Do The Right Thing: Return your "Right of Return"

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I, Peter Cohen, being recognized by the State of Israel as having a legal "Right of Return" to the land it currently controls, hereby declare my intention to transfer that "right" to a Palestinian refugee whose parent were actually there.

I cannot accept a "right" to "return" to a land in which neither I, my parents nor any known ancestor was born while people who were forcibly expelled from their homes are denied that same right.

In 1948, 750,000 Palestinian men, women and children were made stateless in what became known as "Al Nakba" ("the catastrophe"). Some were literally trucked to the borders, others massacred, still more simply fled for their lives. Families were divided. Millions remain to this day in crowded refugee camps that encircle the 1948 Armistice Line.

This human catastrophe was not some accident of war – still less a willing act of the victims – but an absolutely prerequisite to the creation of a Jewish State in a land in which Jews, mainly recent immigrants from Europe, comprised less than a third of the population. Zionists discussions of "transfer" go back for decades and David Ben-Gurion, who led the campaign that expelled 85% of Israel’s non-Jewish population, had written more than a decade earlier "We must expel Arabs and take their places.” Israeli historian Benny Morris has called Ben-Gurion “a transferist" and stated: "If he had not done what he did, a state would not have come into being. … Without the uprooting of the Palestinians, a Jewish state would not have arisen here."

No sooner were the refugees gone than the new IDF (essentially a renaming of the nationalist Haganah militia) razed more than 530 villages to the ground and their names were erased from the map. Anyone caught seeking to return to their home was shot as an “infiltrator.” Resolution 194, passed by the UN General Assembly on December 11, 1948, called on Israel to allow the refugees to return and Israel's admission as a UN member state, on May 11th, 1949 was made conditional on its acceptance of UNR 194 and return to the Partition Plan boarders. Israel has steadfastly refused to comply with these and scores of other UN Resolutions for 70 years, even as it has continued to engage in the expulsion of more Palestinians from their land (most recently in the Bedouin village of Khan Al-Ahmar) and their replacement by Jews (a process they themselves refer to as “Judaization”). The forced population transfer of the Nakba is thus an ongoing process that continues to this day. While Ben Gurion may never have uttered the famous phrase "the old will die and the young will forget," he did write: “We must do everything to ensure that they never do return!” And is exactly what Israel has done.

The logic of refusal of Return is thus the same logic as that of the original transfer: that it would end Israel's character as a "Jewish State." Israel can only be a “Jewish democracy” by maintaining the non-Jewish population to an insignificant minority: in other words, Israel is not a democracy at all, as the illusion of democracy rests upon the maintenance of demographic superiority of one ethnic group over another. The dizzyingly complex map of Israel – in which the Palestinian majority is divided into at least 5 distinct categories with differential rights (“Arab Israelis,” “Jerusalem Residents,” West Bank Palestinians, Gazans and Palestinian refugees lining the borders) is the largest case of gerrymandering in history.

Meanwhile, Palestinians continue their efforts to return home – most recently in the Great Return March in Gaza, in which nearly 200 unarmed protestors have been killed by Israel and more than 5000 shot with live ammunition.

Today, the grandchild of a Jewish person anywhere in the world can legally claim citizenship in Israel under the "Law of Return" while the grandchild of a Palestinian who was born there cannot. I could claim Israeli citizenship today, simply because my parents are Jewish, and live in a Palestinian’s home while the original owner of that home, who was forcibly expelled from it cannot – simply because they are not Jewish. This is something I, as a person whose ancestral village of Sveksna in Lithuania was liquidated by the Nazis under a similar logic, find particularly inadmissible.

This is why I plan to go to the Israeli Consulate on March 30th, 2019 and petition the Israeli Government to give my "Right of Return" to someone who actually deserves it: Ahmed Abu Artema. March 30th marks the one-year anniversary of the Great Return March and of the massacre of 15 unarmed protestors in Israel’s attempt to quell that unarmed protest. The March itself was scheduled to commemorate the 1976 killing of 6 unarmed Palestinian protestors by Israel on “Land Day.” Ahmed Abu Artema is the Founder of the March and an advocate for the peaceful coexistence of all sons and daughters of the land as equal citizens in a single multiethnic state.

While I have no doubt that the Israeli Government will reject my petition – as it flies in the face of the very logic that created and maintains Ahmed’s exile, that rejection will itself dramatize the inherent racism of the State of Israel.

I also understand that some Palestinians may see the ‘gift’ of a right that is already theirs under International Law as normalization” of Israel’s illegal and racist policies. But this is no gift: it is the return that was stolen to its rightful owner.

I invite Jewish people everywhere to join me. The Israeli Government will never give up the core value of ethnic supremacy on which the state was found. Only we, as citizens of the world, in whose name Israel has committed and continues to commit the crimes of ethnic cleansing, military occupation and “Hafrada” (“separation,” “segregation” or “Apartheid”), can refuse this privilege bought at the ongoing expense of our Palestinian sisters and brothers and, in so doing, embody the true meaning of “Never Again.”