Entrance to UNWRA’s Aida Palestinian Refugee Camp near Bethlehem, with key representing the right of return that says “not for Sale”
photo by Rhonda spivak
by March 24, 2011
I have recently been to two Palestinian refugee camps run by the United Nations Refugee and Works Agency [UNWRA] near Bethlehem. My visit has unfortunately have left me with the impression that the Palestinians as a whole are far from giving up on the right of return to their 1948 homes and villages in Israel. I saw first hand how Palestinian refugees in UNWRA camps live in what I can only describe as a ‘time warp,” as these UNWRA camps perpetuate the illusion of them one day returning to former homes and villages in pre-67 Israel.
For example, I was rather shocked to see that the entrance to the Aida UNWRA refugee camp has a “huge key” that says “not for sale,” promoting the notion of a right of return, which can not be bought. [This begs the question why the West allows this to be put up in a UN refugee camp that the West funds, which only feeds the illusion of a mass right of return, which means the ultimate destruction of Israel. ]
But on my recent visit, I saw that in UNWRA Palestinian refugee camps people live in streets according to the villages they came from [i.e. refugees and their descendants from Jaffa all live near each other], children’s sports teams are divided according to former villages [i.e children who are descendants of Jaffa refugees are on one team].All of this serves only to perpetuate the conflict by feeding the false and unrealistic notion of returning to pre-67 Israel. In both UNWRA refugee camps I visited there were “NAKBA” signs that showed maps of Palestine, which included all of pre-67 Israel.
When I was in Aida refugee camp, I saw several long blocks of huge murals of all the Palestinian villages to which the refugees talk about returning. I was struck by the fact that one of the villages in these murals, for example, depicted Be’er Sheva as a small pastoral village with several houses.[ Today of course Be’er Sheva is a developed city of 200,000 people]
“If one doesn’t start a discussion soon with the refugees for them to consider what their own future might be – for them to start debating their own role in the societies where they are rather than being left in a state of limbo where they are helpless but preserve rather the cruel illusions that perhaps they will return one day to their homes – then we are storing up trouble for ourselves….We recognize, as I think most do, although it’s not a position that we publicly articulate, that the right of return is unlikely to be exercised to the territory of Israel to any significant or meaningful extent…It’s not a politically palatable issue, it’s not one that UNRWA publicly advocates, but nevertheless it’s a known contour to the issue.”
It should be noted that Lt. Col (Res) Jonathan Dahoah Halevy has pointed out that Saeb Erekat, when he was PA chief negotiator, delivered two speeches at Fatah conventions in Hebron and Jericho during 2009 in Arabic in which he said “the right of return” is the individual right of each refugee and cannot be conceded by anyone in negotiations [ http://www.dore-gold.com/2011/01/saeb-erekat-shows-his-cards-the-palestinians-will-demand-the-return-of-refugees.php ] This is consistent with what Erekat wrote in December 2010 in the Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/dec/10/israel-palestine-refugee-rights .
This is also what Palestinian Huwaida Araf, one of the key organizers of last year’s infamous Floatilla to Gaza told me when she appeared in Winnipeg last week as a speaker for Israel Apartheid Week. http://www.winnipegjewishreview.com/article_detail.cfm?id=908&sec=1&title=WOMAN_WHO_PLANNED_THE_FLOTILLA_TO_GAZA__WAS_AT_ISRAEL_APARTHEID_WEEK_HERE