AJ+, Al Jazeera’s hip younger sister digital network, recently released a short video exploring the Balata “refugee” camp in Samaria. It was clearly set up to make the viewer incredibly sympathetic to the residents there but it actually showed just how ridiculous the Palestinian refugees’ claims to that status is.
Dena Takruri, who has made a career out of demonizing Israel and mythologizing Palestinian victimhood, reprises her role in her interview with Balata “refugee” Ahmad Khader. He appears to be in his early twenties and is well dressed in a button-down over a sweater and jeans (which is also my go-to outfit). He is by no means starving.
Perhaps unwittingly, Ms. Takruri begins by highlighting the most contradictory aspect of all Palestinian “refugee” camps: their permanence.
“The crazy thing is you would think that a refugee camp would be a temporary type of thing, but as you’re seeing, these generations are growing up here born and raised. So his family was exiled, they became refugees from Jaffa in 1948. They came here in 1950 and they’ve been here ever since. So it’s become a permanent thing.“
This camp, which is essentially a permanent town in the heart of Palestinian controlled territory, has been running for roughly 65 years. Mr. Khader and (it seems) his father were both born there and yet they are still called refugees. His grandfather moved 53 kilometers from Jaffa to this area just outside of Nablus. This is roughly the same distance between Washington DC and Baltimore, not exactly a long journey. By any definition other than the one cynically used by UNRWA, Mr. Khader and his family are not refugees. They were not forced from their homes, they have citizenship in the Palestinian Authority and even his grandfather, who remained within the boundaries of Mandatory Palestine, would not be considered a refugee. But here is his grandson giving a tour of his pre-packaged misery for gullible Westerners to consume online.
Ms. Takruri says the Khaders were “exiled from Jaffa,” but this is not the case at all. Mr. Khader later in the interview says, “[my grandparents] told me that they were hoping to come back. They just turned off the stove and left.” They were not forced out of their home and soldiers didn’t load them on a truck and drive them out of the city. They took some belongings and left.
What’s more, Jaffa is probably the worst example an anti-Israel activist could cite as an example of “Israeli brutality.” There are several important aspects of the battle for Jaffa that must be taken into consideration.
First, Jaffa was slated to remain as part of the Arab State under the UN Partition Plan. This means that had the Arabs accepted peace from the beginning as the Zionists did, Mr. Khader’s grandfather would never have left his home, there would never have been any refugees – from Jaffa or elsewhere – and this video never would have been made.
Second, much of the disaster was precipitated by the Arab leadership and foreign militias. Whether by spreading rumors about false atrocities committed by the Zionists or by the foreign fighters, mainly Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood men, acting more like conquerors than saviors with Nimr al Khatib writing, “The inhabitants were more afraid of their defenders-saviours than of the Jews their enemies,” In fact, the leader of the Arab irregular forces, Abdul Wahab ‘Ali Shihaini, famously stated, “I do not mind [the] destruction [of] Jaffa if we secure [the] destruction [of] Tel Aviv.” It’s hard to find a better example of the Arab objective in 1948 than that. (p.114, Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited)
Hard but not impossible as Mahmoud Abbas picked up this baton of self-destructive anti-Semitism in 2013 when he said it was better for Palestinians to die in Syria than give up their “right of return” by accepting Israel’s offer to let them move to Judea and Samaria.
Third, many “Jaffans” were nothing of the kind. There were many fellahin who had recently moved to the city for work and simply returned to their original homes as Morris recounts, saying, “Country folk who earlier had migrated to the town were now moving back to their villages. By the end of December [four months before Jaffa’s conquest], [Haganah Intelligence] reported that some ‘60 per cent’ of Jaffa’s Christians had left.” (p. 110) These made up part of the 15-25,000 “Jaffans” who abandoned the city by the end of 1947. (p. 111)
Fourth, this was not a one-sided conflict; over 7,000 Jews fled from Jaffa by mid-January 1948. (p. 110) Clearly this was not one side expelling the other but civilians on both sides leaving a war zone.
Now that the history is settled, we can get back to the present where Mr. Khader, completely unprompted, drops this bombshell:
“We can live outside the refugee camp.”
What’s that? He openly admits he doesn’t have to live there, that he actively chooses to live in the camp? That’s a bit of information you usually need to pry out with unrelenting patience and probing questions. So why is he so open about this?
“But if we give up the camp that means we give up our principles, the right of return. We always hope not to leave the camp and live somewhere else. We hope to go back to Jaffa, to our land, where my grandfather was born.”
If he were to live somewhere else in the PA, according to him that would mean admitting he will never actually move to Jaffa. The fact that he will never move to Jaffa is obvious to anyone with eyes but making peace with reality has never been easy for the Palestinians. However, even this explanation does not really hold any water. There are millions of Palestinians around the world who are citizens of other countries, who don’t live in refugee camps and yet they also loudly insist on their “right of return,” so why couldn’t Mr. Khader move to, say, Rawabi, get a job, build himself a nice house, start a family and then should the conditions present themselves insist on moving to Jaffa?
Mr. Khader could certainly do all this, but were he to leave the camp, he would also have to leave behind all the benefits he gets from UNRWA – housing, health care, education… – all provided free of charge. So he remains a “refugee” in the town he and his father were born in, in a territory of which he is a full citizen and yet Ms. Takruri dutifully accepts his romantic explanation without the slightest hint of journalistic inquisitiveness.
What he says next is actually incredibly important, which is why the AJ+ interviewer completely ignores it:
“Because our sense of belonging at the end of the day is to our original cities. To Jaffa, and Haifa and Acre and our land from 1948.”
Back in the 1940s, Palestinian nationalism was almost entirely confined to a few urban elites while the mass of the Arab population had many different, often competing identities. While pan-Arabism and pan-Islamism were gaining many followers, they were added on top of a more localized identity focused around an individual’s specific town or city, clan, tribe and family. This localized identity has been passed down to generations who have never even lived in those towns. So, for all the pageantry and pomp and circumstance of Abbas’s flag ceremonies and statehood recognition, many of these “refugees” don’t seem to care about Palestine as a whole at all. While they fly the Palestinian colors and sing Palestinian songs, this nationalism is shallow and fragmented.
Mr. Khader seems to realize his mistake in revealing this because he quickly follows up with:
“The Palestinian people are all one, sure, but why would I leave Balata camp and go live somewhere else when if I go settle somewhere else, I’ll be from there. I’ll give up my right of return. We don’t want to give that up… that’s our dream. That’s what we were raised on. There’s no alternative to the right of return. I’m from Jaffa, which means I have to go back to Jaffa. If I don’t go back, maybe my son will. Maybe my grandchild. But someone from our lineage will return. That’s the idea.”
For Mr. Khader, gaining a Palestinian state where he can build a life for himself and his family is of no importance. The only thing that matters to him, because he was “raised on” it, is “returning” to Jaffa.
Takruri then asks about Mr. Khader’s grandfather and he says, “I’m sure [he] never expected that one day someone would take [him] out of [his] home put [him] in a refugee camp and say, ‘Now live.'”
Of course no one expects this to happen and that would certainly be a horrible thing. However, none of this happened to the elder Khader at all! Ahmad admits that his grandfather was not kicked out of his home but rather left on his own. He also freely admits that he is not forced to live in the refugee camp and can leave any time he wants but chooses to stay of his own volition. The only part of this bogus story that Khader doesn’t tell is that it wasn’t Israel that built Balata at all but rather Jordan! While all the Arabs who stayed in Israel were given citizenship and never put in any camps, Jordan forced these “refugees” into camps despite offering them citizenship!
This farce of a video ends with Khader saying, “We’re certain that we’ll return and God willing, we will return.”
How sweet. How hopeful. How ridiculous.
Just as the militia leaders of 1948 were happy to see Jaffa burn if it meant also destroying Tel Aviv, and Abbas is happy to see thousands of Palestinians die in Syria if it means others will still remain to destroy the Jewish State, people like Ahmad Khader are perfectly happy to see their families suffer for generations as long as it means eventually being able to destroy Israel.