The Right of Return is often regarded as a chimera. The idea is more likely encountered online at sites like Electronic Intifadah or occasionally at Open Zion, and in activist circles like BDS, and academic organizations like MESA. While deeply immersed in realities and symbolic image world of Palestinian national movements, narratives and struggles, the Right of Return remains an image unmoored from the reality on the ground. It bumps up against the hard stone of Jewish Israeli social and political interests, and it is not on any serious foreign policy agenda –American, European, or Arab. An image of return without a practicable vision of what it would look like, what it would entail? And yet, it’s also true that more and more the discourse pops up in leftwing activist Jewish circles as people begin to despair of a 2 state solution, which becomes itself more and more chimerical, unmoored from reality on the ground.
A couple of weeks back, Haaretz ran an interesting piece by Gideon Levy about conference sponsored by Zochrot at the Land of Israel Museum in Tel Aviv about Palestine and the Right of Return. It explores a possible universe, one in which the descendants of Palestinian refugees displaced during the 1948 Israeli War of Independence Palestine Nakba are recognized the right to return to ancestral villages. The Palestinian speakers at the conference were not refugees or the children or grandchildren of refugees living in Lebanon or elsewhere, people who were expelled or fled, and who were not allowed back. The speakers were rather Palestinian citizens of Israel, part of a people who lost their national majority status with the establishment of the state,
A comprehensive and full scale return would change in a radical way the face of the country as it now exists, turning Israel into Palestine, i.e. an Arab national majority country with a Jewish national minority. But the report about the conference raised a different, related set of questions. I wasn’t there so I don’t know and about this Levy’s article is unclear. But the conference suggests a non-comprehensive way in which to configure the right of return based upon the more limited case of the right of Palestinian citizens of Israel to return to ancestral villages that were destroyed during and in the aftermath of the war. Like the citizens of Kfir Bi’rem and Ikrit, whose inhabitants lost their homes but remained in the country. As citizens of the state, don’t Israeli Palestinians have a right to move freely around in the country, the right to free association, to move back to and to restore these or those particular villages whose ruins remain intact to this day? It’s hard not to see why a self-possessed Jewish national majority can’t make room for a Palestinian minority right. That would be just and democratic, even beautiful.