What are the rights of an exiled people?

A root cause of Israel’s struggle for legitimacy, and international support, stems from the widespread perception that Israel is a colonising oppressor and the Palestinians are the colonised oppressed.

This flawed dichotomy is the underlying reason why so many mind-numbing absurdities have taken place since October 7th – the UN’s refusal to put Hamas on the list of perpetrators of conflict-related sexual violence being only one recent manifestation.

It helps to explain the surge in antisemitism worldwide, despite the Jewish people suffering the greatest massacre since the Holocaust.

It also helps to explain how  ‘intersectional’ alliances have been mobilised by ‘progressives’ to scale up the protests that are taking place worldwide.

The root cause of this flawed dichotomy is a category error resulting from decades of discourse in the international domain that has led to a plethora of conventions, resolutions and frameworks that define the status and rights of colonised, occupied, and indigenous peoples, among others, but not – so far as I can tell – the status and rights of exiled peoples.

While there is no need or intent to create a hierarchy of victimhood among any specific peoples, in purely conceptual terms, exiled peoples may be said to have experienced a more extreme form of suffering than colonised or occupied peoples.

The essence of being colonised or occupied is being governed by others. Without doubt, in many cases, this experience has been accompanied by horrific crimes – racial or ethnic discrimination, sexual violence and slavery, to name just a few. To be clear, there is absolutely no intent here to minimise the impact of colonialism, deny the suffering of the colonised, or to whitewash the actions of colonisers.

However, for exiled peoples, the experience is arguably worse in categoric terms. The essence of being an exiled people is the partial or total banishment from one’s own homeland, usually after suffering all of the aforementioned evils, culminating in an extreme form of what we now call ethnic cleansing.

In most cases, exiled peoples have been lost to history as they have gradually assimilated into the populations to which they have been dispersed. This may have been the case with many populations forcibly exiled by the Assyrian Empire, for example, including the Ten Tribes of Israel.

In some cases, exiled peoples have maintained their identity and peoplehood. The Jewish people is arguably the most familiar and longest-standing example of an exiled people. There are others, which may – arguably – include Crimean Tatars, Assyrians (including Chaldeans and Arameans), Tibetans and of course Palestinians.

There are many definitional questions that may be explored as concerns what comprises an exiled people – the threshold of the population that needs to be in exile, the cause of the exile, the capacity or desire to return, and the strength of the residual identity as a people.

But none of these questions should impede on the distinctive nature of an exiled people and a recognition that, if colonised, oppressed and indigenous people can be said to have rights in the international domain, so too should an exiled people.

It seems this point – the rights of an exiled people – is implicitly conceded by the unique treatment afforded to the Palestinian people post-1948 within the United Nations system when compared to other refugee contexts and conflict-related large-scale two-way population movements (e.g. India-Pakistan, post-war Europe).

Finally, so what? Jews have been telling themselves, and the world at large, for millennia, that the Jewish people is an exiled people. It is hardly a secret, a great novelty. What would be new about the establishment in the international domain of a status and rights for exiled peoples?

I think the additionality would be this: it would provide a legal foundation to end the implicit discrimination against the Jewish people in the international domain which allows UN bodies, committees and rapporteurs, and the NGOs that inhabit this ecosystem, to portray the Jewish people as colonisers and usurpers.

It would certainly not be a magic bullet that would suddenly transform the global standing of Israel, but it would address one of the most important root causes that allows for this discrimination to be perpetuated and magnified, helping Israel to mobilise new alliances, and taking away the perceived moral foundation of campaigns to isolate Israel as it continues to respond to annihilationist threats on its very borders.

About the Author
Adam Gross is a strategist that specialises in solving complex problems in the international arena. Adam made aliyah with his family in 2019 to live in northern Israel.
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