As originally published in the Winnipeg Jewish Report
By Rhonda Spivak
BETHLEHEM- Although many Palestinians in the West Bank say they are interested in "peace," the vast majority of those encountered on a recent visit to the area, insisted that Palestinian refugees and their descendants have a right to return to homes and villages they left during the 1948 Israeli War of Independence.
Osama Alhrithi, a fourth-year law student at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, said that even if Israel withdrew to the Green Line[ Israel's pre-1967 borders] and all Jewish settlements over the Green Line were dismantled, any Palestinian refugee who wants to return to his home that he left in 1948 should be able to come back."There are a lot of Palestinian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, and if they want to come back, that is their holy right," he said.
Rami Sleimyyeh, a Muslim who works as a liaison officer for the Palestinian Authority in Hebron, nodded in agreement with Althrithi. Alhrithi's view that Israel, rather than a future Palestinian state, ought to be obliged to take in waves of Palestinian refugees was typical even among those who said they supported Fatah, not Hamas. It was also the predominant view among those people whom The Winnipeg Jewish Report encountered at a conference devoted to promoting dialogue and peace, held in Beit Jalla, near Bethlehem, put on by the Israel-Palestine Centre for Research and Information this past summer.
Ra'id Abdalla Otair, director of the Palestinian Authority's ministry of health in Tulkarem, said: "All refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and elsewhere should be asked to come back to their land in Israel, in Haifa, and Jaffa and Akko."
Otair, who is also the representative for the NGO, Future Vision, dismissed the possibility that Palestinian refugees would receive some form of financial compensation and return only to a future Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. "People in Tulkarem like [to have] all Palestine," he said.
Badia Dweik, from Hebron who also attended the conference, said he became disenchanted with Fatah after former PA president Yasser Arafat signed the Oslo accords, because, among other things, it didn't deal with the refugee issue.
"The two-state solution is a big lie. Most of my friends are pushing for a one-state solution [where Jews would be a minority in a Palestinian majority between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River]. When there is 'one state', the Palestinian refugees can live wherever they want. Maybe the refugee can come back to the same house he left if it is still there. Maybe a refugee from Lebanon can come back to Haifa, and even if his house has been demolished, he can still live in that area."
Sumayah Soboh, a Muslim sociologist from Bethlehem, who also advocates a one-state solution, said: "Any Palestinian refugees who want can return to their land. Maybe the one state could be called 'Jew Palestina.' I am angry with Fatah for saying there could be two states. There shouldn't be a Jewish state, but just one state, one leader, one God, one people."
Soboh's sister, Mary, an occupational therapist, and her mother, Jamileh, a speech therapist, both agreed with her.
Firas Arafat, a pharmacist from Hebron, said that only if Israel returned to the pre-67 borders and dismantled all of settlements would he agree to forgo the right of return."I know [former U.S. president] Jimmy Carter just came to the Gush Etzion Jewish settlement [in June 2009] and told the Jews there that they would remain part of Israel in the future. I respect Jimmy Carter, but I don't agree. Israel must get out of every Jewish settlement in the West Bank," he said.
Mari Sadi, a Christian Palestinian artist from Bethlehem, said "We hope that all of the refugees will be able to come back. I have many relatives in Jordan and the U.S. and a lot of different lands. They are from Nazareth and Haifa and Jaffa, and they should be able to come back. They will want to come back."
Inam Mitwassi and Laila Nazzal, Christian Palestinian artisans in Bethlehem, agreed with Sadi that Israel should go back to the '67 line and Palestinian refugees should be able to return to the pre-67 Israel. Lorette Zoughbi, who runs a small patisserie in Bethlehem, said she accepted the two-state solution. "If we ask for everything, all we'll get is nothing." But then she added, "My grandfather had a house in Katamon and in Jaffa. I still have the keys. We' ll never give up our land."
Only a small number of Palestinians encountered, appeared willing to make concessions regarding the issue of Palestinian refugees. Fatima, a Muslim Palestinian said she believed "there should be a "Palestine and Israel," and she added, "We must finish this conflict. To end it, refugees should return only to the Palestinian state."
When contacted to discuss these findings, Guy Lupo, the chairperson of the dovish organization, One Voice, in Be-ersheba said that polls done by his organization have shown that "most Palestinians want recognition of their right of return, but most will not actually use the right of return."
He added that the maximum figure for the number of refugees and their descendents spead out everywhere in the world is 11 million. If one percent returned, "then we'd be talking about 100,000 people. Israelis fear that it could be 10% [ of Palestinian refugees]that return, which would be 1 million people. This issue is not something that can be solved tommorrow. But we think that there is a way to market the issue to the Palestinian people in the context of an overall agreeement. Some Palestinians will be willing to give up recognition of the right of return. Others will be satisfied with recognition only, others will agree to compensation in lieu of returning, and about 100,000 people could be allowed to return on the basis of the principle of family unification."
Rhonda Spivak is an attorney and writer. She is a member of the Canadian & Israel Bar Associations, and now edits the Winnipeg Jewish Report