Count Folke Bernadotte, the UN mediator between Israel and Palestine, was assassinated in the fall of 1948 by the Stern Gang, an extremist Jewish militia. In their statement claiming responsibility for the assassination, which occurred the day after Bernadotte issued his recommendation, they called the UN "members of foreign occupation forces."
The recommendation called for the following resolutions:
- Palestine would come under King Abdullah's control
- al-Ramla and Lydda, as well as other large parts of the Negev, would be returned to Arab hands
- Jews would keep control of the Galilee and Haifa
- Jerusalem would be controlled by the UN
- Arab refugees would be allowed to return to their homes or would be compensated financially if they did not wish to do so.
David Ben Gurion detained, disarmed, and virtually disbanded the Stern Gang and Irgun militia after this. Nevertheless, Bernadotte's plan was ignored.
In contemplating the concept of "the right to return" and why it has been refused by Israel, one must not only consider the ramifications for the displaced, but also the reasons for the continued displacement. Whether Israel is right or wrong, one can certainly not pass judgment without first understanding.
It seems that originally Ben Gurion would not allow refugees to return to conquered villages because he was afraid an Arab presence in his newborn country would undermine Jewish authority. And why have successive leaders also denied this right? Even now that Israel is a world power? I can only speculate at this point.
Besides the fact that these homes are, and have been, occupied by Jewish families since 1948, what I speculate is that there is an unpublicized long-term plan to dodge the issue of return until all those displaced in 1948 are dead. At this time, those still fighting for return will not only lack the resources to accomplish it, but they will have lost substantial desire to do so. It's one thing to want to return to your own home, but to want to return to a place you've never been is a difficult dream to keep alive.
History is full of displaced ethnic groups who have quietly blended into their new surroundings within the course of one or two generations. Chief among them, the Jews. One could argue even that the reason the Jewish faith and culture has survived so long despite never having an empire is that they became adept at practicing the customs of the larger society no matter where they were. Another example is the plight of Native Americans. They put up quite a fight, but once European settlers had become the dominant group, this fight died within a generation, along with countless aspects of their culture. And how about the story of Africa and the slave trade. Imported slaves also adopted most aspects of the larger culture while practicing their tribal beliefs in secret, also for one generation. And the Zulu in South Africa. The list goes on.
All these stories are similar in that they were displaced peoples overtaken by a dominant culture. But they are different in how those dominant cultures have dealt with them. Native Americans have been assigned plots of land and will receive government aid as long as they exist. The descendants of African slaves attained the same legal rights as whites in the 1960s but are still largely economically disadvantaged. South African apartheid ended in 1990 amidst a buzz of wide-ranging emotions.
And what of the Jews in history? They have experienced everything from enslavement in Egypt, to a warm welcome in Bulgaria. We already know history repeats itself, but which way will it repeat itself in this case?