Jews migrating to Israel should go via Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon
This first appeared on the Middle East Monitor on 1 February 2016
Every year, Israel announces proudly that more Jews have made “aliyah”, the Hebrew term for Jewish migration from the “Diaspora” to the “Land of Israel”. In 2014, 26,500 made the journey, a 10-year high. They do this under the Law of Return, which was introduced in 1950. It is a racist law which gives Jews with no connection to historic Palestine the “right” to move to Israel, to settle and to develop a new life. Non-Jews do not have the same right under the law; Palestinians who were driven out of their homes in 1948 and 1967 (in a process carrying on to this day) do not have the same opportunity to return, even though this is guaranteed by international law. The Palestinian right of return is enshrined in law and is the subject of the much referred to UN General Assembly resolution 194.
The process for making aliyah is made relatively simple. A quick visit to the Jewish Agency website provides a comprehensive guide. The site provides a great deal of information and a consultant is allocated to help applicants to get a visa at their local Israeli consulate and a free one way ticket to Tel Aviv. The site advises applicants to learn Hebrew to make it easier “to make Israeli friends”. It omits to mention that 20 per cent of all Israelis are Palestinians and therefore Arabic would make it easier to make friends too.
Applicants are advised that they may be required to serve in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and that if they are migrating alone they are eligible for special assistance as a “Lone Soldier”. Information on housing, education, health and finding a job is also presented helpfully. There is a special section for 18-35 year olds called “Customised Connections”, outlining “absorption programmes”. The site also points out that upon arrival a cash payment will be made and financial assistance for six months will be deposited in a bank account once the migrant opens one.
What is missing from this guidance to Jewish migrants is any context in relation to the non-Jews who live in Israel, the Palestinians in the occupied territories or the refugees who continue to languish in refugee camps across the Arab world; or, indeed, details of the wider Palestinian Diaspora. While there is some historical information about the Arab/Israeli conflict on the aliyah site, there is no reference to it in the guidance to new immigrants. There is not even a section which describes “Israel today” which could outline the reality on the ground to help potential immigrants make up their minds objectively about the important decision to migrate. Potential immigrants to Israel could be excused for deducing that they are planning to move to a normal country which is only inhabited by Jews and that there are no problems apart from finding a home, schools and a medical centre. The reality is that immigrants will be moving to a state which was created through violence and terror and continues to exist through violence and terror. Reference to serving in the IDF should include a health warning that they are likely to enforce the occupation through oppression and on some occasions to kill members of the indigenous population whose land is being colonised and developed illegally for their benefit.
In recent years, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called repeatedly on French Jews in particular to make aliyah. Apart from this being unnecessary interference in another state’s domestic affairs, French Jews who heed his call do so without understanding the background sufficiently and on the false pretence that Israel is a “safer” place for them than their home country, France.
Whether from France or other countries, those considering migration to Israel should be exposed to the impact that the creation of Israel has had on the indigenous population. They should be provided with the opportunity to look Palestinian refugees in the eye, listen to their stories and understand that the state they are moving to continues to ban Palestinians from returning home, in contravention of international law. They should hear how the refugees, their fathers and grandfathers were terrorised into leaving their homes in 1948 and witness the conditions that they live in to this day. Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon would provide a wonderful and informative excursion. Not only will potential migrants meet refugees who have lived in Lebanon since 1948 but their brothers and sisters from Yarmouk and other refugee camps in Syria. Making such a trip is possible as all those who would make it already hold passports — from their home countries — that would admit them to Lebanon.
The situation facing the refugees is described thoroughly in the Palestinian Return Centre’sreport: ‘The “Forgotten People”: Assessing Poverty Among Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon. It describes an ever worsening situation which has resulted in 160,000 refugees being categorised as poor or very poor. The already desperate situation has worsened significantly as first Syrian refugees and then Palestinian refugees from Syria fled their homes in search of a safe environment. It is ironic that Lebanon’s existing refugees have become hosts to Syria’s refugees.
A few days spent at one of the twelve official UN refugee camps in Lebanon would be extremely informative to those considering aliyah. They can take their pick from Burj El-Barajneh, Ain Al-Hilweh or the infamous Sabra and Shatila, or maybe one of the growing “informal gatherings” of refugees across the country. After hearing the heart-rending stories of expulsion and dispossession, how would they then justify moving to live where the refugees and their families actually came from? If they eventually move to Israel, how will they feel as they drive through a landscape that was changed deliberately to hide the destroyed villages which were once home to the Palestinians they met in Lebanon? How will they feel about serving in an army that exists to oppress other refugees in the West Bank and to attack Gaza regularly, where the population is 80 per cent refugees, in order for Jews to be able to live in comfort in Israel?
As the search for the elusive breakthrough in the conflict continues, those selling the idea of the life-changing experience that aliyah to Israel provides for Jews should also offer them the opportunity to see for themselves the life changing reality that the creation of Israel had and continues to have on an entire people. It has been catastrophic.
Professor Kamel Hawwash is a British Palestinian engineering academic based at the University of Birmingham. He is a commentator on Middle East affairs and is Vice Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. He writes here in a personal capacity.