Stocktaking Conference on Palestinian Refugee
Session: Legal and Moral Dimensions
Tuesday, 9 December 1997
This session dealt with an array of issues pertaining to the
legal and moral dimensions of the refugee problem. Drawing
an analogy with the formative role of the Holocaust on
Israeli political thinking, one (Israeli) discussant
suggested that a main obstacle towards a fruitful resolution
of the refugee problem is the inability of the Israeli
society to understand the trauma of the Palestinian refugee
experience. It was suggested that educational activities
should be undertaken to publicise this issue inside Israeli
society. This participant also added that Israel, as a
state, should take some, but not all, responsibility for
what has befallen the Palestinian refugees. Other
discussants added that there is a need to study the human
dimension of the refugee problem, particularly that
concerning the Israeli myths deployed to hinder the return
of the refugees.
Another discussant suggested that both Palestinians and
Israelis must mutually recognise one another's respective
traumas. However, the discussant added, the notion of a
right of return should not be limited to geography. Rather,
it should also include a right to return to normal life, to
the protection of one's own sovereign state which ends the
refugees' current state of vulnerability, to the enjoyment
of the rights of citizenship, to the integrity of normal
communal forms, and finally, to their rehumanization in the
annals of history. In other words, Israel should address the
"right of return" in a more subtle and sophisticated manner.
Other participants added that there is a need to research
different strategies of reconciliation which could help the
peace process when the time for reconciliation arises. It
was also suggested that there is much to learn from the
similar experiences of other communities around the globe
(for example, South Africa, Latin America).
An Israeli discussant stressed that without
reconciliation between the two peoples, peace cannot be
obtained. Moreover, achieving a viable peace entails a clear
partition between two separate states. In this case, the
right of return should be limited to the Palestinian state,
and not to Israel.
Others disagreed that the "right of return" to 1948 areas
should be ruled out. Some discussants voiced the concern
that the claim that millions of refugees will want to return
to Israel proper was exagerated. To avoid such rhetoric,
there is a need to engage in a systematic and empirical
study of the profiles and quantities of potential returnees.
After all, symbolic compensation is not sufficient to deal
with the refugee problem. Nor was the attempt to
intellectualize it by distinguishing between the "principle"
of return and its implementation.
The session closed with a number of suggestions for
further research. One participant contended that there is a
need for a practical proposal from the Palestinian side
concerning the right of return. This proposal should contain
details, statistics, and the names of places in order to be
comparable to a similar proposal already advanced from the
Israeli perspective. Another participant suggested that
there is need for more networking among civil society
organizations on both sides to develope the public sense of
understanding prerequisite for a viable peace. Moreover, the
role of the media in the reconciliation process also
requires further research.
The PRRN/IDRC compensation workshop was funded
by IDRC and the Canadian
International Development Agency thrrough the
Expert and Advisory Services Fund. PRRN is a project of the Interuniversity
Consortium for Arab Studies (Montréal).
Last modified 15/12/97. Rex Brynenfirstname.lastname@example.org