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Saturday, March 3, 2007

The Right of Return vs San Francisco State University

I wanted to share with my readers the following letter I just recieved from a friend who had received notice of it herself. It concerns the mural in honor of Edward Said and the Palestinian struggle at San Fransisco State University that I posted about being refused a few weeks ago. It seems the reason for the refusal of the mural is that it has symbols depicting the right of return for Palestinians. Do we not all know that the right of return exists for any Jew if he wishes to make aliya and that these people being allowed to return have NEVER had concrete ties to this land for CENTURIES, IF even then (only their claims to the land being granted by "God" to the Jewish people are given as "title"), yet Palestinians who were forced from their lands in the Nakba have no such rights which ARE granted to them under international law? The below letter says it much better than I can, but may I state my own solidarity in this right of return for the Palestinian people. It is nothing but a simple, a very simple, matter of morality.

UPDATE: The below letter has been added to the petition to ask for the mural to go forward which can be signed HERE

Dear President Corrigan:

I have been corrected by a member of GUPS at San Francisco State that you are not against the inclusion of Edward Said in the mural. For that I stand corrected and I offer my apology. I am told, however, that you are against the inclusion of a cartoon, Handhala, a creation of the late Palestinian artist Naji Ali. I am told you are also against the inclusion of a key,a house key that is, similar to keys many Palestinian refugee families still have in their possessions.

Has it really come down to this, a cartoon of a faceless child in tattered cloths and a picture of a key? Pro-Israelis are threatened by that?!

Well, I grant you these are powerful symbols, especially to the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were driven out of their homes in 1948. But denying their inclusion in the mural is not going to change the facts of history. Israelis themselves do not deny the fact that Palestinians, those who were not massacred, were driven out by force. Read, for example, Benny Morris, The Origins of the Palestinian Refugee Problem (Oxford U. Press). Benny Morris is no friend of the Palestinians. In the new edition of his book, he says that the Haganah should have evicted more Palestinians. My own home town, Join, was forcibly evacuated around July 12th 1948 on specific orders of Ben Gurion. The town was later demolished (along with more than 500 others) and my family's land has been turned in Mexico Park. A recent book by the Israeli scholar Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestinians, is even more telling of what happened in 1948.

Not all Palestinian homes were demolished, especially in such large cities as Haifa, Acre, Nazareth and other towns in the Galilee. These homes were occupied by Jewish families, and it is not uncommon today that Palestinians visit these very homes and that they may be welcomed by their Jewish occupants. Read, for example, May Seikaly's work on Haifa, and The Object of Memory: Arab and Jew Narrate the Palestinian Village, by Susan Slyomovics who documents the life histories of the inhabitants of Ein Hod and studies the transformation of their still intact homes that had been turned into an artist colony inhabited by Jews only. You may also read the work of Mark LeVine, Overthrowing Geography: Jaffa, Tel Aviv, and the Struggle for Palestine (UC Press) to see how space was contested and transformed, some say obliterated to erase the Palestinian presence. Better yet, Meron Benvenisti's book, Sacred Landscape (also by UC Press) tells how Israeli official cartagrophers deliberately changed names of Palestinian towns and locations to erase their Arab heritage.

These are facts of history Mr. President and no narrow-minded group, no matter how influential and no matter what pressure they bring to bear, will change that. A growing majority of Israelis recognize the fact that no solution of the Palestinian- Israeli conflict is possible without an accommodation of the Palestinian refugees, the issue, I suppose, that is highlighted by the inclusion of the cartoon and the key. United Nations Security Council Resolution 194 addresses that very problem and calls for the return of refugees or the compensation for their loss. In fact, Palestinian and Israeli negotiators, most recently at Taba, have come to some sort of accommodation on the issue. If a growing majority of Israelis and the Israeli government itself (if not the whole world, including our own government)want to solve the problem, then it must be a minority of right-wing, exclusivist, racist, pro-Israeli annexationsim and expansionism that want to deny the Palestinians their right of return. It is they also who support the erection of the Apartheid wall and the continued displacement of Palestinians from their land to build Jewish-only settlements and Jewish-only roads. As I said in my previous e-mail, these are even a minority among American Jews.

Which side are you on Mr. President? Open debate, free speech, and the exchange of ideas that might lead to a better understanding of the issues, satisfaction, and perhaps accommodation or suppression of glaring facts (or symbols of such) that will lead to resentment and discord?

Mahmood Ibrahim
Professor of History
Cal Poly Pomona

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