Let’s start with the necessary caveat. The Nakba – specifically the deportation of over half a million Palestinians in 1948 and the take over of practically all their real estate property and a significant share of their belongings — is by all means not the most severe war crime in human history. Without resorting to talks about the Holocaust, one can easily recall the Khmer Rouge mass murder of over 3 million Cambodians in the 1970s, the genocide of over one million Armenians one hundred years ago, and most recently the assassination of a over half a million Rwandans in the 1990s.
In our Independence war, the highest estimate of Palestinian causalities is not higher than 13,000 – not all of them civilians. Furthermore, even if we confine the discussion to ethnic cleansing, our deeds seem pale in comparison with the expulsion of 12 million ethnic Germans from East Europe after World War II, or the population swap between Turkey and Greece that forced nearly two million Turks and Greeks to become refugees in the 1920s.
Yet, there is something unusual about the Nakba because this is the only war crime wherein people of one nation (Israelis) deported people of another nation (Palestinians) not in order to obtain extra room for their own use but to leave an open space for future immigrants who would come from different corners of the world. In that regard, the Nakba makes a weird combination of cruelty and altruism. To me it makes no sense, and this is possibly why enlightened people who are unrelated to the conflict sometimes find it hard to understand the tragedy. It is hard to believe that people rob their next-door neighbor off his property, and then give the loot to a newcomer with whom they share barely remote religious affinity.
Of course, the altruistic dimension of the Nakba does not give comfort to those Palestinians who were stripped off their luxurious property and were never allowed to return. Is it feasible to let them come back now? In my view, the answer is negative. There is an expiry date on refugee status, even the case remains compelling; simply, too many things have happened over the past seven decades that make the justified idea of a Palestinian homecoming no longer a realistic solution. The compensation for lost Palestinian property needs to be generous but also must be financial. They would not get their houses back, but they should get the fair value of the property from those who took it.
The artists who reside in the colony of Ein-Hod and the peacniks who live in Ein Kerem would most likely not be enchanted by the idea, but it is about time they start paying for the property they have legally stolen from Arab owners.
That’s about the money. As for feelings, just like we do not forgive Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians and of course Germans who possess lucrative formerly Jewish property in Europe, we should not be surprised that the Palestinians don’t forgive us for keeping precious Palestinian real estate to ourselves. The Europeans, by the way, are at least decent enough to offer us financial compensation for the loot – something no dominant Zionist leader has offered since Israel was established thanks to the tragedy of the Palestinians.