the future for the children of the region. It needs to be understood that freedom, justice and equality cannot be maintained in isolation. Israel has been a democracy and, in this respect, has an edge over many of its neighbours. It needs to become truly secular as well in both letter and spirit. If it becomes secular in substance, the basis of conflict in so many places will evaporate.
The parties to the conflict are not answerable for what may have been done centuries ago but are indeed answerable for what they do today. It is time both sides show wisdom and take actions for common good. May the world achieve peace and may humans learn to coexist.