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The Palestinian Refugees

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One of the tragic consequences of war is that thousands and perhaps even millions of civilians are displaced, uprooted from their homes and lives and have involuntarily acquired the unwanted distinction of becoming refugees. Yet, in most of the instances of the creation of refugees after the wars of the twentieth century, these refugees eventually found new homes and new lives – many times better homes and better lives – and were mainly successfully absorbed into their new societies. This pattern happened to the survivors of the Holocaust and to the almost three quarters of a million Jewish refugees from the Arab lands that immigrated to Israel in the 1940s and 1950s. However, the three quarters of a million Arabs who fled or were forced to flee from their homrd because of the wars initiated by the Arab countries against the fledgling state of Israel, have never been resettled or absorbed in the surrounding Arab societies to which they fled. They were and are kept as hostages to the maximalist demand of the Arab countries that Israel somehow should commit certain national suicide by allowing these families – now numbering in the millions of people – to establish themselves in Israel. This cynical exploitation of human misery is par for the course in the Middle East. The rest of the world also pays lip service to this idea, knowing that it is impractical, untenable and counterproductive to any sort of settlement and stabilization here in the Middle East. Israel may not appear on the maps of Moslem textbooks the world over but apparently there are millions of Moslems who somehow long to live there.

The United Nations, especially UNRWA, willingly is a co-conspirator in this cruel charade known as "the right of return." The Palestinians are hell-bent on declaring themselves to be a state. Yet, within the portion of the land of Israel now under their control there are large refugee camps containing hundreds of thousands of their own Palestinian people, for whom it does little or nothing. In the outskirts of Gaza, Jenin, Bethlehem and other Arab cities on the West Bank there are enormous refugee camps crammed with despairing and helpless people. It is in these refugee camps that terror squads are formed and bred. The Palestinian Authority, upon which the world lavishes hundreds of millions of dollars a year, keeps these people in squalor, crime and hopelessness. It feeds them the line that someday – and that day is always just around the corner – they will inhabit Haifa and Tel Aviv, Jaffa and Safed. In order to deflect anger and violence from itself, the Palestinian Authority has indoctrinated these unfortunates with the belief that Israel is the root cause for all of their misery and troubles. There is a growing sensation that these people now realize that the corruption and cruelty of their Palestinian brothers towards them is certainly the direct cause of their misery. Because of this realization it is possible, if not even probable, that the next intifada will be against the Palestinian Authority and it will be fueled by the frustration and hopelessness of the refugee camps. However, there is no doubt that the propaganda and indoctrination of the Palestinian Authority has so poisoned the minds of the Palestinian masses that Israel and Jews remain the real enemy, worthy of destruction and annihilation. So the ultimate intifada will be against Israel solely.

Is there anything Israel can do regarding this near existential threat to its existence as represented by the Palestinian refugees? It should be clear to all that any sort of settlement with the Palestinian Authority that does not now include a blanket "right of return" will not be accepted by the Palestinian masses. The Palestinian Authority has painted itself – and Israel with it - into a corner by trumpeting this issue for the past almost seventy years and has left itself almost no wiggle room for compromise. There is no Israeli government that can ever agree to any blanket, all-inclusive "right of return" for the generations descended from the original Palestinian refugees. This issue has always been swept under the rug and overshadowed by territorial withdrawals and land swaps and other such cosmetic issues. The heart of the matter still lies with the status of Jerusalem and with the refugees issues. Since neither of these issues seems amenable to settlement in the foreseeable future, maintaining the status quo, tenuous and uncomfortable as it may be for both sides, seems to be the only practical option remaining. One certainly cannot win a Nobel Peace Prize for maintaining the status quo. Nevertheless, the status quo may be the only viable policy extant within the current makeup of the Middle East and Arab society.
Rabbi Dov Berl Wein
The rabbi of the "HANASI" congregation in Yerushalim, head of the Destiny foundation, former head of the OU, Rosh Yeshiva of 'sharai Tora" and rabbi of the "Beit Tora" congregation, Monsey, New York.
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