We usually think of a country taking in refugees as a helpful, necessary action for the benefit of all but watching Israel select and privilege Ukrainians of Jewish descent highlights its racist nature. Israel has refused to take in many refugees from Africa. Although the news calls the Ukrainians refugees they are, in fact, being offered instant citizenship under an ethnic law. We also have read that some Ukrainians will be settled illegally on the West Bank, thereby even further alienating Palestine refugees from their land and rights. Three fundamental issues have intersected here: apartheid, the Right of Return, and Ukraine.
Human rights lawyers including these have determined that Israel’s occupation of Palestine and its domestic regime now constitute apartheid, which is a crime against humanity:
- Amnesty International; Human Rights Watch
- Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, in association with Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association
- Habitat International Coalition – Housing and Land Rights Network,
- B’Tselem; Michael Sfard and Yesh Din
As one tactic of its settler colonial project, Israel has perennially held the parts of Palestine apart. Therefore, every response should consciously address Israel’s single-minded project, although it is being variously enacted in different geographies: domestically through an ethnic hierarchy of rights and entitlements; in Gaza through blockade and repeated bombardment; in the West Bank through the encroachment of illegal settlements and a regime of fragmentation; and globally by privileging the status of Jews as instant citizens-in-waiting while denying the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their own land.
That last phrase needs unpacking because the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their own land are under renewed assault.
First, the descendants of displaced Palestinians are refugees. The United Nations website’s issue page on refugees explains that intergenerational recognition is the global norm, not an exception:
“Under international law and the principle of family unity, the children of refugees and their descendants are also considered refugees until a durable solution is found… Palestine refugees are not distinct from other protracted refugee situations such as those from Afghanistan or Somalia, where there are multiple generations of refugees, considered by UNHCR as refugees and supported as such. Protracted refugee situations are the result of the failure to find political solutions to their underlying political crises.”
Second, Palestinian refugees have an internationally mandated Right of Return. On December 11, 1948, United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 194 outlining principles for a just solution in Palestine / Israel. NZ voted in favour, agreeing that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property.”
Israel’s apartheid regime has denied Palestinian refugees their internationally mandated Right of Return for 74 years.
Daily, we are watching yet another enactment of Israel’s legislated Jewish supremacy: as many as 200,000 Ukrainians of Jewish descent are being brought to Israel under its ethnic “law of return.” Israeli publications refer to Ukrainian arrivals as ‘immigrants’ taking up citizenship, not refuge. Israel’s race-based law of return offers instant citizenship to far more people than Israel’s prevailing religious law recognises as Jews.
“Israeli officials have declared that they will open their arms to any Ukrainians who qualify to immigrate to Israel. Under the Law of Return, any individual with at least one Jewish grandparent, or a Jewish spouse, is eligible for Israeli citizenship. However, a significant portion of those new immigrants are expected to be … Jewish enough to obtain citizenship, but not Jewish enough to be married or buried as Jews in the Jewish state.” Times of Israel
Why would Israel take in a few hundred thousand Ukrainians and emigrating Russians, some of whom may or may not later convert to Judaism? This influx responds first to Israel’s longstanding fear of confronting a Palestinian majority in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Despite decades of policy that has sought to include maximum land with minimum Palestinians, the day of demographic reckoning is close.
“According to the latest figures, the year 2021 saw the number of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and those based in Israel approach 7,253,000 Palestinians, which, for the first time ever, came close to the number of Jews that stood at 7,4 million. … A fresh study, released by a journal affiliated to the Israeli Ministry of Intelligence in July 2020, indicated that Tel Aviv sees demography as the most critical menace to its national security.” MENA Affairs.com
Demography has always underpinned Israel’s disavowal of the Gaza Strip as a fully-fledged, occupied, intrinsic part of Palestine. Don’t count the two million Gazans!! Gaza’s numbers have always posed a far more strategic threat to Israel than its rockets.
To top it off, “the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division – which is funded by the Israeli government and falls under its direct control – announced the building of 1,000 housing structures for Ukrainian Jewish families in both Israel and settlements in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories.” Al Jazeera
That is the coup de grace: Israel is preparing to add Ukrainians to the 620,000 illegal settlers who aggressively eat up the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem.
We are boycotting, divesting and sanctioning Russia because we wish to live in a world governed by laws rather than predators. At the very same time, Israel is piling tens of thousands of those displaced by Russia’s crimes into its manufactured demographics and its illegal settlements on occupied land. Wrongs are compounding wrongs. Let’s sanction Israel’s violations too.
We wish all refugees safe refuge until they are able to choose resettlement or return to their homes. For the very same reason, we recognise the UN-mandated right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. When the land between the river and the sea is governed by, and in the interests of, all of its citizens then others of any religion can apply to immigrate.
Alternative Jewish Voices