Response to Meron Benvenisti’s article, “The panicky longing for recognition”
I admired most writings of Meron Benvenisti, especially when he talks lovingly about the Land of Palestine with knowledge and compassion. Close your eyes and he would sound like a Palestinian talks of home. In his seminal work "The Sacred Landscape" (which I reviewed for the Cairo periodical Review of Books–Wajhat Nazar) he describes the Zionist obliteration of the Palestinian human and physical landscape. He also talks of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and the collective amnesia of the Israelis about their plight by calling the sites of destroyed Palestinian villages "white patches".
This knowledge about Palestine and Palestinians is planted by his father David inadvertently through country walks. The compassion may be due to his Sephardic origins when both Jews and Arabs were expelled from Spain in 1492. He appears not to have the trauma of European Jews in their long conflict with other Europeans, resulting, during the 20th Century, in moving the battlefield to Palestine and making the Palestinians the victims of this conflict.
I say all this because I am surprised and somewhat bemused at his anger at the Technion academics and Zochrot. He is irated at what he assumes to be the Technion's gullibility of thinking that the translation of Israel's master plan 2020 into Arabic implies the Arabs' acceptance of Zionist ideas and that Israel 2020 was the basis I used to propose a "shadow plan" of return.
This unfortunate abberation allowed him to fall into a number of pitfalls.
The first is thinking that my studies on the feasibility of the Right of Return as published in "From Refugees to Citizens at Home"–London 2001, was based on the maps and tables of Israel 2020. This is far from true. I have started on this subject in 1994 immediately after Oslo. I gave lectures and published articles since then in Cairo, Amman, Beirut and London. Benvenisti himself cites in his book "The Sacred Landscape" my research in a paper published in June 1997. In fact "Al Mustaqbal Al Arabi", Beirut, published in June 1996 a full description of my maps and tables, well before I even heard of Israel 2020. The erroneous Benvenisti statement appears clearer when it is noted that I received the CD for Israel 2020 in July 2001! So this argument is laid to rest. In any case the argument has no relevance as it is an essential element of any research to use, criticize, accept or reject all available references.
The second pitfall is that Benvenisti was not as scholarly as I expected when he refers only to the somewhat difficult cases of returning to the cities (for which solutions are found and applied elsewhere) but totally ignores the major fact, amply illustrated in my study, that 90% of the sites of the depopulated villages are still vacant. We know in detail for every village who the refugees are, where they come from and where they are today. This is probably inconvenient for him.
The third pitfall is to call this research a sign of "extremism", a term not easily used by serious scholars. Since when the right to return home according to international law and human rights is "extremism"? If that is so, the Palestinians insisting on this right are in good company. The same right has been affirmed/recognized/implemented in Abkhazia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Cambodia, Croatia, Cyprus, Guatemala, Kuwait, Iraq, Namibia, Tajikistan, Algeria, Ruwanda and South Africa. Should not this description fit more properly those who robbed the Palestinians of their homes, expelled them and continue to deny their right?
The fourth is that he laments the free conscience of some Israelis like members of Zochrot and their sorrow at the crimes committed during al Nakba. Has he not heard of the Truth and Conciliation Commission of South Africa, the Historical Clarification Commission of Guatemala, Arusha Accords of Rwanda, the Belfast Agreement of Good Friday 1998, the Japanese apology to the Chinese and the German public, legal and financial admission of their awful deeds against the Jews, Russians and Poles?
It is indeed amazing that he chides the good people of Zochrot who try to jolt the Jewish Israeli public of their convenient collective amnesia about al Nakba when he himself said (Haaretz, 8 August 2003).
Just as the South African rulers understood, at a certain point, that there was no choice but to dismantle their regime... So I think the time has come to declare that the Zionist revolution is over. Maybe it should even be done officially, along with setting a date for the repeal of the Law of Return. We should start to think differently, talk differently.
Let us hope that Benvenisti shall resume his humanistic stand and scholarly traits. For he knows fully well that Palestinians will not disappear one day and that their right to return home is just and that there is no peace without justice.