Sunday, October 6, 2013

Israeli society Zochrot studies practical steps to implement Palestinian Right of Return

A drawing for the planned Arab city of al-Lajun
 Drawing of the projected town of Al-Lajun, between Latrun and Umm al-Fahm, a project by the young architect Shadi Habib-Allah.

I wanted to write something about the second conference of Zochrot, a small but remarkable Israeli society of people who keep alive the memory of the Palestinian world that was before 1947-1949, in order to make Israeli's realize - and ultimately redress - the injustice that was done to the Palestinians during what Israeli's call the 'War of Independence' and Palestinians their 'nakba'.
Reports about the conference were scarce, but all of a sudden just before and during this weekend there appeared a number of articles. Like this one by Tamar Zandberg, a member of the Israeli parliament for the leftist Meretz-party:
''The conference was held at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv - or, as Zochrot calls it, al-Shaykh Muwannis (a Palestinian village that was located in the Ramat Aviv area before the founding of the State of Israel) last Sunday and Monday (29 adn 30 September, AbuP.). Zochrot said the multidisciplinary conference was planned to "discuss practical aspects of the return of Palestinian refugees grounded in the transitional justice principles of acknowledgement, accountability and a joint Jewish-Palestinian process of redress."
''This was Zochrot's second such conference. It was not dedicated to the debate over the right of return in itself, but to a concrete discussion of ways to implement the return, in both a symbolic and concrete fashion - culturally, diplomatically and spatially.''

Or Gideon Levy, columnist of Haaretz:
''For two days, participants in the international conference of the Zochrot organization, which took place this week at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv, discussed how to promote the return of the Palestinian refugees, how to plan their villages that are to be rebuilt, and whether their houses will be similar to those that were destroyed. Was it a hallucination?''
And Ma'an News: ''The conference aimed not merely to insist upon the legitimacy of the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland, but also to examine in practice how such a return would take place. Because of Israel’s refusal to accept this right, a great deal of Palestinian discourse until recently has focused exclusively on insisting upon the legitimacy and necessity of return.''
(Ma'an News)

The site +972 wrote more explicitly about planning a future where Palestinians return. It pointed at a presentation by Shadi Habib Allah, a young architect from Nazareth, who created a plan for a rebuilt version of the village Al Lajun (destroyed in 1948, and right now a parc)":
''He talked to the potential residents, found out their preferences, studied the location, and used his professional skills to come up with a detailed plan for a community that will combine historical relevance and modern services. The twist, though, is that this isn’t an entirely new village. According to Habib Allah’s presentation, al-Lajjun, one of several hundred Palestinian villages destroyed in 1948, would be re-established on its original site (which is currently a park). The village would be populated by its original residents and their descendants.'' (look at picture above to see what it would look like). 
''Attorney Noa Levy presented the legal models that Zochrot has designed, together with the Palestinian organization Badil. According to Levy, only about 1,000 houses of the original occupants are still standing, in cities like Jerusalem and Haifa. Otherwise, return would mean construction of new housing comparable to that which took place during the immigration of Jews from the ex-Soviet Union in the early 1990s. These are only suggestions, aimed at showing that compromise is possible, even on this issue which remains taboo within Israeli society. Levy went further and, together with Palestinian partners, began sketching out legal arrangements to diffuse the thorniest issue – Jews who occupy these former Palestinian houses, in ways that would recognize both sides’ rights and push them to compromise.''
Khulood Badawi
And Khulood Badawi, a Palestinian activist inside Israel, pointed at the example of  Iqrit, a village where descendants of the original inhabitants are occupying the only standing building of the village, the church, in order to rebuild the area. She said that the example has to be copied by other places. ''We cannot just talk about the global Right of Return if we are not implementing Right of Return within Israel, while there are still displaced Palestinians here within Israel.”
Badawi stressed that the displaced Palestinians within Israel must use the advantages at their disposal, primarily citizenship rights and the ability to return to their displaced villages, to lead the way by showing Israelis, Palestinians, and the whole world that in fact return is possible. As she argued, “We cannot realize the global Right of Return without achieving the Right of Return of those displaced Palestinians within Israel.”
Zochrot director Liat Rosenberg told attendees that, “Return is a long and ongoing multifaceted process that includes not only physical return of refugees, but also the establishment of an actual society. It begins long before they come, and it will continue long after.” The conference thus addressed not only how return would take place, but also how Jewish Israeli society would come to accept it.

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