In addition to telling Palestinians that they cannot return home because they have been gone for too long, Jewish leaders argue that return is impractical. But this too is deeply ironic because, as refugee rights advocate, Lubnah Shomali, highlighted“If a state is an expert at receiving masses and masses of people and settling them in a very small area, it is Israel. At the height of the Soviet exodus in the early 1990s, Israel hosted approximately 500,000 immigrants. If millions of Jews from the Diaspora began to settle in Israel tomorrow, Jewish leaders would not say that welcoming them was logistically impossible. They would help Israel do what it has done before: build large amounts of housing quickly.
When most Jews imagine the return of Palestinian refugees, they probably don’t envision it looking like Israel’s absorption of Soviet Jews. More likely, they predict that the Palestinians are evicting the Jews from their homes. But the tragic reality is that few Jews live in old Palestinian homes, as it is believed that only one a few thousand remains intact. Mrs. Shomali estimates that more than 70 percent of the Palestinian villages destroyed in 1948 remain vacant. And Palestinian activists and academics considering return generally argue that a large-scale deportation is neither necessary nor desirable. Asked in 2000 about Jews living in former Palestinian homes, renowned Palestinian literary critic Edward Said said he was “opposed to the idea of people leaving their homes” and that “a humane and moderate solution should to be found where the claims of the present and the claims of the past are dealt with.
None of this means that the return of refugees would be straightforward or unchallenged. The efforts of historical justice seldom are. But there’s a reason writer Ta-Nehisi Coates is ending his famous repair essay for segregation and slavery with the subprime mortgage crisis that forced many black Americans into foreclosure in the first decade of the 21st century. The crimes of the past, when left untreated, do not stay in the past. This is also the lesson of the expulsions that inflamed Israel-Palestine. More than seven decades ago, the Palestinians were expelled to create a Jewish state. Now they are being expelled to make Jerusalem a Jewish city. By refusing to confront the 1948 Nakba, the Israeli government and its American Jewish allies ensure the continuity of the Nakba.
Perhaps American Jewish leaders fear that the crimes committed when Israel was born would make Jews vulnerable. Once the Nakba taboo is lifted, Palestinians will feel emboldened to seek revenge. But more often than not, facing the past honestly has the opposite effect.
After George Bisharat, a Palestinian-American law professor, wrote about the house in Jerusalem his grandfather had built and stolen, a former Israeli soldier who had lived there contacted him unexpectedly. “I’m sorry, I was blind. What we did was wrong, but I was part of it and I can’t deny it, “said the former soldier when they met, then added,” I owe your family three months rent. Mr. Bisharat later wrote that it was inspired to match the humanity of the Israelis.