State policy: dispossession, displacement, demolition

A state founded on an oxymoron – that Israel can be both democratic and yet in the exclusive control of one ethnonationalist group, in this case Israeli Jews – is unlikely to have a developed sense of irony. Irony, after all, requires, at a bare minimum, a capacity to notice a contradiction when it’s staring you in the face; and, more particularly, when you yourself are its author.

Certainly, Israel’s Foreign Minister appears to be a stranger to the ironic sense. As reported in Ha’aretz newspaper, Israel’s Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid, is very angry – outraged in fact – with the Polish government. The Poles have passed a law that will prevent Jews from claiming the property they had to leave behind when fleeing the Nazi Occupation of 1939.  After the war that property was retained by the post-war communist regime.  And the current Polish Government intends to retain, without compensation, that property still. ‘This law is immoral’, the Israeli minister fulminated, ‘No law will change history. This is a disgrace that will not erase the horrors …’.

Meanwhile…

Meanwhile, back in the democratic, Jewish state, it has fashioned its own outrages. As the Ha’aretz correspondent, B. Michael, points out, if the Poles want to deprive people of their property, it should have sought to emulate Israel’s Absentee Property Law which does a more thorough job than does the Polish version. This law, passed in 1950, defines as ‘absentees’ people who were expelled, who fled, or who left the country – i.e. Palestinians – after 29 November 1947 as a result of the 1948 war that established the Israeli state. Those defined as absentees lose any rights to the property they owned within the newly founded state.  It legalises the theft of Palestinian property, placing it in the hands of the Israeli state and connected agencies for the exclusive benefit of Israeli Jews. 

Present absentees

But that move alone was not sufficient from the state’s perspective. In addition to the 750,000 Palestinians who left land, homes and property to find refuge in neighbouring countries, there were a significant number of Palestinians who were ‘internally displaced’, that is, they fled their original homes in what became Israel in 1948, but fled to other villages and towns that were within the boundaries of the new Israeli state.  

Internally displaced people in Israel are also known as ‘present absentees’ normally a contradiction in terms, which rather takes us back to the oxymoronic nature of the Jewish State. This is further exemplified by the fact that ‘present absentees’ have Israeli citizenship, but no right to live in the homes that they own. In normal circumstances the status ‘citizen’ would refer to, among other matters, a substantive body of rights held in common with other citizens.  This clearly is not the case here. 

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