What do Jewish Israelis think about the right of return for Palestinian refugees? The answer is not what you might expect.
By Henriette Chacar
May 29, 2020
Thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel take part in March of Return to the destroyed village of Hadatha, near Tiberias, April 23, 2015. (Activestills)
In the first episode of our series on the right of return for Palestinian refugees, we got a glimpse of what return might look like with Tarek Bakri’s innovative visual documentation project. Then, BADIL’s Lubnah Shomali discussed the practical ways in which return can be made possible.
In the third and final episode, we explore what Jewish Israelis think about return. Tom Pessah, an academic who serves as the chairperson of the board of Zochrot, an Israeli nonprofit bringing awareness to the Nakba among the Jewish Israeli public, talks about when he first learned about return, how he eventually came to support it, and the work that Zochrot is doing within Israeli society to make return a reality.
“Legally speaking, if tomorrow the entire Jewish population of the U.S. wanted to immigrate to Israel, which is several million people according to different estimates, we would be obliged to accept them. If Israel has room for Jewish immigrants, the issue isn’t really the number of people and the size of the country,” says Pessah. “The issue is the fact that Palestinians — and we have to get over this idea — that more Palestinians are a threat. But people sort of hide behind this issue of not enough room when I don’t think that’s the issue.”
But Pessah believes Jewish Israelis are more open to return than one might think. And just as Israelis “have a lot of illusions they need to give up in order for us to reach return,” Palestinians, too, must relinquish some of their expectations of what a post-return reality might look like, he explains. “Palestinians have to give up this idea that everything is going to go back to the way it was before 1948.”
“For me, the issue of return is of allowing ourselves to imagine. It’s not being afraid to imagine a completely different reality,” he says.
Henriette Chacar is a Palestinian editor and reporter at +972 Magazine. She also produces, hosts and edits The +972 Podcast. A graduate of Columbia Journalism School, Henriette previously worked at a weekly paper in Maine, Rain Media for PBS Frontline and The Intercept.