This is the third aspect of the Right of Return. The feasibility of the return is raised frequently by pro-Israel authors who claim that it is
"neither feasible nor practical" (e.g. Peretz, 1993, p.72). He says
"that Palestinian towns and villages ...have disappeared... (and) ...it would
be difficult to re-establish these former sites". He calls the villages from which the people were expelled
abandoned, as if the
inhabitants left them by their own free will (click
here to read our rebuttal for this myth).
The claim that it is not possible to "re-establish former sites" is factually erroneous. There is no land better documented than Palestine. As early as 1871, a full and detailed survey (26 sheets with 15,000 names) had been prepared by the [British] Palestine Exploration Fund. In the period 1920-1947, the Survey of Palestine produced detailed maps for the whole of Palestine. After the Israeli occupation of Palestine in 1948, these very same maps, with their Arabic names erased and replaced by Hebrew names, were used by Israel. Physical changes in the critical period of 1949-1959, when Palestinian villages were destroyed and fields ploughed over, were marked over British maps. These were recorded not only by Israel, but by Britain and the U .S as well. Israel Land Administration which leases Palestinian land to Jews has complete records of every plot of land. Today, the satellite mapping system makes the comparison between old and new quite feasible.
Destroyed villages, not only live in the memory of their people and in old maps, but they are preserved in the comprehensive aerial survey conducted by the British over most of Palestine in 1945 and 1946.
Photo (1) shows one of 13 occupied Palestinian towns. Photo (2) shows one of the 419 villages, depopulated by Israeli onslaught. Photo (3) shows a tribal land in Negev, one of 99 such lands. The myth that this land had been barren, uncultivated and under-populated is belied by this photograph. Hardly an acre was not cultivated. This so called desert was green before the Israelis came. The real desert in Negev is still desert today.
Then there is the question: where would the Palestinians return to? and what is to be done with all those multi-national immigrants who were brought to Israel ? The answer lies in examining Israel's demography.
Demographic analysis of Israel today shows that the concentration of Jews today is largely in and around pre-1948 Jewish land and that Palestinian land is still largely empty (Abu-Sitta 1996, 1998). Israel's 41 natural regions may be divided into 3 areas, designated A, B, C (see Table 10 and Map).
This area consists of 8 natural regions with a total area of 1,683 sq. km. (8% of Israel) in which 68% of the Jews (2,924,000 -1994 figures) live. This area is almost the same area in which Jews lived in pre-1948 Palestine.
This area consists of 5 natural regions with a total area of 1,318 sq. km. (7% of Israel) in which 10% of the Jews and 20% of the Palestinians in Israel live. This mixed area is almost the same in area as the land of the Palestinians remaining in Israel. Thus 78% of the Jews in Israel live in 15% of Israel.
The remaining part, has a total area of 17,325 sq. km. and is essentially the land of Palestinian refugees. Apart from a few urban centres (mostly Palestinian towns originally) in which urban Jews live, only 154,000 rural Jews control and exploit this vast Palestinian land. Contrary to Israeli claims, the return of the refugees will not cause mass dislocation of Jewish immigrants, although they have no right to seize Palestinian property in the first place. The return, however, may initiate voluntary relocation of some of the 154,000 rural Jews.
To test the impact of the phasing of the refugees return, we shall examine two important scenarios. The first is the return of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. This is most pressing because of their bad working and living conditions and the political constraints under which they live. The second is the return of the Palestinian refugees in Gaza. Almost one million people are crammed in 360 sq. km. with no identity, employment or future. They are often described as the political dynamite of the Middle East. Although the entire issue of the refugees must be resolved, these two explosive situations must be addressed without delay.
Section (1) of Table 10 shows the classification of the areas in the part of Palestine that became Israel in 1948. Section (2) shows the demographic. distribution of the same area half a century later. The concentration of Jews today is remarkably similar to the 1948 distribution. It is shown that only 154,000 rural Jews live in the land of the expelled refugees (Area C). Total population density in Israel in Area C is 82 persons/sq. km., which is 4% of the density at the centre of the country .Although the Jews represent 90% of the population at the centre, they are only two-thirds in areas B, C. This two-thirds majority is largely due to the expulsion of the Palestinians.
If Lebanon refugees return to their homes in Galilee and elsewhere (Section (3) of Table 10), the impact is hardly felt by the Israelis (Jews and Palestinians alike). The density of the whole new population increases by only 1% in Area A, 6% in B, and by 17% in Area C to which most of the refugees would return. The much-tooted concern for Jewish majority is not warranted. They remain above 50% where they are least in number. The Jews who may barely feel the effect of the return are the rural Jews (Kibbutz and Moshav) who count only 76,000. Of course, the urban Jews (71% of Jews) will continue to live and flourish in towns. Ninety percent of them live in just 9 towns, 3 of which are Palestinian (Acre, Tiberias, Shafa Amr).
While Lebanon refugees could return to a largely Arab territory, with minimum effect on the Jews, the Gaza refugees would return to almost totally empty land. Today, the rural Jews who exploit their land are spread at a density of 6 persons/sq. km., or close to one-thousandth of the density in Gaza. There are barely 79,000 rural Jews in the southern half of Israel. In addition, there are 553,000 urban Jews, two-thirds of whom live in 3 Palestinian towns (Beer Sheba, Ashdod and Majdal-Ashqelon) and another 24% live in 3 new towns. These urban Jews are engaged in industry, education and services. The return of the refugees would be of benefit to those Jews and vice versa, and as such, it is a positive element. As shown in Section (4) of Table 10, after the return of Gaza refugees, the density of the total population in Israel would increase by only 6% in Area A, 5% in B and 32% in Area C to which the refugees return. Once again as in the case of Lebanon refugees, the Jews will still be over 50% in Area C where they are least in number .
In spite of the much-tooted proclamation of turning the desert green, the present population is much less than the capacity of the area (Efrat 1988, p.182) and the present cultivated area, largely irrigated, is a fraction of the area cultivated before 1948 by the Palestinians. The Israelis concentrate in half a dozen towns (half in Beer Sheba alone) leaving 32,000 Jews control 14,320,000 dunums (Efrat 1988, p.182).
It is significant to observe that the returning Gaza refugees are less in number than the Russian immigrants freely admitted to Israel in this decade. While it is clear that the admission of the Russians is a cause of tension in Israel itself, an obstacle to peace in the region, and a probable cause of a new war (Abu-Sitta 1998), the return of the Gaza refugees will bring peace and stability to the Middle East. This point is not lost on friends and foes alike.
If the Right of Return is implemented and the Palestinians return to their homes, hardly any infringement on the Jews' Lebensraum (living space) would occur. The Palestinians, mostly farmers, would return to their fields which they had tilled for centuries. Their efforts would compensate for the drop in Israel's agricultural production from 11 % of GNP (1950) to only 3.5% (1993). This will continue to drop as the rural areas continue to suffer a desertion of Israelis, especially in the south, in favour of towns. Already the farmers in Gaza, in spite of being deprived of economic support and of water supply, produced superior agricultural products to that of Israel. Israelis are frequently accused of destroying their export products at the border point, by obstruction or ill-will.
When peace prevails, the historical link between Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, severed by the Israeli invasion of Negev, shall then be .restored. With the projected economic cooperation, the southern tip of Negev, the meeting point of 4 countries at the Gulf of Aqaba, may develop into an important commercial and recreational area. The return of the refugees from Lebanon to their homes in Galilee would restore their link with their kith and kin in the West Bank. Separated families would unite again. The historical continuity between Jordan and Lebanon through the West Bank and Galilee, would be restored. No doubt peace would then be restored to Lebanon's south and Israel's north. Such an important dividend cannot easily be dismissed.
While it is the right of the Palestinians to recover their land and homes from the Jews, their repatriation in this manner would minimize the existing population's dislocation. The transition would be practical and reasonable. The severed link between the Arab east and west, undoubtedly one of the important reasons for continued wars, would be restored.
The Palestinians dispossession cannot be realistically tolerated or continue to be ignored with any degree of realism. As the satellite photo (photo 4) shows, Gaza Strip is packed with refugees (2500 persons/km2, or 4,200 persons/km2, if net area is used) while the refugees see, across the barbed wire, their land to the east, in which only 6 persons/km2 live. This striking contrast in demography is the root cause of the conflict (see photo 4).