Wise leaders in Jerusalem and Washington were given a great
deal of very useful information yesterday in Israel when a popular action led
to hundreds of Palestinian refugees crossing the border into Israel, leading to
the deaths of ten of them.
Unfortunately, wisdom in those two cities is in short supply
and what’s there is largely drowned out by political self-interest in the
But it’s worthwhile for us to learn those lessons, and maybe
with enough effort, we can get a message through.
1. This was a
The Israeli government was quick to try to score
political points from the Nakba Day tragedies by concocting a conspiracy
theory involving Iran and Syria. Sadly, Barack Obama’s administration followed
its recent trend of ceding all leadership to the Netanyahu government and almost
immediately followed the Israeli lead.
The problem is this, more than most conspiracy theories, is
Organizing for this action began months ago. I was seeing
calls about it on Facebook and on e-mail lists well before the Arab Spring
began. Syria, much less Iran, had nothing to do with it, nor was their
involvement in any way needed.
On the contrary, while Syrian President Bashar Assad might
have welcomed a chance for the world to put Israel once again in the position
of being the one killing civilians, he is not anxious to see more popular
organizing, least of all among the Palestinian refugees in Syria.
As Oklahoma University professor and Syria expert Joshua
Landis told my colleague Ali
Gharib at ThinkProgress. “They’ve all had the same response to people who
have protested to demand justice and human dignity: They’re blaming it on
foreign governments and infiltrators.”
2. Peace pays dividends for Israel
went to great lengths (some would say too far) to protect Israel’s border and
embassy, respectively. The same was true for Palestinian
security on the West Bank. The Syrians looked the other way as refugees ran
into the Golan Heights, Hamas had no interest in stopping them and the
inability for Israel and Lebanon to communicate led
to the killings along that border, whoever is to blame. Each of those
governments have different relationships with Israel and have different issues
to contend with regarding refugees. Understanding those diversities is key to
dealing with the larger conflict. But the greater the relationship, the greater
the potential for cooperation; that should be obvious. Israel cannot continue
to count on Egypt especially but Jordan as well to anger their own people in
3. We all have to stop kidding ourselves about the
The entire Oslo process was based on dealing with the
fallout of the war of 1967. For the Palestinian masses, the conflict is based
on the results of 1948.
I see no reason to think there will ever be a significant
return of refugees to Israel proper. And I have also said that I
disagree with the popular Palestinian interpretation of international law
on this matter. I do not support the political movement based on the “right of
But it is not only foolish but reckless to ignore the fact
that the refugee issue is at the very heart of Palestinian nationalism.
Israel doesn’t want to deal with reality on this issue. That
reality is that, whatever arguments people want to make about whether
the Palestinians were driven out (a great many were) or simply fled (a
great many did that too), they unquestionably left as a result of the war that
started in 1947 and Israel completely barred their return thereafter.
Israel therefore bears an enormous moral burden here, and it
needs to deal with that. It’s refusal to do so is what yesterday’s actions were
4. 1948 was not only the birth of Israel
“It is important to point out that these events are taking
place on a day which marks the establishment of the State of Israel,” said
Benjamin Netanyahu, making the case that these actions were all about
“destroying Israel.” In fact, they were about a 63-year old refugee crisis.
Netanyahu and his all too vast cadre of apologists will
point out that the refugees have been kept in camps, in part because they are
determined to return and in part because many of the countries they have lived
in for the past six decades do not want them to fully assimilate into their
societies for a variety of reasons.
And those things are true, but they don’t change the
essential reality of Palestinian dispossession, and they don’t relieve Israel
of its responsibility for that dispossession. It was the direct result of
Israel’s creation and Israel will never have a normal existence until it faces
that reality and deals with it honestly. The “we are about to be destroyed”
rhetoric that all Israeli political leaders since Ben-Gurion have fed on is
meant to avoid that reality.
Once again, this was about the Palestinians’ experience, not
about destroying Israel. It is in the minds of too many Israelis and their
lock-step supporters abroad but only a minority of Palestinian extremists that
those two have to be one and the same.
5. The Golan Heights is not recognized internationally as
The demonstrators who flooded the Golan Heights were not
threatening the “sovereignty” of Israel, as Netanyahu and others have droned
repeatedly. The Golan was annexed by Israel illegally thirty years ago and no
one, including the United States, recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the area.
That’s where the activists from Syria came running into and that was as far as
most of them went. That’s not Israel and if there ever is a comprehensive peace
deal, as unlikely a prospect as that seems to be right now, it will not be
Ultimately, this entire, ugly episode for Israel could have
been an object lesson about the issues it is really confronting. Instead, the
Israeli and American governments continue to pander to extremists, peddle
nonsensical stories to explain their difficult circumstances and deny their own
roles in getting us to the sad state we are in today. Acknowledging those roles
does not mean they are the only ones at fault, but they seem to see it that
Who needs Iran, Hamas, or those activists who believe that
only Israel’s ending can bring about peace? Leaders like Netanyahu and
“friends” like the US Congress are doing a far better job of cornering Israel,
cutting off its options and limiting its future than Iran ever could.