HANANIA: Jewish and Palestinian rights of return: For release Mon. Sep. 3, 2007

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By Ray HananiaThree Jewish philanthropists who rose from the ashes of the Holocaust in Poland to great wealth in America announced they would return to their homeland to help rebuild the Jewish community there. Businessmen and Jewish community activists Tad Taube, Sigmund Rolat and Severyn Ashkenazy said they hoped their mission would empower other Jews to also seek to return to Poland, where 3 million Jews were murdered in Nazi concentration camps. Poland’s Jewish community numbers fewer than 30,000, according to some reports.I admire them for their mission. As a Palestinian I envy them.

While the Jewish community was decimated to a fraction of what it was in Poland just over six decades ago, a few years later the Palestinian population was decimated with the creation of Israel.Israel was founded in 1948, an event that celebrates 60 years this Spring. Palestinians refer to the event as al-Nakba, or the catastrophe. The near-destruction of Palestine as an entity and the derailing forever of Palestinian nationalism in the territories that became Israel.

For more than 700,000 Palestinians forced from their homes in what became Israel during the 1947-48 war, and for their descendants, some 3 million Palestinians who have lived in a Diaspora of uncertainty, the option to return and rebuild their presence is denied by law.

They don’t have the luxury that Taube, Rolat and Ashkenazy are free to enjoy.Poland does not deny Jews or any other group from “returning” to Poland, if they can establish that they and their ancestors, parents and grandparents, resided in Poland prior to the Nazi invasion that took place in 1939.In fact, for most Palestinians, they are not even allowed to visit Israel.

I have been able to visit, using my American passport, but only with some level of interrogation at the airport. Pulled out of line because of my ethnicity and religion, I am embarrassed as I stand off to the side at the airport watching other Americans, who are Jewish, enter Israel with enthusiastic welcome.I’m viewed with caution. And so are all Palestinians and Arabs or anyone who is related to a Palestinian or an Arab who wishes to enter Israel.I don’t deny Israel’s right to scrutinize visitors. But I think they often go a little too far. The scrutiny is often humiliating, and sometimes intentionally so.

Israelis do not want any Palestinians to come back to the lands that were once Palestine prior to 1948. But the hurdle doesn’t stop there. Israel also denies many Palestinians from entering the West Bank, which was occupied in 1967.In fact, while performing standup comedy with two Israeli comedians and an American Jew to use humor to encourage the two sides to overcome their animosities, Israel refused to allow a well known Palestinian journalist and friend based in Ramallah, Mohammed Najib, to enter East Jerusalem, which was occupied in 1967.

There seems to be something wrong with this picture. Certainly, any reasoned person might conclude that the problem of Palestinians seeking to return to their lands and homes only helps to fuel the conflict further.

But reason is not a popular commodity in the Middle East these days.Israel insists that Palestinian refugees who left Palestine in 1948 have no right of return. Ironically, Taube, Rolat and Ashkenazy, though they were born in Poland, ostensibly, and lived their all their lives until the tragedy of the Holocaust, can go to Israel any time they wish to live. They don’t have to go to Poland.They have a choice. A choice that is denied to Palestinians.In the face of a possible two-state solution compromise, I recognize that Palestinians must be ready to trade-away their legitimate and internationally accepted legal right to return to lands that are now in Israel and taken from them in 1948.

You can’t support the two-state solution if you insist that Palestinians have a right to return to the lands of pre-1967 Israel. Yet, Israelis are quick to make an exception for Jews who insist that they have a right to “return” to the West Bank to live on settlements that studies show were built on lands owned by Palestinians.

If Taube, Rolat and Ashkenazy really wanted to do the state of Israel and the Jewish people good, they might consider first investing some of their hard-earned wealth in breeding improved relations between Palestinians and Israelis.

Although compromise is the only solution to the endless conflict and continued violence, compromise remains elusive. Both sides need to compromise. But the longer it takes, the more good intentioned events like the Taube, Rolat and Ashkenazy mission to restore the Jewish presence in Poland will transform into bitter reminders that only fuel the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.

(Ray Hanania was named Best Ethnic American Columnist by the New America Media. He can be reached at rayhanania@comcast.net. Copyright Arab Writers Group Syndicate.)


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Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award winning political and humor columnist who analyzes American and Middle East politics, and life in general. He is an author of several books.

"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."

Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).

Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at www.TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.

Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.

The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website www.SuburbanChicagoland.com, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.

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Ray Hanania