An offer to advocate for Palestinian refugee rights to cooperate with advocates for the rights of Jewish refugees was rejected at the Zochrot conference.
The conference went ahead on the supposed site of an Arab village on the Tel Aviv university campus on 29 and 30 September, despite attempts to have it cancelled. Levana Zamir, the president of the Association of Jews from Egypt in Israel, who made the offer to cooperate, watched the conference develop into a nightmare – a sick and calculated blueprint for the annihilation of Israel. (One can only marvel at the irony that the bastion of anti-Zionism that is Tel Aviv university, whose staff and students so enthusiastically participated in the conference, should cooperate in their own destruction. )
The Zochrot conference website banner.
Here is Levana’s report:
This international conference initiated by the Israeli NGO Zokhrot (meaning ‘we remember’), titled “Realizing the Return of Palestinian Refugees” took place over two days in the Eretz Israel Museum in Ramat Aviv – located on the site of the former Arab village of Sheikh Mouniss.
It was a nightmare to me. Janet Dallal, an Israeli friend from Iraq, was there with me. The other heads of organisations of Jews from Arab countries decided not to come and speak out – saying it would give the conference too much publicity. Now I can say they were wrong.
The aim of this conference was not to argue whether the Palestinian refugees have a right of return, but the realization of it, termed ‘decolonization’ by the conference including in parts of north Tel Aviv where small Arab villages were located before 1948.
The conference got off to a slow start, talking about doing justice to the dispossessed and stateless Palestinian refugees, and with a few good words from Leila Hilal, Director of the Middle East Task force of the New America Foundation – the main organisation financing this conference, beside other European organisations.
Leila Hilal said she was embarrassed to open the conference knowing that ‘the right of return’ issue was very delicate for most of Israelis: I liked her opening very much. But she continued saying it was about time to do justice to those politically-displaced refugees and put an end to their suffering. From time to time she talked of “compensation”.
Professor Dan Rabinovitz of Tel Aviv University (where else?) gave his presentation, saying that the ‘right of return’ would be granted to refugees born in Palestine and are still alive – not to their descendants – i.e. 200, 000 refugees. A ‘right of return’ given by Israel to Jews only is discrimination, he said. He asked for recognition and for an apology. The Return would not always be to the original locations, but to alternatives.
After three more presentations about “reconciliation”, the Serbian refugee model, and the research findings of an Arab doctoral student from the UK on displaced Palestinians, it was easy for me at the Q&A to say my few words over the microphone and to ask my question. I said:
“I came here to give you a hand, to ask you to continue your fight to get back your properties and compensation because I am myself a refugee, a Jewish refugee from Egypt. We were dispossessed of all our family properties, of our identity, then expelled. There are a million Jewish refugees like me from Arab lands – Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, etc. So I propose to pool our efforts – Palestinian and Jewish refugees – to recover our properties, secure compensation, and not to accept the kizuz (cancelling out) proposed by Israel.
“My question to Leila Hilal was this: “as you represent the New America Foundation, dealing with refugees in the Middle East, would you agree to give us a hand, and deal with Jewish refugees too. Let’s do it together, hand in hand.”
Leila did not answer my question but asked the others to do so. Prof. Dan Rabinovitz said that my request was absolutely right, but he was an expert on Palestinian refugees and dealt only with them. The doctoral student from the UK, Munir Nuseibah, said he would be ready to develop his research for both sides. But during the coffee break, when I asked him how he would like us to cooperate on his research, he said he could not cooperate. People around us heard his answer very clearly.
When Leila asked the Serbian expert to answer to another question about the success of the ‘right of return’ imposed on Serbia, she said that it was a very bad experience involving killing people, and it had to be stopped.
During the coffe break, the president and founder of Zokhrot, Eitan Bronstein (an Israeli), came to me and said he was ready to see how Zokhrot could cooperate with us to include the Jewish refugees in their themes and activities. At that moment I was really glad to be there, but Leila avoided me and disappeared. I will send her a short message.
Janet Dallal intervened during the afternoon sessions, reminding the audience (all of them leftists) of the existence of the second group of refugees, the Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries, and the role of the Arab League in all this.
The second and last part of the conference became a nightmare.
During the whole next day, the lecturers demonstrated what the Return would be like, geographically – through animated short clips – and practically.
For example, in North Tel Aviv, on Ibn-Gvirol Street and the corner of Arlozorof – a sophisticated Tel-Avivian neighbourhood where an Arab village called Soumayel was located – the ‘Israeli occupiers’ would have the right to decide to leave their homes or stay and pay the ‘Palestinian refugee owner’ the ‘market value’ of their house. Then the ‘Palestinian Refugee owner’ would decide between recovering ‘his’ house or taking the money, with all that entailed. The Israeli ‘occupiers’ could not pass their homes on as inheritance to their descendants, etc. etc.
The Palestinian refugee who did not wish to Return, would get all their rights as Israeli citizens (Bituah Leumi national insurance rights, etc). in the paradise of One state for Two Peoples. There was never any talk of “two separate nation-states”.
Everything is already settled for the Return to Arab villages too. The speakers planned, for example, how the ‘new’ Arab village of Ladjoun, on the edge of the flourishing kibbutz Meggido in the North, will look, and under which conditions two Arab buildings still located inside the kibbutz would be incorporated into the village.
All this seemed to me sick and destructive, so the second day I did not attend the conference but watched via the On-line conference link on the Zokhrot Facebook page.
The conference continued in this vein. Some lecturers even said, “Zionism is a crime” and nobody objected, except one lady who said: ” please respect others’ beliefs”. That was the only moment when I wished I had been there to say that today the word “Zionism” has no meaning any more – because the State of Israel belongs to the people of Israel. We are Am Israel, living in Medinat Israel.
To sum up, I cannot believe this is happening to us, that Israelis could side with our enemies so as to annihilate the State of Israel. This conference came one step closer towards this annihilation. I would like to say to all those who were there, that the creation of the State of Israel after 2,000 years was a miracle, and that the people of Israel on its own land is neither invincible, nor should it be taken for granted.
Visit Point of No Return.