“The Right of Return” Problem

One of the great sticking points in the peace process in Israel/Palestine is the issue of the “right of return.” The creation of the state of Israel in 1948 (what the Palestinians call the “Nakba,” or disaster) resulted in over 700,000 Palestinian refugees. Palestinians have long demanded their right to return to their former properties.

In a talk at the Palestine Center in Washington last week, Michael Fischbach, a professor of history at Randolph-Macon who has long investigated the claims of dispossession, said that financial restitution is the answer. Just because the losses happened 60 years ago doesn’t mean there isn’t a way to put a value on them.

Giving back property after many, many years has also been shown much more recently in Israeli history, when in the late 1990s it was determined that the Israeli government, Israeli banks, and Israeli land companies were in possession of quite a lot of Holocaust property [belonging to] European Jews who had bought real estate in Palestine who were murdered in the Holocaust. Various banks and other Israeli agencies had been in control of their property for decades. The heirs, when they found out about it, caused a huge stink in Israel. In fact, the State of Israel has close to $30 million in Holocaust securities. Bank Leumi, Israel’s main bank, has somewhere between $24 and $96 million dollars in Holocaust securities. The Jewish National Fund has posted on its website the names of deceased Jewish landowners, calling on any of their heirs to come back and reclaim property, which in some instances is worth millions of dollars, such as downtown Tel Aviv property.

Clearly, that example shows that Israelis are willing to part with millions of dollars of land and real estate for the sake of justice and equity despite the passage of over six decades. However, that of course is Jewish restitution made to other Jews–not Jews to Arabs. Clearly there is an ethnic dimension. But when people say that the sheer fact of restituting land back to someone after sixty years is impossible, it is not impossible. It is impossible politically, perhaps, and in certain people’s minds, but it can be done and the record has shown that.

“The Right of Return” Problem